A legacy of the Rwandan Genocide

It can be tough to criticize the liberators, the people who stop a genocide. They are heroes to many, and it’s easy to disregard the people who disagree as the oppressors. Hell, it took us long time in the United States to begin coming to terms with some of the inhuman military actions we took in World War II while liberating Europe and Asia from brutal, genocidal regimes. Rarely are the liberators perfect or unsullied.

In late October 1990, the “Rwandan Patriotic Front,” a ethnic Tutsi minority rebel army suddenly stormed the Rwandan border from Uganda. Once the invasion began Uganda felt compelled to support it. The rebels were largely Rwandan only by parentage and were seeking the right of return and political control of the country after what they saw as decades of injustice by the Hutu majority in the post-colonial period. The authoritarian Hutu-controlled government of Rwanda went into a state of emergency and began crackdowns and reprisals, and elite Zairian and French troops quickly arrived to back the Hutu government. The invasion was a failure and the rebels retreated, with their leadership disintegrating especially as Uganda’s government arrested some of them. Another RPF leader, Major Paul Kagame, was immediately recalled from the United States, where he had been receiving extensive military training during the preceding months, and he took command, planning out a guerrilla long-war strategy. By 1992, the Rwandan regime had been forced to enter a cease-fire settlement with the rebels, although the rebels remained in a weak position. After several months the RPF invaded again because the government was allegedly conducting “small” massacres, but French troops arrived again to arm and support the regime, which ended the invasion and resulted in another cease-fire, this time with UN peacekeepers and a plan for power-sharing. It must be noted that well over a million Hutu civilians had become displaced during the conflict due to RPF massacres.

In April 1994, the presidential plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile of unknown source and the Hutu generals initiated a violent coup within hours and began political purges. Within days, the general massacres of Tutsi civilians were rolling along as the Hutu hardliners had planned for months, and around a dozen Belgian UN troops were killed, prompting Western nations to send in rescue troops to evacuate all their personnel, leaving the ordinary Tutsis (and moderate Hutus) to their fate. Over the course of the next three months, the Rwandan military and an extremist militia committed systematic genocide, killing one person approximately every five minutes on average. (The final victim count was estimated at 800,000 to well over a million. The RPF puts the figure at 937,000).
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We endorse Mike Capuano for US Senate

This is the official endorsement by the Editors-in-Chief of Starboard Broadside for the US Senate special Democratic primary election to be held on December 8th, 2009. The final special election will be in late January.

For us, this was a pretty simple choice: former Somerville mayor and current US Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA-08) should be the next US Senator from Massachusetts. We made this decision based on several factors… First, Capuano has an impressive, unabashedly progressive voting record in the US House of Representatives. Second, on the big issues of today, he is not only already engaged in working on them and ready to hit the ground running in the upper chamber, but he has the right campaign positions. Finally, he is the best candidate to take up the banner of Ted Kennedy’s vision for America.

In office since 1999, with a lifetime progressive score of 95.42%, Rep. Capuano has been voting the right way on all the major issues that matter to progressive and liberal Democrats. Of particular importance are his votes against the 2001 USA PATRIOT ACT, the 2008 FISA domestic surveillance amendments, and the Iraq War Resolution in October 2002, which shows he has his head on straight. While it is a bit troubling that he has supported some of Israel’s more aggressive actions, such as the 2006 campaign in Lebanon, he also believes that a comprehensive two-state-based plan for peace in Israel and Palestine will help Israel in the long run more than endless war with terrorist groups. Capuano has also created a coalition of US representatives to take action on Sudan and the genocide in Darfur, and he has worked to end illegal torture and rendition of terrorism suspects, which we feel demonstrates a clear commitment to a humanitarian foreign policy that lives up to America’s ideals. He has a record of voting against nuclear weapons buildups and missile defense boondoggles. We conclude that as one of one hundred senators, his sensible foreign policy votes and stances will have even more impact. On the current health care reform, Capuano has voted against the dangerous Stupak abortion restriction amendment but for the overall reform plan. On the environment, he has a solid record heading into the ongoing climate change legislative process early next year. On education, he has voted to mitigate the negative effects of the No Child Left Behind legislation and has supported increased funding for public education in general. His record is virtually impeccable, he defends his liberal credentials vociferously and without apology, and there’s no mystery as to how he’ll vote in the Senate, which unfortunately cannot be said for any of his Democratic rivals, none of whom have any legislative record.

