Sunday, December 31, 2006

Fantasy-league New Year's Resolutions for George W. Bush

Enjoy this bit of New Year's humor from John Seery of The Huffington Post.

And this "New Year's Advice To Rescue The Bush Presidency" from Bob Cesca.

And have a very Happy, Peaceful New Year!

One Suggestion for Kristof: Don't Waste Your Breath on Bush

Especially worrying about his "legacy." It's already written: "Worst President Ever." And, rest assured; nothing will change that. Because Bush is as incapable of change as he is of leading this nation responsibly, honestly, or morally.

So give it up, Nick. Save your breath. And start supporting the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney. If Gerald Ford hadn't pardoned Richard Nixon for his crimes, if we demanded that politicians took responsibility for their actions and paid a price for breaking the law (like everyone else) -- maybe, just maybe, Presidents and politicians would think twice before they committed crimes against this country and humanity and we wouldn't find ourselves mired in this God-awful mess.

Ten Suggestions for Rescuing the Bush Legacy
By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times
Particularly after all the tributes to Gerald Ford in the last few days, President Bush may be pondering his own legacy and obituary. Sorry, Mr. Bush, but it doesn’t look good right now, with your obit perhaps beginning something like this:

“George W. Bush, who achieved tremendous acclaim for his handling of the 9/11 terror attacks but left office vilified and disgraced, mired in the Iraq war and stalemated at home, his hard-line partisan tactics souring the electorate and crippling his beloved Republican Party for a generation, died. ...”

But Mr. Bush, your plight isn’t hopeless. In the holiday spirit, let me offer you 10 suggestions for what you can do in 2007 to try to rescue your legacy.

First, seriously engage Iraq’s nastier neighbors, including Iran and Syria, and renounce permanent military bases in Iraq. None of that will solve the mess in Iraq. But these steps will suggest that you are belatedly trying to listen and are willing to give diplomacy a chance. They may also help at the margins: renouncing bases is a simple move that has no downside and will make it harder for Iraqi militants to argue that Americans are just out to steal Iraqi oil and grab military bases.

Second, start an intensive effort to bring peace to the Middle East. Work with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to flesh out his peace proposals. And vigorously back the Geneva Accord approach to an Israeli-Palestinian peace, since everybody knows that is what a final peace deal will look like. Frankly, it seems unlikely that peace is going to break out anytime soon in the Middle East, but there is a huge dividend for America’s image if we at least try.

Third, confront the genocide in Darfur. President Bill Clinton has said that the biggest regret of his administration is not responding to the Rwandan genocide, and someday you — and your biographers — will rue your lame response to Darfur. For starters, how about inviting the leaders of Britain, France, China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to travel with you to Darfur and Chad to see firsthand the women who have been mutilated and raped, the men whose eyes have been gouged out? Follow that up with a no-fly zone, an international force to prop up Chad and the Central African Republic, and a major push for an internal peace among Darfur tribes.

Fourth, encourage Dick Cheney to look pale in public. Then he can resign on health grounds, and you can appoint Condi Rice or Bob Gates to take his place. Mr. Cheney has been the single worst influence on your foreign policy, as well as the most polarizing figure in your administration. There’s no better move you could make to signal a new beginning than to accept Mr. Cheney’s resignation.

Fifth, revive the theme of compassionate conservatism by extending your excellent five-year AIDS program (while not being so squeamish about condoms in the future). And above all, work with Europe to promote incentives for business investment in Africa, modeled after the African Growth and Opportunity Act program. The best hope to raise Africa’s standard of living is to nurture factories manufacturing clothing, shoes and toys for export.

Sixth, address climate change. Nobody expects you to be an Al Gore, but you sully America’s image when you run away from any serious attempt to curb carbon emissions.

Seventh, put aside those thoughts of a military strike on Iranian nuclear sites, and make it clear to Israel that we oppose it conducting such an attack. A strike would set back Iran’s nuclear programs by only five years or so, but it would consolidate hard-line rule there for at least 25 years.

Eighth, instead of giving up on Social Security, revive the reform proposals that President Clinton urged in 1999. That does mean bringing the budget back into black ink, which will mean phasing out some tax cuts for the wealthy.

Ninth, address our disgraceful inequities in health care. You could push for comprehensive coverage for children up to age 5 (as President Jimmy Carter tried to achieve a generation ago), and for almost zero cost you could mount a public health campaign to tackle obesity in children. Mike Huckabee, the Republican governor of Arkansas, has shown how state governments can fight diabetes and obesity, and you should take his approach nationwide.

Tenth, don’t toss this newspaper to the floor and curse the press for your unpopularity. Instead, borrow from your playbook after you lost the New Hampshire primary in 2000 — grit your teeth, retool and steal ideas from your critics and rivals. It worked then, and it just might help in 2007.

See Earlier Kristof Post & Comment:

The Unknown Candidate: Redeeming King George?

Photo credit: Nicholas Kristof. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ramsey Clark reacts to the execution of Saddam Hussein

"A tragic assault on truth and justice."

(3 Minute Video)
Trouble viewing this video? Click Here.

Related Articles:

  • And the Empire Mourned ...
    Jason Miller writes, "In the wake of the United States’ recent facilitation of Saddam Hussein’s hanging, we in the self-proclaimed “bastion of human rights” are in the midst of six days of mourning for a man would have swung from the gallows long ago had he been judged by the same standards as Saddam...."
  • Saddam: The death of a dictator |
    Juan Cole reports: "Through the bumbling of the U.S.-backed regime, justice becomes revenge, and a despot becomes a martyr...."
  • Saddam: The questions that will live on:
    ""It takes remarkable obedience to authority to believe that the US would have 'liberated' Iraq - or taken revenge - if its main exports were lettuce and pickles, and the major petroleum resources were in the South Pacific."
  • Arab haj pilgrims outraged at Saddam execution:
    "Arab pilgrims in Mecca expressed outrage on Saturday that Iraqi authorities had chosen to execute former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on a major religious holiday, saying it was an insult to Muslims.... The death could harden hatred for Shi'ite Muslims in Saudi Arabia, a bastion of Sunni Islam whose Islamic orthodoxy -- known as Wahhabism -- regards Shi'ites as virtual heretics."
  • Hanging Saddam"barbaric" says top EU official:
    "Hanging former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was 'barbaric' and may turn him into a martyr, the European Union's aid and development Commissioner said."
  • Libya declares national mourning for Saddam:
    "LIBYA declared three days of national mourning today after the execution of Iraqi ex-president Saddam Hussein who had been a 'prisoner of war,' official media said."
  • What's Good for Saddam May Be Good for Mubarak or the Saudi Royals: Saddam at the End of a Rope:
    Tariq Ali: "It was symbolic that 2006 ended with a colonial hanging--- most of it (bar the last moments) shown on state television in occupied Iraq. It has been that sort of year in the Arab world. After a trial so blatantly rigged that even Human Rights Watch---the largest single unit of the US Human Rights industry--- had to condemn it as a total travesty. Judges were changed on Washington's orders; defense lawyers were killed and the whole procedure resembled a well-orchestrated lynch mob. Where Nuremberg was a more dignified application of victor's justice, Saddam's trial has, till now, been the crudest and most grotesque. The Great Thinker President's reference to it 'as a milestone on the road to Iraqi democracy' as clear an indication as any that Washington pressed the trigger....

