Saturday, March 18, 2006

Trailer for 9/11 movie about mysteries of the Pentagon hit

Check this out! (Spanish) (several language options)

Friday, March 17, 2006

The world's suspicions bedevil America's approach to Iran

The world's suspicions bedevil America's approach to Iran
By Philip Stephens
Published: March 17 2006 02:00 | Last updated: March 17 2006 02:00. Copyright by The Financial Times

A little while ago I heard a distinguished diplomat remark that following a short interlude during the 1990s, we were living again in a bipolar world. On one side, as before, stood the US. On the other, anti-Americanism had taken the place of the Soviet Union as the principal countervailing force in global affairs.

I am not sure this provides a complete description of the jagged contours of today's geopolitical landscape. But a glance at the Middle East tells you what the diplomat was thinking. The bloody insurgency in Iraq, the fires raging in the Palestinian territories and Tehran's pursuit of its nuclear ambitions all speak of hostility towards the US.

Listen closely to the conversations of Europe's political classes and you catch a more muted resentment. Official bridges have been rebuilt since the transatlantic rupture over the Iraq invasion. But there is a reflex, particularly among European liberals, that says that if Washington takes one position, it is good politics to occupy the opposing ground.

The above is intended as descriptive rather than judgmental. As it happens, I do think that the foreign policy pursued by those gathered around Dick Cheney, the US vice-president, has done immeasurable damage to America's moral authority and to its national interest. I would also guess, though, that this view is a commonplace in the state department.

On the other hand, it is absurd to treat anti-Americanism as an intelligent, or somehow moral, response to the mistakes of the US administration. Too many Europeans travel on the road that ends up casting al-Qaeda jihadis and Ba'athists in Iraq as freedom fighters, and a repressive theocracy in Tehran as the harmless guardian of Iranian dignity.

Likewise in Palestine. The sensible strategy after the Palestinian elections is to allow Hamas time and space to exchange, if it so intends, suicide vests for politics. But just because the demand that Hamas offers evidence of peaceful intent comes loudest from Israel and the US, we should not pretend it is unreasonable.

That said, the US cannot escape the consequences of its past behaviour. Washington needs to acknowledge that suspicion of its intentions has become one of the most powerful facts of geopolitics. The price of the hubristic unilateralism of George W. Bush's first term is being paid in broad mistrust of the administration's motives. Mr Bush's new national security strategy affirms democratic transformation as a leitmotif of US foreign policy. That should be something for allies to celebrate. Instead, the response is scepticism.

None of this augurs well for a coherent international response to what the new US strategy identifies as the most serious threat to global security: the presumed pursuit by the present regime in Iran of a nuclear weapons capability.

Thus far the so-called EU 3 - Britain, Germany and France - have worked well with the US in assembling the broad coalition that voted for Iran's arraignment before the United Nations Security Council. It cannot have been comfortable for Tehran that countries such as Brazil, India and Egypt joined Russia and China in backing referral to the UN.

The strength of coalition marks acknowledgment of the real dangers. Even putting aside the ugly rantings of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the Iranian president, Tehran's acquisition of the bomb would be dangerously destabilising. If the present international non-proliferation regime looks threadbare, a nuclear-armed Iran would tear it to shreds.

Now, though, the diplomacy gets trickier. The opportunity lies in the discomfort that most Iranians feel at being branded a pariah state. The country is at once more pluralist and outward looking than the present regime allows. Standing up to the US in defence of Iran's right to nuclear technology is one thing. International isolation another.

Nor, in spite of the present rush of oil revenues, is Iran without economic problems. Much of its capital is exported. It needs investment, and technology, to modernise its oil industry. There are not enough jobs for the 750,000 young people joining the labour market every year. Many of the best educated emigrate.

Diplomatic pressures aimed at the regime, however, will be felt slowly and unevenly. The western diplomats mapping the course at the UN acknowledge that the commitment to pursue the nuclear programme runs far deeper than Mr Ahmadi-Nejad. And the closer the international community comes to imposing painful sanctions on Iran, the more fragile the consensus will become.

Russia's support for the present UN process is conditional and linked in the short term to Moscow's anxiety to ensure that the forthcoming Group of Eight summit in St Petersburg is a success. China has made it clear it will not sacrifice its energy interests in Iran to punitive measures. Even among the EU3 governments there are doubts whether economic sanctions would actually work. They might buttress rather than undercut the ultras in Tehran.

Here we return to the broader doubts about US motives. The White House says the UN diplomacy must succeed in order to avoid a confrontation. The suspicion of many others in the international community is that Washington sees the diplomatic process as a tedious precursor to military action.

European diplomats who have worked closely with the US administration in recent months say they have detected no such intent - a view voiced publicly this week by Jack Straw, the foreign secretary. Others are not so sure, pointing to the dissonance between the measured approach of state department officials and the bellicose language of Mr Cheney.

Here lies Washington's dilemma. With some justice it can argue that keeping all options open reinforces the chances that diplomacy might work. But if others suspect the UN process has been framed as it was with Iraq, to provide cover for subsequent military action, the coalition will fracture.

There is one way for Mr Bush to rebuild trust. The US could offer what it has so far consistently refused: a bargain that would trade security guarantees and a progressive normalisation of relations for a cast-iron Iranian commitment to eschew nuclear weapons.

Such a course would at once expose the clerics in Tehran and begin to restore America's authority as guardian of the international order. If there is no diplomatic answer to Iran's pursuit of the bomb there is even less likely to be a military one.

Financial Times Editorial - Bush changes style more than substance

Bush changes style more than substance
Published: March 17 2006 02:00 | Last updated: March 17 2006 02:00. Copyright by The Financial Times

Whether we should interpret the US National Security Strategy that President George W. Bush unveiled yesterday as shifting away from its ground-breaking and controversial forerunner of 2002 or merely as restating it in a more diplomatic form is open to question. Certainly the language has softened. The 2002 document starkly set out Mr Bush's doctrine of military pre-emption against hostile regimes whether they were harbouring terrorist groups or developing weapons of mass destruction. The US would "not hesitate to act alone, if necessary" in pursuit of national security, it said.

This time round the Bush administration strikes a more positive tone about the world with a clear emphasis on "the path of confidence" over "the path of fear". Central to this is the aim of spreading democracy as the most effective way of defeating both terrorism and pressurising rogue regimes to change their ways. In marked contrast to 2002, Mr Bush's strategy sounds almost cheerful about how much of this America can achieve by co-operating with the international community using good old-fashioned diplomacy.

Yet context is everything. The original Bush doctrine was published within a year of the terrorist attacks of September 11 and just seven months before Mr Bush launched the US-led invasion of Iraq. Much of the rationale for the 2002 strategy was to prepare US and global public opinion for America's coming war with Saddam Hussein, whether it got approval from the United Nations or not. Today, Washington's immediate priorities are different. Having embarrassingly failed to discover any nuclear, biological or chemical weapons in Iraq, America's overriding goal is for a stable democracy to take root there. In this, the US needs all the diplomatic help it can get.

America also needs the continued help of others to overcome its second biggest challenge today - forcing neighbouring Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons programme. It is on Iran that the document comes closest to the language it used for Iraq in 2002. Described as an "ally of terror" and an "enemy of freedom", Iran is presented as the "single country" that most threatens America's goals - undermining stability in Iraq, working against democracy in the Middle East, funding terrorist groups abroad and developing weapons of mass destruction.

In spite of the reluctance of Russia and China to agree to a strongly worded warning at the UN, Washington is still investing in diplomacy. But hope of a peaceful resolution is diminishing. This month Dick Cheney, US vice-president, threatened "meaningful consequences" if Iran refused to comply with America's demands. Although proclaimed less brazenly than in 2002, yesterday's document subtracts nothing from Washington's willingness to consider the military option: "The place of pre-emption in our national security strategy remains the same."

That democracy is a goal worth pursuing around the world is indisputable. But as a tactic towards Iran, Washington's increasingly unsubtle hints of regime change are more likely to fuel defiance than compliance. It seems that Mr Bush has not fully digested the lessons of Iraq. Meanwhile, Washington's response to the recent election victories of Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Islamists in Iraq suggests a view of democracy less principled than it sounds. Mr Bush's latest strategic thinking does little to persuade us he has successfully resolved the contradictions of the last four years.

Illinois out of luck in bang for its buck

Illinois out of luck in bang for its buck

March 16, 2006. Copyright by the Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- While taxpayers in New Mexico got back $2 in federal outlays for every $1 they sent to Washington, taxpayers in Illinois got back just 73 cents, according to a new Tax Foundation study.

The study released today used new 2004 spending data from the Census Bureau and the foundation's own tax calculations to compare taxing to spending in each state.

Compared to other states, Illinois ranks No. 46 in federal spending per dollar of tax, the Tax Foundation concluded. New Mexico, at $2 in outlays for every $1 in taxes, ranked first, followed by Alaska ($1.87 per $1), West Virginia ($1.83 per $1) and North Dakota ($1.73 per $1).

New Jersey ranked last, receiving back only 55 cents per dollar of federal taxes paid.

"The problem isn't the number of dollars Illinois gets back from Washington," said Scott Hodge, president of the Tax Foundation. "It's the number of dollars Illinois sends Washington in the first place."

Illinois taxpayers paid $6,999 per person in federal taxes, compared to just $4,927 per person in New Mexico.

"Under today's multirate tax structure, states with greater numbers of higher-income taxpayers, like Illinois, have more people paying at the highest rates," currently as high as 35 percent of adjusted gross income, Hodge explained. "In states where average earnings are lower, a greater percentage of income is taxed" as low as 10 percent.

"In fact, for Illinois to have equaled New Mexico's sweet deal -- $2 back for every $1 it paid in federal taxes -- Washington would have to funnel 20 percent of all federally appropriated dollars to Illinois, an impossible amount," Hodge said. "The only hope for rapid improvement in Illinois' ratio would be a fundamental tax reform that flattened federal income tax rates."