Whoever is elected to the Senate in January must have the right campaign positions on four pressing issues: the economy, the environment, and the War in Afghanistan, and health care reform. Capuano does have the right positions (given in those links) on these issues…

As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, Capuano is working right now on reforms that we hope will prevent a similar economic catastrophe in future. We believe that while the TARP financial bailout program was problematic and poorly executed, we still think it was necessary, and therefore we commend his vote in favor of it and his recognition that we need to keep fixing the problems of the bailout. In another area, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) has introduced aggressive consumer protection legislation, and Mike Capuano has been an advocate for consumers in the House, so we know he’ll support tough legislation such as Dodd’s.

On the environment, Capuano has pledged to continue strengthening climate change (cap-and-trade) legislation, which will still be on the table in January. Critically, he supports green jobs programs and renewable energy projects such as Cape Wind (off Cape Cod) that benefit Massachusetts and help fight global warming. He will also support tougher emissions standards for vehicles, which is always a good thing. From recycling programs in Somerville to legislative work in Washington, Capuano understands the need for strong environmental legislation.

On the campaign trail over the past couple months, he has called for the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan; while we have debated whether or not it is the right time to draw down, we are agreed that we should not escalate further and that we need to prepare a clear exit plan. Capuano has consistently voted against indefinite timelines and military proposals that do not include an end plan.

Finally, on health care, the current legislation may have passed Congress by the time the next Senator takes office in January, but we don’t know what form it will take and we know that it will be far from a complete piece of legislation. For this reason, especially since the next person elected to the Massachusetts Senate seat could well hold the spot for decades, it is critical to have a Senator in place who will continue to push for more and better health care reform legislation. Thus far, he has voted the right way, and he maintains that he has been a strong, longtime supporter of increasing coverage for Americans, which we believe he will continue to be.

The third reason we have decided to endorse Rep. Mike Capuano for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat is that he is best suited to continue Senator Kennedy’s vision for the country. Kennedy served Massachusetts in the United States Senate from 1962 to 2009, and throughout it he fought for access to health care by all Americans and for quality education for all American children, and he worked to improve the lives of middle income and poor Americans. Whether serving in Somerville MA or on Capitol Hill in DC, Mike Capuano has demonstrated a commitment to these same ideals, as a liberal, as a Democrat, and as an American citizen. Although the Kennedy family or their loyal friends have held that Senate seat from 1953 to the present (with interim Sen. Paul Kirk Jr.), for the past three decades Ted Kennedy used that seat for fulfilling his ideals, not simply for fulfilling family or personal ambition. Thus, we feel that it is important to elect the candidate best suited to continue pursuing these aims. We don’t want a carbon copy, but we believe Ted Kennedy was one of the greatest Senators in US history, and so it’s important to fill his shoes as best we can. With a proven legislative record living up to Ted Kennedy’s vision, and the experience and Washington connections needed to continue the Dream, it’s clear Capuano will keep up the work that the Kennedy family started long ago with that seat.

Although we looked at the other candidates, we were not as impressed as with Rep. Capuano. State Attorney General Martha Coakley does not have a legislative record at any level, and she has had a fairly low-profile in her current office, which concerns us because we don’t want a wildcard, but rather a reliable liberal vote. Many of her supporters have argued that we need more women in office and that this is a sufficient reason to elect her. While we appreciate that we certainly do need more female leaders, we also believe that we should elect the candidate with the best positions and the best record, regardless of gender, and we feel that Capuano is better on both counts. We believe that Alan Khazei, a co-founder of City Year and a friend of Ted Kennedy, is an earnest candidate who is probably quite liberal, if untested, but he lacks the relevant experience we’d like to see in such an important office at this critical time. He would be new to government, and he would not be able to hit the ground running if elected. Furthermore, because he is so unknown, if Khazei won the primary he would be the most likely to put the seat at risk for a Republican capture — an unlikely scenario for the others. Mike Capuano is a much safer bet on all counts. Steve Pagliuca is the candidate we definitely cannot support in this primary because he is a former Republican and seems like a rich opportunist whom we can’t trust to represent the liberal Massachusetts constituency. He supported the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign, despite abandoning the Republican Party before that. We have trouble supporting anyone who did that. Pagliuca’s positions are also questionable, including when he confuses people by issuing and backtracking from position statements, such as supporting a military draft. He has also showed insufficient concern for women’s rights, suggesting that the Stupak abortion restriction in the House health care bill was largely irrelevant or unimportant. Mike Capuano, on the other hand, raises none of these doubts in our minds.