    That Saddam was a tyrant is beyond dispute, but what is conveniently forgotten is that most of his crimes were committed when he was a staunch ally of those
    who now occupy the country. It was, as he admitted in one of his trial outbursts, the approval of Washington (and the poison gas supplied by West Germany) that gave him the confidence to douse Halabja with chemicals in the midst of the Iran-Iraq war. He deserved a proper trial and punishment in an independent Iraq. Not this. The double standards applied by the West never cease to astonish. Indonesia's Suharto who presided over a mountain of corpses (At least a million to accept the lowest figure) was protected by Washington. He never annoyed them as much as Saddam.

    And what of those who have created the mess in Iraq today? The torturers of Abu Ghraib; the pitiless butchers of Fallujah; the ethnic cleansers of Baghdad the Kurdish prison boss who boasts that his model is Guantanamo. Will Bush and Blair ever be tried for war crimes? Doubtful. And Aznar, currently employed as a lecturer at Georgetown University in Washington, DC , where the language of instruction is English of which he doesn't speak a word. His reward is a
    punishment for the students.

    Saddam's hanging might send a shiver through the collective, if artificial, spine of the Arab ruling elites. If Saddam can be hanged, so can Mubarak, or the Hashemite joker in Amman or the Saudi royals, as long as those who topple them are happy to play ball with Washington."
  • Official: Lack of Afghan war crime trials shows 'double standard':
    "KABUL, Afghanistan: An Afghan official said Saturday that Saddam Hussein's trial and execution show a double standard in the international community, as no one in Afghanistan has been prosecuted for atrocities from the country's 25 years of war."

American Injustice: A dictator created then destroyed by America

Robert Fisk revisits the circumstances that resulted in Saddam Hussein's rise to power and asks:
"Who encouraged Saddam to invade Iran in 1980, which was the greatest war crime he has committed for it led to the deaths of a million and a half souls? And who sold him the components for the chemical weapons with which he drenched Iran and the Kurds? We did. No wonder the Americans, who controlled Saddam's weird trial, forbad any mention of this, his most obscene atrocity, in the charges against him. Could he not have been handed over to the Iranians for sentencing for this massive war crime? Of course not. Because that would also expose our culpability."
Read more.

Photo Credit: Robert Fisk during a lecture at Carleton University, Canada. (Wikipedia

Also See:

More Troops Down On War

Robert Hodierne, Senior Managing Editor of the Army Times, reports that, according to a new poll, increasingly more troops are unhappy with Bush'�s course in Iraq.

The American military - once a staunch supporter of President Bush and the Iraq war - has grown increasingly pessimistic about chances for victory, according to the 2006 Military Times Poll.

For the first time, more troops disapprove of the president's handling of the war than approve of it. Barely one-third of service members approve of the way the president is handling the war...."

Read more.

Photo credit: Robert Hodierne. (

Also See:

Friday, December 29, 2006

Global Warming Heats Up

Giant ice island breaks off Arctic shelf:
"An ice island the size of a small city is adrift in the Arctic after breaking free from one of Canada's largest ice shelves, scientists said today.The ice island is 37 metres (120ft) thick and measures 9 miles by 3 miles, according to the CanWest News Service. It broke clear from Ellesmere island, about 500 miles south of the North Pole, 16 months ago, triggering tremors so powerful they were picked up by earthquake monitors 155 miles away....

The island was part of the Ayles ice shelf, one of six major ice shelves in Canada's Arctic. Scientists believe the shelf's break-up - the largest of its kind in the Canadian Artic in 30 years - is the result of global warming.

The Artic expert Warwick Vincent, of Laval University in Quebec, said he had never seen such a dramatic loss of sea ice and suggested the break-up indicated that climate change was accelerating.

Dr Vincent, who has travelled to the ice island, said yesterday: 'This is a dramatic and disturbing event. It shows that we are losing remarkable features of the Canadian North that have been in place for many thousands of years. We are crossing climate thresholds, and these may signal the onset of accelerated change ahead....

'What surprised us was how quickly it happened,' he said. 'It's pretty alarming. Even 10 years ago scientists assumed that when global warming changes occur that it would happen gradually so that perhaps we expected these ice shelves just to melt away quite slowly, but the big surprise is that, for one they are going, but secondly, that when they do go, they just go suddenly, it's all at once, in a span of an hour.'"

Related Articles:

  • Review of the year: Global warming
    Our worst fears are exceeded by reality:
    "The signs during the past 12 months have been all around us. Little winter snow in the Alpine ski resorts, continuing droughts in Africa, mountain glaciers melting faster than at any time in the past 5,000 years, disappearing Arctic sea ice, Greenland's ice sheet sliding into the sea... 2006 will be remembered by climatologists as the year in which the potential scale of global warming came into focus," writes Steve Connor.


CNN is reporting that Saddam Hussein was executed minutes ago. The New York Times has the story.


Technorati tags: , ,

Now, the Middle East gets interesting.

"What has been done in our name? God help us."

Photo Credit: CSS-2 (

Bush: #1 Villain

Poll: Bush, Britney Get Thumbs-Down:
In an AP-AOL News poll, "Bush won the villain sweepstakes by a landslide, with one in four respondents putting him at the top of that bad-guy list. When people were asked to name the candidate for villain that first came to mind, Bush far outdistanced even Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader in hiding; and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who is scheduled for execution."
Technorati tags: , , , , ,

My Thoughts on Saddam ...

... haven't changed since I wrote this post back on November 28th, 2005.

The US sponsored rush to judgement and execution by hanging of Saddam Hussein is another missed opportunity to put a compassionate face on what it means to be a democracy. Instead, we sink to ever lower levels of violence and killing.

Should Saddam be put to death by hanging, whether during a holy Muslim holiday or not, we should all be ashamed of the barbaric example we are setting for the rest of the world.

