White supremacist backlash builds over Jena case
September 24, 2007
By Howard Witt
No sooner did tens of thousands of African-American demonstrators depart the racially tense town of Jena, La., last week after protesting perceived injustices than white supremacists flooded in behind them.
First a neo-Nazi Web site posted the names, addresses and phone numbers of some of the six black teenagers and their families at the center of the Jena 6 case and urged followers to find them and “drag them out of the house,” prompting an investigation by the FBI.
Then the leader of a white supremacist group in Mississippi published interviews that he conducted with the mayor of Jena and the white teenager who was attacked and beaten, allegedly by the six black youths. In those interviews, the mayor, Murphy McMillin, praised efforts by pro-white groups to organize counterdemonstrations; the teenager, Justin Barker, urged white readers to “realize what is going on, speak up and speak their mind.”
Over the weekend, white extremist Web sites and blogs across the Internet filled with invective about the Jena 6 case, which has drawn scrutiny from civil rights leaders, three leading Democratic presidential candidates and hundreds of African-American Internet bloggers. They are concerned about allegations that blacks have been treated more harshly than whites in the criminal justice system of the town of 3,000, which is 85 percent white.
David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, last week announced his support for Jena’s white residents, who voted overwhelmingly for him when he ran unsuccessfully for Louisiana governor in 1991.
“There is a major white supremacist backlash building,” said Mark Potok, a hate-group expert at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group in Montgomery, Ala. “I also think it’s more widespread than may be obvious to most people. It’s not only neo-nazis and Klansmen—you expect this kind of reaction from them.”
Controversy over the Jena 6 case has been percolating for months but it exploded into national view last Thursday when a crowd of at least 20,000 peaceful demonstrators from around the country marched through the central Louisiana town.
They came to support the six black high school students who were initially charged by the local prosecutor with attempted murder for attacking Barker, a white classmate who was beaten and knocked briefly unconscious last December. The charges were later reduced to aggravated second-degree battery.
The incident capped months of racial unrest after three white students hung nooses from a shade tree at the high school after black students asked permission to sit under it. School officials dismissed the noose incident as a prank, angering black students and their parents and triggering a series of fights between whites and blacks. The whites involved were charged with misdemeanors or not at all while the blacks drew various felony charges.
McMillin has insisted that his town is being unfairly portrayed as racist—an assertion the mayor repeated in an interview with Richard Barrett, the leader of the Nationalist Movement, a white supremacist group based in Learned, Miss., who asked McMillin to “set aside some place for those opposing the colored folks.”
“I am not endorsing any demonstrations, but I do appreciate what you are trying to do,” Barrett quoted McMillin as saying. “Your moral support means a lot.”
McMillin declined to return calls seeking comment Monday.
Barker’s father, David, said his family did not know the nature of Barrett’s group when they agreed to be interviewed, adding, “I am not a white supremacist, and neither is my son.”
But Barrett said he explained his group and its beliefs to the Barker family, who then invited him to stay overnight at their home on the eve of last week’s protest march.
Rev. Jesse Jackson told the Tribune that he had grown so concerned about white extremists’ threats against the Jena 6 families and perceived injustices in the town that he called the White House over the weekend to ask for immediate federal intervention. Jackson said the acting head of the U.S. Justice Department’s civil right division phoned him Monday to say that the agency had begun investigating the Jena situation.
The President’s Last Stand
No lame duck, Bush has big plans to push through an imperial legacy before he leaves
September 18th, 2007
by Nat Hentoff
On January 20, 2009, when the next President of the United States swears to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution,” will he or she instruct the new Congress to undo the subversions of that document perpetrated by George W. Bush during his final months in office?
At a Justice Department meeting last month, a range of civil-liberties lawyers asked administration officials if the president would agree to be limited by even the hugely expanded powers in the new Protect America Act, which allows his administration to engage in warrantless spying on Americans’ e-mails and phone calls. It became alarmingly clear that the answer was no: The president remains convinced that he has an inherent constitutional power to do whatever he (and he alone) considers necessary to protect the national security.
