Friday, August 31, 2007

U.S.: Military alone can't beat Taliban

Yahoo! News
U.S.: Military alone can't beat Taliban
By CHRIS BRUMMITT, Associated Press Writer

Military force alone is unlikely to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, a top U.S. commander said Thursday, noting that most insurgencies end with a political solution.

Maj. Gen. Robert Cone, who is in charge of equipping and training Afghan security forces to take over from international troops, said the local units were making good progress, but declined to say when they would be strong enough to allow foreign forces to go home.

Meanwhile, a senior Taliban leader was killed in a clash with Afghan and foreign troops in southern Afghanistan, an Afghan army officer said.

Violence is soaring in Afghanistan despite years of counterinsurgency operations by international troops and millions of dollars spent in equipping the country's army and police units.

Cone cautioned that military force alone would likely not be enough to beat the Taliban and other militants battling foreign and Afghan government troops.

"You can say you defeated them in a single campaign ... but again given the complex nature of this environment, they might be back again the very next year," he told a media conference in the capital Kabul. "I think the real issue is probably not a military solution in the long term."

President Hamid Karzai earlier this year said he had met with unspecified Taliban militants to try to reach a political settlement, but he did not elaborate on the extent of the contacts.

Cone, who arrived in Afghanistan in July, said the "military will have a significant impact on the overall solution, but in reality most insurgencies are dealt with by political solution in the end."

Hundreds of former members of the hard-line Taliban regime, including a sprinkling of former senior commanders and officials, have reconciled with the government since they were ousted from power in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

But current rebel leaders have apparently refused to hold talks, and in the past year, thousands more fighters have joined the insurgency, which this year alone has left more than 3,900 people dead, especially in southern and much of eastern Afghanistan. The exact number of insurgents is unclear.

There are more than 42,000 Afghan Army soldiers, and some 75,000 police members, with plans to create a 70,000-man army and 82,000-strong police force by the end of 2008. There also are more than 50,000 foreign troops in the country, including U.S.-led coalition and NATO-led forces.

Formal talks with the Taliban would be politically very sensitive because of the close relationship top commanders are believed to have with al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden.

In the southern Helmand province, meanwhile, senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani, known as Mullah Brother, was reported killed during clashes with Afghan and foreign troops, said Maj. Gen. Ghulam Muhiddin Ghori, an Afghan army officer.

The report could not be independently verified, and a NATO official in southern Afghanistan said that they were not aware of the clash.

Ghani was one of the top leaders of all Taliban forces in the country, when the hard-line Islamist movement ruled Afghanistan, and a close associate of Taliban's reclusive leader Mullah Omar. His current role in within the reconstituted Taliban movement was not clear.

If confirmed, his death would deal a serious blow to the militants, who have made a comeback since their ouster.

In neighboring Uruzgan province, the U.S.-led coalition called in airstrikes to repeal an attack on their base by a large group of insurgents, leaving up to 11 suspected insurgents dead Thursday, a coalition statement said.

Also Thursday, unidentified assailants Thursday killed a British soldier and wounded two others in a routine patrol in the southern province of Kandahar, the British Ministry of Defense said. An Afghan interpreter working with the troops also was killed, it said.

On Wednesday, Afghan soldiers and coalition forces found and destroyed an insurgent-run drug lab after a brief fight in Helmand province, according to a statement. The opium lab was the second of its kind found in the past four days in the province.

A significant portion of the profits from Afghanistan's booming drug trade are thought to flow to Taliban fighters who tax and protect poppy farmers and drug runners.


Associated Press Writer Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.


Jobless claims show unexpected increase

Yahoo! News
Jobless claims show unexpected increase

The number of newly laid off workers filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that applications for unemployment benefits totaled 334,000, an increase of 9,000 from the previous week.

That gain caught analysts by surprise. They had been forecasting that jobless claims would fall by around 2,000.

Analysts are closely watching to see whether recent financial market turmoil will have an impact on business hiring decisions.


Arsenic in drinking water seen as threat

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Arsenic in drinking water seen as threat

Arsenic in drinking water is a global threat to health, affecting more than 70 countries and 137 million people, according to new research.

Large numbers of people are unknowingly exposed to unsafe levels of arsenic in their drinking water, said Peter Ravenscroft, of the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge. He made his remarks at an annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society in London on Wednesday.

The country worst affected is Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of people are likely to die from cancers of the lung, bladder and skin caused by arsenic, the research said.

Arsenic, which is odorless and tasteless, enters water supplies from natural deposits in the Earth or from agricultural and industrial practices.

World Health Organization guidelines set a safe limit of 10 parts per billion of arsenic in water supplies, but 137 million people drink water with levels higher than that — and 57 million drink water with a level of more than 50 ppb, according to the research.

Arsenic poses long-term health risks "exceeding every other potential water contaminant," according to research presented by Allan Smith of the University of California, Berkeley, an adviser to the WHO on arsenic.

"Most countries have some water sources with dangerous levels of arsenic, but only now are we beginning to recognize the magnitude of the problem," Smith said. "It is the most dangerous contaminant of drinking water in terms of long-term health risks, and we must test all water sources worldwide as soon as possible."

Speakers at the conference predicted that new arsenic pollution would occur in parts of southeast and southwest Asia, the western parts of South and Central America, and some areas in Africa.

Arsenic has been found in water in the north of England, the Midlands and mid-Wales. But Ravenscroft said there was no major health risk in Britain and that tests carried out by water companies meant that public water supplies in this country were still safe to drink.


U.S. gives consumers day to sound off on bad imports

Yahoo! News
U.S. gives consumers day to sound off on bad imports

The Bush administration will conduct a meeting this fall to hear Americans' advice on how to stem a wave of unsafe imports from China and other countries, officials said on Thursday.

The all-day meeting on October 1 at the Agriculture Department in Washington is designed to gather suggestions about how the government and companies can better ensure the safety of imported food and other products.

U.S. consumers have been jarred in recent months by a spate of recalls of unsafe children's toys, chemical-laced toothpaste, and dangerous additives in pet food and seafood.

Most of the goods under scrutiny come from China. Beijing is taking steps to crack down on unscrupulous exporters, but it also is seeking to fend off some of the blame.

Bush's panel, headed by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt and including officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Food and Drug Administration, the Agriculture Department and other agencies, will present two reports this fall.

An Agriculture Department official said comments from October's meeting, made in person or teleconference, will contribute to the second report which will set out specific actions the government can take to safeguard against perilous products.