Also See:

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Lie in 1994

A Failed Revolution
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
After first attempting to deny the scale of last month’s defeat, the apologists have settled on a story line that sounds just like Marxist explanations for the failure of the Soviet Union. What happened, you see, was that the noble ideals of the Republican revolution of 1994 were undermined by Washington’s corrupting ways. And the recent defeat was a good thing, because it will force a return to the true conservative path.

But the truth is that the movement that took power in 1994 — a movement that had little to do with true conservatism — was always based on a lie.

The lie is right there in “The Freedom Revolution,” the book that Dick Armey, who had just become the House majority leader, published in 1995. He declares that most government programs don’t do anything “to help American families with the needs of everyday life,” and that “very few American families would notice their disappearance.” He goes on to assert that “there is no reason we cannot, by the time our children come of age, reduce the federal government by half as a percentage of gross domestic product.”

Right. Somehow, I think more than a few families would notice the disappearance of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and those three programs alone account for a majority of nondefense, noninterest spending. The truth is that the government delivers services and security that people want. Yes, there’s some waste — just as there is in any large organization. But there are no big programs that are easy to cut.

As long as people like Mr. Armey, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay were out of power, they could run on promises to eliminate vast government waste that existed only in the public’s imagination — all those welfare queens driving Cadillacs. But once in power, they couldn’t deliver.

That’s why government by the radical right has been an utter failure even on its own terms: the government hasn’t shrunk. Federal outlays other than interest payments and defense spending are a higher percentage of G.D.P. today than they were when Mr. Armey wrote his book: 14.8 percent in fiscal 2006, compared with 13.8 percent in fiscal 1995.

Unable to make good on its promises, the G.O.P., like other failed revolutionary movements, tried to maintain its grip by exploiting its position of power. Friends were rewarded with patronage: Jack Abramoff began building his web of corruption almost as soon as Republicans took control. Adversaries were harassed with smear campaigns and witch hunts: Congress spent six years and many millions of dollars investigating a failed land deal, and Bill Clinton was impeached over a consensual affair.

But it wasn’t enough. Without 9/11, the Republican revolution would probably have petered out quietly, with the loss of Congress in 2002 and the White House in 2004. Instead, the atrocity created a window of opportunity: four extra years gained by drowning out unfavorable news with terror alerts, starting a gratuitous war, and accusing Democrats of being weak on national security.

Yet the Bush administration failed to convert this electoral success into progress on a right-wing domestic agenda. The collapse of the push to privatize Social Security recapitulated the failure of the Republican revolution as a whole. Once the administration was forced to get specific about the details, it became obvious that private accounts couldn’t produce something for nothing, and the public’s support vanished.

In the end, Republicans didn’t shrink the government. But they did degrade it. Baghdad and New Orleans are the arrival destinations of a movement based on deep contempt for governance.

Is that the end for the radical right? Probably not. As a long-suffering civil servant once told me, bad policy ideas are like cockroaches: you can flush them down the toilet, but they keep coming back. Many of the ideas that failed in the Bush years had previously failed in the Reagan years. So there’s no reason to assume they’re gone for good.

Indeed, it appears that loss of power and the ensuing lack of accountability is liberating right-wingers to lie yet again: since last month’s election, I’ve noticed a number of Social Security privatizers propounding the same free-lunch falsehoods that the Bush administration had to abandon in the face of demands that it present an actual plan.

Still, the Republican revolution of 1994 is over. And not a moment too soon.

Photo Credit: Paul Krugman. (The New York Times)

Also See:

  • Under-the-Rug Oversight:
    "The American public deserves a fuller and more open review of the National Security Agencyís illegal eavesdropping program than it has been getting from its toothless watchdog."
  • The Rush to Hang Saddam Hussein:
    "Toppling Saddam Hussein did not automatically create a new and better Iraq. Executing him won't either.
  • An Early Test for Lawmakers
    Depriving children of adequate health care while giving the rich tax benefits that were intended for average Americans is flat-out wrong. The new Democratic-controlled Congress must move quickly to prevent that.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Lessons Ignored, or ...

Lessons Never Learned
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times
It would not be easy to find two men more different than Gerald Ford and James Brown. But I had a similar reaction to each of their deaths — a feeling of disappointment at some of the routes the nation has traveled since their days of greatest prominence.

Both men were important figures, symbolically more than substantively, at crucial periods in postwar American history — Mr. Brown at the crest of the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s and Mr. Ford in the trough of the “long national nightmare” of Watergate.

Both were unlikely harbingers of the new. Mr. Brown, with his gleaming (and anachronistic) pompadour, became the very embodiment of black pride, a troubadour exhorting his followers to “Say it Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” at a time when schoolhouse doors were opening and unprecedented opportunities were beckoning to black Americans after centuries of almost unimaginable degradation.

Mr. Ford was more than just the designated healer after Watergate. The U.S. was also in the final throes of the long national nightmare of Vietnam. And it was stuck in a protracted energy crisis. The nation was looking for a way forward.

My disappointment stems from the opportunities never seized and the lessons never learned from those two periods, which were all but bursting with possibilities.

Mr. Brown’s message was relentlessly upbeat and optimistic. Despite the continuing plague of racism, there were dreams in the 1960s of fabulous days ahead for black Americans, days in which the stereotypes and degradation of the past would be erased by a new era of educational, professional and cultural achievement.

Those dreams did not include visions of an enormous economically disadvantaged population that would continue to live in poverty, or near-poverty, more than 40 years later; or a perennially ragged public school system, largely segregated in fact, if not by law, that would turn out generation after generation of educationally deprived children; or a black prison population so vast and so enduring it would come to seem normal to legions of black youngsters, actually dictating to a great extent their tastes in fashion, art and music; or a level of sustained violence that has condemned thousands upon thousands of black youngsters to an early grave.

Oh, there have been plenty of strides since the mid-1960s. That’s undeniable. But one would have to be blind not to notice that there is much cause for disappointment, as well.

James Farmer, who helped create the Congress of Racial Equality on Gandhian principles of nonviolence, once told me that even as the civil rights movement was racking up its stunning successes, its leaders made a grave error.

“We did not do any long-range planning,” he said. “So we were stuck without a program after the success of our efforts, which included passage of a civil rights bill and voting rights legislation. We could have anticipated the backlash that followed. We could have asked ourselves what the jobs prospects would be for blacks in the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s, and later on. By and large we didn’t do that, except for affirmative action. We should have had a plan.”

