Saturday, March 06, 2010

Brady needs to do his homework

Brady needs to do his homework
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times Columnist
March 6, 2010,CST-EDT-carol07.article

Been a bit bumpy for Bill Brady lately. But he is finally the official gubernatorial nominee of the Illinois GOP, now that the state Board of Elections has determined he won by a tiny but decisive 193 votes.

And so, after a kickoff Friday at the Union League Club, he headed out at rush hour to meet and greet Metra commuters.

His campaign billed it as "Sen. Brady thanks Chicago voters," but it was a little hard to imagine what exactly he was thanking them for. He got only 1,800 votes out of 34,000 Republican votes cast in the city.

Or to put it another way, his Chicago voters could barely fill the right-field bleachers at Wrigley. And in Cook County, 90 percent of the Republican vote went to his five opponents, not him.

Sen. Brady, of Bloomington, neither has a mandate nor has he done much to win new converts since the February primary.

Worse, he has given his detractors an opening the size of Soldier Field to go after him.

For starters, he's had to fend off inflammatory accusations that he's a homophobic puppy killer.

That's the result of legislation he sponsored (and has subsequently un-sponsored) permitting mass euthanasia of shelter animals, opposing same sex marriage and civil unions and advocating the weakening of some gay discrimination restrictions.

Worse is how he stumbled by panic-peddling a story last week on early prisoner release that lacked foundation in fact.

Designed as an attack on Gov. Quinn, something Quinn's Democratic opponent Dan Hynes did masterfully in the primary, Brady blundered.

The released prisoner in question is 21-year-old Jonathan Phillips, who has recently been charged with a new crime -- murder. The fact is that Phillips, a convicted carjacker, was by all accounts -- except Brady's -- released back in November within established guidelines and -- here's the important point -- not because of Quinn's two controversial, discontinued prisoner release programs.

At a press conference in Springfield, Brady was flanked by Senate and House Republican leaders Christine Radogno and Tom Cross.

It had the feel of one of those "Saturday Night Live" congressional skits where the characters playing Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden look like they'd rather be undergoing dental surgery.

Brady's defenders contend reporters were out to sandbag their guy. And that news accounts overlooked or de-emphasized what Brady was really there to talk about: his bill requiring the state to post information and photos of all early release inmates. The legislation is headed to a vote before the full Senate.

What Brady did not seem to know until reporters told him was that the Illinois Department of Corrections had already begun posting early release inmates on its Web site.

(Note to Brady: preparation, preparation, preparation.)

There is no question, however, that the long knives are out.

Just as Pat Quinn, the accidental, novice governor, stumbled and fumbled on issues -- including early release -- after taking office a year ago, Brady is hitting his own learning curve.

Make this a teachable moment, therefore.

The tanked economy, the state budget crisis and the roadkill specter of Rod Blagojevich on trial will certainly aid the Republican quest to regain the governor's mansion.

But it's no slam-dunk.

Brady won his primary victory Downstate, where Democrat Dan Hynes also did far better than Quinn. But Brady's challenge is in Cook and the collar counties, where more than half of the votes will come. And where Republican governors in years past have occupied the moderate center, not the conservative right.

Brady may upend the conventional wisdom.

But he's going to have to do better in dodging the minefield of his own creation.

Has your paycheck taken a hit? You're not alone

Has your paycheck taken a hit? You're not alone
COOK COUNTY | If you're not a teacher or in health care or 'professional services,' chances are your pay has shrunk in the last year -- but things are looking up
BY SANDRA GUY Staff Reporter
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
March 6, 2010,CST-NWS-wages07.article

If it feels like your paycheck has been shrinking, you're not alone.

Last year, wages in Cook County shrank 1.2 percent from midyear 2008, according to the latest midyear figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

» Click to enlarge image

From top left, clockwise: Geraldine Kimerough an IT professional, Tom Stillwell a law clerk in Albany Park, Natalize Zavis an accountant, and Rick Spencer a Cook County employee all say they've felt the squeeze of a pay cut and the rough economy.

(Scott Stewart/Sun-Times)

Construction industry at worst since Great Depression

That's the first decline in pay here since the government began compiling such data in 2002.

Only a few types of workers saw pay gains:

• State and local government workers.

• Educators.

• Health care workers.

• And lawyers, accountants and others in "professional services."

Overall, 18 percent of Chicago area employers cut their workers' pay last year, according to a survey by the Management Association of Illinois.

But there are signs that things will be turning around. Chicago area companies' pay plans for 2010 show that businesses that froze wages last year are planning to start raising pay this year. And average hourly earnings nationwide have gone up 1.9 percent in the last 12 months, according to the government's monthly jobs report for February.

For now, though, most workers in the Chicago area -- union and non-union alike -- are still facing a pay squeeze. That includes involuntary -- and unpaid -- furloughs, higher health insurance premiums and frozen or reduced pension and 401(k) contributions.

Geraldine Kimerough is one of them.

"I didn't get a raise, and they increased the benefit deductions from my paycheck, so I'm making less," says Kimerough, 49, an information technology worker from Roselle. "I don't like to call it a pay cut because that makes me feel bad. It cuts into my fun money. I like to go on vacation to places that are hot -- Phoenix or Las Vegas. But I won't this year. What's the point if you have nothing to spend when you get there?"

Even those who work in professional services -- jobs that, on average, saw pay grow -- are under pressure.

"I got a raise and a bonus this year, but they were both half the size they normally are," says Natalie Zavis, 28, a Chicago accountant. "I'm not happy about it. But, compared to everybody else, it's good, so I can't complain. I'm thankful to be working."

Nonunion workers at some of the area's biggest employers -- Motorola, Sears and Navistar International -- saw their base pay frozen in 2009.

Unionized employees continue to work under contracts that call for pay increases. But they're facing delays in contract negotiations and increased pressure because of layoffs and their employers hiring more part-time workers, union spokesmen say.

Unemployment now stands at 9.7 percent nationally. In the Chicago area, it's even worse -- 11.1 percent.

Declines in pay and in wage growth reflect "the hidden cost of this recession," says Heidi Shierholz, a labor economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

"People are hanging on to what they have, but they are feeling this recession in terms of reduced hours and reduced paychecks," says Shierholz.

And the future? Economists are projecting that unemployment will go no lower than 8 percent for the next two years before reaching 5.3 percent in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

For now, Shierholz says, there's nothing to push wages higher.

"Employers don't have to pay a wage premium to keep or to get good workers when unemployment is high," she says. "Wage growth will take this on the chin for years to come . . . . People at the middle level of income will really take the hit."

Where pay stands -- A sampling of Chicago-area employers


Last year, most employees at the Chicago Public Schools' central office had a pay freeze and also six unpaid furlough days -- which amounted to a 2.2 percent pay cut. This year, they face another pay freeze and three weeks of furloughs, which would reduce their pay by 5.7 percent. Teachers got a 4 percent raise under their contract. But top school officials have warned that the district can't afford the 4 percent raise this year. They want concessions from the Chicago Teachers Union, such as a pay freeze or furlough days. If the union doesn't agree, the district has the authority to increase class sizes and lay off teachers.


On average, the county government's nonunion work force -- about 25 percent of the total of 24,000 employees -- gets 2 percent annual wage hikes, with "step" increases based on job title, experience and years of service. And 2009 was no different, said Joe Sova, who heads Cook County's human resources office. It's more difficult to track an average for unionized county workers, who are represented by four major unions and covered by about 50 collective-bargaining agreements. The Services Employees Union International has roughly 3,000 employees -- more than half of those working in health and hospitals and the rest scattered throughout the county government -- who have been working without a contract since Nov. 30, 2008. That means pay has been frozen for those workers, except for the step increases.


Nonunion city employees and civilian union city employees saw their wages reduced by a net 1.5 percent from 2008 to 2009. Their pay rose 3 percent in January 2009 -- the first increase for nonunion employees since January 2007. Most unionized non-police or fire employees have received annual increases for that same two-year period. But, through reduced workweeks and required unpaid days, most ended up with a 4.5 percent wage reduction in July 2009 -- with the exception of members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Teamsters, who chose layoffs of their members over pay reductions. Because police and fire labor contracts have been under negotiation, and their unions having chosen not to participate in the furloughs, wages for those workers remained level from 2008 to 2009. Also, if the sworn unions are awarded pay increases through arbitration, the city will pay those increases retroactively. For 2010, nonunion and civilian union city employees will see, on average, a 9 percent reduction in wages resulting from a full year's worth of reduced workweeks, or furlough days and unpaid holidays. The 5,000 City of Chicago employees who are members of AFSCME got a negotiated 3 percent pay raise in 2009 and will receive a 3 percent raise this year. AFSCME members did not accept Mayor Daley's demand to take unpaid holidays and furlough days, but they did have to concede to the city's mandatory three unpaid shutdown days, which amounts to a 1.15 percent pay cut.


AFSCME's 40,000 members who work for the state received a 2.75 percent pay raise for the 2009 budget year and another 2.5 percent raise this year. They have deferred another 0.5 percent raise slated to go into effect in July and are being encouraged to take voluntary, unpaid furlough days because of the state's budget crisis.