Comments can be submitted at or


Iraq war chemicals found stored in U.N. office

Yahoo! News
Iraq war chemicals found stored in U.N. office
By Evelyn Leopold

The United Nations found small amounts of a potentially lethal chemical warfare agent, removed from Iraq a decade ago, in offices near its New York headquarters but officials said on Thursday there was no danger.

The FBI and New York police were called and they had removed the substances by late afternoon on Thursday, said Marie Okabe, a U.N. spokeswoman.

The material was identified as phosgene, an older generation chemical warfare agent, which could have been lethal if it had evaporated, the officials said.

Phosgene was used extensively during World War One as a choking agent that attacks the lungs.

The phosgene was recovered in 1996 from a former Iraqi chemical weapons facility, al-Muthanna, north of Baghdad.

"It should not have come here," said Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as UNMOVIC, in whose offices the substance was found. Normally, such materials would be taken to a secure laboratory.

R.P. Eddy, executive director of the Manhattan Institute's Center for Policing Terrorism and a former U.N. adviser, agreed. "Did someone there make a stupid mistake that could have actually been catastrophic? Yes. Does that mean the U.N. is a flawed organization? No. This is one goofball error," he said.

In Washington, White House spokesman Tony Snow said, "I'm sure that there are going to be a lot of red-faced people over at the U.N. trying to just figure out how they got there."

The inspectors, searching for weapons of mass destruction, were thrown out of Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1998 and came back in early 2002. The United States ordered them to leave shortly before the March 2003 invasion.

The Security Council on June 29 disbanded UNMOVIC. The inspectors were cleaning out their offices.

They discovered two small plastic packages with metal and glass containers, ranging in size from small vials to tubes the length of a pen with liquid substances, Buchanan said.

The vials were in a small sealed metal box, thought to contain papers. The container was discovered last Friday but only on Wednesday did the inspectors find a list of what the items were.


The chemicals are being taken to the U.S. Army laboratory in Edgewood, Maryland. They were brought to New York in 1996 by inspectors, Okabe said.

On the New York Stock Exchange, the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard and Poor's 500 dropped after midday on an erroneous report the substance found was nerve gas and that U.N. headquarters had been evacuated. The market recovered after the world body said there was no danger.

Okabe, who announced the news at her regular U.N. briefing. said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had been informed and "there will be an investigation."

No office was evacuated until the FBI came to collect the materials and ordered the staff to leave temporarily.

The experts believe "the packages are properly secured and pose no immediate risk or danger to the immediate public," Buchanan said, adding the materials were isolated in a secured room and no toxic vapors had escaped.

"We made a determination based on what it was ... that it was safe for us to come back to work, so we're working in the premises," Brian Mullady, an UNMOVIC expert said. "We feel perfectly safe."

(Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip and Michele Nichols)


White House pushes back on Iraq report

Yahoo! News
White House pushes back on Iraq report
By ANNE FLAHERTY and ANNE GEARAN, Associated Press Writers

An independent assessment concluding that Iraq has made little political progress in recent months despite an influx of U.S. troops drew fierce objections from the White House on Thursday and provided fresh ammunition for Democrats who want to bring troops home.

The political wrangling came days before the report was to be officially released and while most lawmakers were still out of town for the August recess, reflecting the high stakes involved for both sides in the Iraq war debate. President Bush, who planned to meet Friday at the Pentagon with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is nearing a decision on a way forward in Iraq while Congress planned another round of votes this fall to end the war.

A draft report by the Government Accountability Office concluded Iraq has satisfied three of 18 benchmarks set by Congress and partially met two others, a senior administration official said Thursday. None of those are the high-profile political issues such as passage of a national oil revenue sharing law that the Bush administration has said are critical to Iraq's future.

The State Department, Pentagon and White House dispute some GAO findings, including the conclusion that Iraq has only partially met tests involving its budget process and legislation dealing with semiautonomous regions in the large, multiethnic country, two officials said.

Administration officials also disputed that Iraq has failed to provide three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations or to ensure that the security plan will not provide a safe haven for outlaws.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations that included lengthy meetings Thursday at the White House. The GAO may alter some of its findings in response to administration arguments, one official said.

Administration officials also said the draft report is unrealistically harsh because it assigned pass-or-fail grades to each benchmark.

The GAO found that Iraq had fully met requirements to:

_Establish political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad security plan. That plan involves many of the 30,000 U.S. troops Bush sent to Iraq this year.

• Establish joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad.

• Ensure the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.

Bush has suggested he intends to stick to his Iraq strategy, but in his meeting Friday at the Pentagon he's expected to hear some of the Joint Chiefs express deep concern at the long-term impact on the military of maintaining a heavy troop presence in Iraq in 2008 and beyond. Now, there are more than 160,000 troops in Iraq, the most since the war began in 2003.

The Army and the Marine Corps have shouldered most of the burden, creating strains that service leaders fear could hurt their recruiting as well as their preparedness for other military emergencies. The Joint Chiefs are not, however, expected to urge Bush to withdraw from Iraq entirely as many Democrats want.

"It is clear that every objective expert keeps providing the American public with the same facts: that the president's flawed Iraq strategy is failing to deliver what it needs to — a political solution for Iraq," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

GAO officials briefed congressional staff behind closed doors, promising an unvarnished assessment when an unclassified version of the report is publicly released on Sept. 4.

"The real question that people have is: What's going on in Iraq? Are we making progress? Militarily, is the surge having an impact?" said White House spokesman Tony Snow. "The answer is yes. There's no question about it."

But Democrats and even some Republicans say military progress made in recent weeks is not the issue. If Baghdad politicians refuse to reach a lasting political settlement that can influence the sectarian-fueled violence, the increase in troops is useless, they said.

The Pentagon and State Department provided detailed and lengthy objections to the findings by the congressional auditors.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Thursday that after reviewing a draft of the GAO report, policy officials "made some factual corrections" and "offered some suggestions on a few of the actual grades" assigned by the GAO.

"We have provided the GAO with information which we believe will lead them to conclude that a few of the benchmark grades should be upgraded from 'not met' to 'met,'" Morrell said.

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said the GAO should at least note progress made when ruling that Iraq has failed to meet a specific benchmark.

Democrats are expected to try to use money needed to support the war as leverage to bring troops home. The Pentagon has requested $147 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan for the 2007 budget year, which begins Oct. 1. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday suggested Bush should not be asking Congress to approve "tens of billions more dollars" when independent voices like GAO find the Iraqis are failing to reach a political accord.

