The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Tuesday, August 24, 2010, are:
Bush tax cuts help the uncharitable wealthy
The New York Times Magazine
The Charitable-Giving Divide
With the battle over whether to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy shaping up as the major political event of the fall, opponents of repeal were handed a bounteous gift this summer when Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and 38 others announced that they formed a pact to give at least half their wealth to charity. After all, what better illustration could there be of the great social good that wealthy people can do when the government lets them keep their hard-earned dollars to spend as they please?
The problem is that the exceptional philanthropy of the superwealthy few doesn’t apply to the many more people defined as rich in the current debate over the Bush tax cuts — individuals earning over $200,000 and couples with revenues over $250,000. For decades, surveys have shown that upper-income Americans don’t give away as much of their money as they might and are particularly undistinguished as givers when compared with the poor, who are strikingly generous. A number of other studies have shown that lower-income Americans give proportionally more of their incomes to charity than do upper-income Americans. In 2001, Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization focused on charitable giving, found that households earning less than $25,000 a year gave away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 gave away 2.7 percent.
This situation is perplexing if you think of it in terms of dollars and cents: the poor, you would assume, don’t have resources to spare, and the personal sacrifice of giving is disproportionately large. The rich do have money to spend. Those who itemize receive a hefty tax break to make charitable donations, a deduction that grows more valuable the higher they are on the income scale. And the well-off are presumed to have at least a certain sense of noblesse oblige. Americans pride themselves on their philanthropic tradition, and on the role of private charity, which is much more developed here than it is in Europe, where the expectation is that the government will care for the poor.
But in the larger context of “the psychological culture of wealth versus poverty,” says Paul K. Piff, a Ph.D. candidate in social psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, the paradox makes sense. Piff has made a specialty of studying those cultures in his lab at the Institute of Personality and Social Research, most recently in a series of experiments that tested “lower class” and “upper class” subjects (with earnings ranging from around $15,000 to more than $150,000 a year) to see what kind of psychological factors motivated the well-known differences in their giving behaviors. His study, written with Michael W. Kraus and published online last month by The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that lower-income people were more generous, charitable, trusting and helpful to others than were those with more wealth. They were more attuned to the needs of others and more committed generally to the values of egalitarianism.
“Upper class” people, on the other hand, clung to values that “prioritized their own need.” And, he told me this week, “wealth seems to buffer people from attending to the needs of others.” Empathy and compassion appeared to be the key ingredients in the greater generosity of those with lower incomes. And these two traits proved to be in increasingly short supply as people moved up the income spectrum.
This compassion deficit — the inability to empathetically relate to others’ needs — is perhaps not so surprising in a society that for decades has seen the experiential gap between the well-off and the poor (and even the middle class) significantly widen. The economist Frank Levy diagnosed such a split in his book “The New Dollars and Dreams: American Incomes and Economic Change,” published in the midst of the late-1990s tech boom. “The welfare state,” Levy wrote, “rests on enlightened self-interest in which people can look at beneficiaries and reasonably say, ‘There but for the grace of God. . . .’ As income differences widen, this statement rings less true.” A lack of identification with those in need may explain in part why a 2007 report from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University found that only a small percentage of charitable giving by the wealthy was actually going to the needs of the poor; instead it was mostly directed to other causes — cultural institutions, for example, or their alma maters — which often came with the not-inconsequential payoff of enhancing the donor’s status among his or her peers.
Muslim prayers welcome at Pentagon’s 9/11 terror site
Muslims already pray on sacred 9/11 ground: the Pentagon
While politicians across the country in an election year may be debating the appropriateness of building a Muslim center, including a mosque, two blocks from the World Trade Center site in New York, there’s no such debate at the Pentagon .
Instead, roughly 400 worshipers, including Muslims, attend prayer services every week in the chapel, a non-denominational facility built over the rubble left behind when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon.
Opponents of the New York mosque, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani , say it would be disrespectful of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001 , to allow Muslims to pray near the World Trade Center site.
That’s never been an issue at the Pentagon , where 125 people who worked there died that day. Muslims have been praying at the Pentagon’s 9/11 chapel since 2002, gathering every day at 2 p.m. around the time of the second of five prayers Muslims are supposed to offer daily …
Army officials said no one has ever objected to Muslims worshipping at the Pentagon chapel. Before the chapel was dedicated, those of any faith who wanted to pray at the Pentagon gathered in various conference rooms because there was no chapel.
Canada opposes Iraq war, but doesn’t support US war resisters
Iraq war resisters meet cool reception in Canada
It was the dead of winter when a buddy from Cornell University drove war deserter Dick Cotterill through the Maine-New Brunswick border for a new life of freedom and peace in Canada.
At the border station near St. Stephen, N.B., a Canadian official hassled the young Marine officer but within minutes let him in as a permanent resident, with the papers of a job offer from a beef farm.
