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December 21, 2011

Wikinews interviews former Salt Lake City mayor and 2012 presidential candidate Rocky Anderson

Wikinews interviews former Salt Lake City mayor and 2012 presidential candidate Rocky Anderson

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rocky Anderson in 2009
Image: Don LaVange.

Former Salt Lake City mayor and human rights activist Rocky Anderson took some time to discuss his 2012 U.S. presidential campaign and the newly-created Justice Party with Wikinews reporter William S. Saturn.

Anderson served as mayor of Salt Lake City for eight years (2000–2008) as a member of the Democratic Party. During his tenure, he enacted proposals to reduce the city’s carbon emissions, reformed its criminal justice system, and positioned it as a leading sanctuary for refugees. After leaving office, Anderson grew critical of the Democratic Party’s failure to push for impeachment against President George W. Bush, and for not reversing policies on torture, taxes, and defense spending. He left the party earlier this year and announced that he would form a Third party.

Anderson officially established the Justice Party last week during a press conference in Washington D.C.. He proclaimed “We the people are powerful enough to end the perverse government-to-the-highest-bidder system sustained by the two dominant parties…We are here today for the sake of justice — social justice, environmental justice and economic justice.” The party promotes campaign finance reform and is attempting to appeal to the Occupy Wall Street movement. It is currently working on ballot access efforts, and will hold a Founding Convention in February 2012 in Salt Lake City.

Among other issues, Anderson discussed climate change, health care, education, and civil liberties. He detailed his successes as mayor of Salt Lake City, stressed the importance of executive experience, and expressed his views on President Barack Obama and some of the Republican Party presidential candidates. He spoke in depth about former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, with whom he worked during the 2002 Winter Olympics, and fellow Utahan, former governor and U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, Jr..

Background

Wikinews waves Left.pngWilliam S. SaturnWikinews waves Right.pngCould you list some of your accomplishments as mayor of Salt Lake City?

Rocky Anderson: I served for eight years and during that time, Salt Lake City became known as the model city for providing leadership on climate change solutions. Just before the 2002 Winter Olympic games, I declared that we would meet at least the Kyoto Protocol goals, and we far exceeded those in a very short period of time with 31 percent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions during the course of three years.

Downtown Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Olympic games.
Image: debaird.

I was a vigorous advocate for mass transit and was able to resurrect a light rail system that was voted down by our city council within days after my election. I was able to turn around the public opposition and not only received a unanimous vote from the city council but also obtained federal funding.
I put in place a comprehensive restorative justice program that became a nationwide model. We were one of three finalists for the World Leadership Award by the World Leadership Forum in London for our restorative justice program, which focuses on solutions rather than simply punishment and retribution.
I worked to provide real and effective drug prevention and education programs filling the completely ineffective D.A.R.E. program and getting proven effective programs in our schools and providing much better public education on substance abuse issues. We focused not only on the abuse of illicit drugs but also the abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, which is an enormous problem in Utah and throughout the country.
We fought against sprawl development incorporating principles of smart urban growth development with transit orientation development projects and opposition to sprawl-inducing new highways and increased dependence on the automobile.
I started a city-wide youth afterschool and summer program called YouthCity, and always pursued public policy with the understanding that upfront investments in making things better including opportunities for young people was far better for all in our community and far less expensive than ignoring those upfront needs and having to deal with the disasters down the road. We know that if we keep our young people engaged and teach them skills including social skills, we have a lot better shot of building safer healthier and sustainable communities, and at the same time keeping these young people out of trouble.

Anderson at the 2007 Salt Lake City Marathon.
Image: Jen Wakefield-Dillier.

I helped change, well, I led for the change in the culture of our police department where there was much more community-oriented policing where police were held accountable for not only excessive force against our residents and visitors but also even for rude behavior. I instituted a crisis intervention team program where officers were trained in recognizing and dealing with people with mental illnesses. Before I was mayor, I noticed that police were getting in confrontations with people with mental illnesses and escalate situations to the point of, in some cases even shooting and killing mentally ill people. We see that happen in communities all over the country and it’s so important that our police be trained to recognize the root causes of some violent behavior and understand when to back off and resolve the situation without further violence.
Our prosecutor’s office and police department were very supportive of our restorative justice program, which took a solution based approach to a wide variety of situations including public sex, drug abuse, prostitution, dealing with both prostitutes and johns. We had a homeless court, we had a mental illness court so that if homelessness or mental illness was at the root of illegal conduct, we could deal with those issues in a constructive way rather than simply running people through the criminal justice revolving door, which is very expensive and in the end destructive to everybody’s interests.
I was a big proponent and testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee regarding the proposal to transport and store high level nuclear waste, first, on a supposedly temporary basis at the Goshute Reservation in Utah and ultimately at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.pngHow critical is it for a presidential candidate to have executive experience?

Anderson: I think it’s extremely important for someone to be able to demonstrate in an executive capacity, he or she can handle the pressure, know how to deal with differing interests, and come to the best solutions. I know some people get in an executive position and they become very dictatorial and dogmatic about what they’re doing. I’ve always held the view both as a practicing lawyer, as president of my law firm and of course as mayor and then later as executive director of High Road for Human Rights, that you’re going to do a much better job if you learn as much as you can about any topic before you form your views and then still bring in those who have opposing views to hear them out and to learn, try to learn.

Public transit with the skyline of Salt Lake City in the background.
Image: CountyLemonade.

Cquote1.svg I think in terms of executive experience, knowing how to bring those opposing forces together, solve problems, being respectful, and always having in mind that just because you’re in that position doesn’t make you any smarter or wiser than you were before. That shared wisdom can mean everything in terms of one’s success. Cquote2.svg
That’s how we were able to get the light rail project completed right in the beginning of my term. There was a group called Citizens Against Light Rail that formed and they even had their own letterhead and logo, and the leaders of that group will tell you that the first thing I did was brought the opponents all together at my home, went through what caused them to oppose light rail, and we figured out through a really constructive problem solving exercise during the course of several intense weeks, how to resolve most of those issues, and those opponents to light rail were very much in favor of it and are real champions of the community-based problem-solving process that we’ve put into place. That’s also become the national model. We put together a community team of people that was comprised of businesses and residents all along the construction route that would determine whether the contractors would receive bonus payments, and then we set very clear guidelines for those contractors in terms of dust control, noise control, hours of construction, keeping one lane of traffic open at all times so businesses could continue to have access. This system had the contractor very very sensitive to the concerns of those along the construction route and ways we certainly didn’t see during the construction of light rail down Main Street under my predecessor. And contractors ended up received either 96 or 97 percent of possible bonus payments because of that increased sensitivity, and members of the community felt like they had real power, which of course they did. That’s how it ought to be.
I think in terms of executive experience, knowing how to bring those opposing forces together, solve problems, being respectful, and always having in mind that just because you’re in that position doesn’t make you any smarter or wiser than you were before. That shared wisdom can mean everything in terms of one’s success.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.pngAccording to an article in The Nation publication from 2006, a supporter asked you to run for president, but you told them that a run would require money and the backing of the state machine, which would be virtually impossible in conservative Utah. You added, “If I thought I could win, I would [run].” How is the atmosphere in 2012 better for you than it was in 2008?

Anderson: Well first of all, as reflected by the Occupy Movement, people in this country across the board understand how diseased and corrupt our system is, both our electoral system and the system of governance. We know now that there have been repeated failures in public policy that are a direct result of the corrupting influence of money. We’d have a universal health care system like the rest of the industrialized world were it not for the corrupting influence of medical insurance money. We wouldn’t be wasting billions, upon billions of dollars for unnecessary weapons programs, where the stranglehold and the corrupting influence of money from the military-industrial complex; we were warned about that by President Eisenhower during his last speech.