"With the president continuing to stay the course in Iraq, Republicans will have to decide whether they will continue to vote with him or join Democrats and the vast majority of Americans who are demanding a new direction in Iraq and refocusing America's efforts on fighting the real threats of terrorism around the world," said Pelosi, D-Calif.

The GAO report is one of several assessments called for in May legislation that funded the war: Retired Gen. James Jones briefs Congress next week on his assessment of the Iraqi security forces; Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, testify the week of Sept. 10. Bush will deliver his own progress report by Sept. 15.

Bush is meeting Friday with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a secure conference room at the Pentagon known as "the Tank."

Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock, director of operational planning for the Joint Chiefs, told reporters this would be the Joint Chiefs' opportunity to "provide the president with their unvarnished recommendations and their assessments of current operations."

It did not appear that the session was intended to work out a consensus military view on how long Bush should maintain the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq or how soon to transition to Iraqi control of security.

Bush will be hearing from Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs; Adm. William Fallon, the senior commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East; and top commanders in Baghdad.


Associated Press writers Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Kimberly Hefling, Terence Hunt and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Sobering Census Report: Americans’ Meager Income Gains

NY Times
A Sobering Census Report: Americans’ Meager Income Gains

The economic party is winding down and most working Americans never even got near the punch bowl.

The Census Bureau reported yesterday that median household income rose 0.7 percent last year — it’s second annual increase in a row— to $48,201. The share of households living in poverty fell to 12.3 percent from 12.6 percent in 2005. This seems like welcome news, but a deeper look at the belated improvement in these numbers — more than five years after the end of the last recession — underscores how the gains from economic growth have failed to benefit most of the population.

The median household income last year was still about $1,000 less than in 2000, before the onset of the last recession. In 2006, 36.5 million Americans were living in poverty — 5 million more than six years before, when the poverty rate fell to 11.3 percent.

And what is perhaps most disturbing is that it appears this is as good as it’s going to get.

Sputtering under the weight of the credit crisis and the associated drop in the housing market, the economic expansion that started in 2001 looks like it might enter history books with the dubious distinction of being the only sustained expansion on record in which the incomes of typical American households never reached the peak of the previous cycle. It seems that ordinary working families are going to have to wait — at the very minimum — until the next cycle to make up the losses they suffered in this one. There’s no guarantee they will.

The gains against poverty last year were remarkably narrow. The poverty rate declined among the elderly, but it remained unchanged for people under 65. Analyzed by race, only Hispanics saw poverty decline on average while other groups experienced no gains.

The fortunes of middle-class, working Americans also appear less upbeat on closer consideration of the data. Indeed, earnings of men and women working full time actually fell more than 1 percent last year.

This suggests that when household incomes rose, it was because more members of the household went to work, not because anybody got a bigger paycheck. The median income of working-age households, those headed by somebody younger than 65, remained more than 2 percent lower than in 2001, the year of the recession.

Over all, the new data on incomes and poverty mesh consistently with the pattern of the last five years, in which the spoils of the nation’s economic growth have flowed almost exclusively to the wealthy and the extremely wealthy, leaving little for everybody else.

Standard measures of inequality did not increase last year, according to the new census data. But over a longer period, the trend becomes crystal clear: the only group for which earnings in 2006 exceeded those of 2000 were the households in the top five percent of the earnings distribution. For everybody else, they were lower.

This stilted distribution of rewards underscores how economic growth alone has been insufficient to provide better living standards for most American families. What are needed are policies to help spread benefits broadly — be it more progressive taxation, or policies to strengthen public education and increase access to affordable health care.

Unfortunately, these policies are unlikely to come from the current White House. This administration prefers tax cuts for the lucky ones in the top five percent.


New Orleans marks Katrina anniversary

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New Orleans marks Katrina anniversary
By MARY FOSTER, Associated Press Writer

Prayers, protests and a lingering disgust with the government's response to Hurricane Katrina marked the disaster's second anniversary Wednesday, with a presidential visit doing little to mollify those still displaced by the storm.

Clarence Russ, 64, took a dim view of politicians' promises as he tried to put the finishing touches on his repaired home in the city's devastated Lower 9th Ward.

"There was supposed to be all this money, but where'd it go? None of us got any," said Russ, whose house was the only restored home on an otherwise desolate block.

Not far away, President Bush visited a school. "We're still paying attention. We understand," he said before heading to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, also devastated by Katrina.

But Gina Martin, who is still living in Houston after Katrina destroyed her New Orleans home, was unconvinced. "Bush was down here again making more promises he isn't going to keep. The government has failed all of us. It's got to stop," she said.

Martin was among an estimated 1,000 people taking part in a protest march that started in the Lower 9th Ward. It was a uniquely New Orleans-style protest: There were signs accusing the Bush administration of murder and angry chants about the failure of government. But marchers also danced in the street accompanied by two brass bands.

Katrina was a powerful Category 3 hurricane when it hit the Gulf Coast the morning of Aug. 29, 2005, broke through levees in New Orleans and flooded 80 percent of the city.

By the time the water dried up weeks later, more than 1,600 people across Louisiana and Mississippi were dead, and a shocked nation saw miles of wrecked homes, mud and debris from one of the worst natural disasters in its history.

In New Orleans, recovery has been spotty at best. The historic French Quarter and neighborhoods close to the Mississippi River did not flood and have bounced back fairly well. The city's population has reached an estimated 277,000, about 60 percent its pre-storm level of 455,000. Sales tax revenues are approaching normal, and tourism and the port industry are recovering.

But vast stretches of the city show little or no recovery. A housing shortage and high rents have hampered business growth. The homeless population has almost doubled since the storm, and many of those squat in an estimated 80,000 vacant dwellings. Violent crime is also on the rise, and the National Guard and state troopers still supplement a diminished local police force.

Bells pealed amid prayers, song and tears at the groundbreaking for a planned Katrina memorial at a New Orleans cemetery.

"We ring the bells for a city that is in recovery, that is struggling, that is performing miracles on a daily basis," said Mayor Ray Nagin, who famously cursed the federal response in a radio interview days after the storm.

The memorial will be the final resting place for more than two dozen unclaimed bodies.

"The saddest thing I've seen here is that there are 30 human beings who will be buried here one day that nobody ever called about," David Kopra, a volunteer from Olympia, Wash., said, holding back tears. "It says something to my heart. This city needs so much care, and that's why I'm here."