That was March 1972, on the eve of Cotterill’s deployment to the Vietnam War.
“The Canadian government and people welcomed us in those days,” recalled Cotterill, 60, who now runs his own yard and garden equipment business in Truro, N.S.
A very different welcome has greeted Iraq war resisters, who have been coming to Canada since the war began in 2003.
These U.S. service men and women have met with roadblocks in seeking status in Canada, for fleeing from a war they consider illegal and immoral.
Their asylum claims, and immigration applications made on humanitarian grounds have been rejected, under review or challenged in court; some of the applicants have been deported and jailed in the U.S. including Robin Long, 26, sentenced to 15 months in 2008, and Clifford Cornell, 29, to 12 months last year.
“What bothers me is this is going against the strong Canadian tradition as a haven from militarism,” Cotterill lamented.
What a difference in the years between the Vietnam and Iraq wars, neither of which Canada had participated in, due to public, and finally, very official opposition.
“We have always made clear that Canada will require the approval of the U.N. Security Council if we were to participate in a military campaign,” Prime Minister Jean Chretien then said of Canada’s decision not to support the Iraq invasion.
History suggests that by refusing to join the Iraq war, Canada implicitly opened the door to others who felt likewise. At the Nuremberg trials of Nazi members following the WWII, the United Nations recognized that foot soldiers cannot justify their participation in war crimes on the excuse of following their superiors’ order.
The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that conscientious objectors (those who refuse to perform military service on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience and religion) can apply for asylum in another country if they face persecution in their own country for refusing to participate in an illegal war.
Thus, critics of the Harper government’s current harsh policy argue, U.S. court marshal and jail sentences for desertion constitute persecution, and are grounds for asylum.
On Sept. 27, Parliament will debate and vote on Bill C-440, a private member’s bill that would cease deportation of these war resisters and create a program to give them landed status if they get medical and criminal clearances – their last hope to remain in Canada …
“What’s struck me is that both (wars) involve a group of young people who want to get on with their lives,” said John Hagan, a Northwestern University professor, who wrote Northern Passage: American Vietnam War Resisters in Canada.
Whether to call them resisters or deserters stirs controversy. While activists prefer to use the former term because it highlights a serviceman’s conscientious right to object to a war, government and military officials like to remind the public these people are deserters who defy orders and abandon duties.
Resistance has never been easy.
The Trudeau government’s rhetoric was initially similar to the Harper government’s. “The department’s view is as firmly as ever, that we do not want deserters as immigrants,” said a Trudeau-era immigration department director in an internal memo.
It didn’t help that in 1969, 234 of the 353 immigration officers in Canada were military veterans, whose anti-resister and anti-deserter mindset was more in line with the American officials, said Hagan, a draft resister who came here in 1969 from Illinois.
The Harper government officially has viewed the Iraq War resisters as “bogus” refugee claimants. Earlier this month, a new government directive instructed immigration officers to flag American war resisters to their superiors.
Ottawa’s latest immigration directive said deserters “may be inadmissible” to Canada because desertion is an offence here, and carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The argument is those who “desert” — notwithstanding their reasons — don’t make good Canadians.
Others have argued that desertion is a military rather than criminal offence, for reasons sanctioned by the UN in treaties Canada has signed. They say it is not a reason to bar someone entry to Canada.
This country’s response to war resisters, under the Trudeau Liberals, took a drastic turn in early 1969 with the growing public outcry against immigration officials, who had been turning away deserters at the border and handing them to the FBI.
Led by faith groups, notably the United Church of Canada, the anti-war movement gained momentum with the support of prominent Canadians such as the late journalist Barbara Frum and writer Margaret Atwood, said Hagan …
It took the Trudeau government about a year to reverse its anti- war resisters policy, but the notion has fallen on deaf ears in the Harper government, despite polls including one by Angus Reid in 2008 showing almost two-thirds of Canadians are in favour of allowing deserters to stay.
One key distinction between the wars is that the military draft — hence the term “draft dodgers” — during the Vietnam War created a public uproar.
The draft was reaching, in the U.S., into the families of middle-class and rich voters, who were confronted with realities that have been spared those classes more lately, says Vietnam War draft resister Michael Klein, an emeritus professor of family practice and pediatrics at University of British Columbia.
The Vietnam War resisters were also better-educated than the Iraq War resisters, with one estimate being that the former have an average three years of university education upon their arrivals in Canada.
Canada benefited from the “brain gain” from the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Many deserters ended up building successful careers and holding important positions in both the public and corporate worlds.
The term “economic draft” has been used to describe how the U.S. military has drawn recruits disproportionally from working-class and impoverished minority families responding to military signing bonuses, money for college, and other perks.
There are other differences between the eras.
