Friday, December 21, 2007

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Welcome to America:
LIMA, Ohio — Two robbers who broke into Luther Ricks Sr.’s house this summer may have not gotten his life savings he had in a safe, but after the FBI confiscated it he may not get it back.

Ricks has tried to get an attorney to fight for the $402,767 but he has no money. Lima Police Department officers originally took the money from his house but the FBI stepped in and took it from the Police Department. Ricks has not been charged with a crime and was cleared in a fatal shooting of one of the robbers but still the FBI has refused to return the money, he said.

“They are saying I have to prove I made it,” he said.
Ricks, who is retired from Ohio Steel Foundry, said he always had a safe at home and never had a bank account.

American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Legal Director Jeff Gamso said Ricks has a tough road ahead, not impossible, but tough to get back his money.

“The law of forfeiture basically says you have to prove you’re innocent. It’s terrible, terrible law,” he said.

The law is tilted in favor of the FBI in that Ricks need not be charged with a crime and the FBI stands a good chance at keeping the money, Gamso said.

“The law will presume it is the result of ill-gotten gains,” he said.

(H/T to Radley Balko)

Interview with Piedad Córdoba

On Wednesday I spoke with Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba regarding the hostages currently held by the FARC guerillas in Colombia. Córdoba, an outspoken critic of Colombian President and close U.S.-ally Álvaro Uribe, had been working with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to negotiate a hostage-prisoner exchange with the FARC guerillas. But late last month, President Uribe put an end to the negotiations, angering family members of the hostages -- which include three U.S. military contractors and former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. In our conversation, I asked Córdoba who she felt was to blame for the failure of the negotiations and what her reaction was to the news that the FARC were set to release three of the hostages as a goodwill gesture for her and Chavez's efforts.

Her responses, and my account of the current state of the conflict in Colombia, can be found in this piece that I filed for Inter Press Service.

Monday, December 17, 2007

An Unreasonable Man

Last night I was watching the 2006 documentary on the career of Ralph Nader, "An Unreasonable Man," when I heard something that almost made me fall out of my chair. In order to present a counterpoint to Nader's anti-corporatism, the filmmakers interviewed Daniel Mitchell, a former senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation currently employed by the Cato Institute. In what could have passed as satire straight from the lips of Stephen Colbert, Mitchell echoed Ayn Rand's view that big business is really just a poor, persecuted minority with little influence on government policy:
"Corporations don’t have that much power in Washington. They tend to be ineffective, especially on the big-picture issues. They might be able to get a little special loophole in some bill, or a special handout in another bill. But especially in a globalized economy, where you have foreign companies penetrating the U.S. market, U.S. companies are probably the most helpless entities out there."

Now, one needn't be a Nader's Raider to find that statement a little, shall we say, unbelievable. Whether one thinks the influence is good or bad, it's simply an indisputable fact at this point that major corporations play a huge role in not only what laws get passed, but on who gets elected to office. To say otherwise is either incredibly naive or incredibly dishonest.

The following is a brief, painfully incomplete list of government policies that Mitchell would have you believe were not shaped by corporate interests:

U.S. Energy Policy -- The Democratic Congress is set to pass another Energy Bill that includes tax breaks for oil companies and subsidies for everything from nuclear power to ethanol. As the Washington Post describes, it was no different when Republicans controlled Congress in 2005 when they passed an Energy bill that "exempts oil and gas industries from some clean-water laws, streamlines permits for oil wells and power lines on public lands, and helps the hydropower industry appeal environmental restrictions...
It also includes an estimated $85 billion worth of subsidies and tax breaks for most forms of energy -- including oil and gas, "clean coal," ethanol, electricity, and solar and wind power. The nuclear industry got subsidies for research, waste reprocessing, construction, operation and even decommission. The petroleum industry got new incentives to drill in the Gulf of Mexico -- as if $60-a-barrel oil wasn't enough of an incentive. The already-subsidized ethanol industry got a federal mandate that will nearly double its output by 2012 -- as well as new subsidies to develop ethanol from other sources."

U.S. Agriculture Policy -- As with energy policy, the U.S. Congress regularly approves massive farm bills that include billions in subsidies for mega-agribusinesses, as well as protectionist policies, such as the tariff on imported sugar, that benefit certain producers at the expense of overall consumers and industries in the developing world.

The overthrow of the democratically elected government of Guatemala -- In 1954, the government of Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán was overthrown by a group of Guatemalan military officers in league with the Central Intelligence Agency, which had gained valuable experience overthrowing democratic governments the year before in Iran with Operation Ajax. U.S. involvement had been strongly pushed for by United Fruit, which was unhappy with the Guatemalan government's plan to nationalize part of the company's large land holdings. At the time, the assistant U.S. Secretary of State for InterAmerican Affairs was John Moors Cabot, former president of United Fruit. The Secretary of State was John Foster Dulles, whose law firm had previously represented the company. His brother, Allen Dulles, headed the CIA.

