Monday, January 29, 2007

The cost of extraordinary rendition

Maher Arar was a victim of extraordinary rendition by the USA. Rendered to Syria, Arar was imprisoned there for ten months and tortured.

Clearly a violation of Arar's human rights, the government made restitution for the harm Arar suffered. It compensated him $8.9-million for its role in the rendition. The restitution was clearly acknowledgement that extraordinary rendition is an unjust act.

Does this mean that the USA will end its practice of extraordinary rendition? Sadly, it doesn't. The USA was not the country who made restitution; Canada did. The USA will go on rendering terror suspects (i.e. people not convicted of terrorism) to countries that have no qualms about torturing people.

Canada was only indirectly involved in the rendition. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police wrongly labeled Arar as an Islamic fundamentalist and passed misleading and inaccurate information to U.S. authorities. Canada considered this role in Arar's rendition worth $9-million.

How much is the USA's role in Arar's rendition worth? After all, the USA is the country that interrogated Arar for eleven days while he was chained and shackled. It was the USA that put Arar on a plane and flew him to Syria (ironic that the USA will not talk to Syria about the mess in Iraq but would use it to outsource torture), leaving him there for almost a year knowing full well that he would be tortured. As long as the torture czar himself, Albert Gonzales, is the attorney general, you can be sure Arar will not see a dime from the USA.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

One plus one equals two

Most people know what adds up and what doesn't from a young age. President Bush still has not worked out how to do this yet. In the State of the Union address, Bush promised to submit "a budget that eliminates the federal deficit within the next five years." He also said he "can do so without raising taxes."

However, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) does not agree with him. The CBO released their annual report which projects future budgets. The data in the tables make it clear that the budget would either need an additional influx of cash or a substantial reduction in spending to prevent the continuation of budget deficits.

Who should Americans trust: the president who took this country from record surpluses to record deficits in a few short years or the CBO, a non-partisan congressional office? If you have a tendency to believe the CBO, then you should know what its director, Peter R. Orszag, says. He says that even if the president were able to balance the budget by 2012, the large numbers of baby boomers soon to be retiring would just send it right back into deficits.

However, the Senate is even more critical of where Bush is sending the budget. The Senate Budget Committee tells us the CBO is required to base its projections on current spending and tax law. It can't even take into consideration changes that are likely to occur. Currently, most of the funding for the Iraq war is off the budget, paid for through emergency appropriations. That means its cost, which is sure to approach half a trillion dollars, is yet to get in the budget. Furthermore, many of Bush's tax cuts are slated to expire in 2010.

Almost anyone with a grade school education can see things just don't add up. Bush might want to make those tax cuts permanent (and maybe give out some more cuts to the wealthy before he leaves office) and he might want a balanced budget in five years. However, he's about the only one who can't figure out that he can't have both.

Monday, January 01, 2007

One step forward, ten steps back

Slate published The Bill of Wrongs this past weekend. The author, Dahlia Lithwick, bills it as "the ten most outrageous civil liberties violations of 2006." It seems unbelievable that some of the items on the list could actually occur in the USA but they really did, and the details about them that Lithwick provides are accurate. Written in reverse order in the article, the list includes:
  1. Hubris
  2. The Military Commissions Act of 2006
  3. Abuse of Jose Padilla
  4. Extraordinary Rendition
  5. Government Snooping
  6. The State-Secrets Doctrine
  7. Slagging the Courts
  8. Slagging the Media
  9. Guantanamo Bay
  10. Attempt to Get Death Penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui
One major loss of civil liberty did not make the list. The USA PATRIOT Act was renewed this year. Perhaps Lithwick did not include it because the Act has been in effect for a few years now. Nonetheless, some of the sections of the Act that constituted the greatest intrusions into our privacy were scheduled to expire at the end of 2006, but congress canceled those expirations. The right to privacy is now lost forever to the American people.

It was a pleasant relief to finally see another civil liberty that has been violated in recent years also not make the list this time. It was beginning to look like Americans were losing their liberty to freely elect their president. After the fiasco of an election in 2000 and the highly questionable activities in many polling locations in the 2004 election, the manufacturers of electronic voting machines and voting officials began deciding the results of our elections. The rule of thumb is that once you lose a civil liberty, you will never get it back. However, the 2006 election showed us that is not always the case, when the American people were again free to decide an election -- and did so in no uncertain terms.