The CTA's unions have negotiated annual salary increases of 3.5 percent a year over the next two years. The CTA has asked unions to forgo this year's increase, as well as to accept other cuts, to help address a $95.7 million budget deficit. But the unions have refused, and, on Feb. 7, the CTA laid off 1,057 workers and cut bus service by 18 percent and L service by 9 percent. Nonunion CTA employees had no pay raises in 2009 and none this year. In 2009, upper management took three unpaid furlough days and three unpaid vacation days. This year, all nonunion employees will take from six to 12 furlough days, depending on their salary, plus six unpaid holidays. Employees who make more than $70,000 have to take the maximum of 16 unpaid days this year. Also, all CTA employees -- union and nonunion -- have seen the amount of their pension contributions increase from 3 percent three years ago to 6 percent in 2009 and to 8.35 percent this year.


Navistar -- a Warrenville-based truck manufacturer suffering through the worst truck market in 41 years -- froze base salaries for nonunion workers in 2009. No decision has been made on merit-pay increases for 2010, according to the company.


At Schaumburg-based Motorola, U.S.-based employees' base pay was frozen last year and this year. But workers still received promotions, equity grants and bonuses for superior performance and will again this year, the company said.


Sears hunkered down in 2009 because of poor retail sales and the economic downturn, but the Hoffman Estates-based retailer said it will reinstate pay increases this year for employees deemed to be high-performing.


Grainger, a facilities-maintenance supplier based in Lake Forest, plans to reinstate merit pay raises this year for eligible employees, after freezing them for executive and salaried employees in 2009.


Employees of Integrys Energy Group, the parent company of Peoples Gas, gave eligible nonunion employees a 3.2 percent base pay increase in 2009 and plans a 2 percent base-pay increase this year. But, because of the recession, the company is requiring those employees to take one week of unpaid furlough this year -- which amounts to no pay increase this year.

New York Times Editorial: The Democrats’ Choice

New York Times Editorial: The Democrats’ Choice
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: March 3, 2010

Republicans’ lock-step opposition to comprehensive health care reform seems to be as much a matter of politics as principle. But either way, they have made clear that there is no dialogue or any possible compromise that will persuade them to change their minds.

That means it’s up to Congressional Democrats to move legislation forward — or throw away a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix this country’s broken health care system.

On Wednesday, President Obama called on Congress to quickly take an up-or-down vote. He and Democratic leaders in Congress are going to have to work overtime to corral skittish members of their caucus. And Mr. Obama is going to have to keep making the case to the American people that reform is essential for all Americans’ security and for the nation’s future fiscal health.

The most straightforward way to enact reform would be for the House — which only needs a majority — to approve the bill passed by the Senate and send it straight to the president for his signature. Unfortunately, House Democrats appear unwilling to do that.

Liberal members of the caucus think the Senate bill should spend more money to cover more people and provide more generous subsidies. Fiscal hawks are nervous about the projected costs of either bill. And legislators who strongly oppose abortion think the restrictions on coverage for abortion in the Senate’s bill are too weak.

The multiple sniping has forced the Democrats to consider amending the Senate bill by “reconciliation,” a procedure that can sidestep a Republican filibuster.

Don’t be misled by Republican charges that the president is planning to “ram through” reform with a rarely used maneuver. The Senate already has approved its bill with a 60-vote majority. Both parties have used reconciliation in the past. The Republicans happily used it to approve the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.

Senate Democrats should be able to muster the 51 votes needed. So what will it take to win over the House?

Liberal Democrats are right that the Senate bill is too stingy. More money should be added to make subsidized insurance affordable and to help states pay for expanding their Medicaid rolls. That would drive up the cost somewhat and make fiscal conservatives even more nervous. Yet there is much in the Senate bill for them.

The two most important points they — and all Americans — need to remember is that the Senate and House bills are fully paid for by tax revenues and budget savings, and both would reduce future deficits.

The Senate bill also has two additional cost-control mechanisms: a tax on high-cost insurance plans designed to push people toward cheaper plans, and an independent board to push cost-cutting measures into the Medicare program. Both could probably be strengthened in reconciliation.

Neither the liberals nor the fiscal hawks will be able to get everything they want. Mr. Obama and Congressional leaders will have to persuade both camps that failure is the worst option of all.

Do House liberals really want to deny 30 million uninsured Americans the chance at coverage? Do House deficit hawks want the deficit to rise even more? Because without reform, there are no plans to rein in the relentless rise of medical costs and the Medicare obligation.

The issue of abortion coverage can’t be addressed in a reconciliation bill that must deal only with budgetary matters. The Senate bill already has onerous provisions that would likely discourage insurers on new exchanges from offering policies that cover abortions. The House bill is even more restrictive. Both are outrageous intrusions on a woman’s right to make health care decisions.

House Democrats who say they cannot accept the Senate’s abortion provisions must ask themselves a fundamental question: Are they willing to scuttle their party’s signature domestic issue and a reform that this country desperately needs, rather than accept the almost-as-tough language of the Senate bill?

U.S. Aiding Somalia in Its Plan to Retake Its Capital

U.S. Aiding Somalia in Its Plan to Retake Its Capital
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: March 5, 2010

MOGADISHU, Somalia — The Somali government is preparing a major offensive to take back this capital block by crumbling block, and it takes just a listen to the low growl of a small surveillance plane circling in the night sky overhead to know who is surreptitiously backing that effort.

“It’s the Americans,” said Gen. Mohamed Gelle Kahiye, the new chief of Somalia’s military, who said he recently shared plans about coming military operations with American advisers. “They’re helping us.”

That American assistance could be crucial to the effort by Somalia’s government to finally reassert its control over the capital and bring a semblance of order to a country that has been steeped in anarchy for two decades. For the Americans, it is part of a counterterrorism strategy to deny a haven to Al Qaeda, which has found sanctuary for years in Somalia’s chaos and has helped turn this country into a magnet for jihadists from around the world.

The United States is increasingly concerned about the link between Somalia and Yemen, a growing extremist hot spot, with fighters going back and forth across the Red Sea in what one Somali watcher described as an “Al Qaeda exchange program.”

But it seems there has been a genuine shift in Somali policy, too, and the Americans have absorbed a Somali truth that eluded them for nearly 20 years: If Somalia is going to be stabilized, it is going to take Somalis.

“This is not an American offensive,” said Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for Africa. “The U.S. military is not on the ground in Somalia. Full stop.”

He added, “There are limits to outside engagement, and there has to be an enormous amount of local buy-in for this work.”

Most of the American military assistance to the Somali government has been focused on training, or has been channeled through African Union peacekeepers. But that could change. An American official in Washington, who said he was not authorized to speak publicly, predicted that American covert forces would get involved if the offensive, which could begin in a few weeks, dislodged Qaeda terrorists.

“What you’re likely to see is airstrikes and Special Ops moving in, hitting and getting out,” the official said.

Over the past several months, American advisers have helped supervise the training of the Somali forces to be deployed in the offensive, though American officials said that this was part of a continuing program to “build the capacity” of the Somali military, and that there has been no increase in military aid for the coming operations.

The Americans have provided covert training to Somali intelligence officers, logistical support to the peacekeepers, fuel for the maneuvers, surveillance information about insurgent positions and money for bullets and guns.

Washington is also using its heft as the biggest supplier of humanitarian aid to Somalia to encourage private aid agencies to move quickly into “newly liberated areas” and deliver services like food and medicine to the beleaguered Somali people in an effort to make the government more popular.

Whenever Somalia has hit a turning point in the past, the United States has been there, sometimes openly, sometimes not.

In 1992, shortly after the central government imploded, Marines stormed ashore to help feed starving Somalis. In early 2006, when an Islamist alliance was poised to sweep the country, the C.I.A. teamed up with warlords to stop them, and when that backfired, the American military covertly supported an Ethiopian invasion.

Last summer, when Somalia’s transitional government was nearly toppled by insurgents linked to Al Qaeda, the American government hastily shipped in millions of dollars of weapons.

Since then, the insurgents’ imperative to retake the capital, and eventually other parts of the country, has grown, American officials say, as Al Qaeda has even considered relocating some of its leaders from Pakistan to here.

American officials said several high-ranking Qaeda agents were still active in Somalia, including Fazul Abdullah Mohamed, one of the suspected bombers of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, who is now believed to be building bombs for the Islamist insurgent group known as Al Shabab.

The Somali government has tried limited offensives before and has failed, leaving much of the country in the hands of Al Shabab, who have chopped off heads, banned music and brought a harsh and alien version of Islam to Somalia.

But officials say that this offensive, or at least the preparations for it, feels different. First, the government has the advantage of numbers, about 6,000 to 10,000 freshly trained troops, compared with about 5,000 on the side of Al Shabab and its allies.

In the past six months, Somalia has farmed out young men to Djibouti, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and even Sudan for military instruction and most are now back in the capital, waiting to fight. There are also about 5,000 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers, with 1,700 more on their way, and they are expected to play a vital role in backing up advancing Somali forces.

The government is also better armed and equipped. Parked in neat rows behind Villa Somalia, the president’s hilltop villa in the center of Mogadishu, are newly painted military trucks, tanks, armored personnel carriers and dozens of “technicals,” pickup trucks with their windshields sawed off and a cannon riveted on the back of each one. The government also recently bought 10 Chevrolet ambulances.

There seems to be a qualitative difference, too. Somalia’s forces are now led by General Gelle, a colonel in Somalia’s army decades ago who most recently was an assistant manager at a McDonald’s in Germany. He is known among Somali war veterans as one of the best Somali officers still alive.

