Monday, December 31, 2007

Bhutto report: Musharraf planned to fix elections
By Saeed Shah McClatchy Newspapers

NAUDERO, Pakistan — The day she was assassinated last Thursday, Benazir Bhutto had planned to reveal new evidence alleging the involvement of Pakistan's intelligence agencies in rigging the country's upcoming elections, an aide said Monday.

Bhutto had been due to meet U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., to hand over a report charging that the military Inter-Services Intelligence agency was planning to fix the polls in the favor of President Pervez Musharraf.

Safraz Khan Lashari, a member of the Pakistan People's Party election monitoring unit, said the report was "very sensitive" and that the party wanted to initially share it with trusted American politicians rather than the Bush administration, which is seen here as strongly backing Musharraf.

"It was compiled from sources within the (intelligence) services who were working directly with Benazir Bhutto," Lashari said, speaking Monday at Bhutto's house in her ancestral village of Naudero, where her husband and children continued to mourn her death.

The ISI had no official comment. However, an agency official, speaking only on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak on the subject, dismissed the allegations as "a lot of talk but not much substance."

Musharraf has been highly critical of those who allege that his regime is involved in electoral manipulation. "Now when they lose, they'll have a good rationale: that it is all rigged, it is all fraud," he said in November. "In Pakistan, the loser always cries."

According to Lashari, the document includes information on a "safe house" allegedly being run by the ISI in a central neighborhood of Islamabad, the alleged headquarters of the rigging operation.

It names as the head of the unit a brigadier general recently retired from the ISI, who was secretly assigned to run the rigging operation, Lashari said. It charges that he was working in tandem with the head of a civilian intelligence agency. Before her return to Pakistan, Bhutto, in a letter to Musharraf, had named the intelligence official as one of the men she accused of plotting to kill her.

Lashari said the report claimed that U.S. aid money was being used to fix the elections. Ballots stamped in favor of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, which supports Musharraf, were to be produced by the intelligence agencies in about 100 parliamentary constituencies.
"They diverted money from aid activities. We had evidence of where they were spending the money," Lashari said.

Lashari, who formerly taught environmental economics at Britain's Cranfield University, said the effort was directed at constituencies where the result was likely to be decided by a small margin, so it wouldn't be obvious.

Bhutto was due to meet Specter and Kennedy after dinner last Thursday. She was shot as she left an election rally in Rawalpindi early that evening. Pakistan's government claims instead that she was thrown against the lever of her car's sunroof, fracturing her skull.
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Bhutto Successor?

A Bhutto Successor?

A senior official of Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) told TIME late Saturday that the slain former prime minister's 19-year-old son, Bilawal, will likely be named as her political heir and the new party leader on Sunday. PPP members are due to meet to discuss the party's future and to give Bilawal, a student at Oxford, a chance to read his mother's last will and testament.

A Pakistani television news channel also carried reports that Bilawal will be made the new leader, which the channel said accorded with Benazir Bhutto's wishes. If confirmed, the teenager will become the third leader of the 40-year-old center-left party, one of Pakistan's most powerful. Bilawal will follow his grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who founded the PPP in 1967, led Pakistan as Prime Minister for four years in the mid 1970s and was hanged in 1979 by a military government, and Benazir, who took over from her father and was killed in a shooting and suicide bomb attack two days ago.

The quick anointment of a Bhutto to head the PPP will help rally party members devastated by the assassination of their tough but beloved leader. The party hopes to ride a wave of sympathy in parliamentary elections that are set for Jan. 8 but may yet be postponed in the face of widespread violence around the country. Rival opposition parties have called for a boycott of the polls but PPP officials say their party intends to participate.

Bilawal was born in September 1988, nearly three months before his mother was elected Prime Minister for the first time. After Benazir and her children went into self-imposed exile in the late 1990s, the family split their time between London and Dubai, where Bilawal attended the Rashid School for Boys, serving as vice president of the school's student council. In Fall 2007 he enrolled at Oxford, where both his grandfather and his mother studied. A 2004 profile of Bilawal in the respected Pakistani daily newspaper Dawn said the teenager liked target-shooting, swimming, horseback riding and squash, and regretted being away from Pakistan in part because it meant he played less cricket. His grandfather, he said, "was a very courageous man and I consider myself very lucky because I have three powerful role models that will obviously influence my career choices when I am older."

As PPP members have begun to contemplate who should take over as party leader, a consensus has emerged that the person needs to be a Bhutto, a name that retains incredible power and vote-winning influence in secular Pakistan despite — or perhaps because of — the tragedies and controversies the family has faced. It is not the first time a young Bhutto has taken over from a dead parent. "This was also the situation when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was murdered," says Babar Awan, a PPP Senator and close ally of Benazir. "Benazir was a teenager, she was a student at Harvard in 1979 [when Zulfikar Ali was hanged]. It is basically the hard core of the PPP that rallies around their great hope and that they attach to the House of Bhutto."

Many people had tipped Benazir's husband Asif Ali Zardari for the top spot, and in the unpredictable world of Pakistani politics that could still happen. An experienced politician, Zardari served as Environment Minister in his wife's second administration. But he is also a controversial figure in Pakistan, and has spent a total of 11 years in prison on various charges including blackmail and corruption, for which he earned the nickname "Mr. 10%." Supporters dismiss these charges, most of which have been thrown out of Pakistani courts (a few are still pending), as politically related mischief. "He's a strong man," says PPP Senator Awan. "All of us are controversial. Wasn't Benazir Bhutto? Wasn't Zulfikar Ali Bhutto? All those who don't accept the military role in politics are controversial. The charges are 100% unfounded and fake."

Other possible runners include Benazir's sister Sanam, though she seems incredibly reluctant to join the family firm, or Fatima Bhutto, the daughter of Zulfikar Ali's eldest son Murtaza. Fatima, however, had split with her aunt Benazir, whom she once described as "the most dangerous woman in Pakistan." The decision to go with Bilawal appears to have come after his father turned down the job in deference to the slain Benazir's expressed wishes. The senior PPP official, who requested anonymity to allow him to speak more openly, told TIME that Bilawal will head the party, and that the party's deputy leader and longtime Benazir loyalist, Mukhdoom Amin Fahim, is likely to become the prime minister, assuming the party wins a majority in parliament. Bilawal would take over as the parliamentary leader once he finishes his studies and once he has more experience, the official said. Earlier in the day PPP Senator Awan told TIME that Bilawal was a natural future leader. "Yes, of course," he said. "he has to be groomed and trained but that will happen."

The young Bhutto, Benazir's only son, knows the dangers of the job he might be about to take on. Last year Benazir told a reporter that she hoped her three children would choose a different career. "My children have told me they are very worried about my safety," she said. "I understand those fears. But they are Bhuttos and we have to face the future with courage, whatever it brings."

—With reporting by Jumana Farouky/London and Khuda Yar Khan/Islamabad

Birds and the Bees

Tens of millions of birds disappearing across North America

CBC’s The National reports that tens of millions of birds are disappearing across North America.

The following video is from CBC’s The National, broadcast on December 28, 2007

  • Posted December 29th, 2007 at 9:

Vermont town seeks Bush, Cheney arrests

Vermont town seeks Bush, Cheney arrests

Town in Liberal Vermont Considers Measure to Have Bush, Cheney Arrested for War Crimes

AP News

Dec 28, 2007 16:54 EST

President Bush may soon have a new reason to avoid left-leaning Vermont: In one town, activists want him subject to arrest for war crimes.