Curtis Dubay, the foundation economist who authored the study, added, "Federal spending programs that are on automatic pilot -- like Medicare and Social Security -- are larger than the amounts that Congress actually controls. Incomes and taxes have stayed high in Illinois for the last decade, which is why the ratio has stayed low, falling one cent from 74 cents in 1994 to 73 cents in 2004. No federal spending program can make up that difference."

Welcome to Spend City

Welcome to Spend City
By Dana Milbank
Friday, March 17, 2006; Page A02. Copyright by The Washington Post

There is no specific mention of a "Vote-a-Rama" in the Constitution, which is probably because the Framers could not have imagined what happened in the Senate yesterday: The chamber's 100 members gathered and, in a frenzy of legislative activity, did their darnedest to empty the Treasury.

It was the political equivalent of going on a shopping spree the same day you get a credit-line increase on your over-the-limit card. In the morning, the senators increased the federal debt limit by $800 billion, to $9 trillion -- that's with a T. In the afternoon came the Vote-a-Rama, a carnival in which the lawmakers took turns pitching scores of amendments to the 2007 budget measure, most calling for more money for favorite programs.

"The Republican Party is now principally moderate, if not liberal!" exulted Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), after the Senate -- including a majority of Republicans -- approved his budget-busting amendment to spend an extra $7 billion on domestic programs.

Just a week ago, GOP leaders gathered in Memphis and proclaimed the party's commitment to fiscal restraint; yesterday, the restraints came off. "All the talk in Memphis doesn't comport with reality," said Specter, savoring his victory in a leather armchair in the Senate press gallery. "I don't have any apologies to make for this 7 billion. I'm still not satisfied."

And why should he be? Yesterday was a big moment in the annals of congressional munificence. While the Senate was increasing the government's borrowing limit and growing the budget, the House was having a little Vote-a-Rama of its own, adding goodies to a $92 billion spending package to pay for Iraq and hurricane recovery.

Meanwhile, House members, facing a 5 p.m. deadline, scrambled to submit spending requests for their pet projects to the Appropriations Committee. By day's end, the committee had received 3,602 requests for a grand total of $14.9 billion.

Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.), a fiscal conservative, tried to limit the damage by cutting $19 billion in hurricane-recovery spending. He was clobbered, 332 to 89.

For congressional skinflints, it was that kind of day.

While both chambers were tossing out bags of cash, the National Republican Campaign Committee assembled a lunchtime briefing to talk about -- what else? -- money.

Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), chairman of the House Republicans' campaign effort, began by announcing that the "Spring House Gala" dinner would raise $8 million. "We're just very pleased to see $8 million of hard money coming into our coffers," he said, adding: "The NRCC ended February with 20.8 million cash on hand. Meanwhile, our opponents are still carrying about 1.2 million in debt from the last cycle."

A pair of whiteboards left on display in the hallway -- near a row of "member calling suites" -- told a less happy tale. The tally showed a goal of $7.5 million for the dinner but pledges of only $3.1 million. As reporters took notes from it -- Reynolds, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.), Majority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (Calif.) and Rep. Deborah Pryce (Ohio) had each raised $100,000 -- a Republican official, Ed Patru, intervened. "I've got to drop the board, guys," he said.

Of course, the amount the lawmakers were taking in was nothing compared with what they were giving out. In the House, Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) managed to secure $50 million for peacekeeping in Darfur. Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) persuaded his colleagues to pay $56 million "for repair of military exchanges" in his home state.

Then there was the Senate Vote-a-Rama. A database search indicates Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) coined the term 10 years ago, and it has since become semi-official. "At 1:30 p.m. today the Senate will begin the Vote-a-Rama," the Republican leadership announced yesterday morning.

Fiscal restraint unraveled almost immediately. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) rose to ask for $3.3 billion for home-heating assistance. "We have to stand up and make sure we take care of our people," Reed pleaded.

Budget Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) appealed for discipline. "I hope we defeat the amendment because it's basically a tax-and-spend amendment," he said. It passed.

Minutes later, Specter asked for his $7 billion for domestic programs. "We have gone beyond the fat, beyond the muscle, beyond the bone and into the marrow, and this funding will help us a little" was Specter's plea. Gregg didn't even try to argue.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) wanted $1.2 billion related to airline security. He got it. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), by contrast, tried to cut spending by $10 billion. He lost.

The floor leaders pleaded for mercy. "With the number of amendments still pending, we will be here until 2 o'clock this morning," Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) urged. "I ask colleagues: Please, show forbearance."

But Vote-a-Ramas are not about forbearance; they are about spending money. When Specter visited the press gallery to talk about his $7 billion, a reporter asked if the senator had employed "sort of a gimmick" to evade budget rules.

"It's not sort of a gimmick," Specter deadpanned. "It is a gimmick."

Can Democrats Play This Game?

Can Democrats Play This Game?
By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Friday, March 17, 2006; Page A19. Copyright by the Washington Post

Russ Feingold tossed a political grenade at President Bush this week, but it fell into the middle of the Senate Democratic Caucus. Many Democratic senators ran away.

The grenade was the Wisconsin senator's proposal to censure the president for violating the law by ordering electronic surveillance on Americans without explicit congressional or court authorization. While the episode says more about Bush's political frailty than the first-blush accounts have suggested, it also underscored the frictions and tensions between passionate Democratic activists and their cautious leaders.

The president has lost so much support and credibility that Republicans were simply grateful Feingold briefly changed the political subject from the Dubai ports controversy, the mess in Iraq and Bush's anemic poll ratings.

As one of Feingold's colleagues pointed out, a censure proposal related to any aspect of the president's policies on terrorism would once have unleashed an unrelenting Republican attack on the sponsor's patriotism. Now, Republicans have to content themselves with using calls for censuring or impeaching Bush to rally their own dispirited troops.

But at a moment when Democrats have Bush on the run, Feingold's proposal was a tad inconvenient, a conversation-changer coming along when Feingold's colleagues liked the way the conversation was going just fine.

Consider the disparity between the response to Feingold's initiative among Democratic senators and the reaction among Democratic activists.

Senators mostly scampered away from the cameras earlier this week, because they didn't want to say publicly what many of them said privately. Most were livid that Feingold sprang his censure idea on a Sunday talk show without giving them any notice. Many see Feingold as more concerned with rallying support from the Democratic base for his 2008 presidential candidacy than with helping his party regain control of Congress this fall.

Some Democrats want the party to forget the issue of warrantless wiretapping, because engaging it would let Bush claim that he's tougher on terrorists than his partisan enemies. Others share Feingold's frustration with the administration's stonewalling on the program, but they think they need to know more before they can effectively challenge Bush on the issue. Both groups were furious that Feingold grabbed headlines away from those delicious stories about Republican divisions and defections.

But at the grass roots and Web roots, Feingold has become a hero -- again. They already loved him for his courage in opposing the USA Patriot Act and his call for a timetable for troop withdrawals from Iraq. Feingold's latest move only reinforced his image of being "a Dem with a spine," as the left-liberal Web site put it in a comment representative of the acclaim he won across the activist blogs.

In an interview, Feingold was unrepentant, arguing that before he made his proposal, "the whole issue of the president violating the laws of this country was being swept under the rug."

"We were going to sit back as Democrats and say, 'This is too hot to handle' -- well that's outrageous." He warned that "the mistakes of 2002 are being repeated," meaning, he said, that Democrats should never again "cower" before Bush on security issues, as so many at the grass roots saw them doing before the 2002 elections.

And it's a sign of Feingold's view of some of his Democratic colleagues that he defended his decision not to let them in on his plan. Had they known what he was up to, he said, "they would have planned a strategy to blunt this."

Here's the problem: Feingold and the activists are right that Democrats can't just take a pass on the wiretapping issue, because Bush's legal claims are so suspect -- even to many in his own party. The opposition's job is to raise alarms over potential abuses of presidential power.

But Democrats, unlike Republicans, have yet to develop a healthy relationship between activists willing to test and expand the conventional limits on political debate and the politicians who have to calculate what works in creating an electoral majority.

For two decades, Republicans have used their idealists, their ideologues and their loudmouths to push the boundaries of discussion to the right. In the best of all worlds, Feingold's strong stand would redefine what's "moderate" and make clear that those challenging the legality of the wiretapping are neither extreme nor soft on terrorism.

That would demand coordination, trust and, yes, calculation involving both the vote-counting politicians and the guardians of principle among the activists. Republicans have mastered this art. Democrats haven't.

Turning a minority into a majority requires both passion and discipline. Bringing the two together requires effective leadership. Does anybody out there know how to play this game?

Congress Raises Ceiling for Borrowing $100 Billion Is Spent Without Offsetting Cuts

Congress Raises Ceiling for Borrowing $100 Billion Is Spent Without Offsetting Cuts
By Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers. Copyright by The Washington Post
Friday, March 17, 2006; Page A01

Congress raised the limit on the federal government's borrowing by $781 billion yesterday, and then lawmakers voted to spend well over $100 billion on the war in Iraq, hurricane relief, education, health care, transportation and heating assistance for the poor without making offsetting budget cuts.

On vote after vote in the House and Senate, lawmakers demonstrated the growing gap between their political promises to rein in spending and their need to respond to emergencies and protect politically popular programs. The votes followed last weekend's GOP leadership meeting in Memphis, at which virtually every speaker called on the party to renew its commitment to fiscal discipline and to control federal spending and the deficit.

The House voted 348 to 71 to approve a $92 billion measure to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and ongoing hurricane relief, after members rejected calls from conservatives to pay for at least some of that spending with budget cuts. On the other side of the Capitol, senators considering a budget blueprint for fiscal 2007 voted to effectively breach their own firm limits on spending by at least $16 billion to boost programs they said have been starved for funding.