Many Somalia observers are confident that the offensive will push back Al Shabab. The question is what will happen afterward. “To take you need force, to hold you need discipline,” said Ahmed Abdisalam, a deputy prime minister in the last Somali government. “What’s going to guarantee those troops don’t turn on the population?”

Or turn on themselves: many Somalis worry the troops could split along clan lines, which is what brought down Somalia’s government in 1991. One lingering criticism of Somalia’s president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, is that he has been too holed up in Villa Somalia and has not engaged with local power brokers and played clan politics better.

Even though there is a new religious overlay to Somalia’s civil war, with a moderate Islamist government battling fundamentalist Islamist insurgents, clan connections still matter and could spell success — or disaster.

That said, the government did recently strike a political agreement with a powerful moderate Islamist militia, which may join the offensive from the inland regions of the country. There has also been talk of a militia made up of Somali refugees living in Kenya advancing from the Kenyan side.

Why a VAT Tax Is Where It's At Adoption of a value-added tax in the U.S. would be a fair, efficient way to help restore the country's financial health

Why a VAT Tax Is Where It's At - Adoption of a value-added tax in the U.S. would be a fair, efficient way to help restore the country's financial health, argues Bloomberg BusinessWeek columnist Chris Farrell
By Chris Farrell
Copyright by Business Week
March 5, 2010, 10:30PM EST


The U.S. government's debt is triple-A rated, and with good reason. Could the adoption of a value-added tax help keep it that way for generations to come? Simply put: yes.

The U.S., as both the world's wealthiest economy and a vibrant democracy, remains the investing safe haven of choice in times of financial and political turmoil. Witness the flight of capital into U.S. Treasury securities from investors around the world during the Great Recession, a remarkable measure of trust considering the epicenter of the financial crisis was the U.S. housing market. Treasury securities are the gold standard of the global capital markets. The embrace of the full faith and credit of the American taxpayer and the federal government are worth honoring.

Now, there's no shortage of folks worried about the federal government's budget deficit and soaring debt levels. The concern is misplaced in the short-run. Much of the current fiscal situation largely reflects the cost of combating the Great Recession, the worst downturn since the 1930s. But long-term, the budget deficit and steep government debts are an ominous combination. The underlying budgetary issue is the Holy Trinity of entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, with the primary emphasis on health care. Spending on those three programs alone accounts for about half of the government's noninterest spending. It is only going to go up with an aging population.


The Woodstock Generation, aka the roughly 76 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964, is getting ready to retire. The oldest boomers were eligible to start collecting Social Security at age 62 in 2008. They'll be eligible for Medicare next year. Eventually, over the next half-century or so, if the nation's total tax burden stays around its current 18% of gross domestic product, Uncle Sam will end up borrowing to pay interest on the interest, according to Rudolph G. Penner, economist at the nonpartisan Urban Institute. "At that point, total spending, the deficit, and the national debt begin to go straight up," he writes.

Clearly, the long-term fiscal numbers are unsustainable. Something has to give long before the fiscal disaster strikes, Yet any solution will take years to come into law, so now is a good time to get started. It's long past time to lay to rest such deficit solutions as "starve the beast." Mantras such as "tax cuts pay for themselves" aren't true no matter how often repeated. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are popular programs that aren't going to fade away. The government may take on even greater obligations with health-care reform. Indeed, between the aftermath of 9/11 and the Great Recession, the government has taken on enormous responsibilities, from waging war on two fronts and boosting domestic security to expanding Medicare and bailing out the banks. Any viable solution will have to involve both the spending and the tax side of the fiscal ledger.

That means it's time to consider a value-added tax, or VAT. Unlike a sales tax, which is levied by 45 states and many municipalities only on the retail consumption of a good or service, a VAT is collected at each stage of production and distribution rather than just from retailers. A VAT is a highly efficient tax from an economic point of view. It's essentially a flat consumption tax, and the way it's collected minimizes compliance problems. More than 100 countries use a VAT to help fill their coffers. New Zealand, for instance, has a 12.5% VAT, and Denmark's is 25%.


To be sure, a VAT has never gained much traction in the U.S. Many liberals oppose it because they believe it falls heaviest on the poor and elderly. Many conservatives dislike it because it's a new tax—and an efficient one. "The greater (but often unspoken) fear of many conservatives is that a VAT would be too efficient a revenue-raiser," writes Joel Slemrod, tax economist at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. A number of conservatives worry that an efficient VAT might allow government to get even bigger. Perhaps Grover Norquist, the longtime tax opponent at the conservative lobbying group Americans for Tax Reform, put the opposition best. "VAT," he said, "is French for big government."

Yet it's the very efficiency of the VAT that makes it attractive for taking a large step toward meeting America's future obligations. The VAT works best as a supplement to the income tax. Indeed, President Bush's bipartisan White House commission on tax reform in the middle of the decade did consider the option. Businesses would pay tax on the difference between their sales receipts and the cost of their inputs purchased from other businesses. The VAT would be joined with a greatly simplified income tax system.

It's an idea worth reviving. No one really defends the current income tax system anymore. It's far too complicated, with all kinds of loopholes and special interest favors, from various tax-sheltered retirement savings plans to multiple tax deductions and credits for home ownership to separate tax treatment for asset sales. Worse yet, arbitrary phase-outs of various levies, such as the estate tax, needlessly complicate the tax code and add to a widespread sense that it's fundamentally unfair. Congress and the Administration could reward taxpayers with serious tax simplification. They could lower income tax rates greatly by broadening the tax base through eliminating as many credits and deductions and shelters as are politically practical. The highly efficient VAT would then supplement the income tax to restore long-term fiscal discipline.


The University of Michigan's Slemrod wonderfully opened an essay on tax reform by quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson: "We ascribe beauty to that which is simple; which has no superfluous parts; which exactly answers its end." He ended the discussion with Albert Einstein's legendary admonition that "everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." Taxation involves contentious issues of ethics, values, efficiency, and social goals, Slemrod says. Pure simplicity is possible only on paper, not in the real world.

But much can be done with the tax code, keeping Einstein's caution in mind but moving closer to Emerson's standard of beauty. Simplify the tax code and embrace the VAT. Together, the actions would show that the American democracy can run a sound fiscal policy. Investors around the world could continue to sleep soundly, knowing their money is safe in U.S. Treasuries.

Farrell is contributing economics editor for BusinessWeek. You can also hear him on American Public Media's nationally syndicated finance program, Marketplace Money, as well as on public radio's business program Marketplace. His Sound Money column appears on

New York Times Editorial: Refereeing the Health Care Debate

New York Times Editorial: Refereeing the Health Care Debate
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: March 5, 2010

Even before the health care showdown begins, Republican lawmakers have begun questioning the fairness of the Senate parliamentarian, the obscure but well respected career expert who must referee from the wings when points are challenged in floor debate.

The Republicans have done a great deal in the cause of obstructionism, but it’s patently absurd to pick on the lawyerly, apolitical Alan Frumin. He has worked in the office for 33 years and has been accepted by both Republican and Democratic majorities to be the arbiter when appeals were made to Senate rules and tradition.

No one will envy the parliamentarian if the Democrats use the reconciliation process to restore majority rule — 51 votes for approval — on health care reform and foil endless Republican demands for 60-vote supermajorities. Reconciliation was created in 1974 as a budgetary prod and to restrain demagogic filibusters.

The Republicans used it repeatedly when they held the majority — notably to pass the previous Bush administration’s huge upper-bracket tax cuts that helped balloon the budget deficits that are suddenly such a concern to the same Republicans.

“Is there something wrong with majority rules?” asked Senator Judd Gregg when he was in the Republican majority opposing a Democratic filibuster to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling. Now Mr. Gregg denounces reconciliation as an underhanded violation of the will of the people.

He insists that it has never been used for installing such a sweeping program. But that is not true. The health care bill has already been approved by a 60-vote majority. The coming debate will be over amendments. Beyond that, reconciliation was a tool in such major changes as welfare reform, children’s health insurance and the balanced budget mandates of the 1990s.

Mr. Frumin is not the issue. The true issue is whether the long-delayed effort to reform health care will rise or fall on the merits.

Apple iPad to Arrive in Stores on April 3

Apple iPad to Arrive in Stores on April 3
Copyright by The New York Times
March 5, 2010, 9:45 am

Apple iPad An announcement on Apple’s Web site that the iPad will arrive in stores on April 3.

Apple announced on Friday that the Wi-Fi versions of its long-awaited iPad will arrive April 3 in stores in the United States. The models that can tap into AT&T’s 3G wireless data network will be available in late April.

Customers can pre-order the iPad on Apple’s Web site beginning next Friday.

Apple’s tablet computer is expected to ship with 12 new applications designed specifically for the device, and it will run almost all of the more than 150,000 applications available for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Apple has been aiming the iPad squarely at e-book readers like’s Kindle. And in its news release Friday, Apple said that an updated version of its iBooks app that will include Apple’s iBookstore will be available as a free download on April 3 in the United States, with additional countries to be added later.

The company has been aggressively recruiting personnel for the new iBookstore, listing a variety of iBook-related job openings on its corporate job board — including “Manager, iBooks Asia Pacific & Canada,” “Independent Publisher Acct. Mgr., iBookstore” and a “Merchandising Manager, iBookstore.”