A group in Brattleboro is petitioning to put an item on a town meeting agenda in March that would make Bush and Vice President Cheney subject to arrest and indictment if they visit the southeastern Vermont community.

"This petition is as radical as the Declaration of Independence, and it draws on that tradition in claiming a universal jurisdiction when governments fail to do what they're supposed to do," said Kurt Daims, 54, a retired machinist leading the drive.

As president, Bush has visited every state except Vermont.

The town meeting, an annual exercise in which residents gather to vote on everything from fire department budgets to municipal policy, requires about 1,000 signatures to place a binding item on the agenda.

The measure asks: "Shall the Selectboard instruct the Town Attorney to draft indictments against President Bush and Vice President Cheney for crimes against our Constitution, and publish said indictment for consideration by other municipalities?"

The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday. The press office did not immediately respond to an e-mail.

Support for the measure is far from universal, even in Vermont, where the state Senate voted earlier this year to support impeaching the president. Anti-war rallies are regular occurrences here, and "Impeach Bush" bumper stickers are common.

"I would not be supportive of it," said Stephen Steidle, a member of the town's selectboard, which oversees its government.

"It's well outside of our ability. From my perspective, the Brattleboro Selectboard needs to focus on the town and the things that need to be done here."

Daims has been circulating documents that claim the community acquires a "universal jurisdiction" to take such steps "when governments breach their highest duties."

"We have the full power to issue indictments, conduct trials, incarcerate offenders and do all other acts which Independent jurisdictions may of right do," the statement says.

Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell, a Democrat whose office has repeatedly sued the Bush administration over environmental issues, called the move "of very dubious legality."

"I have not seen the proposal, and I've done no legal research on any of the issues," Sorrell said. "But at first blush, if this passed, they'd have really uphill sledding trying to have it be legal and enforceable."

Fury At Contrasting Claims On Bhutto Killing

Friday, December 28, 2007

My Review of Memory Foam Heel Cushions Womens - Fits Any Shoe Size

Plantar Fasciitis Relief

By Barbara from New York City, NY on 12/27/2007


5out of 5

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Best Uses: Daily Use

Describe Yourself: Dancer

I have suffered with plantar fasciitis until I found this product. Since I use these every day I have had no heel pain. These are much more effective than the expensive orthotics my foot doctor made for me. After two weeks of using these heel cushions I have been pain free. Six months later I am still pain free. Now I will never go without them.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Bush Administration cuts $700 million in Medicaid funds for schools
Adam Doster

President Bush drew criticism this fall for his refusal to fund a children’s health insurance program. On Friday, his healthcare slashing continued.

According to the Washington Post, “the Bush administration eliminated about $700 million a year in Medicaid reimbursements to schools, sidestepping an attempt by Congress to block such a move.”

Issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the new rule is projected to save the federal government $3.6 billion over five years, transferring those costs to school districts. Many school principals and superintendents said that the loss of the funding could force districts to cut other programs.

A wide variety of medical services, like speech and physical therapy, are provided to students in schools. Medicaid, the government's health insurance program for the poor, will continue to pay for those services for low-income children.

However, the law changes will pay schools for transporting students getting speech or physical therapy to school or back home. It will also limit when schools can bill the federal government for clerical work necessary with providing health care. For example, schools can no longer expect Medicaid reimbursement for planning student immunizations.

While hundreds of people who opposed to the change commented in writing to CMS on the proposal, CMS officials said that most of the comments validated their anxiety that schools were improperly using Medicaid funding to pay for services "that are clearly educational in nature."

Read the whole story HERE.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

9/11 panel: CIA deliberately withheld interrogation tapes

The CIA may have kept two interrogation tapes of particular interest, later destroyed, from the September 11 commission, the New York Times reports.

A classified documents review showed that, in 2003 and 2004, detailed requests were made to the Central Intelligence Agency to provide all documents and other information on the interrogation of al-Qaeda operatives. A top CIA official told the commission that all materials requested had been provided.

The two videotapes, destroyed in 2005, show two terror suspects, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, being interrogated. The White House has come under criticism after evidence surfaced that it had allowed the tapes to be destroyed, possibly to prevent them from being used as evidence. The White House claims that there was no legal obligation to preserve the tapes, as it was only directed to safeguard recordings taken at Guantanamo Bay; since the two interrogations in question were filmed at secret CIA camps before the suspects' arrival at Guantanamo, the White House contends, the tapes did not have to be preserved.



A seven-page memorandum prepared by Philip D. Zelikow, the panel’s former executive director, concluded that “further investigation is needed” to determine whether the C.I.A.’s withholding of the tapes from the commission violated federal law.

In interviews this week, the two chairmen of the commission, Lee H. Hamilton and Thomas H. Kean, said their reading of the report had convinced them that the agency had made a conscious decision to impede the Sept. 11 commission’s inquiry.

Among the statements that the memorandum suggests were misleading was an assertion made on June 29, 2004, by John E. McLaughlin, the deputy director of central intelligence, that the C.I.A. “has taken and completed all reasonable steps necessary to find the documents in its possession, custody or control responsive” to formal requests by the commission and “has produced or made available for review” all such documents.


The entire New York Times article is available HERE.

American Conservative Mag Depicts Rudy In Fascist Garb

The latest issue of American Conservative issue features a cover story titled "Declaring Forever War: Giuliani has surrounded himself with advisors who think the Bush Doctrine didn't go nearly far enough."

The cover image depicts Rudy Giuliani in fascist garb:


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

White House lawyers and the torture tapes

When it comes to the CIA’s destruction of video footage of U.S. torture of detainees, the White House, on the advice of counsel, has stopped commenting. About the only thing we’ve gotten from the Bush gang of late were vague comments from the president himself: “There’s a preliminary inquiry going on and I think you’ll find that a lot more data, facts will be coming out, that’s good. It will be interesting to know what the true facts are.”

It will be, indeed. Today, the NYT moves the ball forward with some more “true facts,” reporting that White House lawyers weren’t just aware of the torture tapes, but discussed their handling in some detail.

At least four top White House lawyers took part in discussions with the Central Intelligence Agency between 2003 and 2005 about whether to destroy videotapes showing the secret interrogations of two operatives from Al Qaeda, according to current and former administration and intelligence officials.

The accounts indicate that the involvement of White House officials in the discussions before the destruction of the tapes in November 2005 was more extensive than Bush administration officials have acknowledged.

Those who took part, the officials said, included Alberto R. Gonzales, who served as White House counsel until early 2005; David S. Addington, who was the counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney and is now his chief of staff; John B. Bellinger III, who until January 2005 was the senior lawyer at the National Security Council; and Harriet E. Miers, who succeeded Mr. Gonzales as White House counsel.

Who would have guessed? Oh wait, that’s right, everyone could have guessed.

Dan Abrams: The Bush Administration’s Lost Trust

video_wmv Download (3055) | Play (4453) video_mov Download (1210) | Play (1970) (h/t Heather)

Dan Abrams discusses the scrambling the Bush administration is now doing after a judge ordered a hearing on the destroyed CIA tapes and formerly reliable supporters like Rep. Pete Hoesktra have signaled that they may have gone too far this time and will have to face the music.