It would be foolish to suggest that the United States as a whole hasn’t made tremendous progress since the 1960s and ’70s. But it’s impossible to reflect on the presidency of Gerald Ford, who formally ended U.S. participation in the war in Vietnam, and fail to notice that his defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and chief of staff, Dick Cheney, were among the chief architects of the current calamity in Iraq. There were lessons galore to be learned from Vietnam. But Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Cheney, like frat boys skipping an important lecture, managed to ignore them.

The trauma of the 1973 oil embargo actually spooked the country into action on the energy front. Fuel economy standards for automobiles were ratcheted up and improvements were made in the energy efficiency of refrigerators, air-conditioners and other household appliances. But those successful early efforts, instead of being strengthened, were undermined by the conservative political tide of the past several years.

Now we’re confronted with the dire threat of global warming, and as usual there is no plan.

If history tells us anything, it’s that we never learn from history. We could have stepped back from the war in Iraq, and stepped up to the challenge of global warming. We could have learned something when James Brown was on the charts and Gerald Ford was in the White House.

Maybe next time.

Photo Credit: Bob Herbert. (The New York Times)

Unlike George Bush ...

God Did Not Anoint Me ...

To speak for him

To wage wars in the name of greed

To decide who is worthy of marriage and who is not

To arm citizens with assault weapons

To give to the rich and rob from the poor

To forsake the people of New Orleans

To decide which religion should reign supreme

To destroy the environment

To lie to the American people

To decide life and death

To sacrifice someone else's child for unethical ends

To control women's bodies

To stand by and watch genocide in Sudan

To impose democracy or any other government on a sovereign state

To renounce those who disagree with me

To kill and maim people for political ends

To plot assassinations of leaders in other lands

To covet money and power at the expense of others

To deny medical attention to any person in need

To discriminate against those different from myself

To promote hatred

To illegally spy on my fellow citizens

To stifle debate

To give unfair favors to those who pay me for them

To play with the lives of others for politics

To use fear to manipulate people to act against their own interests

To ignore the Constitution and abuse my power

To condone torture and rendition

To intimidate and smear my political opponents in any way I can

To subvert free speech and control the media

To ignore laws enacted by Congress

To rig elections here and elsewhere

To allow children or adults to starve to death

To deny equal education to all

To pursue agendas at odds with the will of the people

To create my own "reality" by manipulating the truth

To promote wars in the name of peace ...

Unlike George Bush,
I was not anointed by God
To speak for Him.

I am but one person
Trying to respect the beliefs of others,
Aspiring to live by the Ten Commandments
As best I can,
Imperfect as I am,

Struggling to admit my mistakes,
Vowing not to make them again,
And promising to try harder
To be a better person --
Who does unto others
As I would have them do unto me.

George Bush, despite his delusions,
Was not anointed by God,
Who watches him from the Heavens,
Sees all,
And will not forget his deeds.

How long will we continue to watch and choose to forget?

How many more will we allow to die
For our lack of courage to say, "No More."

How many more will we allow to die
Before we demand that Congress
Stop funding an illegal War of Aggression
And bring our men and women back home to their families?

How many more are you willing to let die?


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

... And Peace in the New Year!

--The Unknown Candidate

The War on Poverty, British Style

The Krug Man looks to the Brits for how Government can -- when there is the will -- do good. Obviously, that will does not exist in Bush's America.

Helping the Poor, the British Way
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
It’s the season for charitable giving. And far too many Americans, particularly children, need that charity.

Scenes of a devastated New Orleans reminded us that many of our fellow citizens remain poor, four decades after L.B.J. declared war on poverty. But I’m not sure whether people understand how little progress we’ve made. In 1969, fewer than one in every seven American children lived below the poverty line. Last year, although the country was far wealthier, more than one in every six American children were poor.

And there’s no excuse for our lack of progress. Just look at what the British government has accomplished over the last decade.

Although Tony Blair has been President Bush’s obedient manservant when it comes to Iraq, Mr. Blair’s domestic policies are nothing like Mr. Bush’s. Where Mr. Bush has sought to privatize the social safety net, Mr. Blair’s Labor government has defended and strengthened it. Where Mr. Bush and his allies accuse anyone who mentions income distribution of “class warfare,” the Blair government has made a major effort to reverse the surge in inequality and poverty that took place during the Thatcher years.

And Britain’s poverty rate, if measured American-style — that is, in terms of a fixed poverty line, not a moving target that rises as the nation grows richer — has been cut in half since Labor came to power in 1997.

Britain’s war on poverty has been led by Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer and Mr. Blair’s heir apparent. There’s nothing exotic about his policies, many of which are inspired by American models. But in Britain, these policies are carried out with much more determination.

For example, Britain didn’t have a minimum wage until 1999 — but at current exchange rates Britain’s minimum wage rate is now about twice as high as ours. Britain’s child benefit is more generous than America’s child tax credit, and it’s available to everyone, even those too poor to pay income taxes. Britain’s tax credit for low-wage workers is similar to the U.S. earned-income tax credit, but substantially larger.

And don’t forget that Britain’s universal health care system ensures that no one has to fear going without medical care or being bankrupted by doctors’ bills.

The Blair government hasn’t achieved all its domestic goals. Income inequality has been stabilized but not substantially reduced: as in America, the richest 1 percent have pulled away from everyone else, though not to the same extent. The decline in child poverty, though impressive, has fallen short of the government’s ambitious goals. And the government’s policies don’t seem to have helped a persistent underclass of the very poor.

But there’s no denying that the Blair government has done a lot for Britain’s have-nots. Modern Britain isn’t paradise on earth, but the Blair government has ensured that substantially fewer people are living in economic hell. Providing a strong social safety net requires a higher overall rate of taxation than Americans are accustomed to, but Britain’s tax burden hasn’t undermined the economy’s growth.

What are the lessons to be learned from across the pond?

First, government truly can be a force for good. Decades of propaganda have conditioned many Americans to assume that government is always incompetent — and the current administration has done its best to turn that into a self-fulfilling prophecy. But the Blair years have shown that a government that seriously tries to reduce poverty can achieve a lot.

Second, it really helps to have politicians who are serious about governing, rather than devoting themselves entirely to amassing power and rewarding cronies.

While researching this article, I was startled by the sheer rationality of British policy discussion, as compared with the cynical posturing that passes for policy discourse in George Bush’s America. Instead of making grandiose promises that are quickly forgotten — like Mr. Bush’s promise of “bold action” to confront poverty after Hurricane Katrina — British Labor politicians propose specific policies with well-defined goals. And when actual results fall short of those goals, they face the facts rather than trying to suppress them and sliming the critics.