President Dwight Eisenhower warned, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

The deregulation of the financial institutions that led toward this nation’s and the world’s economic disaster from which we’re all still suffering, would never have come about were it not for the corrupting influence of money in the system. President Obama for instance, received more money from Wall Street than any other candidate in our nation’s history, and so they got a really good return on their investment because the Obama administration has not brought one person to justice for the massive financial fraud that took place that helped lead to this economic cataclysm.
The failure of our nation to provide international leadership on climate change and to develop a policy that would result in energy independence is a direct result of the corrupting influence of money from the coal, oil, and gas industries. I don’t think President Obama woke up one day and decided it would be a really good public policy to veto the EPA’s position of more strict limits on ozone in our communities. Ozone creates so many illnesses and even death. Rather, his decision was just another example of his kowtowing to polluting industries. Likewise, he could have put an end to any possibility of the Keystone Pipeline, yet he’s just put it off, delayed it until after the election, and by all other signs from how he’s conducted himself as president, it is pretty apparent that he will end up approving that pipeline if he is reelected.
So, the American people understand that. They want to see people in elective office that for a change are not going to be sustaining and sustained by the corrupting influence of money in our government. They want to see that the public interest is promoted for a change. So, we have that elevated awareness about what’s going on in our government, about which people are very unhappy as reflected in 9 percent approval rating for congress and a low 40s percent approval rating for our president.
And at the same time, and this is what’s different than even just a few years ago: we have the democratizing impact on communications from social media. We’ve seen revolutions now in different parts of the world, the overthrow of dictators through a combination of courageous, tenacious people working at grassroots organizing and utilizing the tools now provided through social media. That’s why we’re going to be able to run this campaign limiting campaign contributions to $100 per person for the election cycle and maximizing in every way we can, the use of social media. This will be a people’s movement that is already gaining unbelievable traction after just one week since we announced.

The Justice Party and opposition

Wikinews waves Left.pngWilliam S. SaturnWikinews waves Right.pngLet me ask about the Justice Party. What is it? How large is it? And how can people join?

Rocky Anderson: People can join in a number of different ways. There’s a website: justicepartyusa.org. There have been hundreds, probably thousands of inquires from people from dozens of states about getting on board, helping out as they can. There’s a steering committee, and we’re building on that steering committee as we speak. These are some great passionate, engaged, brilliant people, who’ve been working on this. But to see this happen in the sense, quite organically over time starting with discussions with people who have been contemplated doing this kind of work, coming together, building coalitions; I see the possibility of alliances or coalitions being built with different organizations around the country. The head of the Libertarian Party in one state came to us and said that he was publicly going to support what we’re doing. I’ve had Republicans contact me, telling us that they’ve had it with the craziness in that party; this extreme right wing approach that that party is now taking since the Tea Party’s had such enormous impact. We’re hearing from people who have been lifetime independents, members of the Green Party. We’ve got members of the Progressive Democrats that are being threatened to have their charter jerked by the Democratic Party because of their support for what we’re doing. In fact, one gentleman from the Progressive Democrats of America out of Chicago, is now on our steering committee. So this is an amazingly, cross-partisan representation of people who agree about the fundamentals and that is we need to change, not just the candidates that are playing within the system, but we need to change the system.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.pngYou mentioned Republicans and Libertarians, what about those that believe, ideologically that the government should not be involved in regulating carbon emissions or providing health care?

Anderson discusses Global Warming during a 2008 speech.
Image: NikiSublime.

Anderson: Those who believe the government shouldn’t have any involvement in providing essential health care for our citizens are not only on the margins in our country but throughout the industrialized world. The United States is the only country that allows reliance that in fact fosters reliance on for-profit insurance companies for the provision of essential health care for our citizens. It’s simply wrong that people are dying by the tens of thousands throughout this country every year because of inadequate health care services being available to them and you know we oftentimes hear from people like former President George W. Bush that people can go to emergency rooms, well that’s just simply not true. For a lot of the early diagnoses, early diagnostic work that can save lives, there’s not an option for that if you don’t have health care coverage. A lot of people can’t afford those diagnostic tests, and as a result they’re dying because by the time they’re properly diagnosed, the opportunity for saving their lives is gone, and yet the care that then has to be provided to them until they die is going to be extremely expensive. It’s so cost ineffective what we’re doing. We pay in this country more than double per capita health care than the average among the industrialized world, and part of our so-called health care dollars is going toward the profits for the for-profit insurance companies, dividends for their shareholders, huge bonuses, all the marketing for those companies. We are the most inefficient of nations in the industrialized world in terms of how we pay for health care. Our medical results are mediocre by comparison with other health care systems. And people are paying more money for mediocre results and we still don’t cover all of our citizens. So we come out looking very very badly by comparison with the rest of the industrialized world. If we were running a corporation here, and shareholders were determining how that corporation was doing in comparison to its competitors: higher costs, far less coverage, and mediocre results? I think we’d be replacing our board of directors and the officers and demanding that we catch up with our competitors.
The same thing is happening with education in this country. Our students are not equipped to compete with students from so many other countries. Ivy League schools are now putting quotas on the number of Asian students that they can accept because if they accept all of them on the basis of their merits, there would be relatively few Caucasian Americans being admitted to those Ivy League Schools. Why is Singapore doing so much better? Why are their students doing so much better on their testing than our students? It’s an utter failure of our educational system and it’s going to have an enormous impact in terms of the future. We’re not making the investments in education and innovation and in our nation’s infrastructure, all at the same time we’re wasting trillions of dollars on wars of aggression and continuing tactics in these countries that are creating so much hatred that leads to far less security in the long term for our nation.
And at the same time, we’re creating conditions for absolute catastrophe. Hundreds of names of environmental refugees, utter devastation in so many communities, loss of water resources, drought, starvation because of our failure to do what is required to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses. If there’s any role for government, it’s to provide for, not only for the short term, but long term health, safety, and national security of our people and our approach on climate change has been absolutely counter to that. Pentagon studies discuss how oncoming the imminent consequences from climate change are going to create such major national security problems, and that’s going to be the case all over the world. It’s absolutely irresponsible to not be looking out for the future, and doing what’s necessary to prevent the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. And the science is as robust as one could ever expect from science. Every nation’s science academy, every major scientific organization in the United States feels the climate issues are all in agreement: the world is heating up, generally, at a much faster rate than previously predicted. We’re already seeing massive consequences including the melting of the tundra, the melting of the arctic ice cap, melting of glaciers from which communities for centuries have depended for their water supplies. All of these consequences are happening faster than people believed they would just a few years ago and the future consequences are going to be horrendous. And we know that it’s all because of human’s conduct, either the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions, particularly from the burning of coal, oil, and gas, and from deforestation and the failure to reforest.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.pngIn 2008, you said that you voted for Barack Obama as the “lesser of two evils”, but Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney were also on the ballot in Utah. Looking back now as a third party leader, do you regret not voting for a third party candidate in ’08?

Anderson: In ’08…I actually…I think it was in ’08 but I…or was it ’04? Sorry. In one of those years, I swapped my vote with a Nader supporter elsewhere so that Nader would still get a net of one vote, but in a battleground state, it wouldn’t take away from the Democrat; it wouldn’t help the Republican get elected. But with the Electoral College, the sad fact is my vote doesn’t count in Utah because it’s always so overwhelmingly Republican. The Electoral College is an immensely anti-Democratic part of our electoral system, it needs to be changed, we need to get to the point where we’re all electing the president based on the principle of one person, one vote.
Cquote1.svg [Obama] has greater contempt for the rule of law…than George W. Bush Cquote2.svg

Anderson speaks at an anti-war rally in 2008.
Image: Jeremiah Roth.

And the reason that I said that I felt President Obama should be supported over McCain was that he was the lesser of two evils, but I recognized that President Obama had already shown his true colors. Then, I think in the pocket of the nuclear power industry when he was in the Illinois state house. He had never really stood up on any major issue. I asked his supporters, they fell for the whole hope and change hype during his campaign, and I was always asking people, so point to one thing that he stood for, where he’s shown any courage in standing up for principle. The entire time he was in the United States Senate, he voted for full funding for the occupation of Iraq. He never stood up against torture or the other human rights abuses that were occurring during that time. He promised us before he received the Democratic nomination that he would join the filibuster in opposition to Congress providing retroactive immunity for the telecom companies for their illegal participation in the Bush surveillance program. And by the way, not all the telecom companies participated in that, they recognized that it was illegal so it wasn’t a matter of people were fooled about whether it was legal or not. But for those telecom companies that did violate the law, they should have been held accountable. But in the classic American way, the corrupt way that has developed in our system of government, three telecom companies spend some twelve million dollars on lobbyists during the course of three months they put on the press, Congress passed legislation providing for the retroactive immunity and among those voting for the immunity, now after he received the Democratic nomination was then-Senator Obama, completely betraying those that he had promised to join the filibuster. But it was just a sign of things to come, they always talked about the rule of law, he has greater contempt for the rule of law, I think, than George W. Bush. He comes into office, says, “oh, we’re going to look forward, not backwards” in terms of holding accountable war criminals? And those were criminals not only under international law, the Geneva Convention, the Convention Against Torture, but under our own laws passed by Congress: War Crimes Act of 1996 and the federal torture statute. Clearly, an illegal act, and he says, “let’s just look forward, not backwards”. But he’s done the same thing for the people who committed such massive financial fraud on Wall Street without holding any one of them accountable.
He has reinforced this notion that there’s this narrow special aristocracy in this country, who are the most wealthy and the most powerful, and the contributors to his campaign, by the way, who aren’t going to be held accountable to the law while the rest of us oftentimes suffer just the most extreme consequences from the application of the laws, especially in the area of drugs, where tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, people have in our prisons because of violations of our drug laws.