Apple said that pricing for the device will be the same as it initially announced in January:

iPad will be available in Wi-Fi models on April 3 in the United States for a suggested retail price of $499 for 16GB, $599 for 32GB, $699 for 64GB. The Wi-Fi + 3G models will be available in late April for a suggested retail price of $629 for 16GB, $729 for 32GB and $829 for 64GB. iPad will be sold in the United States through the Apple Store® (, Apple’s retail stores and select Apple Authorized Resellers.

Apple said the iPad will be available in both Wi-Fi and 3G models in late April in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, with more countries added later this year.

G.M. Plans to Reinstate 661 Dealerships

G.M. Plans to Reinstate 661 Dealerships
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: March 5, 2010

DETROIT — General Motors, seeking to avoid a protracted legal battle as it focuses on increasing sales, said on Friday that it planned to reinstate 661 dealerships cut last year as part of its bankruptcy reorganization.
Enlarge This Image
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Larry Noga working last May at the Balzekas Chrysler dealership in Chicago. The dealership was slated to lose its franchise.

That is more than half of the roughly 1,100 dealers who filed to challenge G.M.’s terminations through an arbitration process established by Congress.

G.M. said that it was calling and sending letters to the dealers being allowed to stay open and that they would receive notification by Monday.

“By doing this, we save a lot of time, energy and dollars, saving us and dealers from going through what could be a very long arbitration process,” Jim Bunnell, G.M.’s general director of dealer network support, said in a conference call with reporters.

Mark L. Reuss, the president of G.M. North America, said the dealers to be reinstated were chosen based on business criteria, not because they were likely to win in arbitration or to put up a costly fight.

“We’re trying to do the right thing for our dealerships, for G.M. and for the taxpayer, quite frankly,” Mr. Reuss said.

The arbitration process was established by Congress after its members were inundated by complaints from G.M. dealers in their districts.

But as its sales fell last year by about 50 percent, the company said it needed to thin out its dealership network so it and the remaining dealers could be more profitable.

Congress has made no similar demands that G.M. revive its factories.

Representative Steven C. LaTourette, a Republican of Ohio who helped establish the arbitration process, said the loss of dealerships affected individual communities. “You’re talking almost 40,000 people going back to work, potentially. The car dealer, in many cases, supports the Little League and supports the Chamber.” By forcing the dealerships to close, he said, “you’ve destroyed the fabric of some communities.” G.M. softened its opposition to the dealer cuts after Edward E. Whitacre Jr. became chief executive in December. It had more than 6,000 dealers before bankruptcy and now could have close to 5,000 when the arbitrations conclude. It had previously set a target of fewer than 4,000, but Mr. Bunnell said on Friday that the reinstatements would not make G.M.’s dealership network too large.

G.M. had been concentrating on consolidating its operations to match its diminished market share, but Mr. Whitacre has pushed people at all levels of G.M. to focus primarily on selling more vehicles. Having more dealerships could help him accomplish that goal.

The dealers that G.M. is allowing to stay open will have 10 days to review and sign the letter of intent they will receive from the company, then 60 days to fulfill new requirements, including maintaining adequate capitalization and financing.

Meanwhile, 418 dealerships are still fighting to be reinstated at Chrysler, the other Detroit automaker to go through bankruptcy protection last year. Chrysler forced 789 dealerships to close last June.

“To some degree there’s been some precedent set,” said Michael Boudreau, a director with a consulting firm, O’Keefe & Associates in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “The Chrysler dealers will probably dig in their heels and fight a little bit harder now.”

Many of the terminated G.M. dealers never announced their status publicly and continued to operate much like other dealers except that they were not allowed to order new vehicles from factories. Still, their inability to sell the most popular models since last May undoubtedly cost them customers and hurt G.M.’s overall sales.

In February, the Ford Motor Company outsold G.M. by 471 vehicles. If each of the dealers now being reinstated had been operating normally and sold just one additional vehicle last month, G.M. would have stayed in first place.

Separately Friday, G.M. appointed Patricia F. Russo, a former chief executive of the French telecommunications company Alcatel-Lucent, as its new lead outside director. Under a new bylaw, Ms. Russo, one of 10 people the Treasury Department appointed to G.M.’s board after the carmaker emerged from bankruptcy in July, was given the authority to convene special board meetings as needed.

Millions of Toyotas Recalled, None in Japan

Millions of Toyotas Recalled, None in Japan
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: March 5, 2010

TOKYO — Feeling her Toyota Mark X station wagon lurch forward at a busy intersection, Masako Sakai slammed on the brakes. But the pedal “had gone limp,” she said. Downshifting didn’t seem to work either.

Fumio Matsuda, a Japanese consumer advocate. He said Japanese authorities saw consumer activists as dangerous.

“I tried everything I could think of,” Mrs. Sakai, 64, said, as she recently recalled the accident that happened six months ago.

Her car surged forward nearly 3,000 feet before slamming into a Mercedes Benz and a taxi, injuring drivers in both those vehicles and breaking Mrs. Sakai’s collarbone.

As shaken as she was by the accident, Mrs. Sakai says she was even more surprised by what happened after. She says that Toyota — from her dealer to headquarters — has not responded to her inquiries, and Japanese authorities have been indifferent to her concerns as a consumer.

Mrs. Sakai says the Tokyo Metropolitan Police urged her to sign a statement saying that she pressed the accelerator by mistake — something she strongly denies. She says the police told her she could have her damaged car back to get it repaired if she made that admission. She declined.

The police say it was a misunderstanding and that they kept her car to carry out their investigation.

But veterans of Japan’s moribund consumer rights movement say that Mrs. Sakai, like many Japanese, is the victim of a Japanese establishment that values Japanese business over Japanese consumers, and the lack of consumer protections here.

“In Japan, there is a phrase: if something smells, put a lid on it,” said Shunkichi Takayama, a Tokyo-based lawyer who has handled complaints related to Toyota vehicles.

Toyota has recalled eight million cars outside Japan because of unexpected acceleration and other problems, but has insisted that there are no systemic problems with its cars sold in Japan. The company recalled the Prius for a brake problem earlier this year.

Critics say many companies benefit from Japan’s weak consumer protections. (The country has only one full-time automobile recall investigator, supported by 15 others on limited contracts.)

In a case in the food industry, a meat processor called Meat Hope collapsed in 2008 after revelations that it had mixed pork, mutton and chicken bits into products falsely labeled as pure ground beef, all under the noses of food inspectors.

A 2006 police inquiry into gas water heaters made by the manufacturer Paloma found that a defect had resulted in the deaths of 21 people over 10 years from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Paloma initially insisted that users had tampered with the heaters’ safety device; the company ultimately admitted that the heaters were at fault — and that executives had been aware of a potential problem for more than a decade. Executives are now being charged with professional negligence, and a court verdict is due in May.

When it comes to cars, the rapid growth of the auto industry here and of car ownership in the 1960s and ’70s was accompanied by a spate of fatal accidents. A consumer movement soon emerged among owners of these defective vehicles.

The most active was the Japan Automobile Consumers Union, led by Fumio Matsuda, a former Nissan engineer often referred to as the Ralph Nader of Japan. But the automakers fought back with a campaign discrediting the activists as dangerous agitators. Mr. Matsuda and his lawyer were soon arrested and charged with blackmail. They fought the charges to Japan’s highest court, but lost.

Now, few people are willing to take on the country’s manufacturers at the risk of arrest, Mr. Matsuda said in a recent interview. “The state sided with the automakers, not the consumers,” he said.

It has become difficult for drivers to access even the most elementary data or details on incidents of auto defects, says Hiroko Isomura, an executive at the National Association of Consumer Specialists and a former adviser to the government on auto recalls. “Unfortunately, the Automobile Consumers Union was shut down,” she said. “No groups like that exist any more.”

For the government to order a recall, it must prove that automobiles do not meet national safety standards, which is difficult to do without the automakers’ cooperation. Most recalls are done on a voluntary basis without government supervision.

An examination of transport ministry records by The New York Times found that at least 99 incidents of unintended acceleration or surge in engine rotation had been reported in Toyotas since 2001, of which 31 resulted in some form of collision.

Critics like Mr. Takayama charge that the number of reports of sudden acceleration in Japan would be bigger if not for the way many automakers in Japan, helped by reticent regulators, have kept such cases out of official statistics, and out of the public eye.

In 2008, about 6,600 accidents and 30 deaths were blamed on drivers of all kinds of vehicles mistakenly pushing the accelerator instead of the brakes, according to the Tokyo-based Institute for Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis.

But Mr. Takayama has long argued that number includes cases of sudden acceleration. “It has become the norm here to blame the driver in almost any circumstance,” he said.

“Regulators have long accepted the automakers’ assertions at face value,” said Yukiko Seko, a retired lawmaker of the Japan Communist Party who pursued the issue in Parliament in 2002.

The police strongly deny pressuring drivers to accept the blame in any automobile accident. “All investigations into auto accidents are conducted in a fair and transparent way,” the Tokyo Metropolitan Police said in response to an inquiry by The Times.

Figuring out who is really to blame can be hard because of Japan’s lack of investigators.

Japan’s leniency has also meant that automakers here have routinely ignored even some of the safety standards for cars sold in the United States. Until the early 1990s, Japanese cars sold domestically lacked the reinforcing bars in car walls required of all vehicles sold in the United States. Critics say skimping on safety was one way automakers generated profits in Japan to finance their export drive abroad.