Churches throughout the region, including historic St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter, held services. At the Claiborne Avenue bridge over the Industrial Canal, mourners tossed a wreath into the water near the spot where a levee breach led to the inundation of the Lower 9th Ward.

In Mississippi, about 100 people prayed and sang in the shadow of a Katrina monument on the neatly manicured town green of Biloxi.

"God has been good to Biloxi and its people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast," Mayor A.J. Holloway said. "We have a new outlook on life and a new appreciation for what's really important in life. It's not your car or your clothes or your possessions. It's being alive and knowing the importance of family and friends and knowing that we all have a higher power."

In Gulfport, Miss., Gov. Haley Barbour urged people to see the positive. About 13,000 of his state's families are still living in FEMA trailers, but that's down from a peak of 48,000, and he expects they could all be out of the temporary housing in a year.

Some let the day pass without fanfare. James Chaney, working on his sister's washed-out house in New Orleans, had no use for the protesters.

"They've done that stuff and done that stuff. It doesn't help us. It doesn't get us anything. It doesn't get anyone to help us."


Associated Press writers Cain Burdeau, Alan Sayre and Stacey Plaisance in New Orleans and Becky Bohrer in Biloxi, Miss., contributed to this story.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Number of Americans without health insurance hits new high

Number of Americans without health insurance hits new high
By Tony Pugh | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — The continued loss of job-based coverage helped push the number of Americans without health insurance to 47 million last year, the highest total on record and the sixth straight year that the ranks of the uninsured have grown.

New annual Census Bureau survey data released Tuesday showed that the number of uninsured Americans jumped by 2.2 million in 2006, from 15.3 percent of Americans in 2005 to a record-tying 15.8 percent last year. The number of uninsured children increased for the second straight year as well, spiking by more than 611,000 last year to nearly 8.7 million.

Tuesday's annual census report also had some upbeat news. The nation's median household income - half of households earn more than the median and half earn less - increased by $356 to $48,200 last year. The amount increased more than inflation for the second straight year.

The significant increases in the number of Americans without health insurance are unprecedented because they occurred in a fairly strong economy and at a time when health-care premium increases have been moderating, said Diane Rowland, executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health-care issues.

"I think the bad news from the statistics today is that when the economy is doing fairly well, we're still seeing a continued erosion in the ability of working families to get health coverage through the workplace, which places more and more people at risk of being uninsured," Rowland said.

With health care a top concern going into the 2008 elections, America's health-care system and the growing numbers of uninsured also have become political issues.

Each Democratic presidential candidate has offered a plan to address both concerns and Republican candidates have begun tackling the problem too. Congress, the nation's governors and state officials from both political parties want to reauthorize and greatly expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which has reduced the number of low-income uninsured children dramatically since its inception in 1998.

About 6.6 million children are covered through SCHIP. Of the 8.7 million uninsured youngsters in the United States, 5 million to 6 million are eligible for coverage through Medicaid or SCHIP.

The Bush administration opposes the efforts to cover more children under SCHIP. In addition to President Bush's vows to veto funding increases for the program that both houses of Congress have approved, the administration recently adopted tough new requirements that make it nearly impossible for states to expand eligibility for children from higher-earning families.

Tuesday's census numbers sparked a torrent of calls for Bush to drop his veto threat and support expanding SCHIP.

In a letter to the president this week, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama urged Bush to rescind the new requirements and commit to supporting the bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Apparently unmoved, Bush issued a statement Tuesday criticizing the House and Senate proposals because they'd be funded by stiff increases in taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products. He said the taxes would undermine the economy. The president also has said that both bills would lead people who can afford private coverage to opt for cheaper government coverage through SCHIP.

"What American workers do not need right now are tax increases to fuel excess spending by the Congress. I encourage Democratic leaders in Congress to resist their urge to increase taxes on Americans and to live within the budget limits I've proposed," Bush said in a statement.

The Senate's bipartisan bill increases SCHIP funding by $35 billion over five years and would cover another 3 million youngsters. The House approved a Democratic bill that boosts funding by nearly $50 billion and would cover an additional 6 million children.

The president supports a $5 billion funding increase, which isn't enough to maintain current levels and could force hundreds of thousands of children out of the program over five years.

Congressional negotiators will merge both bills and send the final product to the president for his signature. The amount of the spending increase is to be determined. A presidential veto probably would face an override vote in the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Bush has said that allowing states to cover more affluent children in the program, which both bills do, would be the first step toward government-funded universal health coverage. He supports tax incentives to help people buy health insurance in the private market.

The growing number of uninsured Americans during Bush's two terms in office reflects the administration's limited attention to the problem and its misguided policy proposals to address it, charged Cindy Mann, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

While the president has pushed for health savings accounts and tax incentives to help people buy private coverage, those measures haven't taken off in the marketplace or won approval in Congress, Mann said.

While the problem of the uninsured predates Bush's time in the White House, the fact that the president hasn't mustered a major initiative to address it "may well be part of his legacy," Kaiser's Rowland said.

Although the census report found that median household income grew last year, the concentration of America's wealth remained at the top of the earnings totem pole. The top 20 percent of earners accounted for slightly more than half of aggregate income, while the lowest 40 percent of earners accounted for only 12 percent of aggregate income.

The median income for men who work full time declined for the third straight year, from $42,743 in 2005 to $42,261 last year. Full-time working women saw their average incomes fall for the fourth straight year, from $32,903 to $32,515.

The nation's poverty rate declined from 12.6 percent in 2005 to 12.3 percent in 2006. However, the number of people in poverty held steady at about 36.5 million.

To see a copy of the new census report on health insurance, income and poverty in 2006, go to Census report on insurance.


A Scandal-Scarred G.O.P. Asks, ‘What Next?’

The New York Times
A Scandal-Scarred G.O.P. Asks, ‘What Next?’

WASHINGTON, Aug. 28 — Scott Reed, a Republican strategist, was at a dinner in Philadelphia on Monday night when his cellphone and Internet pager began beeping like crazy. Only later did he learn why. His party was buzzing with news of a sex scandal involving a Republican United States senator — again.

Just when Republicans thought things could not get any worse, Senator Larry E. Craig of Idaho confirmed that he had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct after an undercover police officer accused him of soliciting sex in June in a Minneapolis airport restroom. On Tuesday, Mr. Craig, 62, held a news conference to defend himself, calling the guilty plea “a mistake” and declaring, “I am not gay” — even as the Senate Republican leadership asked for an Ethics Committee review.