The GOP race

Wikinews waves Left.pngWilliam S. SaturnWikinews waves Right.png What is your take on the GOP field, particularly Jon Huntsman, Jr., and Mitt Romney, both of whom you’ve endorsed in past elections?

Rocky Anderson: They both have been good friends of mine. The Mitt Romney I knew is a very different Mitt Romney than the one who’s been running for president. The Mitt Romney I knew believed in Roe v. Wade, that it came to the right result and with that ought to be established law and that we should just move on with it. This Mitt Romney, who, the last time he ran said we shouldn’t politicize Guantanamo, he doesn’t seem to have any regard for human rights, he’s gone back and forth and back and forth…Well, he did it as governor before the time he announced that he was going to run for president. But he’s even done it while he’s been running for president, this time, in terms of climate change. Out of one side of his mouth, he’s talking about how climate change is a problem, we need to deal with it. By the way, George W. Bush even said that. And then later on, he says, well we don’t really know the causes of climate change. But, he knows very well the causes of climate change. He knows how the scientific community feels on that issue. But he’s doing whatever he can to win the election.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. Anderson referred to Huntsman as “a bright, good man.”
Image: United States Department of State.

Anderson addresses the GLBT community of Utah in 2005.
Image: Jere Keys.

I think Jon Huntsman is on the whole very different than that. He stood by his views. He was governor of the state of Utah, advocating domestic partnerships, that is equal treatment under the law for members of the GLBT community. And I say equal, wasn’t quite equal because he still hasn’t reached a point where he embraces the idea of marriage equality as I have for decades. And actually had marriage equality when I ran for Congress in 1996, it became a core part of the opposition against me and probably led to my defeat in 1996. But he’s stood up on these issues, he’s stood up on the issue of climate change when he was governor. I think it was fantastic when he stood up during a debate and talked about how the Republican Party should no longer be the anti-science party. What an amazing thing. I mean one would think the bar is set that low that it would be amazing, but in this environment right now, for him to say that to the Republican Party while he’s running for their nomination. And then of course he was one of only two people who had the moral courage and sense to say “we should never be torturing”, and that is so counter to our nation’s heritage from the very beginning George Washington prohibited torture of British soldiers, and that’s been not only the law, but the ethic of our country from the very beginning. It’s only changed during this last decade and that’s part of a very dangerous trend toward an imperial presidency and the disregard for human rights, and it’s really so undermined our standing and not only undermined our standing, but created so much hatred toward the United States in many parts of the world.
So, Jon Huntsman is a bright, good man. We differ on a lot of things: I differ with him on offshore drilling, I differ with him on the keystone pipeline, on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But I think Jon, especially having served as U.S. ambassador to China understands all the amazing progress China has made in the area of green technology. China is just beating us in every possible way when it comes to green technology. They’re producing more than half of world’s solar panels, they’re producing more than half of the world’s wind turbines. Now, they’re incorporating these green technologies in their buildings and they’re insisting every mayor find ways to cut down on the use of energy in their communities. They know how to get the job done, and in this country, I mean, we look at our country and say well that they’re totalitarian, and yeah they have people who can say this is what we have to do, this is our goal, and now you have to go get it done or you’re not going to hold your job anymore. In this country, we have the pretense of democracy, but we know that it’s with corporations that are benefiting so much from these disasters in public policy that are calling the shots. And we’re not moving toward what would serve the public’s interest, and that’s clearly shown in the area of climate change and energy policy as it is when we see the work that we’re paying a lot more for drugs than other countries because of the corrupting influence of the pharmaceutical industry and the way that we’ve been sold out by those in Congress, both Republicans and Democrats who are feeding at the same special interest trough of corrupting money.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.pngDid you watch last night’s [December 15] GOP debate?

Anderson: No. I didn’t.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.pngWell, one candidate that was not invited to the debate was former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer, who like you, is limiting individual campaign contributions to $100. Did your idea to do this come from Roemer?

Anderson: No. No I didn’t, frankly, I didn’t realize that he was doing that. I heard Jeffrey Sachs talking about how these races could be won and the message to get across to people, and I said, absolutely that’s what we ought to do. Just set a $100 limit and let everybody know: they’re equal players, we’re all shareholders, we’re all shareholders in this, and no special interest is going to come along and have any special access or influence.

Public policy and the state of democracy

Wikinews waves Left.pngWilliam S. SaturnWikinews waves Right.pngWhat is the single most important issue facing Americans right now and how will you address this as president?

Rocky Anderson: The single most important issue facing our country is providing jobs, education, enhanced infrastructure, and encouraging innovation because we are falling so far behind the rest of the world. And part of that innovation and investment needs to be addressing climate change because in the long run, the impacts from climate change are going to be greater than…from any other shorter term issue right now.
Fiscal policy of course relates to all of that. We need to bring in adequate revenues so that we’re not passing off on to the next generation this enormous debt and interest burden, and we also need to get our spending under control, but still with an eye toward priming the pump during this recession and providing the kind of infrastructure, education, and innovation that’s going to serve this country not only for the present but far out into the future.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.pngThis is my last question. What necessary freedoms are currently lacking in American society?

Anderson:There has never been a time in our nation’s history when the executive branch has claimed so much power and abused that power and that runs the gamut. Our president has asked for the legal authority to point to anybody, even citizens of this country; have them taken away, essentially kidnapped, disappeared, detained without any limit; no legal representation, no charges, no trial. It is so absolutely contrary to what our constitution is based upon and what our system of government is based upon. It’s contrary to our nation’s heritage, to our most dearly held values. The Senate just passed this incredible bill, the Federal Military Authorization Act that would allow for that detention based on who-knows-what kind of information, no standard of proof, no public hearing. It’s not like these people are infallible.
Cquote1.svg The rule of law has been denigrated to the point never before experienced in this country. Cquote2.svg
The rule of law has been denigrated to the point never before experienced in this country. People can commit war crimes and if they’re rich and powerful enough, the United States says let’s just look forward and not backwards and let them off the hook. Not even an investigation. So we the American people have lost the freedom to even know what our government is doing and to know whether or not they’re going to be held accountable under the law.
All three branches of government have been part of this deterioration of the law. Courts through the very subversive state secrets doctrine will dismiss cases, not on the merits, but on the basis of the very perpetrator, the executive branch, coming to it and saying that the case cannot move forward because to do so would mean the disclosure of state secrets that would be contrary to national security, and so the courts throw the cases out. That is perhaps the most subversive thing that’s ever happened in this country because our system of government is based on the system of separation of powers and checks and balances. The courts are there in large part to protect against abuses of power including illegal conduct by the executive branch. If that check isn’t there, that spells tyranny. That means the executive branch can do whatever it wants, regardless of the law, even domestic laws and treaty obligations that have been passed by Congress.

Anderson (right) shakes hands with a peace activist and Iraq War veteran.
Image: Jeremiah Roth.