A handful of industry critics like Mr. Takayama and Ms. Seko have, over the years, voiced concern over cases of sudden acceleration in Toyota and other cars in Japan. Under scrutiny especially after the introduction of automatic transmission cars in the late 1980s, Toyota recalled five models because a broken solder was found in its electronics system, which could cause unintended acceleration.

In 1988 the government ordered a nationwide study and tests, and urged automakers to introduce a fail-safe system to make sure the brakes always overrode the accelerator. This month, more than 20 years later, Toyota promised to install a brake override system in all its new models.

Meanwhile, Toyota maintains a large share on the Japanese market, with about 30 percent. The Prius gas-electric hybrid remained the top-selling car in Japan in February despite the automaker’s global recalls, figures released Thursday showed.

But Japan’s pro-industry postwar order may be changing.

In 2009, in one of the last administrative moves by the outgoing government, a new consumer affairs agency was set up to better police defective products, unsafe foods and mislabeling.

The new government’s transport minister, Seiji Maehara, has been outspoken against Toyota.

He said last week that he would push to revamp the country’s oversight of the auto industry, including adding more safety investigators. The government has also said it was examining 38 complaints of sudden acceleration in Toyotas reported from 2007 through 2009, as well as 96 cases in cars produced by other automakers.

Toyota continues to deny there are problems with unintended acceleration in Japan.

“Yes, there have been incidents of unintended acceleration in Japan,” Shinichi Sasaki, Toyota’s quality chief, said at a news conference last week. “But we believe we have checked each incident and determined that there was no problem with the car,” he said.

Mrs. Sakai said she has called and visited her Toyota dealer, as well as Toyota Motor itself, but has not received a response.

A Toyota spokeswoman, Mieko Iwasaki, confirmed that the automaker had been contacted about complaints of a crash caused by sudden acceleration in September. She said, however, that she could not divulge details of how the company handled each case.

“We are investigating the accident alongside the police, and are cooperating fully with investigations,” she said. “Anything we find, we will tell the police.”

Makiko Inoue and Yasuko Kamiizumi contributed from Tokyo.

Jobless Rate Holds Steady, Raising Hopes of Recovery

Jobless Rate Holds Steady, Raising Hopes of Recovery
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: March 5, 2010

The American economy lost fewer jobs than expected last month, bolstering hopes that the worst may finally be over in the wrenching event known as the Great Recession.

Job seekers are shown waiting to enter the UJA-Federation of New York’s job fair this week.

The monthly snapshot of the job market released by the Labor Department on Friday was hardly cause for celebration: about 36,000 jobs disappeared from the economy in February, while the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.7 percent.

Yet compared with monthly job losses of more than 650,000 a year earlier, and against a backdrop of recent news viewed as pointing to the possibility of a slide back into recession, most economists construed the report as a sign that a tenuous recovery might be gaining momentum.

“It’s strikingly good,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, who has been skeptical about earlier signs of recovery. “It’s much better than it had been looking.”

The February job losses followed a drop of 26,000 in January. Most experts now expect the economy to begin steadily gaining jobs during the spring, as employers edge toward hiring.

But even as the report eased worries that the economy might tip back into decline, it did little to dislodge the widespread notion that the recession had given way to a tepid and tentative expansion, one unlikely to significantly cut the ranks of the jobless.

Nearly 15 million Americans were unemployed in February, and four in 10 had been there for six months or longer. The so-called underemployment rate — which counts people whose hours have been cut along with those working part time for lack of full-time positions — reached 16.8 percent, up from 16.5 percent in January.

Some labor experts say the downturn has accelerated a refashioning of the economy that has been under way for decades, eliminating jobs in less competitive industries — particularly manufacturing, and more recently, housing construction and financial services. In this view, many of those jobs are unlikely to return regardless of growth.

Yet, in other industries, jobs are already returning at a much faster pace than after the last two recessions, according to research by Lakshman Achuthan, managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute.

“It’s almost two separate Americas,” he said, meaning that much of the work force is already seeing the return of work opportunities, while those mired in long-term joblessness are facing the worst prospects since the Great Depression. “They have been left behind, and their problems are not solved by recovery.”

In Beaumont, Calif., nearly two years have passed since Rebecca Miranda lost her job as a hospital recruiter, losing her paycheck of about $4,000 a month for a $1,500 monthly unemployment check.

A single mother of a 2-year-old girl, she is barely paying her bills, while worrying that her exile from the workplace has eroded her worth. “I’ve been out of work so long, I’m going to be the last kind of person they are going to hire,” she said.

President Obama greeted the jobs report while touring a Virginia company that produces software aimed at helping lower energy use. There, he highlighted his administration’s embrace of cleaner-burning ventures as a way to create jobs.

“The country that leads in clean energy and energy efficiency today, I’m absolutely convinced, is going to lead the global economy tomorrow,” he told reporters. “I want that country to be the United States of America.”

On Wall Street, investors welcomed the jobs report, and stocks rose over 1.2 percent on Friday.

Labor experts say the economy must add more than 100,000 jobs a month just to keep pace with new entrants to the work force, so even a sustained surge in hiring would leave joblessness and anxiety for years to come.

“We’ve really hit the bottom, but we haven’t embarked on a robust recovery,” said Kathleen Stephansen, chief economist at Aladdin Capital Holdings.

Manufacturing added 1,000 jobs in February, on top of a larger increase in January, but some experts say that trend will soon wane because businesses that slashed inventories are merely rebuilding their stocks. Health care and education — both stalwart sources of growth throughout the downturn — added a net 32,000 jobs.

Construction lost 64,000 net jobs in February after a modest improvement in January.

The monthly jobs report is the dominant economic indicator and the subject of considerable debate among professional economists seeking to divine its message. The February report came draped in special uncertainty given heavy snowstorms during the month, slowing business.

In years past, job reports in snowy months have come in weak, then subsequently been revised upward sharply, a pattern that may hold this time.

But the report did little to resolve contrasting views of the basic dynamics at play, with economists in roughly two camps. Some say a now-tepid economic recovery will eventually become vigorous; others envision a long slog through relatively anemic growth. Optimists point to modest expansion on the factory floor and continued increases among temporary workers (whose ranks rose by 48,000 in February) as a sign that commerce has reawakened.

Even if manufacturing is merely growing because of a shift in inventories, they say, that is translating into paychecks that workers will spend at other businesses, generating new jobs.

In what some economists took as a sign that such an upward spiral had begun, raising confidence, consumer credit expanded by $5 billion in January, a 2.4 percent annualized rate, the Federal Reserve announced. That rise was led primarily by auto loans.

But others point to uncertainties gnawing at businesses and households as portents of subdued growth. After years of borrowing against home equity to finance buying sprees, many households are tapped out.

Housing prices fell in January, prompting worries of another downturn that could hit homeowners and banks — a fear enhanced by a growing wave of foreclosures.

Uncertainty itself is spawning uncertainty: Even healthy businesses are deferring expansion until they are sure of a recovery.

In Adrian, Mich., Brazeway, a refrigeration tubing manufacturer, has trimmed its work force more than 30 percent in the last two years, and now has about 900 employees.

Even as orders and production expand, Brazeway remains cautious about hiring, bringing on mainly temporary workers. The company has added only three permanent positions.

“We have people beating down our doors for jobs,” said its chief executive, Stephanie H. Boyse. “We’re in this mind-set of adding only the absolute must-haves, and the nice-to-haves stay on the back burner.”

Javier C. Hernandez contributed reporting.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

In Final Push, Obama Urges ‘Up-or-Down’ Vote on Health - President Obama called for an up-or-down vote on the health care bill on Wednesday/Obama urge

In Final Push, Obama Urges ‘Up-or-Down’ Vote on Health - President Obama called for an up-or-down vote on the health care bill on Wednesday.
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: March 3, 2010

WASHINGTON — President Obama, making his final push for a health care overhaul, called Wednesday for Congress to set aside political gamesmanship and allow an “up-or-down-vote” on the measure, so that Democrats can pass the legislation and he can sign it into law, after nearly a year of debate.

“I believe the United States Congress owes the American people a final vote on health care reform,” Mr. Obama said in a brief 15-minute speech in the East Room of the White House. He called on Democratic leaders of both chambers to schedule a vote in the next few weeks, adding, “From now until then, I will do everything in my power to make the case for reform.”

Moments after Mr. Obama spoke, the White House announced that he would travel to Pennsylvania and Missouri next week to talk about the health legislation.

Wednesday’s remarks, made to a group of sympathetic medical professionals, many of them clad in traditional white lab coats, marked Mr. Obama’s entry into the end game of Washington’s long and divisive health care debate. With Republicans unified in opposition to the measure, Mr. Obama used his appearance to make the case to the public that while he is willing to accept Republican ideas, starting over, as Republicans are demanding, does not make sense.

He called on Democrats to stick with him.

“This has been a long and wrenching debate,” Mr. Obama said, adding that while health care “easily lends itself to demagoguery and political gamesmanship,” that is no reason “for those of us who were sent here to lead to just walk away.”

In the short 15-minute speech, the president avoided using the word “reconciliation,” the name for the parliamentary tactic that Democrats must now use to avoid a Republican filibuster of the bill. But senior advisers to the president made clear that is his plan.

