Blog Archive - 2001

Is God “Neutral”?

WASHINGTON — Ever since Sept. 11, some American religious leaders have been outspoken in calling for a peaceful response and respect for civil liberties. Their perspectives contrast sharply with President Bush’s bellicose invocations of religious rhetoric, as in his Sept. 20 address to Congress when he declared that “God is not neutral.”

“Christians have a ‘just war’ teaching that in theory can be used to judge any war. In practice, the teaching serves to bless rather than judge wars,” said Sister Evelyn Mattern, a program associate at the North Carolina Council of Churches. “For example, the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops recently invoked the ‘just war’ teaching with regard to Afghanistan. In their hurry to support the president, they failed even to mention one of the main criteria for a just war: that it can be declared only after every other effort has failed. It has yet to be revealed, I think, what the U.S. tried and failed before it began bombing.” [Read more…]

As Bombs Fall, Critics Question U.S. Approach

WASHINGTON – As the United States continued with air attacks on targets in Afghanistan, dubbed “strategic military locations” by Pentagon officials, peace advocates found their struggle pushed to the forefront.

The U.S. strikes, comprised of cruise missiles launched from remote locations and bomber raids, were initial steps of what President Bush described as a “sustained, comprehensive and relentless” campaign against Taliban forces. According to the Washington Post, the attacks focused on Taliban strongholds in the south of Afghanistan, damaging airports and other military facilities in Kabul and Kandahar.

Critics of the campaign questioned the approach behind these “strategic” strikes. [Read more…]

Critics Blast Bush’s Call for “Lengthy Campaign”

WASHINGTON – When President Bush took the national pulpit on September 20 to address a joint session of Congress, he faced perhaps his greatest challenge since his inauguration. Mainstream media pundits spoke at length of his need to rise to the occasion — to solidify the nation’s commitment to fighting terrorism. With the chamber’s applause still audible, the reports were already coming out. Bush’s approval rating had risen ten more points, to an astronomical 91 percent. His singling out of common citizens — some of whom sat in the audience — had captured the allegiance of skeptics. His calls for justice constituted the uncompromising stance that United States politics needed to embody during such a period of national crisis.

Amidst all of this praise, numerous critics spoke out against the presidential call for war.

“In Bush’s speech we got no doctrine, no strategy, no evidence,” said Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. “What we did get was a lot of Wild West rhetoric — dead or alive material.” [Read more…]

Rethinking Welfare Reform

WASHINGTON — With re-authorization of key “welfare reform” legislation due in the coming year, activists are mobilizing to place the rights of minorities and women foremost on the agenda. Many indict the current system — established by the 1996 passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act — as a racist and gender-biased structure that keeps the poor in poverty and further burdens disadvantaged families.

The five-year-old legislation has in fact reduced welfare rolls. A White House report in 2000 said that the number of Americans on welfare had decreased from 5.5 percent in 1993 to 2.3 percent in 1999. An argument now rages over whether the point of reform is to reduce the welfare rolls or to reduce poverty. Some activists maintain that these numbers reflect a slashing of America’s “safety net.”

“Welfare rolls dropped by more than half nationally since 1996, but poverty for single mothers is only down 0.7 percent,” reports Ann Withorn, professor of social policy at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Withorn is a co-author of “An Immodest Proposal,” a series of demands collected by the feminist Women’s Committee of 100 that challenge the gender and race discrimination they find rampant in current welfare legislation. The document contains demands for an end to mandatory work outside the home, a “caregiver’s allowance” that reimburses mothers for work they do inside the home, and a substantial increase in labor standards for women. [Read more…]

Uncontrolled Burn: How congress is adding fuel to the western wildfires

As wildfires rage through woodland in the West, critics are questioning the federal government’s role in protecting the National Forests. Recently, President Bush proposed a $175 million increase in commercial timber sales on public lands — a move that, along with a planned repeal of the “roadless rule” established by former President Clinton, has many suspicious of where the Bush administration’s true agenda lies.

Big forest fires make the news every summer. Last year, over 7 million acres of U.S. land burned during wildfire season. Many forest advocates believe that wildfires are a naturally occurring, healthy phenomenon and should, to some extent, be allowed to burn within certain limits.