"You're talking about the guts of critical domestic programs," Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said after the Senate voted 73 to 27 to increase spending on health, education and labor programs by $7 billion over the amount allotted in a 2007 budget blueprint. "All the talk in Memphis doesn't comport with the reality of these important programs."

The $2.8 trillion budget squeaked through last night, 51 to 49. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) expressed regret that he could not hold President Bush's $873 billion line on discretionary spending, but he said negotiations with the House could bring spending back down.

"It's not everything I wanted, obviously, but it's a step in the right direction," he said.

With no brakes on spending and no moves afoot to raise taxes, the federal debt is now raising at an unprecedented clip. The government bumped up against its $8.18 trillion statutory debt ceiling last month, forcing the Treasury to borrow from employee pension funds to keep the government operating. After weeks of pleading from Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, the Senate took the politically unpalatable but economically critical step of raising the ceiling for borrowing to $8.96 trillion. Under House rules, the debt limit was raised last year without a vote when lawmakers approved a budget.

It was the fourth debt-ceiling increase in the past five years, after boosts of $450 billion in 2002, a record $984 billion in 2003 and $800 billion in 2004. The statutory debt limit has now risen by more than $3 trillion since Bush took office.

"This should be a wake-up call for every member of the Senate, every member of Congress, and a wake-up call for the president of the United States," said Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee. "The question is: Are we staying on this course to keep running up the debt, debt on top of debt, increasingly financed by foreigners, or are we going to change course?"

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) acknowledged that the debt has risen at a remarkable pace but said he and his colleagues had no alternative. "Without an increase in the debt limit, our government will face a choice that we shouldn't make and we wouldn't want to make, a choice between breaking the law by exceeding the statutory debt limit or, on the other hand, breaking faith with the public by defaulting on our debt."

There appeared to be little change of course yesterday. After a two-day debate, the House approved $92 billion in funding for war costs and Hurricane Katrina recovery and added about $100 million for peacekeeping efforts in Sudan and to repair military sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Most of the House spending package, nearly $68 billion, would pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The legislation would push total war costs since Sept. 11, 2001, to nearly $400 billion. Before the Iraq invasion in 2003, administration officials predicted that costs related to the war would total less than $100 billion.

The House added $850 million to Bush's original request to upgrade Army tracked combat vehicles and to make them available to National Guard units. Lawmakers approved an additional $480 million over Bush's request for newer, more heavily armored Humvees, for a total of $890 million. The bill also provides $2 billion to develop measures to counter the makeshift bombs that kill many U.S. troops.

Service members would receive $400,000 in life insurance benefits under the House package, and family members of those killed in combat would receive a $100,000 death gratuity. The House granted a $4.85 billion White House request to train and equip security forces of Afghanistan and Iraq.

An additional $4.1 billion was provided in nonmilitary foreign aid, more than half of it for diplomatic and local governance programs in Iraq. The original House package allocated $253 million for peacekeeping in Sudan, but a Democratic amendment, approved 213 to 208, increased the total by $50 million, to $303 million.

The remaining $19 billion in the House package would assist the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast region, including aid for victims, community redevelopment projects, flood control and levee repair. Republicans turned back numerous Democratic attempts to increase Katrina-related funding. But a GOP amendment to strike the hurricane funding failed 332 to 89.

"Congress must stop hiding wasteful spending under the American flag," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Tex.), one of several Republicans who voted against the final bill.

Lawmakers narrowly defeated a Democratic amendment to increase port-related spending by $1.2 billion. The measure, offered by Rep. Martin O. Sabo (D-Minn), failed 210 to 208; it followed the lopsided 377 to 38 defeat Wednesday of an effort to strike language in the bill barring Dubai Ports World from taking management control of six U.S. ports.

The Senate budget blueprint for the fiscal year that begins in October had dropped Bush's proposed cuts to Medicare before it reached the Senate floor. As they worked to complete the budget, senators from both parties voted overwhelmingly to boost funding for health, education and labor programs by $7 billion.

Technically the measure did not break the budget resolution's $873 billion limit on federal programs funded annually at Congress's discretion, because the extra money was taken from prospective spending in 2008. But one of its sponsors, Specter, acknowledged that "it's not sort of a gimmick -- it is a gimmick." Senators also voted to raise the limit on discretionary spending to fund an additional $3.3 billion for low-income heating assistance, $1.2 billion for additional aviation security and $1 billion for military survivors' benefits.

The only Democrat voting for the budget was Mary Landrieu (La.). Republicans voting against the budget were Lincoln D. Chaffee (R.I.), Norm Coleman (Minn.), Susan Collins (Maine), Mike DeWine (Ohio ) and John Ensign (Nev.). Independent James M. Jeffords (Vt.) also voted against the budget.

Maybe you just don't know - A view on Abortion

Maybe you just don't know

By Emily L. Hauser
is a freelance writer living in Oak Park
Published March 16, 2006. Copyright by The Chicago Tribune

I've had an abortion. Have you?

The recent decision to ban virtually all abortions in South Dakota has generated a great deal of raucous arguing; many abortion opponents hope the new legislation will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and lead to the reversal of Roe vs. Wade. As usual, the argument suggests the existence of clear-cut opinion, the "supporting" or "opposing" of the act itself.

What is not discussed, of course, are people's hearts.

Women readers, of course, know their own answer to my question; many of their men would be surprised by it.

Many men don't know that their wives, sisters or mothers have, in fact, terminated a pregnancy. They don't know because the women they love fear their response. Will he see me differently? Will he--figuratively or literally--kill me?

So, as a nation and as individuals, we largely don't talk about it. And when we do, we're often not honest. The shadow of perceived opinion is very long. We speak publicly as if there were two clear positions--but in private, most of us know this isn't the truth.

My abortion is a thing of which I'm neither ashamed nor proud. I wish that I hadn't had to do it, but I did.

The average reader will want to know why--because most of us have a sliding scale of morality.

Even some staunch opponents will agree in cases of rape; others where there is genetic defect; a larger number, if the abortion takes place early in the first trimester; many, of course, think it's always a woman's choice.

I believe there is a vast middle ground made up of most Americans, those who feel abortion is neither irredeemably evil, nor free of moral implication. Witness polls conducted recently by the Pew Research Center: 65 percent of respondents don't want to see Roe vs. Wade overturned; 59 percent feel it would be better if fewer abortions were performed in this country.

At least some of our ambivalence may be cultural. Japanese society maintains a standard ritual, mizuko kuyo, to memorialize aborted or miscarried fetuses and stillborn babies. In a paper discussing the rite, Dr. Dennis Klass, a Webster University psychology of religion professor and a grief expert, writes: "The abortion experience is seen as a necessary sorrow tinged with grief, regret and fear which forces parents to apologize to the fetus and, thus, connect the fetus to the family."

This describes my own experience well--but I'm an American. I carry a different culture, and I fear that in apologizing, I accept some notion of personhood that somehow "makes" the entire thing--murder. So, I hesitate.

I ask myself: When I aborted my first pregnancy, did I kill a baby? I honestly don't think so. But did I stop the potential for life? Absolutely. Insofar as life itself is simultaneously the most mundane and most divine fact on our planet, this means something.

But I'm willing to say that I don't know what that something is. I can only function in the cold reality of my own world--and as such, I alone can judge whether my abortion was a moral choice. It wasn't easy, it wasn't happy, but it was the least-bad of two bad choices. It was moral.

I don't know anyone for whom abortion is easy; I don't know anyone (any woman, at least) who sees abortion as birth control. These choices are stunningly complex. When we deny that, when we talk as if we are all 100 percent clear on this issue, we deny our humanity. And we deny our grief.

And why, in the end, did I have my abortion? I'm not going to record that here. You and I don't know each other, and my reasons are personal. I don't need to defend them, and neither does your neighbor, the stranger at work--nor, perhaps, your girlfriend.

- - -


By the numbers

35% of registered voters would support, in their own state, the South Dakota ban on abortion in all cases other than to save the life of the mother.

59% oppose a ban

74% think abortion should be legal in the case of rape or incest

83% think abortion should be legal if pregnancy puts the mother's life at risk

62% think abortion should be legal if pregnancy puts the mother's mental health at risk

43% think abortion should be legal if the pregnancy is unwanted

61% think partial-birth abortions should be banned

41% consider themselves pro-life

49% consider themselves pro-choice

Note: Poll of 900 voters taken nationwide; conducted Feb. 28 through March 1; margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points

Source: FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll

Chicago Tribune Editorial - `My government let me down'

`My government let me down'

Published March 16, 2006. Copyright by The Chicago Tribune

The government considers Zacarias Moussaoui a fitting candidate for execution. He is an admitted terrorist who pleaded guilty last year to being part of the Al Qaeda plot that led to the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings. He was jailed on unrelated charges weeks before the attacks, but prosecutors contend he could have blown the whistle and prevented the carnage.

A government attorney assisting the prosecution team has now done serious damage to the government's case at Moussaoui's ongoing death-penalty trial. Carla Martin, a lawyer for the Transportation Security Administration, allegedly violated a direct court order by coaching prospective prosecution witnesses and providing them with trial transcripts. In an e-mail to the witnesses, Martin suggested the government case wasn't going well and needed help.

Overzealous government prosecutions pose a serious problem in the criminal justice system. A 1999 Tribune series highlighted how some prosecutors routinely skirt rules and deceive juries with impunity, which has led to reversals on appeal of hundreds of homicide convictions across the nation. Prosecutorial misconduct ill-serves justice. The wrong people get punished. Crimes go unsolved. Survivors are denied closure.

In the Moussaoui case, Martin's alleged witness tampering brought a swift rebuke from presiding Judge Leonie Brinkema. She questioned whether the 37-year-old Moussaoui could now get a fair trial. The breach prompted a daylong hearing Tuesday during which Brinkema accused Martin of deceiving other lawyers in the case with "a baldfaced lie" and warned the lawyer she could face criminal or civil sanctions.