So there have been torture victims, and by the way, these torture victims it has been established, they have zero connection to terrorism. Torture victims have come to our courts with the claims and they’re proven claims by the way that they were kidnapped by the CIA, disappeared from their families and other loved ones, whisked off, one to an Afghanistan prison and another one to a Syrian prison. They were tortured. They were held for several months: one five months, the other one a year. One was a German citizen, the other a Canadian citizen. They come to our courts to challenge that illegal conduct, and by the way, the United States has assured the United Nations Committee Against Torture that we provide these kinds of remedies for victims of torture. So they come in, seek justice, seek a means of getting the truth out, and what is the response of the both the Bush and the Obama administration? They oppose the lawsuits even moving forward on the merits because, among other reasons, the state’s secret doctrine and the courts dismiss the cases. That is absolutely un-American.
Cquote1.svg [The state secrets doctrine] is perhaps the most subversive thing that’s ever happened in this country… Cquote2.svg
The Bush administration, contrary to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act approved over the course of years, numerous dictates, we don’t know how many because the truth hasn’t come out, but likely tens if not hundreds of thousands of instances of warrantless surveillance of communications by American citizens. Not just telephone calls, but e-mail communications and otherwise. President Bush promised us the warrants were being obtained in all those cases. He was lying to us. He later admitted “yeah I ordered the national security agency to go ahead and do that.” So there hasn’t been one person prosecuted when people have come into our courts to challenge that illegal surveillance and a 2 to 1 decision by one of our circuit courts, the determination was made that they don’t have standing to pursue the cases because they can’t prove that their individual communications were subjected to that illegal surveillance, and the reason they can’t determine if their communications were subject to that surveillance was because of the state’s secrets doctrine. The government was able to block them from getting that information once again asserting the state’s secrets doctrine.
So we have lost freedoms in very fundamental ways. We’re a country where no longer can even pretend to abide by the rule of law. Where congress will pass retroactive immunity legislation, letting corporations that can pump $12 million into their lobbyists in three months, letting them off the hook for their felonious misconduct. Where torturers are not held to account. Where there aren’t even investigations. At least, in the late 70’s, when there were abuses in the intelligence community, Congress had states’ people that would come together as under the Church Committee and investigate these matters and disclose to the American people, which led to legislation that would help deter these kinds of things from happening in the future. There’s none of that. There’s nothing to deter that kind of misconduct; the kind of absolutely subversive un-American activity within our executive branch. And Congress sits by let like the biggest bunch of patsies. Not asserting their constitutional prerogatives, not exercising their constitutional responsibilities to provide a check against those kinds of abuses.



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October 30, 2011

Wikinews interviews Buddy Roemer, U.S. Republican Party presidential candidate

Wikinews interviews Buddy Roemer, U.S. Republican Party presidential candidate

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Roemer in June 2011.
Image: Gage Skidmore.

U.S. Republican Party presidential candidate and former Governor Buddy Roemer of Louisiana took some time to answer a few questions from Wikinews reporter William S. Saturn.

Roemer served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1980s as a member of the Democratic Party. He was elected governor as a Democrat in 1987 before switching to the Republican Party ahead of the 1991 election for governor. That year, he lost the party’s primary to state legislator David Duke. After his governorship, Roemer worked as CEO of Business First Bank in Baton Rouge.

Roemer announced his candidacy for president back in July after exploring a bid for several months. He has focused his campaign on the issue of campaign finance reform, refusing to accept money from political action committees (PACs) and limiting individual campaign contributions to $100. He raised a total of $126,500 in the third quarter of 2011, far short of the $14.2 million raised by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

For his campaign, Roemer has adopted the slogan ‘Free to Lead’. He rails against corruption, special interests, and money in politics, and has expressed support for the Occupy Wall Street protests. Furthermore, he has taken issue positions in favor of fair trade, a balanced federal budget, and a strengthened national defense.

Roemer has not been invited to any national presidential debates. He has focused largely on the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire, and recently signed up to appear on the state’s primary ballot. However, a recent University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll shows him with less than one percent support in the state. Pearson Cross of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette commented, “If Buddy can exceed expectations in New Hampshire or even sneak in and steal third — that would give a boost that he could build on”.

Interview

Wikinews waves Left.pngWilliam S. SaturnWikinews waves Right.png Why did you decide to run for president at this particular point in time?

Wikinews waves Left.pngBuddy RoemerWikinews waves Right.pngWhy run now? The political system has become institutionally corrupt with special interest money in control. I run to reform the system.

Roemer shakes hands with potential voters.
Image: Gage Skidmore.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.png Why are you a better choice for the Republican nomination than any of your opponents?

Wikinews waves Left.pngBRWikinews waves Right.pngNo other candidate talks about the corruption of the political system as a result of special interest money. No other candidate limits contributions to $100 or less, no PACS, no SUPERPACS, full disclosure. No candidate has even stated a position on campaign reform. Our country is being bought and sold, and they have nothing to say. It is alarming and disgraceful. It is particularly bothersome as our country is in such difficulty with no jobs growth and lack of budgetary control and no solution is possible without exposing and placing broad limits on accepting special interest campaign funds. Lobbyists and Pacs with DC addresses contributed more money to the two candidates four years ago than 32 States combined. I will propose to Congress the following reforms:

  1. No superpacs
  2. Pacs could contribute only the “individual” amount, whatever the broad limit finally agreed. (currently $2500 for individuals and $5000 for Pacs)
  3. No registered lobbyists would be allowed to host or work in a fundraiser for a Member or the President, nor be allowed to contribute to a Member or the President. Your choice: registered lobbyist or fundraiser. Not both.
  4. Full Disclosure required. Pacs must show members and amounts contributed. No ridiculous $250 threshold.
  5. 48-hour reporting. In the age of the internet, we should not have to wait 100 days to see who gave money and how much to the President or Presidential wanabee.
  6. Criminal penalties established for violations.
  7. “Bundlers” must be reported with dollar amount collected.
  8. Seated President must report publically when “bundler” receives a Federal position.

Roemer prepares for a speech.
Image: Gage Skidmore.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.png Which of your fellow 2012 candidates for president do you most admire?

Wikinews waves Left.pngBRWikinews waves Right.pngRon Paul. Of course, I do not agree with every position, but on the Federal Reserve and its management he has added a great deal to the debate. He has grown in relevance in my thoughts over the past 30 years since we served in Congress together.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.png If you do not receive the Republican nomination, would you consider running as a third party candidate?

Wikinews waves Left.pngBRWikinews waves Right.pngI am a Republican and can’t conceive of any other Party or position as a candidate. As President, I will work with both parties and independents to rebuild America.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.png Do you believe Barack Obama has done any good things as president?

Wikinews waves Left.pngBRWikinews waves Right.pngI like his spirit of hope when he first came to DC. But he turned out to be just like the rest of them: money, money, money, money, money.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.png What necessary freedoms are currently lacking in American society?

Wikinews waves Left.pngBRWikinews waves Right.pngFair Trade ought to be a freedom that we can count on. The freedom to compete on a level playing field, but the big boys have bought those in control and have advertised the phrase Free Trade and all our best jobs get shipped overseas with Unfair Trade. A family without work is not happy, not healthy, not free. Our greatest loss of freedom has been loss of jobs. I’d get them back starting with Fair Trade and a level playing field with the biggest economic enemy of our great nation—-China.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.png Do you disagree with any parts of the current U.S. Constitution?

Wikinews waves Left.pngBRWikinews waves Right.pngI would like to see a provision relating to money as speech with broad limits, full disclosure, and personal accountability. In that reform I would consider “term limits” and non-political rules for reapportionment.

Roemer (left) with fellow presidential candidate Christopher Hill.
Image: thebudman623.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.png How have your political views changed in the past twenty years?

Wikinews waves Left.pngBRWikinews waves Right.pngI am a conservative who has learned to listen to other Americans. Listening is a gift that I was reluctant to accept in my early years. At 68, I have found listening makes life more fun, more meaningful, more satisfying.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.png What are some of your policy proposals and if elected, how would you implement these?

Wikinews waves Left.pngBRWikinews waves Right.pngI believe in small business and think they need deregulation. I believe in energy independence and would encourage the market place to price all forms of available energy. I would open Yucca Mountain to nuclear waste storage. I would emphasize natural gas (clean and available). I would drill where there is gas and would do it cleanly. I would stop sending $700 BN to Saudi [Arabia] and its neighbors. I would cease all energy subsidies, particular oil and ethanol and unproven energy technology, and would close the Department of Energy ($25 BN). I would form an energy pact with Mexico and Canada and with no one else. I would institute complete tax reform and remove crony capitalism by instituting the Flat Tax (simple and fair and no national sales tax and a supermajority to change the rate). I would reduce Federal Spending 1% of GDP a year for 5-years. Under my leadership this country will explode economically.

I would implement the above by taking a broom and sweeping out DC with new, informed citizen-leaders, by communicating with the American people on a frequent basis as I travel outside of DC, by being free of the special interest money, and by spending quality time and hours on task in building a team of Congressional reformers beginning with Republicans but including Democrats and independents. Reform, not “change” will be the phrase, because the only way to beat a corrupt system is to reform it.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.png Which individuals would you like to see in a Roemer administration?

Wikinews waves Left.pngBRWikinews waves Right.pngThose who have a record of reform in their home towns and local communities, and who pledge to put the peoples’ interests first.