In recent years, the National Forest Service, guided by Congress, has partly relied on commercial logging to address the problem of wildfires. This policy has critics like University of Montana economics chair Thomas Power up in arms. [Read more…]

Are Americans “Vacation Starved”?

WASHINGTON — When President Bush clocked out to start on a 30-day vacation at his Texas ranch, a collective lament was in the air from much of the population: “When do we get a break?”

The vacation brings to 52 days the president’s total vacation time since his swearing-in last January, a number that dwarfs the average eight days of vacation most U.S. small business employees receive each year, according to Joe Robinson, director of the Work to Live campaign. Robinson, declaring America to be “the most vacation-starved country in the industrialized world,” is one of many people leading the charge for a decrease in the national workload.

The loosely defined movement gained impetus with the publication of Harvard economics professor Juliet Schor’s book The Overworked American, which noted that — while corporate profits and worker productivity were up — most workers were seeing their free time diminish. Schor’s comments echoed calls made by labor reformers in the 1930s, who successfully established the eight-hour day by pressuring for the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act. [Read more…]

Election Reforms: Falling short

WASHINGTON — Proponents of progressive election reform gave cautious approval to the recent report issued by a commission assigned to investigate the improvement of federal elections. Many critics, however, point to several obstacles that remain in the way of free and fair elections throughout the United States.

The report, issued by the National Commission on Federal Election Reform headed by former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, was presented to President Bush. Among its recommendations are provisions regarding increases in equipment standards and stepped-up federal funding for the administration of elections. [Read more…]

Son of Star Wars: Another arms race?

WASHINGTON — Reports emerging from the Pentagon about plans to test a “Space Bomber” are drawing accusations that the U.S. government is attempting to engage in another arms race.

The bomber, a spacecraft reportedly capable of destroying targets on the other side of the globe within 30 minutes, is a key component of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s plan to modernize U.S. weaponry. The satellite is currently under production by NASA and Lockheed Martin, a leading military contractor.

Pentagon claims that the bomber can cause greater and deeper ground damage from a virtually unassailable height have many critics questioning it as a component of President Bush’s “Missile Defense Screen.”

Alice Slater, president of the Global Resource Action Center for the Environment, criticized the Pentagon’s apparent aim to control space through military force. She called it a “total misnomer to talk about missile ‘defense'” when referring to the proposed program.

“The U.S. Space Command ‘Vision for 2020’ report outlines the weaponization of space,” Slater said, “envisioning that ‘space forces will emerge to protect military and commercial national interests and investment.'” She points to this focus on commercial interests as an indication of a desired “extension of 500 years of colonial domination of the world’s resources…to back up corporate interests.” [Read more…]

ExxonMobil: Facing a boycott

ExxonMobil, one of the biggest corporations on the planet, is now facing a boycott spearheaded by activist groups protesting the company’s policies at home and abroad.

The boycott was launched by PressurePoint, a grassroots organization looking to “take real action on climate change and corporate influence,” according to Chris Doran, campaigns director for the group. “The U.S. government’s climate change policy is the ExxonMobil policy,” Doran says. “What sort of democracy do we have when one company can buy off our political process for its own gains?”

ExxonMobil is a charter member of the Global Climate Coalition, an influential industry lobbying group which maintains that the regulations to reduce greenhouse emissions drawn up under the Kyoto agreement of 1997 are neither economically viable nor scientifically sound.

According to the American Chemical Society, ExxonMobil is the only remaining major oil firm that disputes the need to seek out energy alternatives, while other companies — such as British Petroleum, Shell and Enron — have all agreed to do so. Exxon maintains the stance that there are no readily available alternatives to fossil fuels on the horizon. [Read more…]

Beyond the Ford-Firestone Uproar: Critics blast lack of regulation, accountability in SUV safety

WASHINGTON – Recent congressional hearings probed the accountability of Ford and Firestone in many incidents where car or tire malfunctioned, causing injury or death. The hearings also questioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal government’s chief regulator of automobile safety, and its role in providing the public with adequate information.

While the blame-placing among corporate executives and congressional subcommittees occurred on Capitol Hill, several analysts decried the lack of accountability being demanded of the corporations involved. Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, pointed to a lack of regulation of sport utility vehicles and rollover standards. [Read more…]