The moral of my Christmas story is that fighting poverty isn’t easy, but it can be done. Giving in to cynicism and accepting the persistence of widespread poverty even as the rich get ever richer is a choice that our politicians have made. And we should be ashamed of that choice.

Photo Credit: Paul Krugman. (The New York Times)

It's No Christmas in New Orleans

The Ninth Ward Revisited
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times
Spike Lee, who has made a stunning six-hour documentary about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, was telling me the other day about his first visit to the city’s Lower Ninth Ward, which was annihilated by the flood that followed the storm.

After more than a year his voice was still filled with a sense of horrified wonder. “To see it with your own eyes,” he said, “and you’re doing a 360-degree turn, and you see nothing but devastation .... I wasn’t born until 1957 but I automatically thought about Hiroshima or Nagasaki or Berlin after the war.

“It looked like someone had dropped a nuclear bomb. It was all brown, and there was the smell, the stench. It was horrible.”

His words echoed the comments of a woman I had met on a recent trip to New Orleans. She remembered standing in the Ninth Ward after the waters had receded. “Everything was covered in brown crud,” she said. “There was nothing living. No birds. No dogs. There was no sound. And none of the fragrance that’s usually associated with New Orleans, like jasmine and gardenias and sweet olives. It was just a ruin, all death and destruction.”

Said Mr. Lee: “You couldn’t believe that this was the United States of America.”

The film, which was produced by HBO and has been released in a boxed set of DVDs, is called “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.” It’s Mr. Lee’s best work, an informative, infuriating and heartbreaking record of a cataclysmic historical event — the loss of a great American city.

What boggles the mind now is the way the nation seems to be taking this loss in stride. Much of New Orleans is still a ruin. More than half of its population is gone and an enormous percentage of the people who are still in town are suffering.

As Mr. Lee noted, the public face of the city is to some extent a deceptive feel-good story. The Superdome, a chamber of horrors during the flood, has been made new again. And the city’s football team, the Saints, has turned its fortunes around and is sprinting into the National Football League playoffs. (They beat the Giants in New York yesterday, 30-7.)

“They spent the money on the Superdome, and you can get drunk in the French Quarter again, and some of the conventions are coming back,” Mr. Lee said, “so people are trying to say that everything’s O.K. But that’s a lie.

“They need to stop this focus on downtown and the Superdome because it does a disservice to all those people who are still in very deep trouble. They need to get the cameras out of the French Quarter and go to New Orleans East, or the Lower Ninth Ward. Or go to St. Bernard Parish. You’ll see that everything is not O.K. Far from it.”

Vast acreages of ruined homes and staggering amounts of garbage and filth still burden the city. Scores of thousands of people remain jobless and homeless. The public schools that are open, for the most part, are a scandal. And the mental health situation, for the people in New Orleans and the evacuees scattered across the rest of the U.S., is yet another burgeoning tragedy.

There’s actually a fifth act, only recently completed, to “When the Levees Broke,” in which a number of people reflect on what has been happening since the storm. Wynton Marsalis, ordinarily the mildest of individuals, looks into the camera with an expression of anger and deep disgust. “What is the government doing?” he asks. “They’re trying to figure out how to hand out contracts. How to lower the minimum wage so the subcontractors can make all the money. Steal money from me and you, man. We’re paying taxes, you understand what I’m saying?”

For most of America, Katrina is an old story. In Mr. Lee’s words, people are suffering from “Katrina fatigue.” They’re not much interested in how the levees have only been patched up to pre-Katrina levels of safety, or how the insurance companies have ripped off thousands upon thousands of hard-working homeowners who are now destitute, or how, as USA Today reported, “One $7.5 billion Louisiana program to help people rebuild or relocate has put money in the hands of just 87 of the 89,403 homeowners who applied.”

There are other matters vying for attention. The war in Iraq is going badly. Donald Trump and Rosie O’Donnell are feuding. And, after all, it’s Christmas.

“You know how Americans are,” Mr. Lee said. “We’re on to the next thing.”

Photo Credit: Bob Herbert. (The New York Times)

Begin withdrawing, redeploying troops now

By (Senator) Christopher Dodd
Special to the Des Moines Register
The time has come for the United States to begin the process of getting our troops out of Iraq.

In Baghdad last week, I joined in a conversation with a West Point graduate who is serving in Iraq. He said, "Senator, it is nuts over here. Soldiers are being asked to do work we're not trained to do. I'm doing work that State Department people are far more prepared to do in fostering democracy, but they're not allowed to come off the bases because it's too dangerous here. It doesn't make any sense."

After spending six days in the Middle East last week - which included visits with the top leaders in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel - it's hard not to come to the same conclusion: Our strategy in Iraq makes no sense. It never really did. It is as bad in person as it appears on television. There are literally dozens of sects, militias, gangs, warlords, foreign terrorists and others killing one another for dozens of reasons in Iraq today, and American troops are caught in the crossfire.

Our brave men and women have done everything asked of them with great courage and honor, but searching for military solutions in Iraq today is a fool's errand. True peace and security in Iraq will not come at the end of an American gun. It will only happen to the degree that Iraq's leaders are willing to take responsibility for governing their own country and securing their own future. America's position should be clear: Iraqis must show they want a country now, or American troops should begin to withdraw.

The good news is that Iraq has leaders who can make a difference. The bad news is that the Iraqi government feels no sense of urgency. I met with the Iraqi president, prime minister and minister of defense last week - my third such visit to Iraq - and once again, I didn't hear Iraq's leaders speak of any timetable for when they will take over. As long as America is there, they can defer responsibility.

The proposal being considered by the administration to add between 15,000 and 30,000 soldiers in a "surge" of American troops will do nothing to address this issue. If anything, "surge" is a tactic in search of a strategy. How does it lead to victory? It won't solve any problems; it won't force the hands of Iraq's leaders; at best, it will simply be one more reason for delay - a delay that will be paid with American blood. That's a price our troops and our nation shouldn't be asked to pay any longer.

Instead, the president should announce in January that we will begin withdrawing and redeploying our troops - to the Syrian border, to stop the flow of terrorists; to the north of Iraq, to better train Iraqi security forces; to Qatar, to form a quick-strike force if necessary to defend our vital interests; to Afghanistan, to resume the hunt for Osama bin Laden; and for those who have already over-extended their tour of duty by one or two years - home. If the Iraqis don't demonstrate the political will to unite, we should begin this process - in consultation with our military leadership - of reducing troop levels within weeks, not months.

We should then undertake a new American policy of intense diplomatic and political engagement with the entire Middle East.