In conclusion, we enthusiastically join the impressive list of those who have already endorsed Representative Mike Capuano for United States Senate for the Massachusetts Democratic primary on 12/8/09, and we will be casting our absentee ballots for Newton MA to help him win. We hope those of you who are registered to vote in Massachusetts will do the same.

Learn more about Mike Capuano and his positions at MikeCapuano.com

Why the Stupak Amendment is so bad

Perhaps the United States House of Representatives believes that all men are created equal—but it does not believe that all women are created equal, or that women are equal to men. These views it has made clear with the passage of the Stupak Amendment, which limits the right to choose for women who can afford to pay for an abortion up front, or for women who can afford a private insurer whose policy covers abortion.

As for the rest, well, that’s what coathangers are for.

HR-3962 describes itself as “[an act t]o provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans.” Abortion is legal in the United States to provide quality health care; in delivering the opinion of the Court on Roe v. Wade, Justice Blackmun explicitly stated that one reason for legalizing abortion was that, unregulated, it was deadly, but regulated it was much safer: “Mortality rates for women undergoing early abortions, where the procedure is legal, appear to be as low as or lower than the rates for normal childbirth. (…) The prevalence of high mortality rates at illegal “abortion mills” strengthens, rather than weakens, the State’s interest in regulating the conditions under which abortions are performed.” The passage of the Stupak Amendment, then, undermines the purpose of the healthcare reform bill, because it does not provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans. Not only does it bar the public health option from covering abortion, it also bars people who receive “affordability credits”—reduced premiums granted to people with lower income levels—from using those credits to purchase an insurance plan that covers abortion.

The consequences will be exactly those that Roe v. Wade tried to prevent: despite abortion limitations and bans, women will get them anyway, and the risks they incur will be much more severe.

In the United States, abortion is a legal medical procedure. For a bill whose purpose is to provide affordable healthcare to explicitly ban funding for abortions is absurd. Furthermore, the Stupak Amendment makes it in private health insurance companies’ best interest to take abortion coverage out of their policies: because of affordability credits, more people will be able to buy government-subsidized private health insurance, but only companies that don’t provide abortion coverage will see any of that new money. They can get more customers through the insurance exchange if the new customers get subsidies, but they can only get those customers if they don’t include abortion coverage.

I should add that this amendment is not about saving a fetal life, but about using pregnancy as punishment for sexual activity. If it were equating a fetus to a child, it would not permit abortion in cases of rape or incest; killing a child because it is the result of incest or rape would still be infanticide.

Many women simply cannot afford children or even childbirth right now—and given that many health insurance companies will not cover a c-section if a women has already had one, and that over 30% of births are c-sections, that’s understandable (the lowest price estimation I have seen for an uninsured c-section is $5,000, and most are upwards of $10,000 assuming everything goes smoothly). Consequently, the Stupak Amendment puts women in a damned-if-we-do, damned-if-we-don’t position.

Advocates for free-market capitalism ought to oppose the Stupak Amendment because it imposes a de facto artificial handicap on health insurance companies, without allowing customers to vote with their money. Advocates for socialism ought to object to this gross gap in healthcare provision between rich and poor women. Women ought to object because their rights are being stripped. Men ought to object because their lovers, daughters, sisters and friends could soon find themselves in the emergency room –or in a coffin– after an unsafe abortion. This amendment benefits no one and is a dangerous step backward for everyone.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

Democratic candidates and Choice

There’s been a lot of controversy within the Democratic base over the Stupak Amendment, which we’ll be covering more later. Essentially, it’s an amendment by the so-called “pro-life Democrats” in the House and would place de facto restrictions on abortion accessibility if it passes both chambers of Congress. Without going into the amendment itself much, I wanted to look at a point this raises on the role of the Choice issue in the Democratic Party and how it relates to Democratic candidacies.