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August 14, 2010

Iran to launch its first nuclear power plant

Iran to launch its first nuclear power plant

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Iran’s nuclear program
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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Location of Bushehr, the place where the power plant is located.
Image: Calmos.

Ali Akbar Salehi, chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, announced Friday that Iran is scheduled to launch its first nuclear power plant in Bushehr. Russia said that it will start loading fuel into the reactor on August 21, 2010.

Russia has assisted Iran in the construction of this reactor since the mid-1990s. The proposal to build this reactor was put forth 35 years ago by Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi, the former emperor of Iran.

Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev, the current president of Russia, said that Iran and Russia are in active trade partnership. Medvedev called on Iran last month to explain its nuclear program.

The official launch is scheduled for August 21, 2010. Russia has promised to run the plant by supplying fuel and taking away fuel waste.




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June 2, 2010

Thirteen die in Cumbria, United Kingdom, after series of shootings

Thirteen die in Cumbria, United Kingdom, after series of shootings

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Location of Cumbria within England.
Image: Airunp.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Police have found the body of a man they had been hunting in Cumbria, United Kingdom for a series of shootings. Police later confirmed that twelve people had been killed with a further thirteen injured, three critically. Shots were fired in Whitehaven, Seascale and Egremont, with a total of thirty different crime scenes. The Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant was locked down for the first time in its history.

The prime suspect was named as 52 year old local man Derrick Bird, a taxi driver. The first of Bird’s victims was a fellow taxi driver shot in Whitehaven at about 10.30 local time, with the following victims being shot at random as Bird drove down the west coast. Originally driving a Citroën Picasso, he was later said to be on foot when he crashed his vehicle.

Members of the public were advised by police to stay indoors, and for those who saw him not to approach him, but to call them. The manhunt covered the Boot or Scafell Pike area, and at 14:04 BST (13:04 UTC) the Deputy Chief Constable of Cumbria reported that a body believed to be Bird was found in a wood near Boot with a firearm, and that he had turned the weapon on himself.

The village of Boot, near where the suspect was found.
Image: Steve Partridge.

The affected area is popular with walkers and hikers, and currently, many schools across England are on half term, meaning the pupils have no classes.

British news network BBC News spoke to several eye-witnesses in relation to the incidents, from each of the areas, including Peter Watson of Whitehaven. “When I first got here it must have just happened. There was a man lying on the ground with police stood over him and a jacket on him,” he reported.

Home Secretary Theresa May is due to make a statement on the incident to the House of Commons tomorrow.



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September 17, 2009

Italian mafia implicated in radioactive waste dumping

Italian mafia implicated in radioactive waste dumping

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

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The ‘Ndrangheta, an Italian mafia syndicate, has been accused by a former member of the gang of sinking dozens of ships loaded with toxic waste, much of it radioactive. He says a journalist and cameraman were killed to keep them from revealing the activity.

The ‘Ndrangheta Italian mafia syndicate is centered in Calabria
Image: Dutch Wikipedia.

Turncoat Francesco Fonti has identified a wreck located a few months ago by environmental workers as MV Kunsky or Cunsky and says he sunk it himself in 1992, complete with 100 barrels of radioactive waste. The gang received £100,000 ($162,720) for the job.

The wreck was scoured last week by a robot, but could not be identified. It lies 480 feet below sea level, and is about 330 to 360 feet long. Its description and location have been found to match an old account Fonti gave authorities three years ago, and environmental detection equipment has been dispatched to the ship, images of which do show barrels in the area.

Fonti claims he blew it up with explosives from Holland and it was used to dispose of Norwegian nuclear waste. The damage seen by the team working at the site does appear consistent with this version of events. Prosecutors say it appears the issue is displaying “all the appearances of being a confirmation”. Fonti says waste was disposed of for businesses across Europe.

Nicola Pace, an Italian prosecutor, said there was evidence of “deliberate sinking of 42 ships with cargoes of waste, including radioactive waste” but there has never been concrete proof. Investigators will seek more shipwrecks if the mystery vessel does indeed have a toxic cargo. Over thirty vessels are believed to be in Italian waters.

Both Fonti and environmental group Legambiente have also claimed vessels were sent to Somalia and other developing countries with toxic cargoes, which were either sunk with the ship or buried on land. Legambiente alleges that local rebel groups were given weapons in exchange for receiving the waste ships. Fonti claims that Italian TV journalist Ilaria Alpi’s 1994 murder alongside her cameraman was because she had seen toxic waste arrive in Bosaso, Somalia.



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September 13, 2009

Milestone at world\’s largest cleanup site: Hanford nuclear basin removed

Milestone at world’s largest cleanup site: Hanford nuclear basin removed

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

The surface of waste found within a Hanford Site storage tank.
Image: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

K East Basin, a nuclear reactor basin in the Hanford Site in the northwestern United States, has been removed. Hanford, which was once one of the world’s largest nuclear production facilities as a component of the Manhattan Project, is now the site of the world’s largest environmental cleanup effort. The leak-prone K East Basin, which stored radioactive waste, was considered one of the site’s top environmental risks.

Removal of the basin, which was located 1,200 feet (370 m) from the Columbia River, will permit cleanup of contaminated soil along one of the river’s tributaries. The step was noted by a U.S. Department of Energy executive as a significant event in the protection of the river and of the million people who live downstream. It will also permit a reduction in the footprint of the cleanup project.

Aerial view of part of the Hanford Site; KE reactor is in the background.
Image: United States Department of Energy.

With a capacity of 1.2 million gallons (4.5 million litres), the basin once held 1,100 tons (998 metric tonnes) of spent nuclear fuel from the site’s nine plutonium production reactors; it also contained less radioactive sludge.

Contractor CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation’s removal of the basin, completed on Wednesday, September 9, followed the removal of its toxic contents in 2004 and 2007. Initially, the DOE and CH2M had intended to complete the removal by the end of July, but higher-than-anticipated levels of radiation delayed the project. Measures to protect workers delayed the project. In the past, the project has held annual public meetings; the day after the removal was complete, however Hanford’s top management invited workers to additional meetings September 17 and 18. These new meetings will not be open to the public or to the media.

A legal deadline calling for the removal of the basin by the end of September was met. CH2M will begin digging up the surrounding soil immediately; contaminants may include plutonium, uranium, cesium, strontium, cobalt, PCBs and/or chromium.



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February 2, 2009

Nuclear sites close as more UK workers walkout

Nuclear sites close as more UK workers walkout

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Heysham nuclear power station
Image: Rwendland.

Workers at two nuclear facilities in the United Kingdom walked out today in the continuing row about foreign workers.

Contract staff at the Sellafield nuclear recycling facility in Cumbria walked out this morning. They were joined by staff at Heysham nuclear power station in neighbouring Lancashire. Workers at sites affected by industrial action last week walked out again today, with 200 leaving the Fiddlers Ferry Power Station in Cheshire and a further 1,000 at Grangemouth oil refinery and Longannet power station.

The UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown had condemned the wildcat action on Sunday, calling it “counterproductive”. This drew criticism from unions and opposition parties as he had previously promised “British jobs for British workers” at the Labour Party’s conference in 2008. Brown has insisted that clarification of European Union law and European Court of Justice decisions will allow people to see that discrimination doesn’t take place in future.

The Secretary of State for Business Lord Mandelson has backed the site’s owners Total S.A., telling the BBC that the company had “very strongly refuted” the allegations and that he believed them to be right. He added that the media was “feeding this xenophobia”. He added that he hoped the rebuttal would calm the situation, saying “I hope in the light of that people will be reassured and call off these unofficial disputes”.

This drew an angry reaction from the GMB union. General Secretary Paul Kenny said “Peter Mandelson is in denial about the nature of the problem that has given rise to the dispute. Overseas companies are refusing to employ UK nationals on projects in the UK. That is not right”.

Lord Mandelson’s shadow, Kenneth Clarke, also condemned the strikes on behalf of the opposition Conservative Party, saying “I understand people being worried about their jobs. I don’t think this is the right way to demonstrate it”. Some Labour MPs, however, have expressed more sympathy with the strikers. Health Secretary Alan Johnson called for EU law to be changed to stop global companies undercutting local wage rates, while former minister Frank Field said “This form of contract clearly cannot go on, where contracts are awarded and there’s free movement of companies but those companies then restrict who can apply for those jobs”. Another former minister, Peter Hain, also sided with the strikers, blaming the government for “gold plating” EU law (making EU-derived laws stronger or stricter than the original directive) and telling them to “stick up for British workers”. The leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg sounded a warning note about changing British or EU law, saying that “any attempt to ban EU citizens from jobs in Britain would be a massive own goal. If every EU country followed suit, we would have to cope with a massive influx of British people who work overseas”.