The war in Iraq has lasted longer than our involvement in World War II and left nearly 3,000 Americans dead. If continuing this sacrifice held the promise of achieving American goals, I would support it. But our presence there has become a barrier to our goals. American troops have demonstrated the courage to fight. Now, Iraq's leaders must summon the will to lead. It's the only solution that makes sense.

Sen. CHRISTOPHER J. DODD is a Democrat from Connecticut.

Photo Credit: Chris Dodd. (

Fighting Brothels With Books

By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times
PAILIN, Cambodia

Three years ago, I purchased two teenage girls from the Cambodian brothels that enslaved them and returned them to their families. Plenty of readers promptly wrote to say: “Buy one for me, too.”

Those readers had honorable intentions (I think) and simply wanted to do something concrete to confront global poverty and sex trafficking. But buying enslaved girls isn’t a general solution — partly because it raises the market price and increases the incentive to kidnap other girls and sell them to brothels.

I’m still in touch with the two girls and visited them on this trip (video of them is at; one is back in the brothel, and the other is now married and pregnant with her first child in her village. They are wonderful young women and powerful reminders of the need to do more to address human trafficking — but the conventional tools to do so are wrenchingly inadequate.

So in this holiday season let me share the (happy!) story of a group of kids who have found a way — from Washington State, no less — to fight illiteracy and sex trafficking here in this remote and squalid town of Pailin in western Cambodia.

I stumbled across their effort by chance as I visited an elementary school here that bore an English sign with the name “Overlake School.” Rural Cambodian schools normally are dilapidated and bare, but astonishingly this one had an English teacher who ushered me into a classroom in which sixth-grade students were pecking away at computers connected to a satellite dish.

“Many of my students have e-mail addresses,” said the teacher, Tay Khy. “They e-mail students in America.”

This remarkable scene — barefoot students with Yahoo accounts — came to pass because Francisco Grijalva, principal of the Overlake School in Redmond, Wash., read about an aid group called American Assistance for Cambodia ( that builds schools in rural Cambodia. He proposed that his 450 students, in grades five through 12, sponsor construction of an elementary school in Cambodia.

The students responded enthusiastically. They held bake sales and talent shows and gathered the $15,500 necessary to build a school.

In 2003, Mr. Grijalva led a delegation of 19 from his school for the opening of the one in Cambodia. Overwhelmed by the experience, the American students then decided to sponsor an English teacher and an e-mail system for the school. This year, a dozen of the American students came to teach English to the Cambodian pupils.

Kun Sokkea, a sixth grader at the Cambodian school, keeps a picture that the Americans gave her of their school and marvels at its otherworldly beauty. She inhabits a world that few American pupils could envision: Her father died of AIDS, her mother is now dying as well, she has never been to a dentist and she has just one shirt that she can wear to school.

She led me to her home, a rickety wooden shack with no electricity or plumbing. Kun Sokkea fetches drinking water from the local creek — where she also washes her clothes. When I asked if she ever drank milk, she said doubtfully that she used to — as a baby, from her mother.

Neither of her parents ever had even a year of schooling, and if it hadn’t been for the American students, she wouldn’t have had much either. That would have made her vulnerable to traffickers, who prey on illiterate girls from the villages.

Building schools doesn’t solve the immediate problem of girls currently enslaved inside brothels — that requires more rigorous law enforcement, crackdowns on corruption and outspoken diplomacy (it would help if President Bush spotlighted the issue in his State of the Union address). But in the long run no investment in poor countries gets more bang for the buck than educating girls. Literate girls not only are in less danger of being trafficked, but later they have fewer children, care for their children better and are much better able to earn a decent living.

Meanwhile, the Americans insist that they have benefited just as much from the relationship. “After going to Cambodia, my plans for the future have changed,” said Natalie Hammerquist, a 17-year-old who regularly e-mails two Cambodian students. “This year I’m taking three foreign languages, and I plan on picking up more in college.”

As for Mr. Grijalva, he says: “This project is simply the most meaningful and worthwhile initiative I have undertaken in my 36 years in education.”

Photo Credit: Nicholas Kristof. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Escape. Distract. Divert.

Yes, You Are the Person of the Year!
By Frank Rich
The New York Times
TIME’S choice for 2006 Person of the Year — “You” — was a bountiful gift of mirth to America, second only to the championship Donald Trump-Rosie O’Donnell bout as a comic kickoff to the holiday season. The magazine’s cover stunt, a computer screen of Mylar reflecting the reader’s own image, was so hokey that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert merely had to display it on camera to score laughs. The magazine’s disingenuous rationale for bestowing its yearly honor on its readers was like a big wet kiss from a distant relative who creeps you out.

According to Time, “You” deserve to be Person of the Year because you — “yes, you,” as the cover puts it — “control the Information Age” and spend a lot of time watching YouTube and blogging instead of, well, reading dead-tree media like Time. The pronouncements ginned up to inflate this theme include the observation that “Thomas Paine was in effect the first blogger” (which presumably makes the Old Testament in effect the first Facebook). The desperation of Time to appear relevant and hip — “fantastically cutting-edge and New Media,” as Nora Ephron put it in a hilarious essay for The Huffington Post — was embarrassing in its nakedness.

And sad. This editorial pratfall struck me, once a proud Time staff member, as a sign that my journalistic alma mater might go the way of the old Life. Like Time today, Life in the late 1960s was a middle-of-the-road publishing fixture sent into an identity crisis by the cultural revolution that coincided with a calamitous war. The fabled weekly finally shut down in 1972, the year Rolling Stone celebrated its fifth anniversary.

Let’s hope publishing history doesn’t repeat itself. So in Time’s defense, let me say that the more I reflected on its 2006 Person of the Year — or perhaps the more that Mylar cover reflected back at me — the more I realized that the magazine wasn’t as out of touch as it first seemed. Time made the right choice, albeit for the wrong reasons.

As our country sinks deeper into a quagmire — and even a conclusive Election Day repudiation of the war proves powerless to stop it — we the people, and that includes, yes, you, will seek out any escape hatch we can find. In the Iraq era, the dropout nostrums of choice are not the drugs and drug culture of Vietnam but the equally masturbatory and narcissistic (if less psychedelic) pastimes of the Internet. Why not spend hour upon hour passionately venting in the blogosphere, as Time suggests, about our “state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street”? Or an afternoon surfing from video to video on YouTube, where short-attention-span fluff is infinite? It’s more fun than the nightly news, which, as Laura Bush reminded us this month, has been criminally lax in unearthing all those “good things that are happening” in Baghdad.