The judge rejected a defense motion to drop the death penalty as a possible punishment. But she all but gutted the government's case for sentencing by ruling that seven federal aviation officials coached by Martin would not be allowed to take the stand. The government is considering an appeal. The seven were expected to testify that airport security could have foiled the hijackers had Moussaoui been forthcoming about plans to use box cutters and small knives to commandeer planes.

The turn of events sickened Rosemary Dillard, whose husband died in the Pentagon attack. "I felt like my heart had been ripped out," she said after Brinkema's ruling. "... I felt like my government let me down one more time."

The government's case for execution isn't a slam-dunk, regardless of the flap over expert testimony. In April, Moussaoui, a self-professed Al Qaeda member, pleaded guilty to six conspiracy charges connected to the Sept. 11 attacks, including four that could lead to the death penalty. Even so, Moussaoui claimed at the time that he was part of a different plot, one that was never carried out. Moussaoui claimed that his mission was to fly a hijacked Boeing 747 into the White House if he could not negotiate the release of militant Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.

Moussaoui isn't going anywhere. The alternative to the death penalty is a life sentence. But Martin's heavy-handed tactics may undermine the very result that the government says best serves the cause of justice.

The Moussaoui case serves as a vivid reminder of the corrosive impact of prosecutorial misconduct. When a prosecutor breaks the rules, it's not just the defendant who loses. We all do.

The self-emasculation of a weak Congress

Steve Chapman
The self-emasculation of a weak Congress

Published March 16, 2006. Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, thinks President Bush broke the law with his secret program to eavesdrop on Americans, and he wants Congress to censure Bush. He's right about the lawbreaking but wrong to think censure is the answer. That might give Americans the impression that Congress is something more than a supine slave of partisan interests. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Republicans on Capitol Hill, presented with the censure resolution, practically trampled each other to prove their slobbering devotion to the president. Sen. John Warner of Virginia assailed the proposal as "the worst type of political grandstanding." Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee accused Feingold of giving hope and encouragement to Al Qaeda: "The signal that it sends, that there is in any way a lack of support for our commander in chief who is leading us with a bold vision in a way that is making our homeland safer, is wrong."

I had the impression that indicating lack of support for our commander in chief--as congressional Republicans did so conspicuously, and appropriately, during the 1999 Kosovo war--was a constitutional right and sometimes a patriotic duty. But never mind that. It would be a waste of time to censure Bush, because censure would not compel him to do anything he doesn't want to do, such as obey the 1978 law governing domestic wiretapping.

The only thing worth doing is to stop the president from carrying out such eavesdropping without genuine oversight by the courts. And that is one option our incumbent lawmakers wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole.

Republicans, after all, control both the Senate and the House, and they are far more intent on protecting their party than upholding their prerogatives as a co-equal branch of government. Recently Senate GOP leaders offered to bless the program without even investigating first to find out what, exactly, they are blessing.

Under this plan, the National Security Agency could listen in on the international phone calls of Americans if there is "probable cause to believe that one party to the communication is a member, affiliate or working in support of a terrorist group or organization." But no court would review whether "probable cause" exists. That assessment would be entirely up to Bush and his subordinates.

Vice President Dick Cheney, in a speech in Chicago this week, explained the equally rigorous process that the president has to go through to renew his surveillance effort: "Before he reauthorizes the program, the intelligence community has to certify that the threats still exist and recommend that the program be renewed. The secretary of defense has to sign off on it. The attorney general of the United States ... has to certify that it is compliant with the laws and Constitution of the United States. Then the president reauthorizes the program." What a relief it is to know that the administration can't renew the program without the approval of the administration.

This is an absurd parody of the checks and balances our system is supposed to provide. If the framers of the Constitution had thought a single branch of government could police itself, they would not have created three branches.

As James Madison wrote, "The great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others ... Ambition must be made to counteract ambition."

The idea was that each branch would jealously guard its powers against the others. But in this case, Congress passed a law, the president ignored it, and Congress applauded him for doing so. Stalin's Politburo could not have been more compliant.

What the framers didn't anticipate was the rise of political parties, allegiances to which now override every other consideration. This episode makes clear that the best government is divided government--where the party that occupies the White House does not control Congress. Only then can we rely on lawmakers to provide a meaningful check on presidential power. With the GOP dominant at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the president can treat Congress as an obsolete irrelevancy.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), defending the Republican proposal against critics who say it's pathetically weak, said he resented being called a "lap dog of the administration." That label certainly is unfair. Even lap dogs will bite if they're kicked often enough, which is more than you can say for congressional Republicans.


News Analysis: What price democracy?

News Analysis: What price democracy?

By Steven R. Weisman Copyright by The New York Times

FRIDAY, MARCH 17, 2006

Even as it unveils an updated national security strategy, the Bush administration is facing fresh doubts from some Republicans who say its emphasis on promoting democracy around the world has come at the expense of protecting other American interests.

The second thoughts mark a striking change in mood over one of President George W. Bush's cherished tenets, pitting Republicans who call themselves "realists" against the neoconservatives who saw the invasion of Iraq as a catalyst for democratic change and who remain the most vigorous advocates of a muscular American campaign to foster democratic movements.

"You are hearing more and more questions about the administration's approach on this issue," said Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute, a Republican-linked foundation that supports democratic activities abroad.
"The 'realists' in the party," he continued, "are rearing their heads and asking, 'Is this stuff working?'"

The critics are alarmed at the costs of military operations and of assisting with nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also have been shaken by the victory of Hamas in Palestinian elections in January and by the gains that Islamists have scored during elections in Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon.

The Bush administration contends that, whatever their outcome, elections are better than violent upheaval. But critics worry that anti-democratic extremists will prevail wherever tradition and existing civil institutions are too weak to protect the rights of minorities or to nurture moderates.

The critics also argue that heavy- handed pressure for democracy has strained U.S. relations with Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China, making it harder to enlist their governments in fighting terrorism, stabilizing the Middle East and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.

The renewed violence in Iraq since the voting there has discredited, in their view, the promise of democracy as an outlet for tensions, bringing sectarian parties to the fore - as well as their affiliated militia.

"You cannot in my opinion just impose a democratic form of government on a country with no history and no culture and no tradition of democracy," said Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican. "We have not always connected those fundamentals to our efforts."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is traveling in South America, Asia and Australia this week in part to promote democracy, acknowledged that dissenting views are increasingly being heard but declared that the administration would stick to its goals.

"There is a debate, and I think it's a debate that's healthy," she said. "This is obviously a really big change in American foreign policy, to put the promotion of democracy at the center of it. And people take very seriously what this president is doing and intends to do."

Last month, Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois, a Republican elder who is chairman of the House International Relations Committee, challenged her view at a hearing, asking whether the Bush administration viewed free elections and democracy as a "magic formula" that could defeat terrorism.

"Implanting democracy in large areas would require that we possess an unbounded power and undertake an open-ended commitment of time and resources, which we cannot and will not do," he said.

William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, the conservative magazine, amplified this view.

"What's really driving the criticism is disenchantment with the war," he said. "But it's unfair to say that supporters of the war thought it was going to be easy to build a democracy in Iraq."

Even many supporters of the promotion of democracy say that the idea is still valid but that the administration's miscalculations in Iraq have done damage to the cause.

"I think this administration tends to have the right general policies but to be remarkably unwilling to look at how weak their instruments of implementation are," said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker. "We threw away a year in Iraq because of our mistakes."

The U.S. effort to support democracy groups in authoritarian countries has also stirred controversy.

This year, the United States is spending $1.7 billion to support groups seeking political change, but lately Russia, Egypt, China and many countries in Africa and Latin America are cracking down on these groups and barring foreign funds for them.
In Ukraine, the euphoria over the "orange revolution" in 2004, which was backed by groups that received U.S. funds, has produced a backlash in the form of an increasingly unpopular government and Russian determination to undermine Ukraine's independence.

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican and a leading proponent of democracy promotion in Congress, said that despite these setbacks and controversies, plus the lack of civil society structures and rule of law in many countries, the administration is right to push for democracy and elections.

"The moral of the story is that democracy is tough," McCain said.

"We have to recognize that you can have two steps forward and one step back."

One prominent neoconservative, Francis Fukuyama, asserts in a new book that the administration embraced democracy as a cornerstone of its policy only after the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The issue was seized on to justify the war in retrospect and then expanded for other countries, he says.

Fukuyama, who opposed the war in Iraq, said in an interview that it was naive and contrary to the tenets of conservatism for the United States to think that it could act as midwife or cheerleader for democracy in societies it knows little about.
Indeed, as he points out, in the 2000 election campaign, both Bush and Rice, then his foreign policy adviser, criticized the Clinton administration's interventions to promote democracy in Somalia, Haiti and the Balkans as misplaced idealism.
"It's this weird situation where you have a really conservative Republican president using all this Clintonesque rhetoric about rights and ideals," he said.

Administration officials say they are guided not by naiveté but by hard-nosed necessity. If authoritarian governments in the Middle East do not open themselves up to reform, extremists will eventually blow them up, they say.
Craner, president of the International Republican Institute, said that, at least rhetorically, Republicans generally support democracy and are likely to continue doing so.

The democracy cause's leaders in Congress are not backing down.

"Obviously, we want stability and we want allies in the war on terror," said one of them, Representative David Dreier of California. "But I don't think we should back down from democratization just because it's hard."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

6 years, and now he's an internationalist? by Molly Ivins

6 years, and now he's an internationalist?
World affairs still perplex Bush

Molly Ivins, Creators Syndicate
Published March 16, 2006. Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

AUSTIN, Texas -- It's hard to keep up with George W. Bush's shuttles between internationalism and isolationism. You may recall he first ran for the presidency declaring he was against nation-building and other such effete peacekeeping efforts. None of that do-gooder, building-a-better-world stuff for him--he couldn't even be bothered to learn the names of the Grecians and Kosovians.