It was a bizarre spectacle, and only the latest in a string of accusations of sexual foibles and financial misdeeds that have landed Republicans in the political equivalent of purgatory, the realm of late-night comic television.

Forget Mark Foley of Florida, who quit the House last year after exchanging sexually explicit e-mail messages with under-age male pages, or Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist whose dealings with the old Republican Congress landed him in prison. They are old news, replaced by a fresh crop of scandal-plagued Republicans, men like Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, whose phone number turned up on the list of the so-called D.C. Madam, or Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska and Representative Rick Renzi of Arizona, both caught up in F.B.I. corruption investigations.

It is enough to make a self-respecting Republican want to tear his hair out in frustration, especially as the party is trying to defend an unpopular war, contain the power of the new Democratic majority on Capitol Hill and generate some enthusiasm among voters heading toward the presidential election in 2008.

“The real question for Republicans in Washington is how low can you go, because we are approaching a level of ridiculousness,” said Mr. Reed, sounding exasperated in an interview on Tuesday morning. “You can’t make this stuff up. And the impact this is having on the grass-roots around the country is devastating. Republicans think the governing class in Washington are a bunch of buffoons who have total disregard for the principles of the party, the law of the land and the future of the country.”

Then again, Washington does not have a monopoly on the latest trend among Republicans. Just ask Thomas Ravenel, the state treasurer of South Carolina, who had to step down as state chairman of Rudolph W. Giuliani’s presidential campaign after he was indicted on cocaine charges in June.

Or Bob Allen, a state representative in Florida who was jettisoned from the John McCain campaign last month after he was arrested on charges of soliciting sex in a public restroom.

Mr. Craig, for his part, has severed ties with the Mitt Romney campaign, despite his public declaration on Tuesday that “I did nothing wrong.”

In an interview Tuesday on “Kudlow and Company” on CNBC, Mr. Romney could not distance himself fast enough. “Once again, we’ve found people in Washington have not lived up to the level of respect and dignity that we would expect for somebody that gets elected to a position of high influence,” Mr. Romney said. “Very disappointing. He’s no longer associated with my campaign, as you can imagine.”

Republicans, of course, do not have an exclusive hold on scandal. As Democrats accused Republicans of engaging in a “culture of corruption” during the 2006 midterm elections, Republicans eagerly put the spotlight on Representative William J. Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat who stashed $90,000 in his freezer — ill-gotten gains, the authorities said.

Still, there is a sort of “here we go again” sense among Republicans these days, especially since news of the Craig arrest broke on Monday afternoon. It is tough enough being in the minority, weighed down by the burden of the war in Iraq. Now Republicans have an even more pressing task: keeping their party from being portrayed not just as hypocritical and out of touch with the values of people they represent, but also as a laughingstock — amid headlines like “Senator’s Bathroom Bust,” which ran all Tuesday afternoon on CNN. The story also ran at the top of all the network evening newscasts on Tuesday.

“I’m hoping it’s a big mistake,” said one of Mr. Craig’s Republican colleagues, Senator Lamar Alexander, traveling Tuesday in Tennessee, his home state. “But it certainly does nothing to increase confidence in the United States Senate.”

With President Bush hobbled by his own political difficulties, the party can hardly look to him to lead them out of the morass. “If we had a coach,” said John Feehery, who was press secretary to Representative J. Dennis Hastert when Mr. Hastert was the House speaker, “the coach would take us in the locker room and scream at us.”

Some Republicans are indeed screaming, particularly the party’s social conservative wing, which places a high priority on ethics and family values. Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group in Washington, said the elections of November 2006, in which Republicans lost control of the House and the Senate, proved that voters want politicians in Washington to clean up their act.

“Exit polls show that was the No. 1 factor in depressing Republican enthusiasm,” Mr. Perkins said in an interview Tuesday. “There is an expectation that leaders who espouse family values will live by those values. And while the values voters don’t demand perfection, I do believe they want leaders with integrity.”

The perception that Mr. Craig is not living up to his own values is causing problems for him, and after his appearance on Tuesday, with his wife standing by his side, some Republicans confessed they did not know what to think.

“He sounded almost as convincing as, ‘I did not have sex with that woman,’ ” said Gary Bauer, a Christian conservative and onetime Republican presidential candidate, reprising President Bill Clinton’s remark initially denying involvement with Monica S. Lewinsky.

Mr. Craig is up for re-election next year and has promised to announce next month whether he is running again. Some, like Mr. Bauer, say he is unlikely to survive the current scandal; others, noting that Senator Vitter seems to have weathered his storm, say Mr. Craig might be able to tough it out. And at the rate things are going, says Mr. Reed, the Republican strategist, it might be only a matter of time before a new scandal pushes Mr. Craig’s woes off the front page.

“I’m a little afraid to say anything, because you don’t know what happens tomorrow,” Mr. Reed said. “That Vitter thing, that’s like ancient history now.”

Carl Hulse in Nashville contributed reporting.


Bush Heads to Gulf Coast, Still Misleading on How Little He Sent to Rebuild

The Huffington Post
Jeffrey Buchanan
Bush Heads to Gulf Coast, Still Misleading on How Little He Sent to Rebuild

AP reported on Friday that President Bush intended to head back to the Gulf Coast this week and visit with survivors on the second anniversary Hurricane Katrina and the man-made disaster that followed. He will see what little progress has been made in some areas two years after his administration horrible bungled the disaster response and he made a commitment in a national speech from Jackson Square to "do whatever it takes" to rebuild and help families to return, confronting long standing issues poverty and race to really restore the region.

Fast forward two months and we hear a whole different story from the Bush administration.

When confronted with the failing Katrina recovery, President Bush and his various spokespeople continue to insist the federal government has done its job. The proof, they say, is "the big check" Washington has allegedly signed for the Gulf Coast, allegedly more than $114 billion.

Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies and I just issued a report to get to the truth and weed our way through the White House talking point on Gulf Coast rebuilding and why alleged federal funds had not made a greater impact. You can read it as part of the report Blueprint for Gulf Renewal. We found less then $35 billion in federal funds actually available to rebuild the region. Most of the $114 billion Bush administration officials refer to was for the emergency response, not to help rebuild the region. Still the White house continues to mislead the public about our country's investment in rebuilding the Gulf Coast and New Orleans to avoid its obligations to aid in recovery and help families and communities rebuild.