NAFTA, CAFTA, and other "free trade" agreements -- Portrayed by the the United States and other governments as simple "free trade," these agreements are anything but. CAFTA, for instance, requires countries to enforce U.S. copyright laws. That includes banning certain generic prescription drugs, forcing poor Central American countries to pay much more for expensive pharmaceuticals from U.S. drug companies (see this article by Adam Graham-Silverman in Salon).

The Military-Industrial Complex -- Coined by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his 1961 farewell address, the military-industrial complex is thriving in these here United States. The U.S. military budget accounts for more than half of federal spending, and is roughly equal to what the rest of the world's military spending combined. Despite the lack of a traditional military threat, ala the USSR in the Cold War (at least how it was portrayed in the United States), the Bush administration continues to press for a multi-billion dollar missile defense shield that doesn't actually work. Though it seems quite capable of stoking Cold War-era tensions with Russia, it remains unclear how a working missile defense shield would stop 19 hijackers with box-cutters. Meanwhile, nominally "private" defense contractors, who depend entirely on government spending for their existence, seem to be doing quite well.


This is about all I can handle now as far as examples go, but feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Congress Debates U.S. Aid to Palestine

Earlier today the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia held a hearing regarding the Bush administration's proposed $410 million aid package aimed at supporting the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. None of the aid is directed at Gaza, which is currently suffering a major humanitarian crisis due to an Israeli blockade, because it is under the control of Hamas, which the United States considers a terrorist organization. The situation in Gaza also did not seem of much concern to members of the subcommittee, who only alluded to it in passing.

I filed an account of the hearing and the recent history of U.S. aid to Palestine for Inter Press Service today, which you can find online here.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Interview with Senator Rockefeller

While discussing the CIA's destruction of interrogation tapes that allegedly show the use of torture, Salon's Glenn Greenwald referenced my interview with Senate Intelligence Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) regarding allegations that the Bush administration is backing anti-Iranian extremist groups in Pakistan, something I wrote about here back in April. Jonathan Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution has the transcript of the whole exchange, but those interested in actually hearing the audio of the interview can go here for an mp3. It's worth listening to the interview, which I conducted while Rockefeller and I were walking down the steps outside the Senate chamber, just to hear Rockefeller's tone of voice, particularly when he says the following in response to my asking if there was anything he could do to determine if the allegations were true:
Don't you understand the way Intelligence works? Do you think that because I'm Chairman of the Intelligence Committee that I just say I want it, and they give it to me? They control it. All of it. All of it. All the time. I only get, and my committee only gets, what they want to give me.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Interview with Dennis Kucinich

In the post below regarding Dennis Kucinich's affinity for maverick anti-war Republican candidate Ron Paul, I highlighted a few excerpts from an interview that I conducted with the Ohio Democratic Congressman about his campaign for president. Below are a few more interesting exchanges from the interview (my questions are in bold): 

DAVIS: Why are you running for president?

KUCINICH: Iʼm running for president to take America in an entirely new direction -- to have jobs for
all, health care for all, education for all, to protect our environment, and to end war as an instrument of policy, to reclaim our civil liberties which were lost in the wake of 9/11, to have America work with the nations of the world to achievand more are the reasons that Iʼm running for president.

You ran for president in 2004 -- what did you learn from that campaign? What are you doing differently now in 2008?

I think that people know who I am. I think it’s still very early in the campaign, we’re still in a very early stage of organization. But as I get around the country, now as then, I see in America an underlying unity. I see a hunger for peace and prosperity. I see a desire for candidates who really have the experience and the understanding. I mean I started my career in elected politics 40 years ago. I served as a city councilman, an elected clerk of courts, mayor of Cleveland, Ohio state senator, United States congressman now in my sixth term. I know Ohio. I know Ohio better than any of the other candidates. Ohio’s looking for someone who’s going to be concerned about trade. Did you know we’ve lost so many jobs because of NAFTA? And we’ll lose more unless NAFTA is cancelled. So I’ve said that one of the fundamental principles driving this campaign is fair trade. That means the end of NAFTA -- I’ll cancel it in my first act in office, and go back to bilateral trade conditioned on workers’ rights, human rights, and environmental quality principles. I have been across our state and I’ve seen places where grass is growing in parking lots where they used to make steel, they used to make parts, they used to make bicycles, and now there’s grass growing in parking lots. I want to see Ohio restored as an industrial power. I want to see Ohio restored as a communications and transportations center. I want to see Ohio become even more of a center of excellence in education. These are things that are going to drive the repair of our economy in Ohio, and also to see the National Aeronautics and Space Administration grow and prosper because it produces so many high-tech jobs, thousands of high-tech jobs which have a tremendous multiplier and spin-off effect in the economy.

What do you make of the moved-up primary schedule? There’s a lot of people that critique it and say that it’s only going to benefit nationally well-known candidates, and not let people such as yourself build the momentum to have an actual debate within the primary system.