“This has been laid out in a way that provides us the maximum flexibility to get it done,” Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, told a small group of reporters who gathered in his office before Mr. Obama spoke. But reconciliation could prove a heavy lift on Capitol Hill. At a bipartisan health forum at Blair House last week, Mr. Obama laid out an 11-page synopsis of his plan, without providing the House and Senate Democratic leadership with legislative language. It will now be up to Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, and Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, to produce that language, and then send it to the Congressional Budget Office for an analysis of how much the measure will cost. Getting that done in several weeks, as Mr. Obama says he expects, could prove difficult.

Friday will mark one year since Mr. Obama kicked off his plans for a major health care overhaul, with a high-profile forum at the White House that included lawmakers, insurance industry and hospital executives, medical professionals, representatives of the pharmaceutical industry and others with a stake in the debate.

On Wednesday, after 12 months of legislative hearings, town hall meetings, speeches, polls and debates, Mr. Obama made clear that he expects Democrats to line up behind the plan, no matter how skittish they feel about their re-election prospects in the fall.

“The American people want to know if it’s still possible for Washington to look out for their interests and their future,” Mr. Obama said. “They are waiting for us to act. They are waiting for us to lead. And as long as I hold this office, I intend to provide that leadership. I don’t know how this plays politically, but I know it’s right. And so I ask Congress to finish its work, and I look forward to signing this reform into law.”

Since he convened last week’s forum at Blair House, Mr. Obama has been laying the groundwork for the course he is now pursuing. He concluded the Blair House meeting by saying he was open to incorporating Republican ideas, but that Democrats would go forward on their own if he did not see any evidence of Republican cooperation.

On Tuesday, in a letter to Congressional leaders, Mr. Obama said he was open to pursuing four specific ideas raised by Republicans during the Blair House forum, including establishing “health courts” to resolve medical malpractice claims and encouraging the use by individuals of medical savings accounts that get favorable tax treatment.

But even as Mr. Obama sent the letter, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and top health policy adviser, Nancy Ann DeParle, went to Capitol Hill to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and prepare a final legislative package that they would be able to pass with simple majorities in each house. The leaders are still working on the details of that package. “We’re getting closer,” Jim Manley, Mr. Reid’s spokesman, said shortly before the president’s remarks. He did not elaborate.

With Republicans accusing Democrats and Mr. Obama of trying to ram the bill through Congress, the president and his allies are making the case that in fact, comprehensive health legislation has already passed both chambers, garnering a majority in the House and a supermajority in the Senate. Technically, they say, reconciliation will be used only to pass a small package of fixes to the original bills.

The health bill, Mr. Obama said, “deserves the same kind of up-or-down vote that was cast on welfare reform, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Cobra health coverage for the unemployed, and both Bush tax cuts,” Mr. Obama said, citing other measures that have been adopted using reconciliation.

Under their tentative plan, the House would first approve the bill that was adopted by the Senate on Christmas Eve. Mr. Reid and Ms. Pelosi would also draft a package of changes to be approved by both chambers in a separate reconciliation bill. The reconciliation package would effectively smooth out some of the differences between the House and Senate versions.

The whole bundle would be sent to Mr. Obama to sign into law.

But while that sounds feasible, carrying out the strategy could yet prove tricky. Senate Republicans could try offering countless amendments as a delaying tactic. And Ms. Pelosi could have difficulty rounding up the necessary votes to pass the reconciliation package in the House, because it will strip out anti-abortion language that some Democrats favor.

Obama urges Congress to 'finish its work' on reform bill
By William Branigin and Michael D. Shear
Copyright by The Washington Post
Wednesday, March 3, 2010; 3:28 PM

President Obama urged Congress on Wednesday to "finish its work" on health-care reform legislation and indicated support for a Democratic legislative strategy that includes a politically risky procedure known as reconciliation.

In a speech at the White House, Obama told an audience of medical professionals that Congress "owes the American people a final vote on health-care reform." He did not mention the reconciliation procedure by name but said the legislation now stalled in Congress "deserves the same kind of up-or-down vote that was cast on welfare reform, the Children's Health Insurance Program, COBRA health coverage for the unemployed and both Bush tax cuts -- all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a simple majority."

The programs he mentioned were passed under reconciliation rules, which would enable the Senate to approve a health-care overhaul with a simple majority, rather than a filibuster-proof 60 votes. Obama said he has asked House and Senate leaders to schedule a vote "in the next few weeks."

Republican lawmakers immediately and bitterly blasted Obama's apparent acceptance of the reconciliation procedure and vowed to keep fighting to kill the proposed legislation.

Forging ahead despite the GOP objections, Obama defended health-care reform as crucial to American families and businesses. He said his proposal, projected to cost at least $950 billion over 10 years, would lower skyrocketing costs and end abuses by insurance companies, including discrimination against people with preexisting conditions.

He emphatically rejected Republican demands to abandon existing proposals and "start over" with an incremental approach.

Flanked by doctors and nurses in white coats, Obama said, "I do not see how another year of negotiations would help. Moreover, the insurance companies aren't starting over. They are continuing to raise premiums and deny coverage as we speak. For us to start over now could simply lead to delay that could last for another decade or even more. The American people and the U.S. economy just can't wait that long."

Declaring that "it's time to give the American people more control over their own health insurance," he said his proposal represents "an approach that has been debated and changed and, I believe, improved over the last year." He said it "incorporates the best ideas from Democrats and Republicans," including some that GOP participants offered during last week's "health-care summit," such as funding state grants on medical malpractice reform and curbing waste, fraud and abuse in the health-care system.

"My proposal also gets rid of many of the provisions that had no place in health care reform -- provisions that were more about winning individual votes in Congress than improving health care for all Americans," Obama said.

At stake is not only Washington's ability to resolve the health-care issue, "but our ability to solve any problem," Obama said. "The American people . . . are waiting for us to act. They are waiting for us to lead. And as long as I hold this office, I intend to provide that leadership. I don't know how this plays politically, but I know it's right. And so I ask Congress to finish its work, and I look forward to signing this reform into law."

In response to the speech, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said Obama embraced "the hyper-partisan reconciliation tactic" despite previous pledges of transparency and statements that health-care reform should not be passed in the Senate with just 51 votes.

"The American people have made it abundantly clear that they do not want a job-killing, one-size-fits-all, $2.3 trillion dollar, Washington takeover of our health care system," Cornyn said in a statement. "Instead, they want a step-by-step approach that tackles the real problems in our health care system."

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Obama "voiced support for a partisan scheme to jam the bill through Congress" while trying to "get away with sprinkling a few sensible Republican proposals onto a fundamentally-flawed 2,000-page bill."

He added: "Americans do not want a trillion-dollar government takeover of health care stuffed with tax hikes, Medicare cuts, and giveaways to Washington special interests. . . . They know that the president's job-killing health care plan would put bureaucrats in charge of medical decisions. . . . That's why they want us to start over with a clean sheet of paper and step-by-step common-sense reforms to lower health care costs."

Asserting that "this debate is far from over," Boehner said, "The final battle will be in the House of Representatives, and if the American people stay engaged, we can win this fight."

Before Obama spoke, senior aides made it clear that the White House would launch an aggressive, final push for health-care reform during the next several weeks.

"Whatever it takes to get health care done" said Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Asked what Obama wants done in that period, Gibbs said: "the whole thing getting done."

That new public push is scheduled to begin Monday with a presidential trip to Philadelphia and another on Wednesday to St. Louis. The White House described the visits as opportunities for Obama to discuss health-insurance reform.

But White House advisers are already trying to turn up the heat on Republicans who oppose reconciliation, accusing them of flip-flopping by supporting the procedure when it helps them and opposing it when it does

"Republicans were for reconciliation before they decided they were against it," Gibbs told reporters.

In his speech, Obama rejected the idea of "government-run health care" in the United States as "neither practical nor realistic," and he similarly spurned what he described as the Republican approach to "loosen regulations on the insurance industry," giving it "even freer rein to raise premiums and deny care."

He said his proposal would "end the worst practices of insurance companies," including dropping coverage when people get sick and "arbitrarily and massively" raising premiums. And he stressed that "our proposal is paid for" and would reduce health-care costs for millions of people, businesses and the federal government.

While a leading Republican proposal would extend coverage to only 3 million uninsured Americans, Obama said, his approach would cover more than 31 million. He emphasized that key elements of the plan are interrelated, saying that "health reform only works if you take care of all these problems at once."

The complex, wrenching issue of health-care reform "easily lends itself to demagoguery and political gamesmanship, misrepresentation and misunderstanding," Obama said. "But that's not an excuse for those of us who were sent here to lead to just walk away. We can't just give up because the politics are hard."

Dismissing speculation about the effort's impact on future elections, he said he would leave it to others to "sift through the politics, because that's not what this is about."

The House and Senate passed separate health-care reform bills last year, but the process of reconciling them has stalled, in part because the election of a Republican senator in Massachusetts in January ended the 60-vote Senate majority won by Democrats in the 2008 elections.

In an effort to move the process forward, Obama last week held a bipartisan health-care summit with key lawmakers and urged Republicans to "do a little soul-searching" on measures they would accept to address the core problems of covering more than 30 million Americans without health insurance and requiring insurance companies to cover those with preexisting conditions. However, Republicans maintained their position that the proposed legislation represents a "government takeover" of health care, and they demanded that it be scrapped entirely in favor of starting from scratch.