I obviously can’t speak for all base Democrats, but I think many of us made the critical mistake of underestimating the potential influence of the anti-choice/pro-life caucus within our party in Congress. For example, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA, elected 2006) has been a pretty good Senator so far, but everyone knew he ran as a “pro-life Democrat,” but most of us especially outside Pennsylvania probably thought very little on that point. Of course, some liberal pro-choice activists were rightly worried because Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the major 1992 Supreme Court revision of Roe v. Wade, refers to Bob Casey Sr. who was then the Governor of Pennsylvania and supported a fairly strict abortion restriction law — and it was reasonable to wonder if the father’s views were shared by the junior Senator from Pennsylvania.

As it turns out, yes that appears to be the case:

Now some Senate Democrats, including Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, are pushing to incorporate the same [Stupak] restrictions in their own bill. Senior Senate Democratic aides said the outcome was too close to call.

I sincerely hope that the Senate does not pass the Casey-Nelson version of Stupak into the Senate health care reform bill (and the signs suggest that it won’t succeed). But that’s not even what I’m looking at here.

The problem as I see it is that I and many others assumed that at the federal legislative level, abortion law was largely a settled matter for the most part. I know many activists who are dedicated in particular to this issue didn’t share that view, but I’m willing to admit they were right and I was wrong on this. I figured that if the Republicans had used nearly uninterrupted control of the whole Congress for twelve years and the White House and the House for six years, but had failed to outlaw abortion, then it was pretty much secure. There were restrictions such as the misleadingly named “partial-birth abortion ban,” but the Republicans were upfront about their hope of banning abortion and they failed. I assumed that pro-Choice Democrats, who do form a majority of the caucus, would be able to keep the “pro-Life” Democrats in check.

So for Casey and other candidates, I figured there was probably very little chance for them to put their views to a vote, and if it did come up I forgot that pro-life Republicans and Democrats would be able to vote in unison to form a majority as they did on the Stupak House amendment. It almost seemed like some Democratic candidates who took pro-life pledges might just have been pandering with no intention of casting damaging votes. And I think I was wrong.

That leads us to a question on how to view pro-life candidates in future. Obviously there are a lot of Democrats who have more conservative opinions on abortion, and that means there’s a role for pro-life candidates. On the other hand, and more importantly, I think a majority of the Democratic base supports the right to choose and women are certainly a majority of the Democratic Party’s membership nationally. The Stupak Amendment is a political problem for the party because it makes it look like the party is “throwing women under the bus,” as many have said in the past few days.

I think we may have reached a day of reckoning on this issue. The Democratic Party is going to face severe electoral difficulties if it doesn’t quickly resolve its position on abortion rights. In future election cycles, I think that activists, the ones who donate their time and money to elect Democrats, are going to be extremely wary of engaging with candidates who oppose the right to choose. We’ve now seen that they’re a real threat to the right to choose, not just a stated or theoretical threat. This is an intra-party policy contradiction that the party leaders have kicked down the road for years. That doesn’t look like an option anymore. Unfortunately, this has never been an issue that party leaders like to discuss openly, even though it needs to be discussed.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Deficit Levels

This video was on the front page of Daily Kos mainly to highlight what the author saw as betrayal by Sen. Evan Bayh on FOX News, where he explained why he planned to vote against the Federal spending bill that runs budget programs. I’m not, however, posting it here for that reason, as you’ll read below the video.

If he and other deficit hawks stopped for a moment to consider what they are actually saying, they might realize they were making the case FOR increased deficit spending. He cites the Civil War and WWII as the only times when he thinks the deficit-to-GDP ratio was higher than now (Bayh thinks it’s 12% of GDP right now, and by the end of WWII it was over 100% of GDP).

Ok, setting the Civil War aside because that brings up unrelated issues, let’s examine the issue of citing World War II deficits. Right now, we’re in a major recession. It’s the worst since the Great Depression (1929-1942ish). Now, we trundled along from 1929 to the US entry to war worrying about deficits and not spending too much compared to the national GDP, which was much smaller then than it is now. No amount of New Deal programs worked until 1942, when the New Deal went on Allied War Effort steroids. That doesn’t mean the New Deal failed because it was useless, it means it didn’t succeed because it didn’t go far enough.

World War II came along and we went WAY into debt and spent at a federal budget deficit exceeding the entire gross domestic product of the United States. This money went to buy and build weapons, pay factory workers, expand the bureaucracy, pay soldiers, overhaul the manufacturing industry, and increase government control over the American Total War Economy. Our long malaise and stupor finally broke and we emerged out the other side of the war on an economic crest (which temporarily dampened as spending and price controls were slashed rapidly by a Republican-run Congress). But the Great Depression was finally over and we didn’t go back to it. Without the extreme wartime spending, though, it’s probably safe to say the Depression would have continued longer.