Until Sept. 11, 2001, except for staring deep into Vladimir Putin's ice-blue eyes and concluding the old KGB shark had soul, Bush evinced little interest in foreign affairs.

Then he literally became an internationalist with a vengeance. Absolutely everybody signed up to help go after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan--offers of help gushed in. Next came the campaign to bring down Saddam Hussein because he had weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear weapons program. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the world didn't think Iraq had much in the way of weapons of mass destruction, or at least felt the United Nations inspectors should be given more time to see if they were there.

The unseemly haste with which Bush pushed toward an unnecessary war alienated many of our closest allies, and the Bush team could not have made its contempt for those allies and the United Nations more clear.

So for a while we were the new imperialists and disdained the rest of the world. We didn't need anyone--we would go our own way, and good riddance to the United Nations, what a bunch of wusses they were. It was the season of hubris, arrogance and rudeness.

In the ultimate "up yours," Bush named John Bolton ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton is a man so undiplomatic, not to mention so anti-UN, that half the administration was appalled by the idea. These were the days when mental pygmies outside the administration were dismissed as the "reality-based community." The senior Bush adviser famously quoted by Ron Suskind explained, "We are an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality." Gosh, that was an exciting time.

Unfortunately, reality uncharitably refused to conform to the Bush administration's demands--in fact, reality kept blowing up in our faces. In Afghanistan and particularly in Iraq, reality turned out to be downright ugly about not obliging our blithe president.

Several months after our invasion of Iraq, it turned out we actually had invaded to bring democracy to that lucky little country. In the odd, dreamlike way that Bush policy morphs, all the conservatives began to pretend we had gone in to create democracy, and anyone who suggested otherwise was misremembering that pesky reality.

Indeed, so dedicated were we to the promotion of democracy around the world that it was the very first principle of our foreign policy. And if we still aren't too keen on nation-building--well, we'll just outsource it to Halliburton and let them worry about it. And what a fine job they're doing.

So here we are, internationalists again, and Bush sets off for India, where he promptly reversed decades of American foreign policy to exempt India from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It had been our policy since Nixon was president to refuse to share nuclear energy technology with nations unwilling to agree to the nonproliferation regime. Both India and its mortal enemy, Pakistan, became nuclear-armed powers in 1998, leading to the truly horrific possibility of a nuclear arms race on the subcontinent.

Having made this lamentable deal, Bush then proceeded to Pakistan, which naturally feels insulted and slighted at not getting the same deal. This is particularly unfortunate, as Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is critical to the control and capture of Al Qaeda.

Bush, who dropped the entire subject of Osama bin Laden like a hot rock in 2003, is now back to saying we want to capture him. Having offended Pakistan, our critical ally, Bush then returned triumphantly to--ta-da!--send exactly the wrong message to Iran. Just in time, showing the Iranians that if they persist in developing nuclear weapons, they, too, eventually will be rewarded like India. Naturally, this in turn strengthens the hard-liners in Tehran and undercuts the pro-Western reformers. What were they thinking? Does anybody here know how to play this game?

So far, it looks as though Bush does better on foreign policy when he's being an isolationist. Maybe he should just stay home and cut more taxes for the rich, or go expose some CIA agent for political payback against her husband, or just spy on American pacifists.

When I heard him deploring xenophobia (that's fear of foreigners) on the Dubai Ports deal, I did a double take. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff again has said the trouble with homeland security is that it threatens trade--all important, all sacred trade, profits above all. For the umpteenth time, it is not only possible but smart to insist on adjusting free trade for labor standards, for environmental standards and even so your ports don't get blown up.


Syndicated columnist based in Austin, Texas; E-mail:

Day of Reckoning For the Current Occupant by Garrison Keillor

Day of Reckoning For the Current Occupant
by Garrison Keillor © 2006 Chicago Tribune
Spring arrived in New York last week for previews, a sunny day with chill in the air, but you could smell mud, and with a little imagination you could sort of smell grass. I put on a gray jacket, instead of black, and went to the opera and saw Verdi's "Luisa Miller," a Republican opera in which love is crushed by the perfidiousness of government. A helpful lesson for these times. I am referring to the Current Occupant.

The Republican Revolution has gone the way of all flesh. It took over Congress and the White House, horns blew, church bells rang, sailors kissed each other, and what happened? The Republicans led us into a reckless foreign war and steered the economy toward receivership and wielded power as if there were no rules. Democrats are accused of having no new ideas, but Republicans are making some of the old ideas look awfully good, such as constitutional checks and balances, fiscal responsibility, and the notion of realism in foreign affairs and taking actions that serve the national interest. What one might call "conservatism."

The head of the National Security Agency under President Ronald Reagan, Lt. Gen. William Odom, writes on the Web site that he sees clear parallels between Vietnam and Iraq: "The difference lies in the consequences. Vietnam did not have the devastating effects on U.S. power that Iraq is already having." He draws the parallels in three stages and says that staying the course will only make the damage to U.S. power greater. It's a chilling analysis, and one that isn't going to come from the Democratic Party. It's starting to come from Republicans, and they are the ones who must rescue the country from themselves.

I ran into a gray eminence from the Bush I era the other day in an airport, and he said that what most offended him about Bush II is the naked incompetence. "You may disagree with Republicans, but you always had to recognize that they knew what they were doing," he said. "I keep going back to that intelligence memo of August 2001, that said that terrorists had plans to hijack planes and crash them into buildings. The president read it, and he didn't even call a staff meeting to discuss it. That is lack of attention of a high order."

Over the course of time, the Chief Occupant has been cruelly exposed over and over. He sat and was briefed on the danger of a hurricane wiping out a major American city, and without asking a single question, he got up from the table and walked away and resumed his vacation. He played guitar as New Orleans was flooded. It took him four days to realize his responsibility to do something. When the tsunami killed 100,000 people in Southeast Asia, he was on vacation and it took him 72 hours to issue a statement of sympathy.

The Republicans tied their wagon to him and, as a result, their revolution is bankrupt. He has played the terrorism card for all it is worth and campaigned successfully against Adam and Steve and co-opted whole vast flocks of Christians, but he is done now, kaput, out of gas, for one simple reason. He doesn't represent the best that is our country. Not even close.

He openly, brazenly, countenanced crimes of torture at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram. He engaged in illegal surveillance, authorized the arrest of people without charge and "disappeared" them to foreign jails. And he finagled this war, which, after three years of violence, does not look to be heading toward a happy ending. And now it's up to Republicans to put their country first and call the gentleman to account.

The Current Occupant is smart about handling a political mess. The best strategy is to cut and run and change the subject. You defend the Dubai ports deal in manly terms until you lose a vote in a House committee and then you retreat--actually, you get the Dubai people to do it for you--and that's it, End of Story.

Harriet Miers was fully qualified one day and gone the next. Social Security was going to be overhauled to give us the Ownership Society, and then the stock market went in the toilet and Republicans got nervous, and suddenly it was Never Mind and on to the next new thing.

Let's bring the boys home. Otherwise, let's send this man back to Texas and see what sort of work he is capable of and let him start making a contribution to the world.

Garrison Keillor is an author and the radio host of "A Prairie Home Companion."

A White House caught red-handed

A White House caught red-handed
By Jacob Weisberg
Published: March 16 2006 02:00 | Last updated: March 16 2006 02:00. Copyright by The Financial Times

Last week, the magazine I edit broke the news that Claude Allen, until recently the White House chief domestic policy adviser, was arrested for theft in the suburbs of Washington. The US president has expressed his shock and disappointment. If the allegations are true, how could one of his top aides, a devout Christian who passed a series of Federal Bureau of Investigation background checks, have been a common thief? But the more we hear about what Mr Allen is accused of, the less it sounds like kleptomania and the more it sounds like an application of Bush economic policy.

Mr Allen's alleged scam was something called "return fraud". According to the police, he would purchase a home-theatre system or a computer printer from a department store and put it in the trunk of his car. Then he would come back to the same store with his sales receipt, pull an identical item off the shelf and take it to the return desk for a refund. Using this technique, a brazen perpetrator pays for the item once, but derives value from it twice - he gets his money back and keeps the merchandise. Mr Allen is alleged to have stolen more than $5,000 (£2,880) over the past year in this way. His lawyer has described the incidents as a "series of misunderstandings" and Mr Allen denies any wrongdoing.

As a point of comparison, consider the president's Social Security proposal, which died in Congress last year. George W. Bush wanted to set up a system of private retirement accounts for future retirees. This would have required him to divert $1,000bn or so from the Social Security Trust Fund, which pays for benefits for current and future retirees. Since Mr Bush did not propose to reduce benefits, how was he going to make up the difference? By sauntering to the customer service desk and asking for his money back. In this case, the receipt was a bogus projection that the retirement funds invested in the stock market would grow so quickly that everyone would come out ahead. The main difference between Mr Allen's alleged scam and Mr Bush's attempted one is scale.

Mr Allen's former colleagues in the West Wing are now trying to slip more tax cuts out of the door without stopping at the cash register. Their trick is to claim that with the manager's special, tax cuts are on sale - for nothing. "You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase," Mr Bush said last month. In other words, tax cuts will mean more money for the Treasury, not less. There is, of course, no economic support for the concept that tax cuts are cost-free, just as there are no shops where customers are encouraged to walk past the checkout without paying. Mr Bush's tax- avoidance scam is based on the truism that government revenues almost always rise in nominal terms because of inflation, population growth and gross domestic product growth. Even if Congress cuts taxes, government is likely to take in more in 2007 than in 2006 - it just will not take in as much more as it would have otherwise.