On a side note, can I get a W00t! for Abrams’ line up? When was the last time you saw two smart, progressive pundits up against a single conservative?

THIS JUST IN: Reid to again block controversial Bush holiday recess appointments
by John Aravosis (DC) ·

Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid is on the Senate floor right now announcing that he will be keeping the Senate in a pro forma session throughout the Christmas and New Years holiday in order to block Bush from making recess appointments of controversial nominees that couldn't make their way through the appropriate Senate committees. Reid will, however, (I believe) be letting a large number of non-controversial Republican nominees be confirmed. This is good. It doesn't make up for being on the verge of passing a domestic spying bill and continuing to fund the war, but appointments are very important, and anything that can be done to stop Bush from thwarting the Senate's constitutional role in confirming presidential appointees is a good thing. (Reid's statement after the jump.)

But Who's Counting: Scholar Says at Least 6 Crimes Have Been Committed in the Bush Administration's Destruction of CIA Torture Tapes

RawStory - December 19th, 2007
White House involvement in the CIA's decision to destroy videotapes documenting severe interrogation techniques of suspected terrorists could constitute as many as six crimes, according to constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley. Turley ...more

Nixon Was Impeached for Much Less: White House Lawyers Neck-Deep in Destruction of CIA Torture Tapes

New York Times - December 19th, 2007
At least four top White House lawyers took part in discussions with the Central Intelligence Agency between 2003 and 2005 about whether to destroy videotapes showing the secret interrogations of two ...more

Monday, December 17, 2007

Biden: I don't trust the Justice Department to investigate itself over destroyed CIA interrogation tapes

Biden: I don't trust the Justice Department to investigate itself over destroyed CIA interrogation tapes

"I don't have confidence in the President, I don't have confidence in the Vice President, and I don't have confidence in the Justice Department. That's as simple as I can put it."

Senator, Foreign Relations Committee chairman and 2008 presidential hopeful Joseph Biden (D-DE) says to CNN's Wolf Blitzer that special counsel is needed to oversee the investigation into the destruction of 2002 CIA interrogation tapes to avoid a conflict of interest.

The Bush Administration has said that, while they were ordered to safeguard evidence of torture and abuse of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the recordings in question didn't fall under the rule, as the interrogations in question were performed at secret CIA prisons before the two suspects were transported to Guantanamo.

The very people that are accused of destroying the tapes should not be trusted to oversee themselves, says Biden. He rejects the argument that independent counsel would compromise whatever internal investigation the Bush Administration, especially an Attorney General who refuses to clarify his position on the widely criticized interrogation practice known as "waterboarding," is planning, as head of a heavily scandalized and politicized Justice Department.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has already been stonewalled by Attorney General Mukasey on the matter.

"This calls for a--totally independent forum, which the law calls for, to find out what happened here," says Biden, "because there are criminal charges that are likely to flow."

No one knows how high up the chain the investigation could go, says the Senator.

Video of the exchange, as broadcast on CNN's Late Edition on December 16, 2007, is available to view below.

The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush

The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush

The next president will have to deal with yet another crippling legacy of George W. Bush: the economy. A Nobel laureate, Joseph E. Stiglitz, sees a generation-long struggle to recoup.

by Joseph E. Stiglitz December 2007

The American economy can take a lot of abuse, but no economy is invincible. Illustration by Edward Sorel.

When we look back someday at the catastrophe that was the Bush administration, we will think of many things: the tragedy of the Iraq war, the shame of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, the erosion of civil liberties. The damage done to the American economy does not make front-page headlines every day, but the repercussions will be felt beyond the lifetime of anyone reading this page.

I can hear an irritated counterthrust already. The president has not driven the United States into a recession during his almost seven years in office. Unemployment stands at a respectable 4.6 percent. Well, fine. But the other side of the ledger groans with distress: a tax code that has become hideously biased in favor of the rich; a national debt that will probably have grown 70 percent by the time this president leaves Washington; a swelling cascade of mortgage defaults; a record near-$850 billion trade deficit; oil prices that are higher than they have ever been; and a dollar so weak that for an American to buy a cup of coffee in London or Paris—or even the Yukon—becomes a venture in high finance.

And it gets worse. After almost seven years of this president, the United States is less prepared than ever to face the future. We have not been educating enough engineers and scientists, people with the skills we will need to compete with China and India. We have not been investing in the kinds of basic research that made us the technological powerhouse of the late 20th century. And although the president now understands—or so he says—that we must begin to wean ourselves from oil and coal, we have on his watch become more deeply dependent on both.

Up to now, the conventional wisdom has been that Herbert Hoover, whose policies aggravated the Great Depression, is the odds-on claimant for the mantle “worst president” when it comes to stewardship of the American economy. Once Franklin Roosevelt assumed office and reversed Hoover’s policies, the country began to recover. The economic effects of Bush’s presidency are more insidious than those of Hoover, harder to reverse, and likely to be longer-lasting. There is no threat of America’s being displaced from its position as the world’s richest economy. But our grandchildren will still be living with, and struggling with, the economic consequences of Mr. Bush.

Remember the Surplus?

The world was a very different place, economically speaking, when George W. Bush took office, in January 2001. During the Roaring 90s, many had believed that the Internet would transform everything. Productivity gains, which had averaged about 1.5 percent a year from the early 1970s through the early 90s, now approached 3 percent. During Bill Clinton’s second term, gains in manufacturing productivity sometimes even surpassed 6 percent. The Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, spoke of a New Economy marked by continued productivity gains as the Internet buried the old ways of doing business. Others went so far as to predict an end to the business cycle. Greenspan worried aloud about how he’d ever be able to manage monetary policy once the nation’s debt was fully paid off.

This tremendous confidence took the Dow Jones index higher and higher. The rich did well, but so did the not-so-rich and even the downright poor. The Clinton years were not an economic Nirvana; as chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers during part of this time, I’m all too aware of mistakes and lost opportunities. The global-trade agreements we pushed through were often unfair to developing countries. We should have invested more in infrastructure, tightened regulation of the securities markets, and taken additional steps to promote energy conservation. We fell short because of politics and lack of money—and also, frankly, because special interests sometimes shaped the agenda more than they should have. But these boom years were the first time since Jimmy Carter that the deficit was under control. And they were the first time since the 1970s that incomes at the bottom grew faster than those at the top—a benchmark worth celebrating.

By the time George W. Bush was sworn in, parts of this bright picture had begun to dim. The tech boom was over. The nasdaq fell 15 percent in the single month of April 2000, and no one knew for sure what effect the collapse of the Internet bubble would have on the real economy. It was a moment ripe for Keynesian economics, a time to prime the pump by spending more money on education, technology, and infrastructure—all of which America desperately needed, and still does, but which the Clinton administration had postponed in its relentless drive to eliminate the deficit. Bill Clinton had left President Bush in an ideal position to pursue such policies. Remember the presidential debates in 2000 between Al Gore and George Bush, and how the two men argued over how to spend America’s anticipated $2.2 trillion budget surplus? The country could well have afforded to ramp up domestic investment in key areas. In fact, doing so would have staved off recession in the short run while spurring growth in the long run.