Obama rejected the GOP prescription in a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday. "Piecemeal reform is not the best way to effectively reduce premiums, end the exclusion of people with pre-existing conditions or offer Americans the security of knowing that they will never lose coverage, even if they lose or change jobs," he wrote. "Both parties agree that the health care status quo is unsustainable. And both should agree that it's just not an option to walk away from the millions of American families and business owners counting on reform."

He said he was open to several Republican proposals offered at the health-care summit with the aim of lowering health costs while making coverage more affordable. The proposals include expansion of health savings accounts, permitting insurance companies to sell high-deductible policies through new state-run insurance exchanges, stepping up efforts to root out fraud in Medicare and Medicaid, funding state projects aimed at averting medical malpractice lawsuits, and finding a "fiscally responsible" way to increase payments to doctors who treat Medicaid patients.

Under the White House strategy, the House would adopt the bill the Senate passed on Christmas Eve and approve a separate package of fixes to reflect a compromise worked out between Democrats in the two chambers. Invoking reconciliation rules for budget provisions would mean that the fixes could not be filibustered, and Senate Democrats could approve them with a simple majority vote, possibly sending the package to Obama for signature before Congress's Easter recess begins March 29.

The reconciliation procedure was created in 1974 to help lawmakers advance politically difficult budget legislation, particularly measures that reduce the deficit. Both parties have used it a total of at least 22 times since 1980 to push through a variety of policies, including creating COBRA health benefits in 1986 for people who lose their jobs, overhauling the welfare system in 1996, and passing President George W. Bush's two huge tax-cut packages in 2001 and 2003.

Staff writers Lori Montgomery and Shailagh Murray contributed to this report.

Gay Marriage Is Legal in U.S. Capital

Gay Marriage Is Legal in U.S. Capital
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: March 3, 2010

WASHINGTON — It was cold and drizzling outside the City Courthouse just after 6 a.m. on Wednesday, but no one seemed to mind among the same-sex couples waiting excitedly for the chance to apply for a marriage license.

“This is a dream come true,” said Sinjoyla Townsend, 41, as she smiled ear to ear and held up her ticket indicating she was first in line with her partner of 12 years, Angelisa Young, 47. “We wanted it so bad.”

Gay-rights advocates hailed the day as a milestone for equal rights and a symbolic victory as same-sex marriage became legal in the nation’s capital.

Washington is now the sixth place in the nation where same-sex marriages can take place. Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont also issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Despite failing in court, opponents of the law vowed to fight another day.

The law survived Congressional attempts to block it, and on Tuesday Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. rejected a request from opponents of gay marriage to have the United States Supreme Court put the new law on hold.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty signed the measure into law in December, but because Washington is not a state, the law had to undergo Congressional review, which ended Tuesday.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington on Tuesday limited employee health care benefits to avoid coverage of same-sex couples. It was the second time Catholic Charities changed its rules to protest same-sex marriage, having earlier ended its foster care program.

The city’s new law was already having regional implications.

Last Wednesday, Maryland’s attorney general, Douglas F. Gansler, issued a legal opinion concluding that his state should immediately begin recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

Mr. Gansler’s move is expected to draw legal and legislative challenges, but for Terrance Heath it was the turning point that convinced him it was time to get married.

“We realized that we can finally get many of the benefits and protections that other couples take for granted,” said Mr. Heath, a 41-year-old blogger who lives with his partner, Rick Imirowicz, 43, and their two adopted sons in Montgomery County, Md.

“Before that attorney general decision we could have the legal documents, like wills and medical power of attorney,” Mr. Heath said. “But there was no guarantee that those documents would be recognized.”

He said that he and his partner had worried about what might happen to any inheritance meant for their adopted sons, Parker, 7, and Dylan, 2.

“Marriage gives us peace of mind,” Mr. Heath said. “It gives my family security that we deserve.”

At the city’s Marriage Bureau inside the Moultrie Courthouse, just blocks from the Capitol, the mood was giddy as couples hugged and talked about a day they never thought would arrive.

“I became a naturalized U.S. citizen in mid-’90s,” said Cuc Vu, a native of Vietnam who held the third position in line with her partner of 20 years, Gwen Migita. “But this is really the first time that I feel like I have the full rights and benefits of citizenship.”

Court officials explained that the Marriage Bureau changed its license applications in preparation for the new licenses. They now ask for the name of each “spouse” rather than the “bride” and “groom.” Officials who perform the weddings read: “I now pronounce you legally married” instead of “I now pronounce you man and wife.”

On a typical day the office processes 10 licenses, court officials said. On Wednesday, they expected more than 200 requests.

Because of a mandatory waiting period, couples will not be able to marry in the city until Tuesday.

City officials say the measure will also provide a much-needed financial boost to the local economy. A study by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, predicted that more than 14,000 same-sex marriages would occur in the city over the next three years, which would bring in $5 million in new tax revenue and create 700 jobs

U.S. Circulates New Draft Proposal for Iran Sanctions

U.S. Circulates New Draft Proposal for Iran Sanctions
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: March 3, 2010

UNITED NATIONS — The United States is circulating a draft of new, tougher sanctions against Iran that concentrate on the banking, shipping and insurance sectors of its economy, and is now waiting for China and Russia to signal that they are willing to start negotiating over the measures, Security Council diplomats said Wednesday.

The diplomats said the proposed new sanctions call for an outright ban on certain transactions with Iran, whereas the existing sanctions call on United Nations members to exercise “vigilance” or “restraint” in interacting with Iran in some areas of weapons trade, shipping and banking. The focus is on the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps, which runs a vast array of Iranian businesses, while the oil industry is not included, diplomats said.

The proposed new sanctions seek to expand other aspects of those already in place, including the list of banks singled out previously, adding at least the country’s central bank to Bank Melli and Bank Saderat targeted before. The proposed new sanctions would also expand the list of individuals facing a travel ban and assets freeze for their work in the nuclear program. Sanctions to date, which run to some six pages, have singled out companies and individuals involved in the nuclear and missile development programs or help to finance them. They include a ban on arms exports

There has been no reaction to the draft from China, which has publicly opposed sanctions, but the United States and its Security Council allies are hoping that James B. Steinberg, the deputy U.S. secretary of state, would elicit one Wednesday in talks in Beijing. He is the first American official to be able to reach senior members of the government with the draft, diplomats said.

At the United Nations, the previous Chinese permanent representative, Zhang Yesui, has left to take up his new post as ambassador to Washington. The new ambassador, Li Baodong, who previously represented China at the United Nations in Geneva, will only present his credentials to begin work on Thursday.

The proposed measures, already negotiated between the United States, Britain, France and Germany, will likely be diluted in further talks. The initial reaction from Russia was negative, saying the measures are too strong, diplomats involved in the talks said, with one noting “There is quite a bit that they didn’t like.” Yet Moscow continues to endorse the idea of new sanctions in tandem with negotiations.

“When we sought and continue to seek to keep the negotiation window open, Iran has not followed up with the appropriate responses that we expected,” Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, told a news conference late Tuesday.

He said Russia was increasingly concerned about the latest conclusions from the International Atomic Energy Agency indicating that Iran may be seeking to develop a nuclear weapon despite its claims that all its research is for a peaceful nuclear program.

“When they are not satisfied with what they see in their cooperation with Tehran, we are obviously also very concerned,” Mr. Churkin said. “This raises worries about the nature of their nuclear program.”

Mr. Churkin said he had still not received instructions from Moscow to begin negotiations over the new round of sanctions. Still, that puts Beijing in the position of being the lone standout among the six countries that have been trying to negotiate with Iran.

The main leverage the four countries have in support of sanctions is that Moscow and Beijing still want the forum of six to continue to be the main arena for such talks, even though the others are expected to implement their own sanctions no matter what the outcome of the Security Council negotiations.

Mr. Churkin said as much. “The value of the six is obvious,” he said. “I see no reason why the six cannot continue to work effectively in hammering out joint positions in our dealing with Iran.”

The Western nations want a Security Council resolution finished before May, when the world powers will be engaged in reviewing the global Non-Proliferation Treaty and when Lebanon, home to the Hezbollah militant group closely allied with Iran, will be president of the Security Council. President Obama in holding a nuclear summit meeting in Washington on April 12-13, so diplomats anticipate if the sanctions are not negotiated by then the leaders themselves might be able to work out any differences.

In previous rounds of sanctions negotiations, the opening position of both Russia and China has been that the sanctions are much too strong, and that there is insufficient proof to link all the suggested entities or individuals to nuclear proliferation activities. So intelligence experts from the United States, France, Britain and Germany are amassing as much evidence as possible to expand the list of specific entities, which is usually included in an annex of the sanctions resolution.

One diplomat, expressing frustration with the level of proof demanded by China and Russia, said their negotiators go down the list as if they are expecting to get “a picture of each guy building the bomb.” But that degree of detail rarely exists, and that it how the pursuit of tougher sanctions begins unraveling, said the diplomat, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Rove blames himself for administration's response to lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq

Rove blames himself for administration's response to lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq
By Michael D. Shear
Copyright by The Washington Post
Wednesday, March 3, 2010; 12:30 PM

Former president George W. Bush did not mislead the nation about weapons of mass destruction as a way to "lie us" into war, his former top political aide, Karl Rove, asserts in a new memoir, "Courage and Consequence."