Another scam the president and his budget cronies favour is price-tag swapping. Here Mr Bush picks out a high-priced item sudh as a fat package of lamp chops or the Iraq war. When the security camera is pointed elsewhere, he peels off the $200bn price tag and attaches a lower one removed from educational reform or something in the congressional pork aisle. Should a subordinate threaten to speak to security, the ringleader deals with the problem Tony Soprano-style. For instance, when the government's chief Medicare actuary came up with a too-high price tag of $551bn for Mr Bush's Medicare prescription drug bill, members of the president's gang - who preferred an estimate closer to $400bn over 10 years - made him an offer he could not refuse. Only after sceptical Republican legislators fell into line and the bill passed did it emerge that the accountant, Richard Foster, had been threatened with the sack if he revealed the higher figure.

Presidents set a moral example, and given the message Mr Bush has been sending, it is no surprise that the problem of "inventory shrinkage" has spread to Congress as well. For example, Republicans in the Senate recently proposed a novel way to pay for extending Mr Bush's tax cut on investment income, which will otherwise expire in 2009. They want to allow the wealthy - and not just the middle class - to convert their private retirement accounts to a type that is not taxed when funds are withdrawn at retirement. This would produce a temporary revenue boost, because taxes are due on the initial conversion, but would be a big money-loser for government in the long-run. With this swindle - paying for one tax cut for the rich with another tax cut for the rich - Bushonomics has reached its larcenous apogee.

So, if it turns out that the charges are true, where might Mr Allen have learnt that you can get the things you want without paying for them? Let us just say it was not at church.

The writer is editor of

Doctrine of Preemptive War To Be Reaffirmed

Doctrine of Preemptive War To Be Reaffirmed
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 16, 2006; Page A01. Copyright by the Washington Post

President Bush plans to issue a new national security strategy today reaffirming his doctrine of preemptive war against terrorists and hostile states with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, despite the troubled experience in Iraq.

The long-overdue document, an articulation of U.S. strategic priorities that is required by law, lays out a robust view of America's power and an assertive view of its responsibility to bring change around the world. On topics including genocide, human trafficking and AIDS, the strategy describes itself as "idealistic about goals and realistic about means."

The strategy expands on the original security framework developed by the Bush administration in September 2002, before the invasion of Iraq. That strategy shifted U.S. foreign policy away from decades of deterrence and containment toward a more aggressive stance of attacking enemies before they attack the United States.

The preemption doctrine generated fierce debate at the time, and many critics believe the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq fatally undermined an essential assumption of the strategy -- that intelligence about an enemy's capabilities and intentions can be sufficient to justify preventive war.

In his revised version, Bush offers no second thoughts about the preemption policy, saying it "remains the same" and defending it as necessary for a country in the "early years of a long struggle" akin to the Cold War. In a nod to critics in Europe, the document places a greater emphasis on working with allies and declares diplomacy to be "our strong preference" in tackling the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

"If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack," the document continues. "When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize."

Such language could be seen as provocative at a time when the United States and its European allies have brought Iran before the U.N. Security Council to answer allegations that it is secretly developing nuclear weapons. At a news conference in January, Bush described an Iran with nuclear arms as a "grave threat to the security of the world."

Some security specialists criticized the continued commitment to preemption. "Preemption is and always will be a potentially useful tool, but it's not something you want to trot out and throw in everybody's face," said Harlan Ullman, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "To have a strategy on preemption and make it central is a huge error."

A military attack against Iran, for instance, could be "foolish," Ullman said, and it would be better to seek other ways to influence its behavior. "I think most states are deterrable."

Thomas Donnelly, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has written on the 2002 strategy, said the 2003 invasion of Iraq in the strict sense is not an example of preemptive war, because it was preceded by 12 years of low-grade conflict and was essentially the completion of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Still, he said, recent problems there contain lessons for those who would advocate preemptive war elsewhere. A military strike is not enough, he said; building a sustainable, responsible state in place of a rogue nation is the real challenge.

"We have to understand preemption -- it's not going to be simply a preemptive strike," he said. "That's not the end of the exercise but the beginning of the exercise."

The White House plans to release the 49-page National Security Strategy today, starting with a speech by national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley to the U.S. Institute of Peace. The White House gave advance copies to The Washington Post and three other newspapers.

The strategy has no legal force of its own but serves as a guidepost for agencies and officials drawing up policies in a range of military, diplomatic and other arenas. Although a 1986 law requires that the strategy be revised annually, this is the first new version since 2002. "I don't think it's a change in strategy," Hadley said in an interview. "It's an updating of where we are with the strategy, given the time that's passed and the events that have occurred."

But the new version of the strategy underscores in a more thematic way Bush's desire to make the spread of democracy the fundamental underpinning of U.S. foreign policy, as he expressed in his second inaugural address last year. The opening words of the strategy, in fact, are lifted from that speech: "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

The strategy commits the administration to speaking out against human rights abuses, holding high-level meetings at the White House with reformers from repressive nations, using foreign aid to support elections and civil society, and applying sanctions against oppressive governments. It makes special mention of religious intolerance, subjugation of women and human trafficking.

At the same time, it acknowledges that "elections alone are not enough" and sometimes lead to undesirable results. "These principles are tested by the victory of Hamas candidates in the recent elections in the Palestinian territories," the strategy says, referring to the radical group designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.

Without saying what action would be taken against them, the strategy singles out seven nations as prime examples of "despotic systems" -- North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Belarus, Burma and Zimbabwe. Iran and North Korea receive particular attention because of their nuclear programs, and the strategy vows in both cases "to take all necessary measures" to protect the United States against them.

"We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran," the document says, echoing a statement made by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week. It recommits to efforts with European allies to pressure Tehran to give up any aspirations of nuclear weapons, then adds ominously: "This diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided."

The language about confrontation is not repeated with North Korea, which says it already has nuclear bombs, an assertion believed by U.S. intelligence. But Pyongyang is accused of a "bleak record of duplicity and bad-faith negotiations," as well as of counterfeiting U.S. currency, trafficking in drugs and starving its own people.

The strategy offers a much more skeptical view of Russia than in 2002, when the glow of Bush's friendship with President Vladimir Putin was still bright.

"Recent trends regrettably point toward a diminishing commitment to democratic freedoms and institutions," it says. "We will work to try to persuade the Russian Government to move forward, not backward, along freedom's path."

It also warns China that "it must act as a responsible stakeholder that fulfills its obligations" and guarantee political freedom as well as economic freedom. "Our strategy," the document says, "seeks to encourage China to make the right strategic choices for its people, while we hedge against other possibilities."

To assuage allies antagonized by Bush's go-it-alone style in his first term, the White House stresses alliance and the use of what it calls "transformational diplomacy" to achieve change. At the same time, it asserts that formal structures such as the United Nations or NATO may at times be less effective than "coalitions of the willing," or groups responding to particular situations, such as the Asian tsunami of 2004.

Beyond the military response to terrorism, the document emphasizes the need to fight the war of ideas against Islamic radicals whose anti-American rhetoric has won wide sympathy in parts of the world.

The strategy also addresses topics largely left out of the 2002 version, including a section on genocide and a new chapter on global threats such as avian influenza, AIDS, environmental destruction and natural disasters. Critics have accused the administration of not doing enough to stop genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, responding too slowly to the Asian tsunami and disregarding global environmental threats such as climate change.

The Refined Savage Poetry Review

Yours truly made the review!


New York Times Editorial - Immigration's moment

Immigration's moment

Copyright by The New York Times


The Senate Judiciary Committee resumed debate on Wednesday over a bill whose design and fate could determine whether the U.S. Congress finally achieves comprehensive, workable immigration reform or adds to decades of failure.

The Senate's role is crucial because the House has already passed its bill, a punitive measure that seeks to stem the immigrant tide without offering the other half of a true solution: a constructive approach to the estimated 12 million people who are already in the United States illegally.

Since the House bill would make being in the U.S. without papers an aggravated felony, would turn people who extend charity to illegal immigrants into "alien smugglers" and would grant state and local police officers the "inherent authority" to enforce immigration laws, the authors presumably want to rouse the country to seek out and deport every last unauthorized person.

Nothing in past experience suggests that such an effort is possible, or that it would accomplish anything beyond making millions of people shrink further from the sunlight of lawfulness and order.

The Judiciary Committee is under pressure from the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, to complete a bill by the end of the month. Its chairman, Arlen Specter, is trying to walk a tightrope between the hard-core restrictionists and those who favor real reform. Specter has shaped an unsatisfactory compromise: a program that would not build in a path to citizenship. It would create a hired army of permanently temporary workers, who would be free to take our most strenuous and unwanted jobs but not to integrate into society.

One sign of this country's self-confidence and strength has been its ability to welcome and absorb the people who want to make new lives here. Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy, recognizing this, have offered a bill that would provide a path to earned legalization for those who put down roots, learn English, keep their records clean and pay back taxes and steep fines.

Specter and his committee colleagues should follow the McCain- Kennedy example in creating a comprehensive immigration bill. President George W. Bush, meanwhile, should show leadership in pushing for sensible and humane program for temporary workers. He should rediscover his election-season enthusiasm for his vision of America as a land of opportunity "para todos," for all.

And the rest of us need to decide where we want to live: in a shining city on a hill, or a gated community in a cul-de-sac.

New York Times Editorial - Second-term stumbling

Second-term stumbling

Copyright by The New York Times


Every second-term presidency tends to get tired and falter a bit. But these days, when so many big things are going so very wrong, smaller errors seem like an echo of overall ineptitude. And since President George W. Bush has convinced Americans that we live in a permanent state of threat from evildoers abroad, the bumbling takes on a more ominous note.

We oppose the death penalty, so we're not going to be upset if federal prosecutors fail to execute Zacarias Moussaoui on conspiracy charges related to Sept. 11, and have to settle for sending him to jail for life. But it's unnerving that the setback for the prosecution was due to the incredible misbehavior of one of the government lawyers, a member of the Transportation Security Administration. The lawyer, Carla Martin, violated a court order and drew down the wrath of the presiding judge by attempting to coach via e-mail some witnesses expected to testify - in a manner that a first-year law student should have known was a very, very bad idea.