Well lets look at it this way. Just for the sake of discussion, suppose I show a real powerful presence in a state like New Hampshire and I run up really good numbers there -- that’ll have an effect. Then I’ll be the surprise of 2008. So I think the stage is set for an opportunity for my candidacy, provided I do well in some of the early primaries, to be able to break through, and it could work to my advantage.

Could you explain your decision to endorse John Kerry in 2004? That upset some peace activists. And second part of the question: would there be any other candidates in the Democratic field that you would feel comfortable endorsing this time around?

Well first of all, despite the fact that I endorsed John Kerry, I continued to oppose the war, even though I endorsed him. I mean I went from the convention to the streets, at a peace rally, and I travelled the country challenging my own party on the issue of Iraq, and I’ve continued to do that. So I saw the endorsement of John Kerry was simply stating that I made a commitment to support the nominee, so I kept my word. However I didn’t make a commitment to support the war, and I continued to oppose the war.

I was noticing how you were passing out papers yesterday about the Iraq oil privatization law, and I noticed how Rahm Emanuel kind of mocked it and said “yeah, it’s all about the oil.” What do you make of the Democratic leadership kind of being dismissive of your argument there, or just dismissive of the antiwar base in general?

I think that this arrogance that’s being expressed is not going to be appreciated by the American people. The American people voted Democrat in November in order for the Democratic Party to take us out of Iraq. They didn’t vote for a Democratic version of the war. They certainly didn’t vote for what we’re seeing here this week, which is the Democrats caving into George Bush and keeping the war going. This war will go through the end of George Bush’s term unless the Democrats stop it. And my path to stopping it is just simply saying “we’re not going to fund it.” It’s very simple to understand this: no funds for the war. So Democrats have taken a big responsibility here. But my candidacy is the surest path to say the war is over. You know I’ve given hundreds of speeches challenging this war. I’ve given dozens of speeches challenging taking any action against Iran. I’ve show that it’s possible to be here and to challenge by voting against the appropriations. There are candidates running for president who have voted to fund the war, and then they say they’re peace candidates. It’s not credible to say on one hand that you’re for peace and on the other hand you vote to fund the war, because every time you vote to fund the war it’s like reauthorizing it all over again. This war is costing Ohio and every state dramatically, funds that we need for job creation, for health care, for education, are just being lost. We will spend upwards of $800 billion dollars on this war by the end of 2008. And as we continue to stay in Iraq, that sum will reach a trillion to two trillion dollars. So my candidacy for president then stands out in bold contrast from all the others with respect to the leadership I’ve show in the House right from the beginning, my willingness to challenge the funding for the war, and my willingness to challenge this effort to steal Iraq’s oil using the war supplemental as a vehicle, and my willingness to challenge corruption in the White House itself. Because, in the end, what should be the conduct of a president or vice-president of the United States? Should they permitted to lie to the nation to go to war? Should they permitted to wage war against innocent people? Because if that’s the standard now, and we don’t challenge that, then what can we expect of a future president? So I’m talking about setting a high moral tone, a high political tone, of accountability, and of fidelity to public service.

You mentioned the corruption of the White House. Some would say that part of the Democratic establishment itself is somewhat corrupted. Do you see your campaign as kind of a campaign to change the Democratic establishment, or against the Democratic establishment?

Well it’s not against anyone, I’m running for president. And I’m trying to call out the best that this country has to offer, and reach out and ask people to get involved. Because they believe in the ideals of America, the ideals of truth and justice, because that’s what we have to reestablish. And we have to reestablish it in both political parties. This isn’t about one party against another, I don’t buy that. I think that the next president has to be able to relate to Republicans, Democrats, independents, Greens, Libertarians, all parties. And I’ve worked with all parties in this Congress. So my candidacy and my presidency is going to be about a broad reaching out to everybody in the polity, saying lets work together to build this country up. But we have to do it beginning with taking a stand for peace, and taking a stand for truth, and taking a stand for justice and accountability.

And I have a final question for you. If you look at the polls right now, it could be that the nominees for both parties are both war supporters, at least initially. It could be Hillary Clinton, who voted for the war and supported it for many years, against a Mitt Romney. Would that represent a broken political system to you, if both nominees are essentially pro-war?

Sure. Well, I’m not ready to concede that I don’t have a chance to win. I think that my candidacy gives the Democratic Party, clearly, a chance to elect someone who’s for peace, and who has shown consistency in voting against war and voting to challenge the funding for the war and voting against the funding for the war. I think that people are looking for that consistency. So the Democrats will have a chance to vote for peace. Last time people really didn’t understand about the war. This is four years ago. Today people are aware that everything I said turned out to be true, that’s what’s different between now and 2003/2004. People can see that of all the candidates who are running, that I turned out to be not only the one who was right, but the one who has consistently opposed the war, opposed the funding for the war, and rejects war as an instrument of policy.

(Updated 12/19/07 to include exchange that was inadvertently deleted.)