But the Bush administration had its own ideas. The first major economic initiative pursued by the president was a massive tax cut for the rich, enacted in June of 2001. Those with incomes over a million got a tax cut of $18,000—more than 30 times larger than the cut received by the average American. The inequities were compounded by a second tax cut, in 2003, this one skewed even more heavily toward the rich. Together these tax cuts, when fully implemented and if made permanent, mean that in 2012 the average reduction for an American in the bottom 20 percent will be a scant $45, while those with incomes of more than $1 million will see their tax bills reduced by an average of $162,000.

The administration crows that the economy grew—by some 16 percent—during its first six years, but the growth helped mainly people who had no need of any help, and failed to help those who need plenty. A rising tide lifted all yachts. Inequality is now widening in America, and at a rate not seen in three-quarters of a century. A young male in his 30s today has an income, adjusted for inflation, that is 12 percent less than what his father was making 30 years ago. Some 5.3 million more Americans are living in poverty now than were living in poverty when Bush became president. America’s class structure may not have arrived there yet, but it’s heading in the direction of Brazil’s and Mexico’s.

The Bankruptcy Boom

In breathtaking disregard for the most basic rules of fiscal propriety, the administration continued to cut taxes even as it undertook expensive new spending programs and embarked on a financially ruinous “war of choice” in Iraq. A budget surplus of 2.4 percent of gross domestic product (G.D.P.), which greeted Bush as he took office, turned into a deficit of 3.6 percent in the space of four years. The United States had not experienced a turnaround of this magnitude since the global crisis of World War II.

Agricultural subsidies were doubled between 2002 and 2005. Tax expenditures—the vast system of subsidies and preferences hidden in the tax code—increased more than a quarter. Tax breaks for the president’s friends in the oil-and-gas industry increased by billions and billions of dollars. Yes, in the five years after 9/11, defense expenditures did increase (by some 70 percent), though much of the growth wasn’t helping to fight the War on Terror at all, but was being lost or outsourced in failed missions in Iraq. Meanwhile, other funds continued to be spent on the usual high-tech gimcrackery—weapons that don’t work, for enemies we don’t have. In a nutshell, money was being spent everyplace except where it was needed. During these past seven years the percentage of G.D.P. spent on research and development outside defense and health has fallen. Little has been done about our decaying infrastructure—be it levees in New Orleans or bridges in Minneapolis. Coping with most of the damage will fall to the next occupant of the White House.

Although it railed against entitlement programs for the needy, the administration enacted the largest increase in entitlements in four decades—the poorly designed Medicare prescription-drug benefit, intended as both an election-season bribe and a sop to the pharmaceutical industry. As internal documents later revealed, the true cost of the measure was hidden from Congress. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical companies received special favors. To access the new benefits, elderly patients couldn’t opt to buy cheaper medications from Canada or other countries. The law also prohibited the U.S. government, the largest single buyer of prescription drugs, from negotiating with drug manufacturers to keep costs down. As a result, American consumers pay far more for medications than people elsewhere in the developed world.

You’ll still hear some—and, loudly, the president himself—argue that the administration’s tax cuts were meant to stimulate the economy, but this was never true. The bang for the buck—the amount of stimulus per dollar of deficit—was astonishingly low. Therefore, the job of economic stimulation fell to the Federal Reserve Board, which stepped on the accelerator in a historically unprecedented way, driving interest rates down to 1 percent. In real terms, taking inflation into account, interest rates actually dropped to negative 2 percent. The predictable result was a consumer spending spree. Looked at another way, Bush’s own fiscal irresponsibility fostered irresponsibility in everyone else. Credit was shoveled out the door, and subprime mortgages were made available to anyone this side of life support. Credit-card debt mounted to a whopping $900 billion by the summer of 2007. “Qualified at birth” became the drunken slogan of the Bush era. American households took advantage of the low interest rates, signed up for new mortgages with “teaser” initial rates, and went to town on the proceeds.

All of this spending made the economy look better for a while; the president could (and did) boast about the economic statistics. But the consequences for many families would become apparent within a few years, when interest rates rose and mortgages proved impossible to repay. The president undoubtedly hoped the reckoning would come sometime after 2008. It arrived 18 months early. As many as 1.7 million Americans are expected to lose their homes in the months ahead. For many, this will mean the beginning of a downward spiral into poverty.

Between March 2006 and March 2007 personal-bankruptcy rates soared more than 60 percent. As families went into bankruptcy, more and more of them came to understand who had won and who had lost as a result of the president’s 2005 bankruptcy bill, which made it harder for individuals to discharge their debts in a reasonable way. The lenders that had pressed for “reform” had been the clear winners, gaining added leverage and protections for themselves; people facing financial distress got the shaft.

And Then There’s Iraq

The war in Iraq (along with, to a lesser extent, the war in Afghanistan) has cost the country dearly in blood and treasure. The loss in lives can never be quantified. As for the treasure, it’s worth calling to mind that the administration, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, was reluctant to venture an estimate of what the war would cost (and publicly humiliated a White House aide who suggested that it might run as much as $200 billion). When pressed to give a number, the administration suggested $50 billion—what the United States is actually spending every few months. Today, government figures officially acknowledge that more than half a trillion dollars total has been spent by the U.S. “in theater.” But in fact the overall cost of the conflict could be quadruple that amount—as a study I did with Linda Bilmes of Harvard has pointed out—even as the Congressional Budget Office now concedes that total expenditures are likely to be more than double the spending on operations. The official numbers do not include, for instance, other relevant expenditures hidden in the defense budget, such as the soaring costs of recruitment, with re-enlistment bonuses of as much as $100,000. They do not include the lifetime of disability and health-care benefits that will be required by tens of thousands of wounded veterans, as many as 20 percent of whom have suffered devastating brain and spinal injuries. Astonishingly, they do not include much of the cost of the equipment that has been used in the war, and that will have to be replaced. If you also take into account the costs to the economy from higher oil prices and the knock-on effects of the war—for instance, the depressing domino effect that war-fueled uncertainty has on investment, and the difficulties U.S. firms face overseas because America is the most disliked country in the world—the total costs of the Iraq war mount, even by a conservative estimate, to at least $2 trillion. To which one needs to add these words: so far.

It is natural to wonder, What would this money have bought if we had spent it on other things? U.S. aid to all of Africa has been hovering around $5 billion a year, the equivalent of less than two weeks of direct Iraq-war expenditures. The president made a big deal out of the financial problems facing Social Security, but the system could have been repaired for a century with what we have bled into the sands of Iraq. Had even a fraction of that $2 trillion been spent on investments in education and technology, or improving our infrastructure, the country would be in a far better position economically to meet the challenges it faces in the future, including threats from abroad. For a sliver of that $2 trillion we could have provided guaranteed access to higher education for all qualified Americans.

The soaring price of oil is clearly related to the Iraq war. The issue is not whether to blame the war for this but simply how much to blame it. It seems unbelievable now to recall that Bush-administration officials before the invasion suggested not only that Iraq’s oil revenues would pay for the war in its entirety—hadn’t we actually turned a tidy profit from the 1991 Gulf War?—but also that war was the best way to ensure low oil prices. In retrospect, the only big winners from the war have been the oil companies, the defense contractors, and al-Qaeda. Before the war, the oil markets anticipated that the then price range of $20 to $25 a barrel would continue for the next three years or so. Market players expected to see more demand from China and India, sure, but they also anticipated that this greater demand would be met mostly by increased production in the Middle East. The war upset that calculation, not so much by curtailing oil production in Iraq, which it did, but rather by heightening the sense of insecurity everywhere in the region, suppressing future investment.