The unofficial protests began on Friday, when workers in industrial plants across the country walked out in sympathy with the staff at Lindsey Oil Refinery in North Lincolnshire. The refinery are striking over the awarding of a contract by the French-owned site to an Italian company. This led to 200-300 Italian and Portuguese workers arriving at the plant. Unions allege that British workers were actively prevented from applying for the jobs.

Protests have continued today outside the refinery.



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September 28, 2008

McCain and Obama face off in U.S. presidential candidate debate

McCain and Obama face off in U.S. presidential candidate debate

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

The two major party presidential candidates in the US, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, faced each other yesterday in the first TV debate. Despite that McCain had asked to postpone the debate, both were present at the University of Mississippi. The debate, which was moderated by PBS’ Jim Lehrer, was planned to be focused on foreign policy, however due to concerns about the US financial crisis, the debate began focused on economy.

McCain repeatedly referred to his experience, drawing on stories from the past. Often, he joked of his age and at one point seemed to mock his opponent. Obama spoke of mistakes and repeatedly laid out detailed plans.

The debate was widely seen as a draw. A CBS poll conducted after the debate on independent voters found that 38% felt it was a draw, 40% felt Obama had won, and 22% thought that McCain had won. Voters and analysts agreed that Obama had won on the economy, but that McCain had done better on foreign policy issues, which were the focus of the debate. However, Obama had a more substantial lead on the economy than McCain did on foreign policy.

The McCain campaign faced some ridicule prior to the debate, after airing an internet ad declaring McCain had won the debate hours before it had started.

Financial & bailout plans

The candidates were asked where they stood on the country’s financial plans.

Obama put forward four proposals for helping the economy. First, to “make sure that we’ve got oversight over this whole [bailout] process”. Second, to “make sure that taxpayers, when they are putting their money at risk, have the possibility of getting that money back and gains”. Third, to “make sure that none of that money is going to pad CEO bank accounts or to promote golden parachutes”. And lastly, “make sure that we’re helping homeowners, because the root problem here has to do with the foreclosures that are taking place all across the country”.

He then went on to say, “we also have to recognize that this is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain, a theory that basically says that we can shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to the most, and somehow prosperity will trickle down”. Lehrer then turned to McCain, giving him two minutes as well.

McCain, on the other hand, stressed the urgency of the crisis and the partisanship present in Washington before going on. “This package has transparency in it. It has to have accountability and oversight. It has to have options for loans to failing businesses, rather than the government taking over those loans. We have to — it has to have a package with a number of other essential elements to it,” he told viewers, pausing to briefly mention energy and jobs before Lehrer stopped him.

Lehrer asked the two to come back to his question and urging them to speak to each other, first turning to Senator Obama.

“We haven’t seen the language yet,” Obama began, speaking to Lehrer and not McCain. “And I do think that there’s constructive work being done out there”, he said, before noting he was optimistic a plan would come together. “The question, I think, that we have to ask ourselves is, how did we get into this situation in the first place?”

He continued, stressing his foresight on the issues two years ago, before Lehrer turned to McCain, asking if he planned to vote for the bailout plan.

McCain stammered that he hoped so. Lehrer asked again, and McCain replied, “Sure. But — but let me — let me point out, I also warned about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and warned about corporate greed and excess, and CEO pay, and all that. A lot of us saw this train wreck coming.”

McCain then continued, giving a story about former US President Dwight Eisenhower, who “on the night before the Normandy invasion, went into his room, and he wrote out two letter”. Eisenhower, he said, had taken accountability for his actions.

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“As president of the United States, people are going to be held accountable in my administration. And I promise you that that will happen.”

Obama then agreed with McCain, adding that more accountability was needed but not just when there’s a panic. “There are folks out there who’ve been struggling before this crisis took place,” Obama continued, “and that’s why it’s so important, as we solve this short-term problem, that we look at some of the underlying issues that have led to wages and incomes for ordinary Americans to go down, the — a health care system that is broken, energy policies that are not working, because, you know, 10 days ago, John said that the fundamentals of the economy are sound”.

Obama was asked to say it to McCain. Obama replied, “I do not think that they are”. Lehrer asked him to say it more directly to McCain, and Obama laughed, repeating himself to McCain.

McCain joked about his age, saying, “Are you afraid I couldn’t hear him?”

Obama said that he and McCain disagreed fundamentally and that he wanted accountability “not just when there’s a crisis for folks who have power and influence and can hire lobbyists, but for the nurse, the teacher, the police officer, who, frankly, at the end of each month, they’ve got a little financial crisis going on. They’re having to take out extra debt just to make their mortgage payments”. Tax policies, he said, were a good example.

McCain disagreed. “No, I — look, we’ve got to fix the system. We’ve got fundamental problems in the system. And Main Street is paying a penalty for the excesses and greed in Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street. So there’s no doubt that we have a long way to go. And, obviously, stricter interpretation and consolidation of the various regulatory agencies that weren’t doing their job, that has brought on this crisis”.

Fundamental differences

Lehrer went on to the next question, asking if there were fundamental differences between the approaches of the two.

McCain began by saying he wanted to lower “completely out of control” spending. He promised as president to “veto every single spending bill” He then attacked Senator Obama’s use of earmarks, citing it as a fundamental difference.

Senator Obama agreed that earmarks were being abused, but not that it was a large problem. “Earmarks account for $18 billion in last year’s budget. Senator McCain is proposing — and this is a fundamental difference between us — $300 billion in tax cuts to some of the wealthiest corporations and individuals in the country, $300 billion. Now, $18 billion is important; $300 billion is really important.” He then attacked McCain’s tax plans, saying, “you would have CEOs of Fortune 500 companies getting an average of $700,000 in reduced taxes, while leaving 100 million Americans out”.

He then stressed his focus on the middle class, saying, “We’ve got to grow the economy from the bottom up. What I’ve called for is a tax cut for 95 percent of working families, 95 percent”.

McCain was called on.

“Now, Senator Obama didn’t mention that, along with his tax cuts, he is also proposing some $800 billion in new spending on new programs,” McCain said, attacking his opponent. He also said that Obama had only suspended pork barrel spending after he started running for president.

“What I do is I close corporate loopholes,” Obama objected, “stop providing tax cuts to corporations that are shipping jobs overseas so that we’re giving tax breaks to companies that are investing here in the United States. I make sure that we have a health care system that allows for everyone to have basic coverage”.

He then turned to McCain, asking him to look at his tax policies, which he said were ignoring the middle class and a continuation of Bush policies.

Lehrer asked McCain to respond directly to Obama’s attack on his tax policies.

“Well — well, let me give you an example of what Senator Obama finds objectionable, the business tax,” McCain began. He then explained the reasoning behind his business tax cuts, saying that companies would want to start in countries where they would pay less taxes. “I want to cut that business tax. I want to cut it so that businesses will remain in — in the United States of America and create jobs”.

Obama explained that his tax cuts would affect 95% of taxpayers, then replied, “Now, John mentioned the fact that business taxes on paper are high in this country, and he’s absolutely right. Here’s the problem: There are so many loopholes that have been written into the tax code, oftentimes with support of Senator McCain, that we actually see our businesses pay effectively one of the lowest tax rates in the world”.

McCain, he said, opposed closing loopholes but just wanted to add more tax breaks on top of that.

Cquote1.svg This was a clear victory for Barack Obama on John McCain’s home turf. Senator McCain offered nothing but more of the same failed Bush policies, and Barack Obama made a forceful case for change in our economy and our foreign policy. Cquote2.svg

—Obama-Biden campaign manager David Plouffe

He went on, attacking McCain’s health credit idea, saying that McCain wanted to tax health credits. “Your employer now has to pay taxes on the health care that you’re getting from your employer. And if you end up losing your health care from your employer, you’ve got to go out on the open market and try to buy it”.

McCain responded with an example of Obama voting for tax breaks of oil companies.

Obama cut in, “John, you want to give oil companies another $4 billion”, he pointed out.