Bruce Fein, a conservative constitutional lawyer who served in the Reagan Justice Department, was at that meeting, and said during an August 15 Bill of Rights Defense Committee conference call:
“The president claims he doesn’t have to obey any law under the Constitution’s Article II powers,” an article that begins with the words, “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”
At the Justice Department meeting, as reported in the August 18 New York Times, Justice Department officials repeatedly refused to give “an assurance that the administration considered itself bound by the restrictions imposed by Congress.”
Democratic congressman Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii voted against the Protect America Act: “We cannot give the president an unrestricted license to snoop and bully [U.S.] citizens. He’s seeking the power of kings, and I’m not about to make the president of the United States a new king.” But there was enough Democratic support to assure passage of the Protect America Act.
Among the additional new extensions of surveillance power over us by the king and his ministers is a plan to give national and local law-enforcement officials much more access to photos taken by spy satellites and aircraft sensors that, as the August 16 Washington Post warned, “can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings. . . . [This] broader domestic use of secret overhead imagery” can begin as early as this fall. However, officials at the Department of Homeland Security and in the office of the Director of National Intelligence give us “total assurance” that our civil liberties will be protected. Play it again, Sam.
Meanwhile, another ceaseless guardian of our civil liberties, the FBI, is working on a project, the System to Assess Risk (STAR), that will allegedly detect traces of terrorist “sleeper cells” here at home before they can strike.
The Bush administration has already set national (and, I expect, world) records for databasing its citizens. But the FBI, in its budget request to Congress for the STAR project—as reported by National Public Radio’s ever-watchful Dina Temple-Raston on July 17—”expected the new center would be sifting through some six billion pieces of data by 2012.” (Emphasis added.) Temple-Raston added: “That translates to 20 records for every man, woman, and child in America.” It’s too soon for my newest grandchild, two-year-old Ruby Hentoff, to be included, but if STAR continues under the next president, then Ruby—considering her already-databased grandfather—could well become “a person of interest.”
Focusing on this president’s belief that Article II of the Constitution enables him to appoint himself dictator, the conservative columnist George Will reminds us of President Harry Truman’s 1952 attempt to assert his own “inherent powers” in order to take over the nation’s steel mills and prevent a wartime strike (the war in question being the Korean War). The Supreme Court confronted Truman—like Van Helsing waving a cross before Dracula—with the Constitution’s separation of powers. In a concurring opinion that I hope the members of the current Supreme Court are familiar with, Justice Robert Jackson thundered:
“No penance would ever expiate the sin against free government of holding that a president can escape control of executive power by law through assuming his military role . . . . [Historians] have discovered no technique for long preserving free government except that the Executive be under the law. . . . ”
Among the Democratic presidential candidates, only Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut has introduced a bill, the Restructuring the Constitution Act, that cuts out some of this president’s most dangerous exclusive powers under the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Unlike Dodd, the two leading Democratic contenders, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have not focused on this regal assumption of unconstitutional authority, which few Americans are likely to have in mind when they vote in November 2008 (though Dennis Kucinich has spoken of it).
But as George Will angrily writes in Newsweek’s August 13 issue, the Military Commissions Act, building on the Bush administration’s previous arrogation of dark powers, “treats all of America as a battlefield on which even American citizens can be declared ‘enemy combatants,’ seized and held indefinitely, as intelligence can be collected by any means the president orders”—something that Bush’s July 2006 executive order on the CIA’s torture techniques further asserts.
Back in December 2002, a member of Congress about to retire spoke to us all: “We, the people, had better keep an eye on our government—not out of contempt or lack of appreciation or disrespect, but out of a sense of guardianship.”
He was giving his farewell address at the National Press Club, and he ended by fervently addressing his colleagues in Congress: “How do you use these tools we have given you to make us safe in such a manner that will preserve our freedom? . . . Freedom is no policy for the timid. And my plaintive plea to all my colleagues that remain in this government as I leave it is, for our sake, for my sake, for heaven’s sake, don’t give up on freedom!”
This latter-day Minuteman was the very conservative House majority leader, Dick Armey. The same Dick Armey who, while still in office, defied George W. Bush and John Ashcroft by tearing out a provision of the “Freedom and Security” section of the administration’s Homeland Security Bill, a plan (“Operation Tips”) that would have given millions of Americans the authority to formally report, via a toll-free number, “suspicious” or “unusual” activity (otherwise undefined) that struck them as terrorist-related.