The continuing reliance on oil, regardless of price, points to one more administration legacy: the failure to diversify America’s energy resources. Leave aside the environmental reasons for weaning the world from hydrocarbons—the president has never convincingly embraced them, anyway. The economic and national-security arguments ought to have been powerful enough. Instead, the administration has pursued a policy of “drain America first”—that is, take as much oil out of America as possible, and as quickly as possible, with as little regard for the environment as one can get away with, leaving the country even more dependent on foreign oil in the future, and hope against hope that nuclear fusion or some other miracle will come to the rescue. So many gifts to the oil industry were included in the president’s 2003 energy bill that John McCain referred to it as the “No Lobbyist Left Behind” bill.

Contempt for the World

America’s budget and trade deficits have grown to record highs under President Bush. To be sure, deficits don’t have to be crippling in and of themselves. If a business borrows to buy a machine, it’s a good thing, not a bad thing. During the past six years, America—its government, its families, the country as a whole—has been borrowing to sustain its consumption. Meanwhile, investment in fixed assets—the plants and equipment that help increase our wealth—has been declining.

What’s the impact of all this down the road? The growth rate in America’s standard of living will almost certainly slow, and there could even be a decline. The American economy can take a lot of abuse, but no economy is invincible, and our vulnerabilities are plain for all to see. As confidence in the American economy has plummeted, so has the value of the dollar—by 40 percent against the euro since 2001.

The disarray in our economic policies at home has parallels in our economic policies abroad. President Bush blamed the Chinese for our huge trade deficit, but an increase in the value of the yuan, which he has pushed, would simply make us buy more textiles and apparel from Bangladesh and Cambodia instead of China; our deficit would remain unchanged. The president claimed to believe in free trade but instituted measures aimed at protecting the American steel industry. The United States pushed hard for a series of bilateral trade agreements and bullied smaller countries into accepting all sorts of bitter conditions, such as extending patent protection on drugs that were desperately needed to fight aids. We pressed for open markets around the world but prevented China from buying Unocal, a small American oil company, most of whose assets lie outside the United States.

Not surprisingly, protests over U.S. trade practices erupted in places such as Thailand and Morocco. But America has refused to compromise—refused, for instance, to take any decisive action to do away with our huge agricultural subsidies, which distort international markets and hurt poor farmers in developing countries. This intransigence led to the collapse of talks designed to open up international markets. As in so many other areas, President Bush worked to undermine multilateralism—the notion that countries around the world need to cooperate—and to replace it with an America-dominated system. In the end, he failed to impose American dominance—but did succeed in weakening cooperation.

The administration’s basic contempt for global institutions was underscored in 2005 when it named Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy secretary of defense and a chief architect of the Iraq war, as president of the World Bank. Widely distrusted from the outset, and soon caught up in personal controversy, Wolfowitz became an international embarrassment and was forced to resign his position after less than two years on the job.

Globalization means that America’s economy and the rest of the world have become increasingly interwoven. Consider those bad American mortgages. As families default, the owners of the mortgages find themselves holding worthless pieces of paper. The originators of these problem mortgages had already sold them to others, who packaged them, in a non-transparent way, with other assets, and passed them on once again to unidentified others. When the problems became apparent, global financial markets faced real tremors: it was discovered that billions in bad mortgages were hidden in portfolios in Europe, China, and Australia, and even in star American investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns. Indonesia and other developing countries—innocent bystanders, really—suffered as global risk premiums soared, and investors pulled money out of these emerging markets, looking for safer havens. It will take years to sort out this mess.

Meanwhile, we have become dependent on other nations for the financing of our own debt. Today, China alone holds more than $1 trillion in public and private American I.O.U.’s. Cumulative borrowing from abroad during the six years of the Bush administration amounts to some $5 trillion. Most likely these creditors will not call in their loans—if they ever did, there would be a global financial crisis. But there is something bizarre and troubling about the richest country in the world not being able to live even remotely within its means. Just as Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib have eroded America’s moral authority, so the Bush administration’s fiscal housekeeping has eroded our economic authority.

The Way Forward

Whoever moves into the White House in January 2009 will face an unenviable set of economic circumstances. Extricating the country from Iraq will be the bloodier task, but putting America’s economic house in order will be wrenching and take years.

The most immediate challenge will be simply to get the economy’s metabolism back into the normal range. That will mean moving from a savings rate of zero (or less) to a more typical savings rate of, say, 4 percent. While such an increase would be good for the long-term health of America’s economy, the short-term consequences would be painful. Money saved is money not spent. If people don’t spend money, the economic engine stalls. If households curtail their spending quickly—as they may be forced to do as a result of the meltdown in the mortgage market—this could mean a recession; if done in a more measured way, it would still mean a protracted slowdown. The problems of foreclosure and bankruptcy posed by excessive household debt are likely to get worse before they get better. And the federal government is in a bind: any quick restoration of fiscal sanity will only aggravate both problems.

And in any case there’s more to be done. What is required is in some ways simple to describe: it amounts to ceasing our current behavior and doing exactly the opposite. It means not spending money that we don’t have, increasing taxes on the rich, reducing corporate welfare, strengthening the safety net for the less well off, and making greater investment in education, technology, and infrastructure.

When it comes to taxes, we should be trying to shift the burden away from things we view as good, such as labor and savings, to things we view as bad, such as pollution. With respect to the safety net, we need to remember that the more the government does to help workers improve their skills and get affordable health care the more we free up American businesses to compete in the global economy. Finally, we’ll be a lot better off if we work with other countries to create fair and efficient global trade and financial systems. We’ll have a better chance of getting others to open up their markets if we ourselves act less hypocritically—that is, if we open our own markets to their goods and stop subsidizing American agriculture.

Some portion of the damage done by the Bush administration could be rectified quickly. A large portion will take decades to fix—and that’s assuming the political will to do so exists both in the White House and in Congress. Think of the interest we are paying, year after year, on the almost $4 trillion of increased debt burden—even at 5 percent, that’s an annual payment of $200 billion, two Iraq wars a year forever. Think of the taxes that future governments will have to levy to repay even a fraction of the debt we have accumulated. And think of the widening divide between rich and poor in America, a phenomenon that goes beyond economics and speaks to the very future of the American Dream.

In short, there’s a momentum here that will require a generation to reverse. Decades hence we should take stock, and revisit the conventional wisdom. Will Herbert Hoover still deserve his dubious mantle? I’m guessing that George W. Bush will have earned one more grim superlative.

Anya Schiffrin and Izzet Yildiz assisted with research for this article.

Joseph Stiglitz, a leading economic educator, is a professor at Columbia.

Senate Showdown Over Warrantless Wiretapping

Senate Showdown Over Warrantless Wiretapping

Dodd Plans First Filibuster In 15 Years

Baldwin puts Cheney ouster on the table

Baldwin puts Cheney ouster on the table

John Nichols 12/15/2007 8:06 am

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and two other senior members of the House Judiciary Committee have called for the immediate opening of impeachment hearings for Vice President Richard Cheney.