"The charge that Bush lied was itself a lie," Rove wrote in a chapter titled "Bush Was Right on Iraq." "Some who leveled the charge -- Al Gore, Senators Harry Reid, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy -- were hypocrites who had earlier said much the same as, or more than, what they later criticized Bush for."

While defending the administration's handling of Iraq, Rove concedes that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction damaged "the administration's credibility." And he blamed himself for failing to "set the record" straight.

"When the pattern of the Democratic attacks became apparent in July 2003, we should have countered in a forceful and overwhelming way," he writes. "We should have seen this for what it was: a poison-tipped dagger aimed at the heart of the Bush presidency."

He continued: "So who was responsible for the failure to respond? I was. I should have stepped forward, rung the warning bell, and pressed for full-scale response. I didn't."

Rove's full-throated defense of his former boss comes as little surprise. The strategist who engineered Bush's two victories and served as a senior adviser in the White House has publicly offered similar defenses in a Wall Street Journal column and as a Fox News contributor.

But the book, which has been much anticipated, takes Rove's defense of the Bush legacy to a new and more detailed level.

Rove admits in the book that during the early days of Hurricane Katrina, the White House failed to "seize control of the situation in Louisiana sooner. . . . We were too passive for too long. Louisiana's failures became our failures anyway."

But he also blames much of those failures on the Democratic leadership in Louisiana and New Orleans, not on the administration or the president. He writes that questions about who would take control and how to cooperate with the federal government were problematic.

"Behind the scenes, the White House staff engaged in a complicated, high-stakes legal and constitutional battle with Louisiana's governor -- which had huge ramifications for New Orleans and the administration," Rove writes.

Rove's memoir covers the sweep of his life, from growing up in the west to his days as a college Republican to the Bush campaigns that forever solidified his position as one of the nation's top political strategists.

He describes the first hours after the 9/11 attacks and the rapid departure on Air Force One with Bush. "The 747 shot down the runway with a force I had never experienced," he writes. "Once in the air, Air Force One then stood on its tail to get as high as possible, as rapidly as possible. I had not been in a jet at such a steep incline."

Rove praises Bush for a singular focus on terrorism after that day.

"He locked in on the struggle against terrorism with resolute focus," he writes. "He never looked away from it. The immediacy of that day never left him as he occupied the Oval Office."

As he has frequently done in his columns, Rove takes aim at President Obama, describing him as a person who frequently "plays fast and loose with the facts and his accusations."

"Another thing that has badly hurt President Obama is that his claims -- especially on health care -- are simply at odds with reality," Rove writes.

But most of the book is focused squarely on offering a comprehensive -- sometimes moment-by-moment -- defense of the campaigns he helped to direct and the conservative agenda he was part of implementing in the White House.

Rove describes being alone, watching news reports of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave Bush the presidency.

"It wasn't the moment I had envisioned for Election Night, with Bush in front of the Texas Capitol with tens of thousands of cheering supporters," he wrote. "Instead, I was standing in my pajamas, looking out a hotel window into a dark, deserted office park, having been hung up on by the man who would now be president."

And he lashes out at the Democrats on Capitol Hill, whom he accuses of not wanting to work with the new president. In a chapter titled "What Bipartisanship," Rove wrote as examples that "the way Democrats approached trade was unprincipled, but their treatment of judicial nominees was appalling."

Some Republicans did not escape his attention, either. In one passage, Rove accuses former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis of repeatedly trying to get Jeannemarie Devolites, a former state senator in Virginia, appointed to the board of Sallie Mae.

Rove writes that he finally gave in and recommended her appointment, only to discover through news reports that the pair were romantically involved -- even though Davis was married at the time.

"I decided I needed to ask Davis about it directly. Davis' answer was blunt, angry and dismissive about the allegations," Rove writes. "I told him I took him at his word. To this day, I have no idea whether Davis and Devolites were romantically involved at the time he proposed her for appointment. . . . From then on, my relationship with Davis was frosty and difficult."

What's wrong with America

What's wrong with America
By Carlos T Mock, MD
March 4, 2010
From Paris, France

Nothing like being out of the country, see how other nations solve their problems, and reflect what's ailing our country.

President Obama has been our commander in chief for slightly more than a year. We have been in Paris for two weeks. As we return to Chicago/Michigan tomorrow we are facing the same problems that we face when we boarded a plane to Europe February 15, 2010.

According to the right, "All of our problems are because Obama--who is not an American citizen--is a radical left wing ultra liberal Socialist/Communist who is surrounded by Hitler styled Chicago mafia czars hell bent on destroying the Constitution and our way of life."

According to the left, "All of our problems were caused by the brainless George W. Bush--a cocaine addict and an alcoholic--who allowed Dick Cheney, Carl Rove, and their neo-con mafia to abuse every power in our Constitution and got us into two wars and the biggest financial mess since the 1929 depression.

But perhaps our problems stem from the fact that the American political landscape has become a conspiracy of ignorance and invective, in which no problems get solved because everyone is too busy calling each other names. They are too busy passing the blame to the other, side that nothing gets done. The arguments presented by both political parties--for every important issue--has become ever more infantile. Our citizenry has been alienated--they've developed eyes that don’t see, ears that don’t hear and brains that don’t work. We are too tired and defeated to care.
The truth is:

It was Republicans, led by Phil Gramm, who started de-regulating the banks and investment houses.

It was Democrats who insisted we provide mortgages to folks who couldn’t really afford them. The result was adjustable rate mortgages provided to people who could not pay, and then their mortgages were bundled into securities--known as derivatives--that were sold as investments, which became worthless.

This was a bipartisan effort that crashed the housing market and collapsed the banks and investment houses.

It was Republicans who used the Big Lie of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to conjure up an illegal war and Democrat lemmings who voted for both the war in Iraq and the abhorrent destruction of our Constitutional protections.

What no one wishes to hear, why we keep playing a blaming game is the fact that:
There have been two wars with a death toll exceeding 6,000 Americans, with nearly 35,000 wounded -- many grievously.

There was a bipartisan effort that led to both Wars that neither party knows how to end.

We have caused the death of over several hundred thousand innocent Iraqi people--and score of Afghans--and have displaced over two million of them--and when they helped us fight our war we abandoned them to a certain death. The USA has granted asylum to less than 1000 of the affected individuals in the region, leaving the surrounding countries--Jordan, Syria, and Iran--to deal with the three million refugees created by the two wars.

And in the meantime, The Bill of Rights is in shambles. We have a Constitution that no longer protects its citizens from an intrusive government. Elections are for sale to the highest bidder--thanks to the recent Supreme Court election finance decision--soon Congress will be controlled by corporations and not their constituents.

It may have been Republicans who were gung ho to outsource American jobs overseas to help their big business friends. But it was Democrats who supported unsustainable contracts in several industries to help their big labor friends. Both parties have caused manufacturing jobs to disappear by the millions and harmed the labor unions they tried to protect in the process.

It was a bipartisan effort that has turned us into a nation that exports waste and imports foreign-made goods we can’t afford because our economy is crippled.
And to make matters worse, intransigent incompetence is now the rule. You’ve likely heard of the U.S. Senate needing 60 votes to pass legislation. There is no law that requires 60 votes--a simple majority of 51 is sufficient. Not anymore. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) has placed a "blanket hold" on at least 70 of President Obama's nominations until he receives over $40 billion worth of earmarks for his state, and it takes 60 votes to end a filibuster so a vote can be taken. In a scene that would have made Hollywood director Frank Capra proud. Republican Sen. Jim Bunning stood up courageously to stop Congress from committing a very popular move: sending unemployment checks to hundreds of thousands of jobless Americans. Democrats could hardly believe their good fortune.

It was one of those congressional moments that tell you everything you need to know about why Washington doesn't seem to work these days: Neither side sounded like they were listening to themselves, let alone to anybody else.

The Republicans needed 60 votes when they were in power because the Democrats wanted to stop everything in its tracks and the Democrats now need 60 votes because the Republicans are engaged in the same shameless cause.

To me, what is most discouraging is that we know the root cause of our problems. It isn’t Rush Limbaugh and it isn’t Sarah Palin. It isn’t the Liberal pundits or the Liberal media.

We elect these folks and then re-elect them over and over. Instead of demanding they listen to us, we keep listening to them. Instead of demanding solutions, we keep accepting their excuses. We form Tea Parties and listen to eloquent speeches from our President searching for bipartisanship solutions. However neither of these actions will solve our problems.

We look at the source of this farce every morning in the mirror. The Truth is that we have met the "problem"; and it is us. There is no one else to blame.

We'll be back home on March 4th, 2010; nothing has changed since we left. What the hell is wrong with our country? I'll tell you what is wrong with America; get rid of the two party system and change our government to the Parlamentary system. You'll see how soon politicians learn to work with each other and get the country back to work. That's change you can believe in!

Dr. Carlos T Mock is a native Puerto Rican who resides in Chicago, IL and Three Oaks, MI. He has published four books and is the GLBT Editor for Floricanto Press in Berkley, CA. He contributes columns regularly to Windy City Times in Chicago, Ambiente Magazine in Miami, Camp Newspaper in Kansas City. He's had several OP-Ed published at the Chicago Tribune. Inducted in the Chicago Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame October 18th, 2007