After the success of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, social activism was seen as a positive force by many in society. The same crowd of social activists organized anti-war movement and demonstrations, creating networks to offer accommodation and legal support to war resisters.
Such idealism has faded as an increasingly diverse population is preoccupied other matters, especially economic concerns.
“Canadians are not as welcoming now. There isn’t a groundswell of public opinion (on the deserters) despite the paradox of Canadians not joining the Iraq War,” said Klein, who arrived in Montreal from New Jersey with his wife, Bonnie, in 1967 …
Klein, the Vietnam War draft resister, said that, in no small measure, young Americans were drawn by the charm of Trudeau, who used the opportunity to assert Canada’s sovereignty. Trudeau’s liberal values then are very different from Harper’s now, he added.
“We are dealing with a different group of resisters, a different political leader and a different public,” said Klein, now 72. “We’d like to believe we are the same generous people that we were in the 1960s, but we are not.”
With U.S. Approval, Moscow Heads Back to Afghanistan
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev played host last week to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the leaders of Pakistan and Tajikistan at the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The group’s second meeting in a year was a low-key affair, but the subtext was significant. Mounting Russian concerns that Islamist militancy and cheap drugs emanating from Afghanistan are a threat to its national security have made Moscow refocus on the region even as the U.S. and its NATO allies maneuver to draw down. Two decades after the Soviet army left Afghanistan in humiliating defeat, Russia is poised to spend billions in the war-wracked country to develop infrastructure, mineral and energy reserves, with new plans taking shape to boost military capability. This time around, it has America’s blessing.
Mutual interests intersect in the former Cold War battleground. Nearly nine years on, the Taliban-led insurgency is costing the U.S. more lives and money than ever before. With a July 2011 deadline looming for troops to begin their withdrawal, the Obama Administration has been angling for regional partners to step in and shoulder a greater share of the burden. Russia kept a safe distance in the years following the Taliban’s ouster, but it has been stirred to action by two issues: deadly Islamist terror attacks within its borders — inspired in no small part by the ideologies spreading from the war zone on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani frontier — and a spike in drug-related crime and deaths — more than 130,000 each year from heroin alone, most of which originates in Afghanistan …
Moscow’s decade-long occupation of Afghanistan from 1980 to 1989 may have left the Russians with advantages. Many Soviet-educated Afghans who fled the country under the Taliban have since returned, adding a degree of competence to a fledgling government — with perhaps more affinity for Moscow than for Washington. And, according to Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan’s Center for Research and Policy Studies, ex-communists heavily represented in the upper ranks of the national police and army remain the backbone of the security establishment. “They are knowledgeable and well-trained and we have to rely on them until a new corps can fill the vacuum,” he says.
Faced with bigger worries and less reliable neighbors, the U.S. and NATO appear willing to accept growing Russian influence. “At this point, we can’t afford to be too selective in terms of where we get help,” says one Western diplomat in Kabul. Indeed, the gathering flurry of activity in Afghanistan is a sign: Russia is back.
Upcoming Israeli peace talks with Abbas mean nothing to Hamas
The Associated Press
Hamas: Direct Israeli-Palestinian talks illegitimate, coerced by U.S.
Hamas’ politburo chief Khaled Meshal said Tuesday that the upcoming U.S.-backed direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are illegitimate and the result of coercion by Washington.
The talks were shelved two years ago, but the Obama administration is hoping for a breakthrough during the new rounds of negotiations set to begin Sept. 2.
“These negotiations are taking place by force of coercion and with an American summons,” Meshal told reporters in Damascus, Syria on Tuesday.
He said the talks were illegitimate and “do not obligate our people to anything.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be negotiating with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who holds sway only in the West Bank, the territory between Israel and the Jordan River.
The Gaza Strip is ruled by the militant group Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel.
Addressing officials belonging to Abbas’ movement, Meshal said: “Wake up. Do not allow these adventures and sins to take place in your name.”
‘Genocide’ survivors rape over 150 Congolese women during raid
The New York Times
At Least 150 Women Raped in Weekend Raid in Congo
A mob of Rwandan rebels gang-raped at least 150 women last month during a weekend raid on a community of villages in eastern Congo, United Nations and other humanitarian officials said Sunday.
The United Nations blamed the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or F.D.L.R., for the attack. The F.D.L.R. is an ethnic Hutu rebel group that has been terrorizing the hills of eastern Congo for years, preying on villages in a quest for the natural resources beneath them.
The raided villages are near the mining center of Walikale, known to be a rebel stronghold, and are “very insecure,” said Stefania Trassari, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “Rape is something we get quite often.”
But she and other United Nations and humanitarian officials said that this attack was unusual because of the large number of victims and the fact that they were raped by more than one attacker simultaneously …
Miel Hendrickson, a regional director for the International Medical Corps, which has been documenting the rape cases, said, “We had heard first 24 rapes, then 56, then 78, then 96, then 156.”