Baldwin and fellow Democrats Robert Wexler of Florida and Luis Gutierrez of Illinois on Friday distributed a statement, "A Case for Hearings," that declares, "The issues at hand are too serious to ignore, including credible allegations of abuse of power that if proven may well constitute high crimes and misdemeanors under our Constitution. The charges against Vice President Cheney relate to his deceptive actions leading up to the Iraq war, the revelation of the identity of a covert agent for political retaliation, and the illegal wiretapping of American citizens."

In particular, the Judiciary Committee members cite the recent revelation by former White House press secretary Scott McClellan that the vice president and his staff purposefully gave him false information about the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert agent as part of a White House campaign to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson.

On the basis of McClellan's statements, Baldwin, Wexler and Gutierrez say, "it is even more important for Congress to investigate what may have been an intentional obstruction of justice." The three House members argue that "Congress should call Mr. McClellan to testify about what he described as being asked to 'unknowingly (pass) along false information.' "

Adding to the sense of urgency, the members argue that "recent revelations have shown that the administration including Vice President Cheney may have again manipulated and exaggerated evidence about weapons of mass destruction -- this time about Iran's nuclear capabilities."

Although Baldwin, Wexler and Gutierrez are close to Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers, getting the Michigan Democrat to open hearings on impeachment will not necessarily be easy. Though Conyers was a leader in suggesting during the last Congress that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney had committed impeachable offenses, he has been under pressure from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to keep constitutional remedies for executive excesses "off the table" in this Congress.

It is notable, however, that Baldwin maintains warm relations with Pelosi and that Wexler, a veteran member of the Judiciary Committee, has historically had an amiable and effective working relationship with Conyers. There is no question that Conyers, who voted to keep open the impeachment debate on Nov. 7, has been looking for a way to explore the charges against Cheney.

The move by three of his key allies on the committee may provide the chairman with the opening he seeks, although it is likely he will need to hear from more committee members before making any kind of break with Pelosi -- or perhaps convincing her that holding hearings on Cheney's high crimes and misdemeanors is different from putting a Bush impeachment move on the table.

Pressure point

The most important immediate development, however, may well be the assertion of an "ask" for supporters of impeachment. Pulled in many directions in recent months, campaigners for presidential and vice presidential accountability have focused their attention on supporting a House proposal by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nod, to impeach Cheney. When Kucinich forced consideration of his resolution on Nov. 7, Pelosi and her allies used procedural moves to get it sent to the Judiciary Committee for consideration. Pelosi's hope was that the proposal would disappear into the committee's files.

The call for hearings by Baldwin, Wexler and Gutierrez puts impeachment on the table, at least as far as activists are concerned, creating a pressure point that can serve as a reply when House Democrats who are critical of Bush but cautious about impeachment ask: "What do you want me to do?" The answer can now be: "Back the call for Judiciary Committee hearings on whether to impeach Dick Cheney?"

Baldwin, Wexler and Gutierrez wrote that "Some of us were in Congress during the impeachment hearings of President Clinton. We spent a year and a half listening to testimony about President Clinton's personal relations. This must not be the model for impeachment inquires."

They argued that "a Democratic Congress can show that it takes its constitutional authority seriously and hold a sober investigation, which will stand in stark contrast to the kangaroo court convened by Republicans for President Clinton. In fact, the worst legacy of the Clinton impeachment -- where the GOP pursued trumped up and insignificant allegations -- would be that it discourages future Congresses from examining credible and significant allegations of a constitutional nature when they arise."

The three House members said that the charges against Cheney are not personal: "They go to the core of the actions of this administration, and deserve consideration in a way the Clinton scandal never did."

They cited a Nov. 13 poll by the American Research Group which reported that 70 percent of voters said that Cheney has abused his powers and 43 percent said that he should be removed from office immediately.

"The American people understand the magnitude of what has been done and what is at stake if we fail to act," the trio said. "It is time for Congress to catch up."

Arguing that hearings need not distract Congress, Baldwin, Wexler and Gutierrez note that the focus is on Cheney for a reason: "These hearings involve the possible impeachment of the vice president -- not our commander in chief -- and the resulting impact on the nation's business and attention would be significantly less than the Clinton presidential impeachment hearings."

The trio also suggests that the hearings are necessary if Congress is to restore its position in the constitutionally defined system of checks and balances.

"Holding hearings would put the evidence on the table, and the evidence -- not politics -- should determine the outcome," the Judiciary Committee members explain. "Even if the hearings do not lead to removal from office, putting these grievous abuses on the record is important for the sake of history. For an administration that has consistently skirted the Constitution and asserted that it is above the law, it is imperative for Congress to make clear that we do not accept this dangerous precedent. Our Founding Fathers provided Congress the power of impeachment for just this reason, and we must now at least consider using it."

Southern Iraq "Close To Mayhem"

Southern Iraq "Close To Mayhem"

Murders, Beheadings, Militias Belie Brit Claims Of Stability

Sunday, December 16, 2007

AT&T engineer says Bush Administration sought to implement domestic spying within two weeks of taking office

AT&T engineer says Bush Administration sought to implement domestic spying within two weeks of taking office

Nearly 1,300 words into Sunday's New York Times article revealing new details of the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program, the lawyer for an AT&T engineer alleges that "within two weeks of taking office, the Bush administration was planning a comprehensive effort of spying on Americans’ phone usage.”

In a New Jersey federal court case, the engineer claims that AT&T sought to create a phone center that would give the NSA access to "all the global phone and e-mail traffic that ran through" a New Jersey network hub.

The former AT&T employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Times said he took part in several discussions with agency officials about the plan.

"The officials, he said, discussed ways to duplicate the Bedminster system in Maryland so the agency “could listen in” with unfettered access to communications that it believed had intelligence value and store them for later review," Times reporters Eric Lichtblau, James Risen and Scott Shane wrote. "There was no discussion of limiting the monitoring to international communications, he said."

“At some point,” he told the paper, “I started feeling something isn’t right.”

"Two other AT&T employees who worked on the proposal discounted his claims, saying in interviews that the project had simply sought to improve the N.S.A.’s internal communications systems and was never designed to allow the agency access to outside communications."

AT&T's spokesman said they didn't comment on national security matters, as did a spokesman for Qwest, which was also approached but apparently rebuffed the plan. The lawyer for the engineer and others in the New Jersey case says AT&T's internal documents would vindicate his clients.

“What he saw,” Bruce Afran, a New Jersey lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told the Times, “was decisive evidence that within two weeks of taking office, the Bush administration was planning a comprehensive effort of spying on Americans’ phone usage.”

The full Times article is here.

General: Iraq at Its Quietest Since '04

British soldiers take position before the start of the handover ceremony outside the airport in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Sunday Dec. 16, 2007. British forces formally handed over responsibility Sunday for the last region in Iraq under their control, marking the start of what Britain hopes will be a transition to a mission aimed at aiding the economy and providing jobs in an oil-rich region beset by militia infighting. (AP Photo/ Nabil al-Jurani)
General: Iraq at Its Quietest Since '04

BAGHDAD — Violence in Iraq is at its lowest levels since the first year of the American invasion, finally opening a window for reconciliation among rival sects, the second-ranking U.S. general said Sunday as Iraqi forces formally took control of security across half the country.

Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the man responsible for the ground campaign in Iraq, said that the first six months of 2007 were probably the most violent period since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The past six months, however, had seen some of the lowest levels of violence since the conflict began, Odierno said, attributing the change to an increase in both American troops and better-trained Iraqi forces.

"I feel we are back in '03 and early '04. Frankly I was here then, and the environment is about the same in terms of security in my opinion," he said. "What is different from then is that the Iraqi security forces are significantly more mature."

Violence killed at least 27 Iraqis on Sunday _ 16 of them members of a U.S.-backed neighborhood patrol killed in clashes with al-Qaida in a volatile province neighboring Baghdad. Thirty-five al-Qaida fighters also died in that fighting, Iraqi officials said.



The Outstanding Public Debt as of 16 Dec 2007 at 05:39:31 AM GMT is:

$ 9 , 1 7 5 , 7 7 6 , 7 3 0 , 5 3 8 . 9 9

The estimated population of the United States is 303,814,857
so each citizen's share of this debt is $30,201.87.

The National Debt has continued to increase an average of
$1.51 billion per day since September 29, 2006!
Concerned? Then tell Congress and the White House!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

MSNBC: 'How Bush became a government unto himself'

MSNBC: 'How Bush became a government unto himself'
Mike Aivaz and Muriel Kane

Dan Abrams examined the Bush administration's unprecedented use of signing statements in the second installment of his week-long MSNBC series on "Bush League Justice."

"President Bush doesn't like to veto laws," Abrams began. "He doesn't have to. Since he took office, he's been attaching conditions to laws already passed by Congress, allowing him to essentially disobey the will of Congress and dramatically expand his own power."

Bush has issued 1100 signing statements -- almost twice as many as all previous presidents put together -- often completely reversing the intended effect of legislation. For example, when Congress voted overwhelmingly to ban torture, Bush announced that this would "make it clear to the world that this government does not torture." Two weeks later, he added a signing statement to the bill that allowed him to ignore it.

Similarly, when a bill required the Justice Department to report to Congress on the use of the Patriot Act, Bush added a proviso that he could override this requirement any time he thought necessary.

Law professor Jonathan Turley told Abrams that the practice has two very serious effects. On one hand, "by using signing statements to this extent, the president becomes a government unto himself." But it also gives lower-level officials cover for their own illegal behavior by creating a deliberate area of ambiguity about the meaning of the laws.

"How does he get away with it?" Abrams asked Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage. Savage explained that signing statements have previously been considered merely as instructions to the executive branch on how to interpret legislation, and typically no one outside the executive branch even reads them.

"It's an extraordinarily destabilizing effect upon our system," Turley emphasized. "Our system really only has one rule that can't be broken ... That one rule is, you can't go outside the rules." Once the executive ceases to respect the authority of the legislative branch, everything else is thrown into doubt.

Savage noted that Dick Cheney appears to be the motivating force in this expansion of presidential power. Cheney was chief of staff to President Gerald Ford in the 1970's, when Congress was taking steps to prevent any future Watergate-style excesses, and he has never ceased trying to bring things back to the way they were under Nixon.

According to Savage, Cheney's aide David Addington, who has been with him since the 1980's "is said to be the chief architect of these signing statements" and is the leader of the legal team pushing the most radical theories of presidential power.

"It's astounding to me how they continue to get away with this," Abrams concluded.

The following video is from MSNBC's Abrams Report, broadcast on December 11, 2007

Wexler to Dems: Want a healthcare plan for children? Try impeachment hearings

Wexler to Dems: Want a healthcare plan for children? Try impeachment hearings

David Edwards and Jason Rhyne

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) says he's hatched a plan that will secure health care for children, help to restore America's reputation around the world, and empower the the Democratic party to rediscover the courage of its convictions. He calls it "impeachment hearings."

Appearing in his home state for a meeting of the Palm Beach County Democratic Executive Committee last week, Wexler told the crowd that if Congress were to hold hearings on the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney, the move would advance a wide array of Democratic legislative priorities and even help a more "popular" United States head off foreign policy crises. The remarks were first reported by the Palm Beach Post's George Bennett.

"The way we pass stem-cell research, the way we get implemented a children's health care plan, the way we get higher CAFE [corporate average fuel economy] standards to bring our energy debacle into a better condition for generations to come is to have impeachment hearings," Wexler said, appearing to nearly run out breath at one point during his speech. "Because that'll get the president's eye. That'll get the vice president's eye. That for the first time will show that the Democratic majority is here, and that in fact we have the courage of our convictions, and that we're not bound to be tied by conventional wisdom."

Wexler said that impeachment hearings weren't just an option available to Congress, but a requirement.

"This administration has abused its power in office...and it is the obligation -- not discretionary -- but it is the obligation of this Congress to investigate," he said. "And that's what I and some of my colleagues are beginning to call for."

Later, Wexler suggested the US was sorely in need of popularity boost in the world community.

"If we want to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power, we need to become more popular. If we want to avoid a traumatic split between Sunnis and Shiites that endangers further our national security, we need to become more popular...If we want to engage with the Chinese in a more beneficial way, we need to become more popular."

"Let me tell you one more thing those impeachment hearings will do," he concluded. "It'll make America more popular."

One of the House's most outspoken critics of the Bush administration, Wexler voted against a motion from Democrats to prevent debate on a November impeachment motion brought against the vice president by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). That measure was later sent to the House Judiciary Committee, where Wexler is a sitting member.

"I urge the Judiciary Committee to schedule impeachment hearings immediately and not let this issue languish as it has over the last six months," Wexler stated at the time. "Only through hearings can we begin to correct the abuses of Dick Cheney and the Bush Administration; and, if it is determined in these hearings that Vice President Cheney has committed High Crimes and Misdemeanors, he should be impeached and removed from office.”

The Palm Beach Post has more here.

This video is from, broadcast on December 10, 2007.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hillary As An Agent of Change

Hillary As An Agent of Change

Is Senator Hillary Clinton ready to serve as president? And, if elected would she be an agent of change or a protector of the status quo?

I have known Hillary Clinton since she first met my friend Bill Clinton at Yale Law School and he fell head over heels in love with her. I had met Bill at Oxford when he was rooming as a Rhodes Scholar with my brother-in-law. Bill brought Hillary to my family home in Los Angeles, where we spent many hours talking about the changes taking place in the US in the 1960s and prospects for progressive reform. Polls show that by virtue of her political experience and her recognized talents, people recognize that Hillary is almost uniquely ready to serve as president and as commander-in-chief, even among those who politically oppose her. But I also have good reasons for believing that were she to be elected, she would be an even more effective and accomplished president than her husband. Because of her abilities and sensibilities, and the likely circumstances of her winning, Hillary would be a strong leader who manages change in the public interest-at home and abroad--in the manner of FDR or Harry Truman. She is, in fact, the true heir to the New Deal tradition of the Democratic Party, but for a new era.

This opinion, I believe, is reality-based, not simply the wishful thinking of an old friend. I have had the opportunity to see her up close as a political actor on the world and national stage and to observe her evolution over decades.