The region suffered $150 billion in damages, more damage then the September 11th attacks, Hurricane Andrew and the Northridge Earthquake combined, and displaced over 400,000 people (the largest displacement in U.S. history) yet our federal government has relied on old systems and paradigms meant to repair damage from much smaller disasters.

Even more shocking: less then 42% of the money set aside for rebuilding has even been spent, much less gotten to those most in need. For example:

* Washington set aside $16.7 billion for Community Development Block Grants, one of the two biggest sources of rebuilding funds. But as of March 2007, only $1 billion -- just 6 percent -- had been spent, almost all of it in Mississippi. Following bad publicity, another $3.8 billion was spent between March and July -- but 70 percent of the funds remain unused.

* The other major pot of money for rebuilding, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Public Assistance Program, received $8.2 billion. But only $3.4 billion was meant for non-emergency projects like fixing up schools and hospitals, and only a fraction has been spent.

* After the failure of federal levees flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received $8.4 billion to restore storm defenses. But as of July 2007, less than 20 percent of the funds have been spent, even as the Corps admits that levee repair won't be completed until as late as 2011.

Even the money allocated will likely come nowhere near the cost of rebuilding the Gulf Coast. For example, the $3.4 billion FEMA has available to rebuild local public infrastructure would only cover about one-eighth of the damage suffered in Louisiana alone. But this money is spread across five states -- Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas--and covers damage from three 2005 hurricanes, Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

The White House has not done enough to make sure the funds get to the places that need it quickly and efficiently, instead choosing to take a hands off attitude leaving itself in a position to point fingers at overwhelmed state and local officials who have had to deal with significant federal red tape while rebuilding their communities from the ground up without the logistical and operations help of their federal government.

The final result has been a slowed rebuilding, putting the burden on the storm's survivors to find a way to return, rebuild their homes and help support their neighbors in rebuilding their communities, largely without the help of federal funding. Civic groups like ACORN and churches across the region have been left with the job of rebuilding communities, filling in where their governments have left off. Their charitable good works are definitely something to behold but because the the historic scale of the destruction without meaningful partnerships with the federal government and those significant resources they will never be able to rebuild the entire region to its former size. The people of the Gulf Coast deserve enormous credit for all they have done to date to rebuild the region with so little assistance.

In New Orleans especially, schools remain closed, the healthcare system remains inaccessible, public infrastructure in shambles and affordable housing remains out of reach to most still displaced survivors. The flood protection system threatens even those with the courage to return. Without a renewed federal investment and partnership people will not be able to realize their human right to return home and participate in rebuilding their communities.

Much of this article is taken from the new report by the Institute for Southern Studies, RFK Center for Human Rights and other Gulf Coast advocates called, "Blueprint for Gulf Renewal," giving a voice to grassroots advocates calling for greater federal accountability in the Gulf Coast rebuilding process. The report is available here.


History Will Not Absolve Us; Leaked Red Cross report sets up Bush team for international war-crimes trial

The Village Voice
Nat Hentoff
History Will Not Absolve Us
Leaked Red Cross report sets up Bush team for international war-crimes trial
by Nat Hentoff

If and when there's the equivalent of an international Nuremberg trial for the American perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Guantánamo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the CIA's secret prisons, there will be mounds of evidence available from documented international reports by human-rights organizations, including an arm of the European parliament—as well as such deeply footnoted books as Stephen Grey's Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program (St. Martin's Press) and Charlie Savage's just-published Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy (Little, Brown).

While the Democratic Congress has yet to begin a serious investigation into what many European legislators already know about American war crimes, a particularly telling report by the International Committee of the Red Cross has been leaked that would surely figure prominently in such a potential Nuremberg trial. The Red Cross itself is bound to public silence concerning the results of its human-rights probes of prisons around the world—or else governments wouldn't let them in.

But The New Yorker's Jane Mayer has sources who have seen accounts of the Red Cross interviews with inmates formerly held in CIA secret prisons. In "The Black Sites" (August 13, The New Yorker), Mayer also reveals the effect on our torturers of what they do—on the orders of the president—to "protect American values."

She quotes a former CIA officer: "When you cross over that line of darkness, it's hard to come back. You lose your soul. You can do your best to justify it, but . . . you can't go back to that dark a place without it changing you."

Few average Americans have been changed, however, by what the CIA does in our name. Blame that on the tight official secrecy that continues over how the CIA extracts information. On July 20, the Bush administration issued a new executive order authorizing the CIA to continue using these techniques—without disclosing anything about them.

If we, the people, are ultimately condemned by a world court for our complicity and silence in these war crimes, we can always try to echo those Germans who claimed not to know what Hitler and his enforcers were doing. But in Nazi Germany, people had no way of insisting on finding out what happened to their disappeared neighbors.

We, however, have the right and the power to insist that Congress discover and reveal the details of the torture and other brutalities that the CIA has been inflicting in our name on terrorism suspects.

Only one congressman, Oregon's Democratic senator Ron Wyden, has insisted on probing the legality of the CIA's techniques—so much so that Wyden has blocked the appointment of Bush's nominee, John Rizzo, from becoming the CIA's top lawyer. Rizzo, a CIA official since 2002, has said publicly that he didn't object to the Justice Department's 2002 "torture" memos, which allowed the infliction of pain unless it caused such injuries as "organ failure . . . or even death." (Any infliction of pain up to that point was deemed not un-American.) Mr. Rizzo would make a key witness in any future Nuremberg trial.

As Jane Mayer told National Public Radio on August 6, what she found in the leaked Red Cross report, and through her own extensive research on our interrogators (who are cheered on by the commander in chief), is "a top-down-controlled, mechanistic, regimented program of abuse that was signed off on—at the White House, really—and then implemented at the CIA from the top levels all the way down. . . . They would put people naked for up to 40 days in cells where they were deprived of any kind of light. They would cut them off from any sense of what time it was or . . . anything that would give them a sense of where they were."

She also told of the CIA interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, who was not only waterboarded (a technique in which he was made to feel that he was about to be drowned) but also "kept in . . . a small cage, about one meter [39.7 inches] by one meter, in which he couldn't stand up for a long period of time. [The CIA] called it the dog box."

Whether or not there is another Nuremberg trial—and Congress continues to stay asleep—future historians of the Bush administration will surely also refer to Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality, the July report by Human Rights First and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The report emphasizes that the president's July executive order on CIA interrogations—which, though it is classified, was widely hailed as banning "torture and cruel and inhuman treatment"—"fails explicitly to rule out the use of the 'enhanced' techniques that the CIA authorized in March, 2002, "with the president's approval (emphasis added).