“The numbers keep rising,” she said. The United Nations maintains a military base approximately 20 miles from the villages, but United Nations officials said they did not know if the peacekeepers there were aware of the attack as it occurred. A United Nations military spokesman, Madnoje Mounoubai, said information was still being gathered.
The F.D.L.R., which began as a gathering of fugitives of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, has grown into a resilient and savage killing machine and an economic engine in the region.
The United Nations, Congo and Rwanda began a military offensive against the group in early 2009, but since then, humanitarian organizations say, cases of rape have risen drastically.
“It’s awful,” Ms. Trassari said. “The numbers are quite worrying.”
Mine stopped from destroying “those in their path with impunity”
Vedanta mine plan halted by Indian government
Controversial plans to develop a bauxite mine on sacred tribal land in India have been scuppered as India’s environment ministry has rejected a proposal by Vedanta Resources to mine the aluminium ore in the eastern state of Orissa.
Campaigners, who have been backed in their fight against the mining giant’s plans by Joanna Lumley and Michael Palin, described the move as a “stunning victory”. Monty Python star turned professional traveller Palin expressed “absolute delight” in the news adding: “I hope it will send a signal to the big corporations that they can never assume that might is right. It’s a big victory for the little people.”
The project had been thrown into doubt last week when a government inquiry said that mining would destroy the way of life of the area’s “endangered” and “primitive” people, the Kutia and Dongria Kondh tribes. The four-person committee also accused a local subsidiary of Vedanta of violating forest conservation and environment protection regulations.
Jairam Ramesh, the minister for environment and forests, said today that the government will issue what is termed a show-cause notice and take action against Vedanta. The news sent shares in the company down almost 6% in early trading, making it the biggest loser in the FTSE 100 index and wiping almost £300m off the value of the business.
“There are very serious violations of environment act and forest right act,” Ramesh told Bloomberg. “There is no emotion, no politics, no prejudice in the decision. It is purely based on a legal approach” …
Amnesty International published a report last year claiming that a Vedanta refinery in the same area had polluted local rivers, damaged crops and disrupted the lives of the local tribe …
Survival International’s director, Stephen Corry, added: “The era when mining companies could get away with destroying those in their path with impunity is thankfully drawing to a close.
“The concerned public must remain vigilant about these so-called development projects – companies simply cannot be trusted voluntarily to abide by human rights standards, particularly when dealing with tribal peoples who can’t know what they’re up against.”
Airport workers endanger US security
Airport Security Not So Secure?
A recent spate of airport security breaches, with airline or airport employees allegedly involved in smuggling drugs or illegal immigrants, have federal officials concerned.
Just last week at Miami International Airport, eight cargo workers were charged with being part of a conspiracy that smuggled a half ton of cocaine and heroin from Central and South America to U.S. streets on scores of flights.
“They knew how to exploit that system because they worked there,” said Anthony Mangione, Special Agent in Charge of the Homeland Security Investigations office in Miami. “The person within the system knows the strengths of it and knows the weaknesses and like anything else, will target those weaknesses.”
If you thought nine years after 9/11 that corruption at the nation’s airports would have been rooted out or dramatically reduced, think again …
Corruption at the airports is not just confined to narcotics smuggling. In addition to reports of several airports employing illegal immigrants, airport employees have been accused of smuggling illegal immigrants into the United States …
Federal customs officials say they fear the corruption of airports might one day be exploited by terrorists to sneak operatives and bombs into the country.
“Identifying this vulnerability, where you have workers with these access badges, is one of the things that they [terrorists] would target,” Mangione said. “Just because they were smuggling drugs, doesn’t mean they weren’t willing to smuggle something else.”
Law enforcement sources told ABC News that vetting the thousands of workers at international airports remains a huge challenge, and one with enormous implications.
Minneapolis cop misconduct nets zombie activists $165,000
Minneapolis will pay $165,000 to zombies
The Minneapolis city attorney’s office has decided to pay seven zombies and their attorney $165,000.
The payout, approved by the City Council on Friday, settles a federal lawsuit the seven filed after they were arrested and jailed for two days for dressing up like zombies in downtown Minneapolis on July 22, 2006, to protest “mindless” consumerism.
When arrested at the intersection of Hennepin Avenue and 6th Street N., most of them had thick white powder and fake blood on their faces and dark makeup around their eyes. They were walking in a stiff, lurching fashion and carrying four bags of sound equipment to amplify music from an iPod when they were arrested by police who said they were carrying equipment that simulated “weapons of mass destruction.”
However, they were never charged with any crime.
Although U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen had dismissed the zombies’ lawsuit, it was resurrected in February by a three-judge panel of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which concluded that police lacked probable cause to arrest the seven, a decision setting the stage for a federal trial this fall. The settlement means there will be no trial.