Minor flare-ups of bad news are also much more disturbing when they remind us of the administration's history of rewarding party loyalists and campaign workers with jobs that are far above their level of competence. Claude Allen, who recently resigned as the president's domestic policy adviser, was arrested in a bizarre case involving a scheme to collect refunds from stores for merchandise he had never purchased, from a home theater system to an item worth only $2.50. The allegations about Allen might have been classified as a sad tale of a White House official who fell victim to pressure or overwork, had it not been for the fact that the Bush administration had also nominated him for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals despite a resume that's exceedingly thin on legal experience.

The founding fathers understood that there would be times in American history when the country lost confidence in the judgment of the president. Congress and the courts are supposed to fill the gap.

But the system of checks and balances is a safety net that doesn't feel particularly sturdy at present. The administration seems determined to cut off legitimate court scrutiny, and the Republicans who dominate the U.S. Congress generally intervene only to change the rules so Bush can do whatever he wants.

The Democratic Party is not exactly the last word in prescience, but even the Democrats have put their finger on the mood of the moment, focusing on the theme of administrative incompetence. They're striking the right note, but it's not a tune we can afford to listen to for the next three years.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Two GOP candidates take on commissions

Two GOP candidates take on commissions

Copyright by The Associated Press

CHICAGO - Two GOP candidates for governor on Wednesday used the controversy surrounding a state hate crimes commission to polish their conservative credentials.

State Sen. Bill Brady announced he was proposing legislation to ban state funding for gubernatorial commissions unless their members are approved by the Senate.

Brady said Gov. Rod Blagojevich has "embarrassed" the state with his handling of the Gov.'s Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes.

Five members of the commission have resigned amid frustrations over Blagojevich's appointment of a high-ranking Nation of Islam official to the group. His appointment of Sister Claudette Marie Muhammad to the commission in August went largely unnoticed until she invited fellow commissioners to a speech last month by her boss, Louis Farrakhan, who is known for his disparaging remarks about Jews, whites and gays.

Brady said at least 15 commissions are appointed by the governor with no say-so from the Legislature. He said his proposal would prohibit funding - such as for travel expenses, per diem fees and other reimbursements - for members.

Brady said he had not talked to other lawmakers about his measure and denied it was politicking in his run for governor.

Brady's fellow Republican, Jim Oberweis, on Wednesday called on Blagojevich to remove Rick Garcia from the hate crimes commission. Garcia is political director for the gay rights group Equality Illinois.

Oberweis said Garcia should be taken off the commission for comments about Chicago's Cardinal Francis George and about opponents of gay marriage.

Two years ago at a rally outside George's mansion, Garcia criticized the Cardinal for his opposition to an anti-discrimination law protecting gays.

Garcia said the cardinal should not use church teaching to "approve and promote anti-gay sentiment," according to a copy of his statement provided by Garcia.

In January, Garcia also criticized some supporters of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

"Clearly, marriage doesn't need to be protected from gay people. It is gay people who need to be protected from anti-gay bigots," Garcia said, according to a copy of his statement provided by Garcia.

Garcia said Wednesday he has no plans to leave the hate crimes commission.

"I'm not budging and the governor's not removing me," he said.

A Blagojevich spokeswoman did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday evening.

Former top judge (Sandra Day O'Connor ) says US risks edging near to dictatorship

Former top judge says US risks edging near to dictatorship

· Sandra Day O'Connor warns of rightwing attacks
· Lawyers 'must speak up' to protect judiciary

Julian Borger in Washington
Monday March 13, 2006
Copyright by The Guardian

Sandra Day O'Connor, a Republican-appointed judge who retired last month after 24 years on the supreme court, has said the US is in danger of edging towards dictatorship if the party's rightwingers continue to attack the judiciary.
In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University, reported by National Public Radio and the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Ms O'Connor took aim at Republican leaders whose repeated denunciations of the courts for alleged liberal bias could, she said, be contributing to a climate of violence against judges.

Ms O'Connor, nominated by Ronald Reagan as the first woman supreme court justice, declared: "We must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary."
She pointed to autocracies in the developing world and former Communist countries as lessons on where interference with the judiciary might lead. "It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

In her address to an audience of corporate lawyers on Thursday, Ms O'Connor singled out a warning to the judiciary issued last year by Tom DeLay, the former Republican leader in the House of Representatives, over a court ruling in a controversial "right to die" case.

After the decision last March that ordered a brain-dead woman in Florida, Terri Schiavo, removed from life support, Mr DeLay said: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behaviour."

Mr DeLay later called for the impeachment of judges involved in the Schiavo case, and called for more scrutiny of "an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president".

Such threats, Ms O'Connor said, "pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedom", and she told the lawyers in her audience: "I want you to tune your ears to these attacks ... You have an obligation to speak up.

"Statutes and constitutions do not protect judicial independence - people do," the retired supreme court justice said.

She noted death threats against judges were on the rise and added that the situation was not helped by a senior senator's suggestion that there might be a connection between the violence against judges and the decisions they make.

The senator she was referring to was John Cornyn, a Bush loyalist from Texas, who made his remarks last April, soon after a judge was shot dead in an Atlanta courtroom and the family of a federal judge was murdered in Illinois.

Senator Cornyn said: "I don't know if there is a cause and effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country ... And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence."

Although appointed by a Republican, Ms O'Connor voted with the supreme court's liberals on some divisive issues, including abortion, making her a frequent target for criticism from the right. After announcing that she intended to retire last year at the age of 75, she was replaced in February this year by Samuel Alito, who is generally regarded as being more consistently conservative.

In her speech, Ms O'Connor said that if the courts did not occasionally make politicians mad they would not be doing their jobs, and their effectiveness "is premised on the notion that we won't be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts".


Statewide Offices
For Governor
Candidate Questionnaire: Governor

Rod R. Blagojevich (D) 773-404-2006 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Judy Baar Topinka (R) 312-346-5839 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

For Lt. Governor
Candidate Questionnaire: Lt. Governor

Steven J. Rauschenberger (R) 312-307-5272 fundraiser [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

For Treasurer
Candidate Questionnaire: Treasurer

Alexander Giannoulias (D) 773-334-2000 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

Countywide Offices
For County Board President
Candidate Questionnaire: County Board President

Forrest Claypool (D) 773-271-9500 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

For Metropolitan Water Reclaimation District Commissioner
Candidate Questionnaire: Commissioner

Dean Maragos (D) 312-578-1012 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Debra Shore (D) 847-922-0622 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Terrence J. O'Brien (D) 888-862-6973 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Lewis W. Powell, III (D) 312-987-1159 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

For Sheriff
Candidate Questionnaire: Sheriff

Thomas J. Dart (D) 312-987-1159 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

For Congress
Candidate Questionnaire: Congress

Philip Jackson, 1st (D) 773-752-5786 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
John P. Sullivan, 3rd (D) 708-221-3328 flyer [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Raymond Wardingley, 3rd (R) [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Rahm Emanuel, 5th (D) 312-994-2502 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Christine Gegelis, 6th (D) 630-693-0500 click for flyer [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Danny K. Davis, 7th (D) 773-638-1998 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Zane Smith, 10th (D) 312-245-0031 fundraising flyer [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Bill Reedy, 13th (D) 630-759-0042 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Ruben Zamora, 14th (D) 630-677-7169 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Danny Stover, 19th (D) 618-322-2812 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

For State Senate
Candidate Questionnaire: State Senate

Oscar Torres, 1st (D) 312-455-9961 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Eduardo "Eddie" Garza, 12th (D) 773-735-0166 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Dan Kotowski, 33rd (D) 847-849-6946 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Don Harmon, 39th (D) 708-524-2006 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

For State House
Candidate Questionnaire: State House

Francisco Rodroguez, 2nd (D) 312-455-9961 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Karen Yarbrough, 7th (D) 708-344-7062 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Barbara Flynn Currie, 25th (D) 773-643-5237 Open House [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Lou Jones, 26th (D) 773-373-9400 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
David E. Miller, 29th (D) 708-849-7372 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Marlow Colvin, 33rd (D) 773-847-3300 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Mark H. Beubien, Jr., 52nd (R) 847-381-1898 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Paul Froehlich, 56th (R) 847-985-7827 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

For County Board Commissioner
Candidate Questionnaire: Commissioner

Dian Powell, 5th (D) 773-406-0037 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Robert Ryan, 6th (D) 708-474-2000 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Len Dominguez, 7th (D) 312-432-1840 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Peter Silvestri, 9th (R) 708-456-8683 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

For State Central Committee (D)
Candidate Questionnaire: Commissioner

Ricardo Munoz, 4th 773-762-4900 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Nancy Shepherdson, 8th 847-550-8631 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
William Morrovitz, 9th 312-595-1400 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Alan Prcaska, 10th 847-370-0617 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

For Township Committeeman
Candidate Questionnaire: Township Committeeman

Charles Hernandez, Cicero (D) 708-863-4236 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
R. Kent Kirkwood, Elk Grove (D) 847-392-5652 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Frederick J. Hossfeld, Hanover (D) 630-673-4244 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Robert Provenzano, Maine (R) 847-635-0383 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Karen Yarbrough, Proviso (D) 708-344-7062 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED
Paul Froehlich , Schaumburg (R) 847-985-7827 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

For Appellate Court
Candidate Questionnaire: Appellate Court

Kathleen Kennedy, 1st - Hartigan Vacancy (D) 847-966-2719 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

Joy Virginia Cunningham, 1st - Hartigan Vacancy (D) 312-604-2738 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

Vicki Wright, 3rd - Slater Vacancy (D) 815-499-6066 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

Ann Collins-Dole, Burr Vacancy (D) 773-248-4180 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

Pamela Hill-Veal, Schiller Vacancy (D) 773-778-0889 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

Martha Mills, Travis Vacancy (D) 312-925-6549 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

For Cook Subcircuits
Candidate Questionnaire: Cook Circuit Court

Carl Anthony Walker, 1st - Crooks Vacancy (D) 312-719-8048 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

Michael Stuttley, 2nd A Vacancy (D) 708-922-3726 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

D. Ann Marie Stevenson, 4th - Varga Vacancy (D) 312-804-4959 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

Ann Collins-Dole, Burr Vacancy (D) 773-248-4180 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

Stephen Stern, 5th - Greene- Thaped Vacancy (D) 773-633-7934 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

Roman Ocasio, 6th - Jorzak Vacancy (D) 312-603-8340 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

Ken McNeil , 7th - A Vacancy (D) 773-315-5850 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

James McGing , 10th - Golniewcz Vacancy (D) 773-467-8011 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

Mary Colleen Roberts, 11th - A Vacancy (D) 708-601-6279 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

Dan Sampen, 12th - Madden Vacancy (R) 847-215-8308 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

Darrell Lavon Tarr, 15th - Nowinski Vacancy (D) 708-974-6470 [Response] IVI-IPO ENDORSED

Contact Us!