In 2002, then–Secretary of State Colin Powell denounced the "torture" memos and other interrogation techniques in internal reports that reached the White House. It's a pity he didn't also tell us. But Powell's objections should keep him out of the defendants' dock in any future international trial.

From the Leave No Marks report, here are some of the American statutes that the CIA, the Defense Department, and the Justice Department have utterly violated:

In the 1994 Torture Convention Implementation Act, we put into U.S. law what we had signed in Article 5 of the UN Convention Against Torture, which is defined as "an act 'committed by an [officially authorized] person' . . . specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering . . . upon another person within his custody or physical control."

The 1997 U.S. War Crimes Act "criminalizes . . . specifically enumerated war crimes that the legislation refers to as 'grave breaches' of Common Article 3 [of the Geneva Conventions], including the war crimes of torture and 'cruel or inhuman treatment.'"

The Leave No Marks report very valuably brings the Supreme Court— before Chief Justice John Roberts took over—into the war-crimes record of this administration. I strongly suggest that Human Rights First and Physicians for Social Responsibility send their report—with the following section underlined—to every current member of the Supreme Court and Congress:

"The Supreme Court has long considered prisoner treatment to violate substantive due process if the treatment 'shocks the conscience,' is bound to offend even hardened sensibilities, or offends 'a principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.'"

Among those fundamental rights cited by past Supreme Courts, the report continues, are "the rights to bodily integrity [and] the right to have [one's] basic needs met; and the right to basic human dignity" (emphasis added).

If the conscience of a majority on the Roberts Court isn't shocked by what we've done to our prisoners, then it will be up to the next president and the next Congress—and, therefore, up to us—to alter, in some respects, how history will judge us. But do you see any considerable signs, among average Americans, of the conscience being shocked? How about the presidential candidates of both parties?


Edwards wants law against "Brownies"

Edwards wants law against "Brownies"
By Jeff Franks

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Former Sen. John Edwards said at a Hurricane Katrina conference he would propose what he called "Brownie's Law" requiring that qualified people, not political hacks, lead key federal agencies.

Edwards, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, drew laughter when he spoke on Monday of the proposal at the "Hope and Recovery Summit" ahead of the two-year anniversary of the storm on Wednesday.

"It's an absolute travesty to have people who are essentially political hacks in a very responsible position," he told the audience at the University of New Orleans.

"Brownie" refers to Michael Brown, who was head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency when Katrina struck the United States on August 29, 2005. He was criticized as being a political appointee unprepared to lead FEMA when a floundering government effort stranded thousands for days in flooded New Orleans.

He resigned shortly after President George W. Bush, who appointed him to the post, told him publicly, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" as chaos reigned in the devastated city.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee and Duncan Hunter also spoke at Monday's summit. All candidates for the two major parties were invited, but only these four could attend, a summit spokeswoman said.

Clinton, Edward's Democratic rival, blasted the Bush administration's response to Katrina, saying the government has not done enough to help New Orleans recover from the storm that killed more than 1,400 people and destroyed thousands of homes.

"We act like we're not a rich country. I don't understand that," Clinton said.

Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor whose finished second in a recent Iowa Republican presidential straw poll, gave the government a "mixed review" on Katrina and said he would make sure federal aid money was well spent.

After Katrina, "there was a lot of guilt and so the guilt resulted in just putting (in) money, not necessarily strategic money," he said.

Hunter, a U.S. representative from California, said Katrina had proven that "government is inept."

He praised the efforts of average citizens to help storm victims, saying: "I see rising from the destruction of Katrina a new and profound appreciation for freedom."


Why Gonzales Finally Caved

Why Gonzales Finally Caved
By Massimo Calabresi

The Administration line on Alberto Gonzales's resignation is that he made the decision on his own, after weeks of consideration. On Friday, at the end of a two-week vacation in Texas, the Attorney General called President Bush and told him "that he felt it would be in the best interest of the [Justice] department," if he stepped down, according to a senior Administration official. The President "reluctantly accepted that decision," the official says, and later asked Gonzales and his wife, Becky, to come down to Crawford, Texas, where Bush has been on vacation. Arriving for an informal lunch with the President and First Lady there on Sunday, Gonzales handed over his resignation in writing and told the President that he'd be able to stay in the job only for another three weeks.

That timing fit with Josh Bolten's deadline for resignations: Bush's chief of staff has asked anyone in the Administration who is planning to leave before the end of Bush's presidency to let him know before Labor Day this year. And the departure also comes conveniently at the tail end of the August doldrums, with Washington still on summer recess and much of the country on vacation. Better to make the move now, the White House figured, than wait for Congress to return and perhaps renew its campaign to oust Gonzales. "You're not going to make a decision with the tip of a bayonet in your face," says a former senior official.

Some White House watchers are pointing to another factor in Gonzales's departure: the resignation earlier this month of Bush's longtime adviser, Karl Rove. Rove had argued that letting Gonzales go would only make matters worse for Bush in the final months of his presidency. "Karl has concerns about a confirmation process where Democrats will try to exploit unfairly that process," says the former senior Administration official. But that official and others say Rove's departure had nothing to do with Bush's decision to accept Gonzales' resignation.

Rove's concerns are not unfounded: Both camps on Capitol Hill saw Gonzaels's departure as an opportunity to dial up the spin to please their respective bases. Texas Senator John Cornyn lamented that the departure would "lead to more posturing and more controversy" in Congress as the Senate debates whomever Bush nominates as a successor. And hints that Gonzales's tenure at Justice may be at the center of a confirmation battle have already emerged in statements from key Democrats. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy said, "I hope the Attorney General's decision will be a step toward getting to the truth about the level of political influence this White House wields over the Department of Justice." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Gonzales replacement must commit "to cooperate with ongoing congressional oversight into the conduct of the White House in the politicization of federal law enforcement."

Nevertheless, key players in the Administration felt that Gonzales's continued presence in the cabinet was a drag on the department and the White House during a key period of vulnerability for the President, eating up what little political capital the President has to spend on the Hill. For his part, Gonzales was growing increasingly frustrated that issues he cared about, such as stopping gang violence and combating child pornography, have been overshadowed by the controversy surrounding him. "This is not the first time the Attorney General has thought about leaving," says the senior Administration official.