McCain shot back, attacking Obama’s earmark spending and tax policies. “Who’s the person who has believed that the best thing for America is — is to have a tax system that is fundamentally fair?”, he said, referring to himself. “And I’ve fought to simplify it, and I have proposals to simplify it”.

He then accused Obama of voting “to increase taxes on people who make as low as $42,000 a year”. Obama repeated several times that McCain’s accusations were untrue.

McCain then accused him of giving tax cuts to oil companies, which Obama once again said was untrue. “The fact of the matter is, is that I was opposed to those tax breaks, tried to strip them out,”he said. “We’ve got an emergency bill on the Senate floor right now that contains some good stuff, some stuff you want, including drilling off-shore, but you’re opposed to it because it would strip away those tax breaks that have gone to oil companies.”

Post-financial crisis plans

Lehrer then broke in, stopping the argument. He switched to a new question, asking what priorities and goals for the country the candidates would give up as a result of the financial crisis.

He allowed Obama to answer the question first, who said many things would have to be delayed but not forgotten. He then began to list what he felt the country had to have to continue to compete.

“We have to have energy independence,” he said, “so I’ve put forward a plan to make sure that, in 10 years’ time, we have freed ourselves from dependence on Middle Eastern oil by increasing production at home, but most importantly by starting to invest in alternative energy, solar, wind, biodiesel”.

He continued, saying that the health care system had to be fixed because it was bankrupting families.

“We’ve got to make sure that we’re competing in education,” he continued. “We’ve got to make sure that our children are keeping pace in math and in science.” He also mentioned making sure college was still affordable.

He also stressed making sure the country was still stable structurally, “to make sure that we can compete in this global economy”.

Lehrer then turned to McCain, asking him to present his ideas.

“Look, we, no matter what, we’ve got to cut spending”, McCain began and reminded the audience that he “saved the taxpayers $6.8 billion by fighting a contract that was negotiated between Boeing and DOD that was completely wrong”.

Lehrer broke in, asking if it was correct that neither of them had any major changes to implement after the financial crisis.

Obama replied that many things would have to be delayed and put aside, and that investments had to be made. He then agreed with McCain that cuts had to be made. “We right now give $15 billion every year as subsidies to private insurers under the Medicare system. Doesn’t work any better through the private insurers. They just skim off $15 billion. That was a give away and part of the reason is because lobbyists are able to shape how Medicare work”.

McCain then made a suggestion. “How about a spending freeze on everything but defense, veteran affairs and entitlement programs”. Lehrer repeated “spending freeze?” and McCain went on, “I think we ought to seriously consider with the exceptions the caring of veterans, national defense and several other vital issues”.

Obama disagreed with McCain’s idea, saying it was “using a hatchet”. Some vital programs, he said, were seriously underfunded. “I went to increase early childhood education and the notion that we should freeze that when there may be, for example, this Medicare subsidy doesn’t make sense”.

The two candidates began to argue more directly.

“We have to have,” McCain argued, “wind, tide, solar, natural gas, flex fuel cars and all that but we also have to have offshore drilling and we also have to have nuclear power”.

He accused Obama of opposing storing nuclear fuel.

Lehrer interrupted the two with another question, asking how the financial crisis would affect how they ran the country.

Obama replied first. “There’s no doubt it will affect our budgets. There is no doubt about it”. He went on to stress that it was a critical time and the country’s long term priorities had to be sorted out.

Cquote1.svg There was one man who was presidential tonight, that man was John McCain. There was another who was political, that was Barack Obama. John McCain won this debate and controlled the dialogue throughout, whether it was the economy, taxes, spending, Iraq or Iran. Cquote2.svg

—Jill Hazelbaker, McCain-Palin 2008 Communications Director

McCain replied by criticizing Obama’s health care plans. “I want the families to make decisions between themselves and their doctors. Not the federal government,” he said, then called for lower spending.

He went on to speak about the national debt and stressing the importance of low taxes.

Obama went on the offensive, attacking McCain’s record of voting. “John, it’s been your president who you said you agreed with 90 percent of the time who presided over this increase in spending”, he said, accusing him of voting for an “orgy of spending”.

McCain countered that he had opposed Bush “on spending, on climate change, on torture of prisoner, on – on Guantanamo Bay. On a — on the way that the Iraq War was conducted”. He called himself a maverick, and referred to his running mate as a maverick as well.

Lessons of Iraq

Lehrer asked the two what the lessons of Iraq were.

McCain answered first, stressing that the war in Iraq was going well. “I think the lessons of Iraq are very clear,” he answered, “that you cannot have a failed strategy that will then cause you to nearly lose a conflict”.

He went on to praise the efforts in Iraq, saying the strategy was successful and the US was winning. “And we will come home with victory and with honor. And that withdrawal is the result of every counterinsurgency that succeeds”, and continued that Iraq would make a stable ally.

Lehrer asked Obama how he saw the lessons of Iraq, who began by questioning the fundamentals of the war and whether the US should have gone in the first place.

“We took our eye off [bin Laden]. And not to mention that we are still spending $10 billion a month, when they have a $79 billion surplus, at a time when we are in great distress here at home, and we just talked about the fact that our budget is way overstretched and we are borrowing money from overseas to try to finance just some of the basic functions of our government”.

The lesson, he said, was to “never hesitate to use military force”, but to use it wisely.

McCain was asked if he agreed on the lesson, though he did not comment on a lesson learned. Obama, he said, had been wrong about the surge.

The two opponents then began arguing, as Lehrman tried to mediate them.

McCain felt it was remarkable that “Senator Obama is the chairperson of a committee that oversights NATO that’s in Afghanistan. To this day, he has never had a hearing”.

“The issues of Afghanistan,” Obama responded, “the issues of Iraq, critical issues like that, don’t go through my subcommittee because they’re done as a committee as a whole”.

He then began to attack McCain’s optimism. “You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shiite and Sunni. And you were wrong”.

McCain responded to the criticism by telling a story of when he spoke to troops who were re-enlisting. “And you know what they said to us? They said, let us win. They said, let us win. We don’t want our kids coming back here. And this strategy, and this general, they are winning. Senator Obama refuses to acknowledge that we are winning in Iraq”.

McCain repeatedly accused Obama of opposing funding to troops.

Obama responded by speaking to Lehrer, to explain why he had voted against funding troops. “Senator McCain opposed funding for troops in legislation that had a timetable, because he didn’t believe in a timetable. I opposed funding a mission that had no timetable, and was open- ended, giving a blank check to George Bush. We had a difference on the timetable”.

“Admiral Mullen suggests that Senator Obama’s plan is dangerous for America,” McCain cut in once Obama had finished.

Obama said it was not the case, that the wording was “a precipitous withdrawal would be dangerous”.

McCain then argued that Iraq, and not Afghanistan, was the central battle ground against terrorism. He also attacked Obama’s surprise that the surge had worked.

Troops in Afghanistan

Lehrer switched to a new question. “Do you think more troops — more U.S. troops should be sent to Afghanistan, how many, and when?”

Obama mentioned he had been saying more troops in Afghanistan were needed for over a year. He argued that no Al-Qaeda were present in Iraq before the invasion, and the people there had nothing to do with 9/11.

He then went on to list a three part plan beginning with pressuring the Afghani government to work for it’s people and control it’s poppy trade. He also pressed the need to stop giving money to Pakistan.

Cquote1.svg To be frank, I’m surprised McCain didn’t play the POW card more tonight, consider how frequently he and his campaign have used it earlier in the campaign. Cquote2.svg

—Sam Stein

McCain responded by saying Iraq had to be stabilized and that he would not make the mistake of leaving Iraq the way it is.

“If you’re going to aim a gun at somebody,” he said, “you’d better be prepared to pull the trigger”.

Obama responded by arguing that if the Pakistani government would not take care of terrorists in it’s borders, action had to be taken. He then commented on past US policies with Pakistan, saying that the US support of Musharraf had alienated the Pakistani people.

“And as a consequence, we lost legitimacy in Pakistan. We spent $10 billion. And in the meantime, they weren’t going after al Qaeda, and they are more powerful now than at any time since we began the war in Afghanistan. That’s going to change when I’m president of the United States”, he finished.

McCain quickly replied that Pakistan was a failed state at the time. He then went on to talk about his voting record. “I have a record of being involved in these national security issues, which involve the highest responsibility and the toughest decisions that any president can make, and that is to send our young men and women into harm’s way”.