While the debt was never entirely paid off, the deficit and debt levels were both brought reasonably quickly back under control, and they largely remained that way for the rest of the 20th century. By the time President George W. Bush took office, we were still paying down the national debt, but the spending was close to par with the revenue. No harm done.

Obviously, in the very long run, World War II-level spending would be unsustainable, but it was only meant for the short-term. Evan Bayh clearly makes an exception to his deficit concerns “rule” when he cites World War II…which came after/during the Great Depression and ended it permanently. That means that he knows it’s critical to act by massive government spending for a few years. There are exceptions to his rule, and he knows it, but doesn’t connect the dots.

Aren’t we in exceptional times right now?

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

United State of Unemployment

The New York Times has put out a cool interactive map of unemployment by US counties, as of December 2008 (Feb 09 unemployment was at 8.1%):
Go to feature
Click on the map to go to the full graphic.

There is, however, a major problem with this map that limits its overall usefulness. It’s great for just looking at how this particular recession is hitting various regions, which is what it was made for, but it’s concealing other issues. The graphic’s caption states, “Job losses have been most severe in the areas that experienced a big boom in housing, those that depend on manufacturing and those that already had the highest unemployment rates.” And it’s true that you can see this from the map. But that’s not good enough to get a real picture of current unemployment.

The map is based off what’s called U3 unemployment by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is the “official” number. Since the recession in the early 1990s, this measure has been reworked for political reasons and is still the one that the media uses to report unemployment figures (released the first Friday of each month). U3 unemployment only counts a person as unemployed if they have been looking for a job sometime within four weeks of the time of the survey, which means that if people have given up looking for work, they don’t get counted as unemployed under U3.

Look at the map and notice that, with the exception of the perpetually dying state of Michigan, the Rust Belt areas of Pennsylvania/Ohio/Illinois/Indiana/etc don’t really seem too bad in terms of unemployment. If you were to go there right now, you would find massive economic devastation and chronic joblessness almost everywhere in the Rust Belt, where the industrial/manufacturing jobs have been flowing out of the country for years. The disconnect between reality on the ground and the map above is because of U3’s insistence on discounting people who have just given up altogether because there are no jobs, so there’s no reason to bother looking. People who are not looking but could work, haven’t looked recently but could work, and people who are working part-time (because the economy can’t sustain as many full-time jobs as workers want) all fall under various categories that are not included in the official rate, U3.

If you have ever wondered why unemployment during good times is so high in many European nations, compared to the US, you weren’t considering the way unemployment is measured in each place. It’s pretty difficult to compare unemployment statistics between nations because every government counts it differently. But Republican politicians frequently deride high French unemployment and blame it on SOCIALISM (!!!!) to score political points. Let’s look deeper.

The 2008 Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate for the average unemployment for the whole year was 5.8% U3 unemployment. France had a 7.4% estimated unemployment for the year. At the moment, of course, with the recession, the US rate climbed to 8.1% and France’s has presumably also climbed. But if we now add back all the other folks excluded in the official rate, as described above, the US rate jumps up. The U4, U5, and U6 rates add in more and more groups, until we come up with an accurate portrayal of the unemployment/underemployment situation. The U6 unemployment figure for the US currently stands at 14.8% nationwide, and even one year ago before the recession got going, it was a full 4.3 points higher than the “official rate” of 5.2% U3 unemployment. At that point, the French figure doesn’t look too bad.

So, what exactly does the U6 rate measure and why is it important to understand? The BLS describes U6 thus:

Total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers.

NOTE: Marginally attached workers are persons who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the recent past. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not looking currently for a job. Persons employed part time for economic reasons are those who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule.

From what I’ve read, this is very comparable to how the French government measures its national unemployment rate. It’s more honest, but it’s disheartening. It’s politically expedient to quote the U3 figure and move on to praising the American way. It’s also taken me WAY too long to explain this, which is why when the unemployment data comes out, only the official rate makes the news. What anchor wants to explain U6?

But when the official reports say we had only 7.2% national unemployment in December, it makes the map above look much better and much less permanent, and it means we don’t have to worry about the parts of the country that are often doubly and chronically worse off in joblessness. In reality, we’ve reached nearly 15% unemployment.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.