Roared Representative Armey as he killed that section, at least for a time: “Citizens will not be informants!” At the same time, Democratic congressional leaders Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt were both conspicuously silent on “Operation Tips.”
In the current Democrat-controlled Congress, what will the leadership do regarding the FBI’s STAR program and the surveillance of American citizens from on high by spy satellites? I know I can count on senators Pat Leahy and Ron Wyden—but how many other Democrats, fearful of being tarred as soft on terrorism by our commander-in-chief, will once more refuse to take a stand?
Bush Says He’ll Veto Congress’s Plan for Children’s Health Care
September 22, 2007
By Holly Rosenkrantz
President George W. Bush dismissed an agreement reached yesterday by congressional leaders to expand the government’s children’s health insurance program and said he will veto the measure.
“Members of Congress are risking health coverage for poor children purely to make a political point,” Bush said in his weekly radio address.
House and Senate leaders, including some Republicans, yesterday defied Bush’s veto threat and agreed on a $35 billion expansion of the 10-year-old State Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as SCHIP. The legislation would let an additional 3.4 million children get medical coverage, according to the Senate Finance Committee. The added money would come from raising the U.S. tax on tobacco products.
The program will expire Sept. 30 unless the Democratic- controlled Congress and Republican Bush agree on legislation to renew it. Bush proposed increasing funding for the program by $5 billion over five years.
The congressional proposal would provide coverage in some cases to families making as much as $83,000 a year, Bush said.
“Democrats in Congress have decided to pass a bill they know will be vetoed,” the president said in his radio address. “The proposal congressional leaders are pushing would raise taxes on working Americans and would raise spending by $35 to $50 billion,” he said.
The program, which now covers about 6 million children, was created to help families with incomes too high for Medicaid, the U.S. insurance program for the poor, and too low to afford private coverage. Over the years, some states have boosted income eligibility, reaching $72,000 for a family of four in New Jersey, the most generous state.
The Bush administration says the expansion amounts to a new entitlement for middle-income families that would entice people to give up private insurance for government-subsidized care.
“Our goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage — not to move children who already have private health insurance to government coverage,” Bush said.
Mandela still alive after embarrassing Bush remark
21 September 2007
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Nelson Mandela is still very much alive despite an embarrassing gaffe by U.S. President George W. Bush, who alluded to the former South African leader’s death in an attempt to explain sectarian violence in Iraq.
“It’s out there. All we can do is reassure people, especially South Africans, that President Mandela is alive,” Achmat Dangor, chief executive officer of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said as Bush’s comments received worldwide coverage.
In a speech defending his administration’s Iraq policy, Bush said former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s brutality had made it impossible for a unifying leader to emerge and stop the sectarian violence that has engulfed the Middle Eastern nation.
“I heard somebody say, Where’s Mandela?’ Well, Mandela’s dead because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas,” Bush, who has a reputation for verbal faux pas, said in a press conference in Washington on Thursday.
Jailed for 27 years for fighting white minority rule, Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994. He won a Nobel Peace Prize for preaching racial harmony and guiding the nation peacefully into the post-apartheid era.
References to his death — Mandela is now 89 and increasingly frail — are seen as insensitive in South Africa.
Canadian Dollar Trades Equal to U.S. for First Time Since 1976
September 20, 2007
By Haris Anwar and Theophilos Argitis
Canada’s dollar traded equal to the U.S. currency for the first time in three decades, capping a five-year run on the back of booming demand for the nation’s commodities.
The Canadian dollar rose as high as $1.0008, before retreating to 99.87 U.S. cents at 4:16 p.m. in New York. It has soared 62 percent from a record low of 61.76 U.S. cents in 2002. The U.S. dollar fell as low as 99.93 Canadian cents today. The Canadian currency last closed above $1 on Nov. 25, 1976, when Pierre Trudeau was Canada’s prime minister.
The move to parity marks a milestone for a currency dubbed the loonie for the bird that adorns the nation’s one-dollar coin. Parity also symbolizes Canada’s emerging clout in a world economy increasingly short of the energy, grains and metals the country produces.
“It’s a long time since those heady days,” said Frank McKenna, 59, deputy chairman of Toronto-Dominion Bank, the country’s third-biggest lender, and a former ambassador to the U.S. “Canadians should understand that this is a badge of confidence in our country.”