While serving as US Ambassador to Finland in the 1990s, I hosted Hillary for a two-day visit to Helsinki. I organized a meeting of what the Finnish press called "the most powerful women in the country" to talk with her at my official residence. In Finland at the time, the Foreign Minister, Defense Minister, Speaker of the Parliament and head of the National Bank were all women. They came to meet the First Lady along with a few leading women entrepreneurs and business executives, and top editors and authors. For more than two hours, they discussed public policy and politics. The lively discussion ranged from the details of Finnish health policy to the difficulties that women face in the political arena. These women viewed Hillary as an important political figure in her own right. She had no aides to prompt her or hand her cue cards. Afterwards, many of the women told me how impressed they were with her, and that they hoped that one day she would run for president.

On that visit, I also accompanied Hillary to a one-on-one meeting with Martti Ahtisaari, the President of Finland, and an accomplished UN diplomat. The conversation with the president went on for two hours and ranged over complex issues of European security and US foreign policy. It was very much a discussion of equals in intelligence.

Hillary also won over my skeptical staff at the US embassy, many of whom had read the negative US press about her and expected that she would be a kind of shrewish Dragon Lady. In fact, she charmed everyone at the embassy with her openness, her sense of humor, and her natural kindness. She took the time to ask personal questions of my staff, and to thank them for their service -- from the political officers and military attaches to my cook and driver.

"She was not what I had expected," one of my intelligence officers remarked. "She is terrific and incredibly smart." That speaker was a lifelong Republican.

As First Lady, Hillary made visits to other embassies across the globe, and I heard reports from colleagues at posts in Asia and Africa and Europe that mirrored my own observations of her in Finland. She impressed international leaders with her knowledge, ability, and charm, and she learned from these experiences. On her final night in Finland, we took a walk without security along the rocky coast to a café overlooking the harbor. My cell phone rang, and it was President Clinton, checking in with his wife, asking her for advice on a political matter in Washington. I heard her recount to him how much she enjoyed visiting Finland -- a country that combines a dynamic market economy with a societal commitment to equality and community -- and how it seemed to be the kind of decent society that we should strive for back home.

During the 1992 campaign, I had observed first-hand Hillary respond calmly and coolly to challenging and embarrassing political crises, and even to her own political gaffes. After her unfortunate comment about not wanting to be the little woman who stayed at home and baked, my sister who traveled with her at the time gave her our family chocolate chip recipe. She got the message, and had cookies baked and served them to the press corps. Not only does Hillary have an ability to laugh at herself, but she quickly learns from her mistakes. She has a first class temperament -- a hallmark of many great political leaders.

Many political pundits said that she would fall on her face when she ran for the Senate in New York, but she proved them wrong. As a senator, she assembled one of the most talented, effective staffs in the Congress, and she displayed tact and deftness in working with other senators, even across the aisle with Republicans like John McCain and Lindsey Graham. As president, she will be ready on day one to work closely with Congressional leaders to move a progressive agenda forward. Her colleagues know her and respect her -- and if she had not chosen to run for President, I am certain that she would have been the next Majority Leader.

She chose to serve on the Senate military committee. One four star officer with whom I worked on NATO peacekeeping had to testify before the committee and also meet privately with her. He told me afterwards that she was direct, had a mastery of complex issues, and was the opposite of patronizing or defensive about military issues. Her views on defense and foreign policy are progressive as well as nuanced and thoughtful. She does not play to the crowd with cheap rhetoric. She has promised to bring US troops out of Iraq, but having a grasp of the challenges involved she will do it in a way that does not make a bad situation worse. And she will do it with the close consultation and cooperation of the military. She understands the importance of American moral leadership, and how much "Brand America" has been tarnished by the rash and radical policies of the Bush administration. She knows first hand how the administration has ignored the counsel of professionals in the Pentagon, State Department and CIA. She would restore competence to the US government, and begin to repair our damaged standing in the world. She understands, as President Bush does not, that the leader of the US is also a kind of president of the world, and has responsibility to lead but not to try to dominate. She does not need a Henry Kissinger or other eminence grises to tell her what to think about the world. She has a depth of experience and a detailed understanding of international affairs. She will assemble a talented and progressive team to manage US national security and work with other nations to construct a new New Deal for the age of globalization. That is her vision.

As for change at home, her commitment to progressive values should never be held in doubt. Since she was a student at Wellesley protesting the Vietnam War and then as an activist law student at Yale when I first met her, she has been a progressive. In New Haven, she worked at Yale medical school on issues of early childhood education and health care, and she is committed to bringing universal health care to the US. She is not an ideologue about the means, but she is unswerving about the goal, and she knows that other countries have found various ways to achieve this end and that we can too. Her interest and commitment to children and their welfare is signified by her lifelong support for her friend Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund, and for the issues that Edelman has championed.

All of her adult life she has displayed a passionate regard for how government can expand opportunity for all of our citizens by leveling the playing field for those not blessed with wealthy parents. As First Lady in Arkansas, she made educational reform her priority. President Carter appointed her to the board of the Legal Services Corporation, and she fought to expand its provision of legal services for poor Americans. She has fought for her beliefs, and when she has lost she has gotten back up and continued the struggle, altering tactics if necessary to achieve practical results. Hillary is a hard-headed, reality-based, practical progressive -- and it is no accident that the Radical Right opposes her and has tried to bring her down. They know that she will not fold under pressure of attack, and that she cannot be bought off by special interests.

Unlike her husband -- the most gifted natural politician of my generation -- Hillary has not always wanted to be President or even Senator. In fact, it was Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York who suggested that she run for the Senate, not her husband or some political advisor. She has grown in to her political persona. Hillary wants to be President for the change that she can bring in the lives of our citizens and in the actions of our country -- for the opportunity to make a better, fairer and more decent American society and global community -- not just for the position and power that the job brings. Of this, I am dead certain.

And she knows from her years alongside her husband that as President she cannot be a leader of change by herself. It is myth and misunderstanding that a president alone can change a nation for the better (although, as we have learned, a bad president can do great damage). Hillary understands that only with allies in Congress and in statehouses and city halls across the nation can she drive forward a progressive agenda. And she understands that she will need to inspire and empower citizen groups to push for reform. FDR did not make the New Deal by himself. He led a national government that responded with passion and strength to workers and citizens who raised their voices for progressive change. If Hillary is elected President, and if as is likely a solidly Democratic Congress is elected, she will have helped to change the political atmosphere of the country, to create hope for the possibility of progressive change -- and she will be in a position to lead that change. It will be an historic moment of great consequence to the nation, and I have no doubt that she will be equal to the task. I cannot think of another American politician who would be better prepared. Strengthened by her bond with the Americans who elect her, Hillary would also reach out to the reasonable Republicans within the Congress who can be partners -- precisely in order to enact a reform agenda.

History sometimes provides opportunities for nations and for leaders -- but the outcome is not predetermined. I have spent forty years in progressive movements and democratic governments, first as a student activist then as an official in state and local government, and later as a federal official and US diplomat. I would not stake my reputation on supporting just another politician. I know Hillary, I trust her and I am certain that she is one person who will be the leader that our time demands.

Derek Shearer served as US Ambassador to Finland in the Clinton administration. He has worked in state and local government in California, and been active in progressive politics for four decades. He is currently Chevalier Professor of Diplomacy at Occidental College in Los Angeles.