With reporting by Brian Bennett/Washington


Gonzales is Gone, But the Disease Remains

Huffington Post
Steven G. Brant
Gonzales is Gone, But the Disease Remains

At the conclusion of "The House Lawyer Departs," its lead editorial on the subject, The New York Times says, "Mr. Gonzales, for all of his undeniable deficiencies, merely reflected the principles of this administration. His resignation is a necessary but hardly sufficient step in restoring the nation's commitment to the rule of law."

Contrast this with the words of President Bush, who -- when he went before the cameras to report Attorney General Gonzales's resignation -- said "Al Gonzales is a man of integrity, decency and principle. And I have reluctantly accepted his resignation, with great appreciation for the service that he has provided for our country....After months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to resign his position, and I accept his decision. It's sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons."

The Rule of Law vs. The Rule of Bush. It doesn't get any clearer than that, folks. President Bush's world remains untouched, unfazed, and undisturbed by the very bipartisan "mud" through which his friend's name was dragged. All that counts are Bush's feelings. Facts? Bush doesn't care about facts.

Having said this, I hope it's clear to you all that we should not really celebrate Gonzales' departure. Why? Because we are dealing with a problem far more pervasive than the work of any one man... far worse than the work, even, of a team led by Bush, Cheney, and Rice... worse, even, than the cancer on the presidency that America cured itself of over 30 years ago.

We are dealing with a systemic condition within our country. For lack of a better term (and with apologies to Walt Disney), I will call it "Living In Fantasyland".

It is a condition that exists in ways big and small throughout our society. From the Enron Fantasyland of Ken the "dog-fighting as sport" Fantasyland of the Atlanta Falcons' Michael Vick... from the "I spent as much time as the rescue workers" Fantasyland of Rudy Giuliani... to the "I was lied to by President Bush" Fantasyland of Hillary Clinton (who chose not to read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq before her vote).

People we want to trust -- with our money, our cheers, the future of our country -- are just making stuff up as they go along. Facts? They don't care about facts!

As I said, the cancer on the presidency of Richard Nixon was of limited scope. We were able to contain and eliminate it. And the 93rd Congress -- contrary to popular opinion -- actually got a lot done while it conducted Nixon's impeachment hearings.

But a lot has happened to the American psyche since the 1970s. The "Greed is good" me generation of the 1980s (and the updated version brought to us by the current Bush administration and today's Wall Street) along with the pervasive "you create your own reality" transformational technology personal development trainings (such as est and Landmark Education created by Werner Erhard) launched in the early 1970s are just two of the major cultural trends steering America towards a "You can have it your way no matter what the existing reality tells you is possible" mental belief system.

We know this is how George Bush and his team think, from Ron Suskind's amazing Octboer 17, 2004 article in The New York Times. But what not enough of us seem to realize is that this is a society-wide disease. Al Gore knows the magnitude of this problem. It's the subject of his book The Assault on Reason.

So, what to do? How can truth and facts defend themselves in the face of this very virulent disease? Well, here's my suggestion:

Truth and facts can become known for being about more than what the real bad stuff is. Truth and facts can become know for showing us -- all of us -- the real... honest to God... exciting and adventurous road forward. If I told you that the true nature of what's possible is quite literally "Heaven on Earth," that would get your attention... wouldn't it?

Yes, there are truths and facts about Ken Lay's business dealings, Michael Vicks' leisure activities, and Rudy and Hillary's post-9/11 political calculations. But there are also truths and facts about how much better our world could be, especially if the majority of Americans were to learn what certain research scientists and international development theorists know. And what is there that we all could learn from them?

That it is now scientifically possible to build -- with the support of enlightened business and political leadership, of course -- a world beyond war in our lifetimes!

Now that's something that no pack of lies can give us, no matter how well packaged they are. A world beyond war in our lifetimes can only be the product of the truth.

This brave new world -- if we choose to build it -- will be built on the facts, research, and hard won wisdom of those on the front lines of the sustainable international development movement. For proof that these facts exist, I invite you to explore the work of Amory Lovins, Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart, Business for Social Responsibility, The UN Global Compact, and The Next Great Transformation conference taking place at The Eden Project in October.

There's more to truth and facts than most people know. It can be a great world in which to spend your time... and it's no Fantasyland, either!


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Gonzales' Troubling Legacy
Gonzales' Troubling Legacy

JURIST Contributing Editor Peter Shane of Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University, says that the resignation of Alberto Gonzales as US Attorney General creates welcome potential for a new direction at a Justice Department politicized and tainted by his fervent embrace of executive power...

One can only hope that today's resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales marks a turning point back to the rule of law in the regulation of executive branch affairs.

Administration backers may hope that Gonzales's successor will be equally fervent in his assertion of presidential prerogative, equally stubborn in the practice of executive branch secrecy, and equally partisan in his willingness to politicize all levels of the Department of Justice. That scenario is unlikely.

The President will not be able to get a Gonzales clone confirmed as Attorney General with the Senate under Democratic control. The Judiciary Committee will insist on a level of openness and cooperation that the Administration has so far been unwilling to provide.

The President could fill the post through a recess appointee, but only at some serious political cost. Congress will not give a recess appointee either the informal deference or the formal legal authority that the White House would want. Especially with a permanent rewrite of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act under discussion, a recess appointee would seriously weaken the Justice Department's position.

As for Gonzales himself, it seem unlikely that his resignation will either increase or decrease his legal vulnerability to congressional subpoenas or his legal capacity to assert executive privilege on particular matters. If possible, however, he now finds himself in an even weaker political position, which could affect the public positions he is able to advocate with any force.

Perhaps the best development for Gonzales is that his resignation likely makes his impeachment a political non-starter. He is not technically immune from impeachment. The only other cabinet official ever impeached, Secretary of War William Belknap, was tried after he had resigned. Because a potential penalty for impeachment is disqualification from federal office, in addition to removal, such a proceeding would not be legally meaningless. Yet, it surely will not happen.

Alberto Gonzales is likely to be remembered for his double-barreled disservice to the law. First, his lack of awareness, concern, or both with respect to the politicization of the Justice Department, combined with his inability to provide a candid, cogent, and consistent explanation for the Department's behavior has demoralized the career lawyers and line prosecutors who are the Department's heart and soul. It will take years to repair the damage.

Second, as White House Counsel and, then, as Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales was a central figure in advancing the most audacious and unjustified claims in American history on behalf of inherent presidential authority. When the two words most likely associated in the public mind with your government service are "torture memo," your legacy is not a good one.

Peter M. Shane is the Jacob E. Davis and Jacob E.
Davis II Chair in Law at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law.