Off the Air—It took President Bush three days from the time of the tsunami disaster to meet with reporters at his Texas ranch. He told them that the United States would send $15 million in foreign aid to help the victims of the earthquake and tidal wave in southern Asia, a historic cataclysm that has killed some 150,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless, many of them orphans. He must not have been looking at the TV.
A U.N. official correctly labeled that a “stingy” offer—you know, frugal, meager, miserly, paltry. The president then raised the U.S. ante to $35 million and ordered all American flags on federal buildings to be flown at half-staff.
Reporters repeatedly noted that the $15 million was less than the $40 million the Republicans were raising from fat cat contributors for the president’s three-day second-term inauguration bashes. Bush finally had to increase the American foreign-aid outlay to $350 million. Then came more presidential attention, and it all began to look as though the White House political gurus were telling the president to cover his derrière by, among other things, deploying “helpful” American troops in an Islamic neighborhood, maybe to pacify Muslim sentiment.
To raise more money, Bush recruited two ex-presidents, Bush I (his father) and Bill Clinton, to make public pitches for private American-citizen donations, already swelling fast. He sent his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush—a hurricane recovery expert, right?—to accompany Secretary of State Colin Powell to the ravaged Indian Ocean area.
Some other nations received high marks for generosity. Japan, which lost some 115,000 people in the U.S. nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, promised $500 million, a pledge that now leads all international donors. In millions of dollars, the other major donors were: the World Bank, $250; Britain, $95; Sweden, $75.5; Spain, $68; China, $60; France, $57; Australia, $46.7; and Canada, $33.
Good Election News—Well, some, around the world. On Sunday, January 9, Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate Palestinian, is expected to win election as the leader of the Palestinian Authority, succeeding the late Yaser Arafat at a time when negotiations with Israel are showing a little long-awaited progress.
In some more good tidings for the democratic West: Viktor Yushchenko, the leader of the “orange party” opposed to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, won a runoff presidential election in Ukraine. Yushchenko challenged the first election, which was won by the pro-Putin Yanukovich.
And then, on January 30, comes election day in Iraq, where furious insurgents have been on a murderous campaign to disrupt voting. It’s more bombs and bullets than ballots and may not do a lot for the international image of President Bush.
Here at home, there was a Republican reversal. In late November the state of Washington’s Attorney General, Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, appeared to have lost the gubernatorial race to Republican Dino Rossi by 42 votes in an automated recount. But Democrats raised $750,000 to finance a further hand recount, and Gregoire appears to have won by 129 votes.
More Abuse—The Washington Post has discovered that the Bush administration is preparing plans to secretly and “indefinitely” imprison—possibly for life terms—a certain number of suspected terrorists. These would be people against whom it does not have enough evidence to file charges in open court here at home, and whom it does not want to deport to unreliable public prosecutions in other countries.
One plan is to quietly negotiate permission to build U.S. prisons in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen to hold some of the 500 detainees at the Guantánamo Bay complex. They could be returned to their homelands for further interrogations, not necessarily for trials.
The Post report says that the Central Intelligence Agency currently holds dozens of prisoners whose presence it does not want to disclose. By covert arrangements with foreign governments the C.I.A. wants to place them in undercover prison detention abroad for further interrogation. The Post explains that this process, which gets around the prisoners’ right to appear in court, is called “rendition.”