Canada, the world’s eighth-biggest economy, has benefited from rising demand for copper, gold, wheat and oil from neighboring U.S. and emerging economies such as India and China. The country is the world’s largest producer of uranium, the second-biggest exporter of natural gas, and sits on the largest pool of oil reserves outside the Middle East. Canada is also the world’s second-largest exporter of wheat, which rose to a record this month.
The Reuters/Jefferies CRB Index of global commodities has risen 69 percent since January 2002 on growing demand from China and other Asian economies, boosting the value of Canadian exports and triggering investment in new mines and other resource projects. Canada’s economy will be the fastest-growing among the Group of Seven nations in 2008, with an expected pace of 2.9 percent, the International Monetary Fund estimated in April.
Foreign investors are rushing into the country to tap into the boom, boosting demand for the Canadian currency. Canadian companies have been involved in announced takeovers worth $287 billion this year, surpassing the record $275 billion for all of 2006, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The dollar almost gained a full cent on July 12, the day Rio Tinto Group offered $38.1 billion for Montreal-based Alcan Inc., the world’s No. 2 aluminum producer.
Canada, which has run 10 consecutive annual budget surpluses, is using the world’s growing reliance on its commodities to bolster its stature globally.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called the North American country an “energy superpower,” and asserted sovereignty in the Arctic, pitting Canada’s claims against Russia and the U.S. Harper also has sought to increase Canada’s influence in Latin America by signing trade deals and touting the country as an alternative energy source to Venezuela.
“Parity heralds Canada’s reemergence on the world’s economic stage,” said Michael Gregory, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto.
To be sure, the stronger Canadian currency comes at a cost to some areas of the economy, from lumber producers in British Columbia to carmakers in Ontario. The stronger dollar makes their products more expensive abroad.
“We’ve got a speculative bubble in the Canadian dollar,” said Stephen Jarislowsky, chief executive officer of Montreal- based Jarislowsky Fraser Ltd., which manages about $62.6 billion. “Parity will be an unmitigated disaster for Canada. It spells — in the not too distant future — a major recession, at least in eastern Canada if not the rest of the country.”
The Forest Products Association of Canada, an Ottawa-based lobby group, estimates 110,000 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing industry since 2002, almost a third of them in the forest sector.
The surging currency also reflects U.S. dollar weakness against all major currencies. The U.S. dollar has posted losses over the past five years against all but one of the 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg on concern about the nation’s budget and trade imbalances, and a housing slump.
“We are going to feel the effects of the downturn in the U.S. housing market, because we are an exporter of housing materials,” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said in an interview in Ottawa. “But overall we have a strong Canadian economy, our economic fundamentals are the strongest in the G-7. So we are well positioned to weather this storm.”
So far, growing demand for commodities and other industrial goods produced in Canada is more than offsetting the slump in manufacturing. Canada has generated 32 consecutive quarters of current account surpluses, with receipts from outside Canada exceeding payments sent abroad by C$187 billion ($187 billion) over the period. The jobless rate remains at a 33-year low of 6 percent.
“In a resource economy, and Canada is still largely a resource economy, you’ll find the exchange rate will move up and down with commodities,” said Neil Camarta, senior vice president of oil sands at Petro-Canada, the country’s third-biggest oil and gas producer.
The country is also lessening its dependence on the slowing U.S. economy, with U.S. shipments accounting for 76 percent of exports in July, down from 85 percent in 2002. Exports to the U.S. fell 3.3 percent in July, yet were up 29 percent to the European Union and 65 percent to China.
And while the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates on Sept. 18 to revive growth, Canada’s central bank raised rates in July and may increase them again this year to stem inflation, futures contracts show.
“Currency markets are a good indication relative to the country,” said Richard Waugh, chief executive officer of Toronto-based Bank of Nova Scotia, the No. 2 bank. Waugh predicted in a March interview that the currency would reach parity.
For McKenna, the move to parity reminds him of a time when he was a boy in the 1960s, selling strawberries to U.S. tourists on the roadside in his native New Brunswick. Back then, the Canadian dollar was worth more than American money.
“It was difficult to make change,” he recalled. “So we used to give them a break (and) treat the currencies at par.”