As of Friday morning, “Britney Spears Nude on Beach” had been viewed 1,041,776 times by YouTube’s visitors. The count for YouTube video clips tagged with “Iraq” was 22,783. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But compulsive blogging and free soft-core porn are not, as Time would have it, indications of how much you, I and that glassy-eyed teenage boy hiding in his bedroom are in control of the Information Age. They are indicators instead of how eager we are to flee from brutal real-world information that makes us depressed and angry. This was the year Americans escaped as often as they could into their private pleasure pods. So the Person of 2006 was indeed you — yes, you.

Unless it was Borat. The often uproarious farce that took its name from that hopelessly dense and bigoted fictional TV correspondent from Kazakhstan was the year’s most revealing hit movie. It was escapism incarnate, and we couldn’t eat it up fast enough. “Borat” also encapsulated the rising xenophobia that feeds American fantasies of the ultimate national escape: fencing off our borders from the world. If its loutish title character hadn’t been invented by Sacha Baron Cohen for us to ridicule and feel morally superior to, then Lou Dobbs would have done it for him.

The second most revealing movie hit of this escapist year was “Casino Royale.” Though technically an updating of the old Bond franchise — it is, nominally at least, set in the present — its screenplay actually hewed closely to the original Ian Fleming novel of 1953. The film merely changed the villain from a lethal Soviet operative to a terrorist financier, thereby recasting the confusing, hydra-headed threat of Al Qaeda and its ilk as a manageable, easily identifiable enemy that 007 could vanquish as decisively as the ham-fisted Iron Curtain Commies. Better still, Daniel Craig’s James Bond smites the terrorists in two hours plus change, not the 24 hours it takes Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. There could be no happier fairy tale for a country looking in the eye of defeat.

“Christ, I miss the cold war,” M, Bond’s boss at British intelligence, says early on in “Casino Royale.” M — the reassuring Judi Dench — speaks for the entire audience. Nostalgia for the cold war, which America won unambiguously, was visible everywhere this year as we lost a war that has divided the country. In Florida, there was a joyous countdown to Fidel Castro’s imminent demise. At NASA, there was a new plan to return to the moon. Throughout the news media, there was a Hannibal Lecterish pleasure in the excruciating physical decline of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB spy murdered by poison. As the CNN anchor John Roberts put it rather gleefully, “For many of us, headlines out of London seemed like a James Bond movie or a distant echo of the cold war.” Heaven knows those headlines were easier to take than those coming out of the hot war — or, for that matter, out of London itself when terrorists struck there 18 months ago. It’s no surprise that “Casino Royale” sold way more tickets than “World Trade Center” and “United 93” combined.

The most revealing index of our lust for escapism this year cannot be found at YouTube or the multiplex, however, but in the sideshow villains who distracted us from main news events in the Middle East: James Frey, Mel Gibson, Michael Richards and Judith Regan. It was a thrill beyond schadenfreude to watch them be soundly thrashed and humiliated for their sins.

FAR be it for me to defend any of them; Mr. Gibson once threatened to have my “intestines on a stick” after I raised the notion that the author of “The Passion of the Christ” might be an anti-Semite. But our over-the-top pleasure in their comeuppance still seems like escapist fare. It may be satisfying to see “Apocalypto” fade fast after its opening weekend or watch Ms. Regan lose her job after enriching O. J. Simpson for a sleazy book project. Yet something is out of whack when these relatively minor miscreants are publicly stoned and the architects of a needless catastrophe that has cost thousands of American and Iraqi lives escape scot-free. On the same day that Ms. Regan was canned, the fired Donald Rumsfeld was given a 19-gun salute and showered with presidential praise in a farewell ceremony at the Pentagon.

For that matter, Ms. Regan’s worst offenses can’t compare even with those of her former lover, Bernard Kerik, the Giuliani-era New York City police commissioner who was appointed by President Bush in 2003 to train Iraqi’s police. Mr. Kerik promised to stay “as long as it takes to get the job done,” then fled months later without explanation and without the job even started. Today the Iraqi police he failed to train are not only useless but are also routinely engaged in sectarian violence, including torture, helping to ensure that Iraq is more dangerous for everyone than ever, American troops included.

Mr. Kerik has never been held accountable for that failure, only for less lethal and unrelated graft in New York. Paul Bremer, whose early decisions as our Iraqi viceroy all but guaranteed our defeat, received the highest civilian award from the president. So did both George Tenet, who presided over the “slam dunk” intelligence that sped us to war, and Gen. Tommy Franks, who let Osama bin Laden get away. Even now, no generals have been fired for their failures in Iraq; the only one to lose his job was the former Army chief of staff, Eric Shinseki, who antagonized Mr. Rumsfeld before the war by correctly warning that hundreds of thousands of American troops would be needed to secure Iraq. But never mind. That’s ancient history. We can avoid confronting these morally grotesque skeletons in our closet as long as we can distract ourselves with Michael Richards’s meltdown.

Besides, it’s time for the home front to party. Whatever else is to be said about Time’s Mylar cover, it’s news you can literally use: it is just a paper shredder away from being recycled as the most glittering of New Year’s Eve confetti.

Photo Credit: Frank Rich. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Hilarious: Jon Stewart Pimps Bush

For your holiday weekend viewing pleasure.

Must See.

The Raw Story writes:
"In the final broadcast of the year of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, Jon Stewart trashed President George W. Bush and his Press Secretary Tony Snow for their flip flop on the idea that America was 'winning' in Iraq. The segment includes clips from Bush's Wednesday press conference and discusses his earlier interview with the Washington Post, in which the president was quoted pointing to the formulation of his new Defense Secretary that America was neither winning nor losing the war in Iraq.

The video clip can be viewed below."

Trouble Watching This Video? Click Here.

Trump's Tower of Ego

Frankly, who cares about The Comb-0ver King? Who cares what he thinks? Who cares what he says?

After his infantile, downright nasty, personal attack on Rosie O'Donnell (who was correct in her assertion that Donald Trump is the last person one would want choosing role models for our children), if I never hear another word from his pouty lips again, it would be too soon.

Evidently, MoDo cares enough to waste column space feeding The Donald's insatiable need for attention.

I have just one thing I'd like to say to Mr. Trump: "Donald ... you're fired."

Trump Fired Up
By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times
Donald Trump gives me an interview, though he has his doubts.

“I would like the interview to be in the Sunday paper,” he says.

He can’t be worried about his exposure, so it must be his boundless appetite for bigger/taller/glitzier that makes him yearn for the larger readership of Sunday.

“Me, too,” I reply. “But the only way that’s going to happen is if I give Frank Rich my notes and let him write the column.”