Will the real Democratic Party of Illinois please stand up? By Carlos T. Mock

Will the real Democratic Party of Illinois please stand up? By Carlos T. Mock

It started silently with the February 27, 2006 Laura Washington’s Article in the Chicago Sun Times - 'Black/brown coalition' tests political waters – She lightly mentions a coalition between Chicago Democratic Congressmen Jesse L. Jackson Jr. and Luis Gutierrez. My sources tell me that Senator Barrack Obama is also part of the coalition. Joy Cunningham and Alexi Giannoulias are their inaugural projects.

The article made little impact on me until I received a mailing “paid for by the Democratic Party” (and, by extension, me since I’ve donated to them yearly) early this week with a headline from The Herald Tribune: “Casinos, murder donations and Jack Abtramoff”. Without any logical connection other than being on the same page next to each other it goes on to say “There’s something you need to know about the company State Treasurer candidate Alexi Giannoulias keeps”.

Then, I was even more bewildered by a second mailing received today from Secretary of State Jesse White, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Comptroller Dan Hynes, Speaker of the Illinois House Mike Madigan, and Illinois Senate President Emil Jones endorsing Mangieri over Giannoulias.

My first impression was: is this for real? With the war in Iraq and the mishandling of the economy by our President, I don’t appreciate the Illinois Democratic party spending my money in this manner. I think it is a waste of money to favor one Democrat over the other when they are both well qualified. The Democratic Party will not get any more of my money; candidates I feel represent me will.

My first reaction was to go to the booth and vote early for Giannoulias and Cunningham. My second was to find out what is going on.

Sources close to the party inform me that there is a bitter war for the control of the Democratic Party in Illinois. This is a fight to the death and what we’re seeing is pure fear.

For years, Mike Madigan was the Democratic Party in Illinois. The “Machine” also included Emil Jones, Jesse White, Lisa Madigan (daughter of the speaker), Dan Hynes with later additions of Tom Tunney, alderman of the 44th Ward, and congressman Rahm Emmanuel. But, now, they are sensing a threat!

Congressmen Jesse L. Jackson Jr. and Luis Gutierrez, and Senator Barrack Obama are quietly posting these two candidates—Joy Cunningham and Alexi Giannouli—against the old Machine. They were starting slowly and hoping to be quiet about it; but the established Democratic Machine is fighting them with all they have—both hard and dirty.

So when you go to the polls on March 21, you have a chance to do more than just elect some good and qualified politicians. You have a chance to tell the Old Guard of the Democratic Party in Illinois that you are tired of “Politics as usual”.

As in the rest of the country, other Democrats like me are fed up and want new voices and choices in the Democratic Party. Jackson, Gutierrez, and Obama are the new voices. We should let them know we are listening.

NAVIGATING THE MEDICARE MAZE - Part B plus Part D equals a mess

Part B plus Part D equals a mess
Confused about new drug benefit, pharmacists and administrators stick patients with the bill

By Judith Graham, Tribune staff reporter. The Associated Press contributed to this report
Published March 15, 2006. Copyright by The Chicago Tribune

Frank Cartalino, a transplant patient, was distraught. No one could tell him why his pharmacy had suddenly billed him $500 for the drugs he needs to stay alive.

An Illinois program had covered the expense for years. Now, Cartalino had a letter saying the program had changed and he needed to get the medications through a Medicare drug plan. But the plan was refusing to pay the bill.

Cartalino called Medicare's national hot line repeatedly. He called an insurance company working with the Illinois program. He called Humana Inc., his Medicare drug plan. He called drug companies, begging to get on their financial assistance programs. No one, it seemed, was able to help.

Then, Cartalino, 42, who lives on a fixed income, undergoes dialysis three times a week, and takes drugs that prevent his body from rejecting a double organ transplant, called the Chicago Tribune.

Days of research revealed the root of his problem: Staff members working with pharmacies, insurance plans and government agencies don't really understand how Medicare's new drug benefit coordinates with other parts of the vast health program. And thousands of patients with organ transplants and other illnesses are getting caught in the middle.

On Tuesday, President Bush defended the prescription drug benefit as a good deal for seniors and taxpayers. But he acknowledged that the program had been plagued by problems in its early days.

"Anytime Washington passes a new law, sometimes the transition period can be interesting," the president said.

Interesting isn't the word senior citizen advocates use to describe it.

"It's an enormous mess. ... a real nightmare," said Jeanne Finberg, an attorney at the National Senior Citizens Law Center.

The risk, of course, is that patients won't get needed medications because of mix-ups or, like Cartalino, they'll end up paying for expensive drugs out of limited personal funds.

The government recognizes this is a serious matter, and officials have been busy clarifying policies and consulting with medical providers, pharmacists, drug plans and advocates, said Dr. Jeffrey Kelman, chief medical officer for Medicare's Center for Beneficiary Choices. It has been a learning experience, he said.

That's something of an understatement. It took more than a dozen phone calls for the Tribune to sort through the mind-numbing complexities of Medicare and figure out where things had gone wrong for Cartalino, who lives in southwest suburban Worth.

This is the issue: Two parts of Medicare, known in bureaucratese as Part B and Part D, now cover drugs. But there's no simple way to describe which program covers what drugs for which patients. As a result, some pharmacists and many customer service representatives are getting Part B and Part D mixed up.

Part B covers a limited number of medications administered primarily in doctors' offices and nursing homes. Part D covers a much broader universe of medications, including those most people take for common medical conditions. If Part B picks up the bill for a medication, Part D coverage isn't supposed to pay, to prevent double billing.

In practice, the way the Medicare programs interact is anything but straightforward, Kelman said.

Take methitrexate, a drug that can be used to treat transplant patients as well as patients with cancer or rheumatoid arthritis. Part B will pay for the medication for transplant and cancer patients, but not for people with arthritis. That falls to Part D.

Another example: Part B will pay for albuterol, a medication taken by people with asthma, when it's administered by nebulizer, a machine that sprays medicine into the mouth, in a person's home. But if a senior citizen with asthma gets albuterol through a nebulizer in a nursing home, the medication is covered by Part D. And if albuterol comes in a hand-held unit, it's also a Part D benefit.

There's more: If a patient gets a transplant while on Medicare, like Cartalino did, Part B will pay for anti-rejection medication. But if a patient wasn't on Medicare at the time, Part D will pay for the drugs.

That's part of what tripped up Cartalino and the many people who tried to answer his questions this year. But there were other factors.

The Illinois Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan, ICHIP, sent out misleading material to Cartalino and about 1,000 other disabled Medicare patients in October and December.

ICHIP is a program for state residents who can't get health insurance through traditional channels because of pre-existing medical conditions. For people like Cartalino who have Medicare, ICHIP pays for medical charges that Medicare doesn't cover in full.

Because of changes in Medicare, ICHIP informed members that it would stop paying for all prescription drugs. The letters urged people to sign up with a new Medicare drug plan so they would still get some help with medication expenses.

Nowhere did the ICHIP letters mention that the program would still pay for a limited set of drugs under Medicare Part B. (Medicare pays 80 percent of the cost of these drugs; ICHIP had been paying the remaining 20 percent.) That was explained but not highlighted in ICHIP's annual explanation of benefits.

That's the equivalent of asking someone to read the fine print buried on a drug label--no one does it.

When Cartalino got ICHIP's letter, he went shopping for a Medicare drug plan. After careful research, he decided on a Humana plan that promised to supply the medications, Prograf and Rapamune, which together cost nearly $2,500 a month.

But when it came time to fill his anti-rejection prescriptions, Cartalino learned that the Humana plan wouldn't authorize payment because the drugs were deemed a Part B, not a Part D, benefit.

Cartalino, a former printer who lives alone on a fixed monthly income of $2,000, scrambled to find almost $500--the monthly amount ICHIP had been paying previously for the medications. Then he began working the phones, but no one could answer his questions.

Poor training of customer service representatives at every level appears to be a real problem. Each time Cartalino called, he reached people who didn't understand his situation or who didn't know how to help him.

A Tribune reporter encountered the same difficulties. Medicare, drug plan, and ICHIP officials all say they've worked hard on training customer service staff.

With the intervention of Robert Herskovitz, a Chicago Medicare official, Cartalino finally learned that ICHIP would cover his transplant drugs after all. It had been in the policy all along, though materials didn't make that clear.

The good news in all this is that Medicare's new drug benefit, Part D, fills an important gap for seniors who have had transplants but no way previously of paying for drugs for conditions such as high cholesterol or hypertension.

Cartalino is now getting his anti-rejection medications without any problem after weeks of getting the runaround.

"Thank God," he said. "Without this help, I just couldn't have made it."