Obama argued that Afghanistan could not be muddled through, and that problems were being caused by not focusing on Al-Qaeda. As he finished, Lehrer attempted to announce a new question, but McCain quickly attacked Obama, saying his plans would have a “calamitous effect” on national security and the region.

Iran

Lehrer directed his next question towards McCain, asking about his thoughts on Iran and it’s threat to the US.

McCain’s reading of the threat in Iran was “if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it is an existential threat to the State of Israel and to other countries in the region”. He stressed the need to avoid another Holocaust, and the need for a league of democracies

Cquote1.svg Anybody hearing a snicker from McCain while Obama is talking? Cquote2.svg

—Nico Pitney

to battle Iran. “I am convinced that together, we can, with the French, with the British, with the Germans and other countries, democracies around the world, we can affect Iranian behavior”.

Obama went next, focusing on the Iraq war’s effect on Iran. Iraq, he said, was Iran’s “mortal enemy” and had kept Iran from becoming a threat. “That was cleared away. And what we’ve seen over the last several years is Iran’s influence grow. They have funded Hezbollah, they have funded Hamas, they have gone from zero centrifuges to 4,000 centrifuges to develop a nuclear weapon”.

He then went on to say that refusing to use diplomacy with hostile nations has only made matters worse and isolated the US.

Diplomacy

Lehrer turned to McCain, asking him how he felt about diplomacy as a solution.

McCain hurried through his response, attacking Obama on his willingness to meet with hostile leaders without preconditions. People like Ahmadinejad, he said, would have their ideas legitimized if a President met with them.

Obama responded by pointing out that Ahmadinejad was only a minor leader. Meeting leaders without preconditions, he said, “doesn’t mean that you invite them over for tea one day”. He then turned to attacking McCain, who he said “would not meet potentially with the prime minister of Spain, because he — you know, he wasn’t sure whether they were aligned with us. I mean, Spain? Spain is a NATO ally”.

McCain retorted that he was not yet President so it would be out of place. The two then began to argue over the comments of Dr. Kissinger’s stance on meeting foreign leaders.

McCain argued that meeting with and legitimizing ideas was dangerous and naive, and said it was a fundamental difference of opinion.

Obama accused McCain of misrepresentation, stressing that he would not speak without low level talks and preparations.

McCain responded by mocking Obama. “So let me get this right. We sit down with Ahmadinejad, and he says, ‘We’re going to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth,’ and we say, ‘No, you’re not’? Oh, please”.

Relationship with Russia

The two started arguing among each other, as Lehrer attempted to interject, finally succeeding with a new question. He turned to Obama, asking how he saw the relationship with Russia and it’s potential.

Obama began spelling out his opinion, stating that he felt the US approach to Russia had to be evaluated. He then continued that the US has to press for a unified alliance and for Russia to remove itself from other nations, adding that the US had to “explain to the Russians that you cannot be a 21st-century superpower, or power, and act like a 20th-century dictatorship”.

He went on, stressing the importance of diplomacy and affirming relationships, and inviting Russian-influenced countries into NATO. “Now, we also can’t return to a Cold War posture with respect to Russia. It’s important that we recognize there are going to be some areas of common interest. One is nuclear proliferation”.

McCain responded by attacking Obama’s reaction to the Russian-Georgian conflict, criticizing his initial comment that both sides should show restraint, calling it naive. “He doesn’t understand that Russia committed serious aggression against Georgia. And Russia has now become a nation fueled by petro-dollars that is basically a KGB apparatchik-run government”.

Lehrer asked Obama if there were any major differences between the two’s opinion on Russia, who answered that he and McCain had similar opinions on Russia. He then stressed foresight in dealing with Russia, as well as reducing dependence on foreign oil through alternative energy.

Alternative energy

“Over 26 years, Senator McCain voted 23 times against alternative energy, like solar, and wind, and biodiesel,” he mentioned.

The two began to argue over alternative energy. As Lehrer began announcing the next question, McCain interjected. “No one from Arizona is against solar. And Senator Obama says he’s for nuclear, but he’s against reprocessing and he’s against storing So,” he continued, as Obama objected, “it’s hard to get there from here. And off-shore drilling is also something that is very important and it is a bridge”.

McCain continued, as Obama interrupted to correct him, saying that he had voted for storing nuclear waste safely.

The two began interrupting each other, each trying to get a word in, before Lehrer stopped them and moved on.

Likelihood of another 9/11

“What do you think the likelihood is that there would be another 9/11-type attack on the continental United States?” asked Lehrer.

McCain said that America was far safer since 9/11, which he claimed a hand in. He went on to stress better intelligence and technology in keeping America safe, but that he felt the US was far safer.

Lehrer then turned to Obama.

Obama disagreed slightly, saying America was safer in some ways, but “we still have a long way to go”. He also felt that the US was not focusing enough on Al-Qaeda and fighting in Iraq was not making the US safer.

McCain accused Senator Obama of not understanding that “if we fail in Iraq, it encourages al Qaeda. They would establish a base in Iraq”.

Lehrer asked if Obama agreed.

Obama argued that the sole focus was currently Iraq, but that “in the meantime, bin Laden is still out there. He is not captured. He is not killed”. He noted that $10 billion was spent in Iraq every month, instead of going to healthcare. He argued that veterans were not getting the benefits they deserved, and that the next president’s strategies had to be broader.

McCain responded by attacking Obama saying he didn’t think Obama had the knowledge or experience to be President.

Obama then said that the job of the next President would be to repair America’s image and economy.

McCain concluded by citing his POW experience. “Jim, when I came home from prison, I saw our veterans being very badly treated, and it made me sad. And I embarked on an effort to resolve the POW-MIA issue, which we did in a bipartisan fashion, and then I worked on normalization of relations between our two countries so that our veterans could come all the way home”.

“And that ends this debate tonight,” finished Jim Lehrer.

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September 25, 2008

UN inspectors banned from North Korean nuclear facility

UN inspectors banned from North Korean nuclear facility

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Yongbyon nuclear facility.
Image: Keith Luse.

North Korea has banned nuclear inspectors from the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from inspecting its nuclear facility, the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. This comes after N. Korean officials said the facility would begin to reprocess plutonium which could begin in as little as a week.

“From here on, the IAEA inspectors will have no further access to the reprocessing plant,” said the U.N. in a statement on its website.

“The DPRK has also informed the IAEA inspectors that they plan to introduce nuclear material to the reprocessing plant in one week’s time,” added the statement. The U.N. finished removing their security seals and surveillance equipment from the plant on Thursday.

Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. Secretary of State, has urged N. Korea to dismantle their facility and return to six-party talks, but Pyongyang has refused and no new talks are scheduled to take place.

“We strongly urge the North to reconsider these steps and come back immediately into compliance with its obligations,” said Rice, referring to an agreement reached during the last round of six-party talks.

N. Korea restarted its nuclear program when the U.S. failed to follow through with its agreement to take North Korea off the national list of state-sponsored terrorism supporters.



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July 5, 2008

Iran says its nuclear program is unchanged

Iran says its nuclear program is unchanged

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Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki wrote a response to the incentives proposal.
Image: Monika Flueckiger.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Iran said today that the policies regarding its nuclear program have not changed, despite a proposal made by world powers last month that the country suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for economic and political incentives.

Government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham delivered the remarks. “Iran’s stand regarding its peaceful nuclear program has not changed. Iran insists on negotiations while respecting its rights and avoiding any loss of international rights,” Elham said. He indicated that Iran “will continue with the path determined by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei.”

His statement came a day after Iran officially responded to the incentives package, which was offered by the foreign ministers of the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, France, and Germany, as well as European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana. They had called for formal negotiations to be held “as soon as Iran’s enrichment-related and reprocessing activities are suspended.”

The proposal also included a preliminary negotiations phase, in which the world powers would not pursue any further sanctions against Iran if the nation does not manufacture or install uranium-enriching centrifuges for six weeks.

Iran’s response, a letter written by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, has not been made public. However, officials involved in the diplomacy have discussed some of its contents. They say the letter failed to address their proposal, and that it criticized the way diplomacy has been conducted, including the sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. “The time for negotiating from the condescending position of inequality has come to an end,” the letter said, according to the anonymous officials.

Nevertheless, the letter says Iran is willing to begin negotiating with Javier Solana and the other countries who made the offer. Solana is also willing to negotiate, according to his spokesman, Cristina Gallach. She said Iranian security chief Saeed Jalili had requested a meeting in a telephone call. “One of the things to decide is to meet Jalili, and if so when,” Gallach said.



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