“I like Frank Rich,” he says, his voice brimming with appreciation for a man whose circulation is bigger than mine.

“Me, too,” I say.

Kurt Andersen, who jousted with the Donald as an editor at Spy, celebrates the “Daffy Duck” of deal-making in New York magazine this week as one of the “Reasons to Love New York,” calling him “our 21st century reincarnation of P. T. Barnum and Diamond Jim Brady, John Gotti minus the criminal organization, the only white New Yorker who lives as large as the blingiest, dissiest rapper — de trop personified.”

When I call De Trop Trump at Mar-a-Lago, he’s still ranting about “that big, fat slob Rosie O’Donnell.” When he granted Tara Conner, the naughty beauty queen, a second chance this week, Rosie made a crack on “The View” about an oft-married snake-oil salesman not being the best person to pass moral judgments. He slimed back, and the Great American Food Fight was on.

This past year was rife with mistakes — global mistakes, bigoted tirades, underwear mishaps. Winding up 2006, I asked the celebrity arbiter of who-can-stay and who-must-go about redemption.

In the case of Hollywood’s overexposed and underdressed young ladies of the night, Mr. Trump judiciously notes that in some cases, carousing is good for your career. His rule is, the more talented you are, the less you should mindlessly party. But if mindlessly partying is your talent, go for it.

“Britney,” he says, “doesn’t carry it off as well as Paris.”

How about those other international party girls, the Bush twins?

“When you’re a president who has destroyed the lives of probably a million people, our soldiers and Iraqis who are maimed and killed — you see children going into school in Baghdad with no arms and legs — I don’t think Bush’s kids should be having lots of fun in Argentina,” he says.

Should viewers give Katie Couric another look?

If you can’t get the ratings, he says, you’re cooked: “I like Katie, but she’s hit bottom and she’ll stay there. She made a terrible, tragic mistake for her career. She looks extremely unhappy on the show. I watched her the other night, and she’s not the same Katie.”

Can Gwyneth rebound from her comments comparing Americans unfavorably with Brits? “Gwyneth Paltrow is a good actress with average looks,” he says. “She likes to ride the high English horse. But when she puts down this country that gave her more than she should have had, it’s disgusting.”

Michael Richards and Judith Regan made irredeemable mistakes, in his view, as did Al Gore and John Kerry, when they couldn’t win winnable elections, and W., Cheney and Rummy, when they invaded Iraq.

“No matter how long we stay in Iraq, no matter how many soldiers we send, the day we leave, the meanest, most vicious, most brilliant man in the country, a man who makes Saddam Hussein look like a baby, will take over and spit on the American flag,” he says. “Bush will go down as the worst and by far the dumbest president in history.”

Colin Powell, he considers irredeemable as well: “He’s speaking up now, but he’s no longer relevant. I call him a pathetic and sad figure.”

He thinks John McCain has lost the 2008 election by pushing to send more troops to Iraq but that Hillary should be forgiven for her “horrendous” vote to authorize the war. “Don’t forget that decision was based on lies given to her,” he says. “She’s very smart and has a major chance to be our next president.”

He deems it “not a good sign” that Barack Obama got into a sketchy real estate deal with a sleazy Chicago political figure. “But he’s got some wonderful qualities,” Mr. Trump says, and deserves another chance.

And how about Monica Lewinsky, who just graduated from the London School of Economics? “It’s good she graduated,” he says. “She’s been through a lot.”

When it comes to having an opinion on everything, Trump towers.

Photo Credit: Maureen Dowd. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Krugman to Dems: Spend Well; The Deficit be Damned

The Krug Man, in today's Times op ed, presents an unconventional perspective on our current state of economic affairs; he advices the Democrats to spend -- but spend wisely -- to demonstrate the benefits of good government by improving the lives of Americans (now there's a novel idea!) rather than worry, as they did during the Clinton years, about deficit reduction.

Shocking as his advice may seem at first glance, his counsel is wise, reasoned, and based on the political reality of our times.

Democrats and the Deficit
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
Now that the Democrats have regained some power, they have to decide what to do. One of the biggest questions is whether the party should return to Rubinomics — the doctrine, associated with former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, that placed a very high priority on reducing the budget deficit.

The answer, I believe, is no. Mr. Rubin was one of the ablest Treasury secretaries in American history. But it’s now clear that while Rubinomics made sense in terms of pure economics, it failed to take account of the ugly realities of contemporary American politics.

And the lesson of the last six years is that the Democrats shouldn’t spend political capital trying to bring the deficit down. They should refrain from actions that make the deficit worse. But given a choice between cutting the deficit and spending more on good things like health care reform, they should choose the spending.

In a saner political environment, the economic logic behind Rubinomics would have been compelling. Basic fiscal principles tell us that the government should run budget deficits only when it faces unusually high expenses, mainly during wartime. In other periods it should try to run a surplus, paying down its debt.

Since the 1990s were an era of peace, prosperity and favorable demographics (the baby boomers were still in the work force, not collecting Social Security and Medicare), it should have been a good time to put the federal budget in the black. And under Mr. Rubin, the huge deficits of the Reagan-Bush years were transformed into an impressive surplus.

But the realities of American politics ensured that it was all for naught. The second President Bush quickly squandered the surplus on tax cuts that heavily favored the wealthy, then plunged the budget deep into deficit by cutting taxes on dividends and capital gains even as he took the country into a disastrous war. And you can even argue that Mr. Rubin’s surplus was a bad thing, because it greased the rails for Mr. Bush’s irresponsibility.

As Brad DeLong, a Berkeley economist who served in the Clinton administration, recently wrote on his influential blog: “Rubin and us spearcarriers moved heaven and earth to restore fiscal balance to the American government in order to raise the rate of economic growth. But what we turned out to have done, in the end, was to enable George W. Bush’s right-wing class war: his push for greater after-tax income inequality.”

My only quibble with Mr. DeLong’s characterization is that this wasn’t just one man’s class war: the whole conservative movement shared Mr. Bush’s squanderlust, his urge to run off with the money so carefully saved under Mr. Rubin’s leadership.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that conservatives who claimed to care about deficits when Democrats were in power never meant it. Let’s not forget how Alan Greenspan, who posed as the high priest of fiscal rectitude as long as Bill Clinton was in the White House, became an apologist for tax cuts — even in the face of budget deficits — once a Republican took up residence.

Now the Democrats are back in control of Congress. They’ve pledged not to be as irresponsible as their predecessors: Nancy Pelosi, the incoming House speaker, has promised to restore the “pay-as-you-go” rule that the Republicans tossed aside in the Bush years. This rule would basically prevent Congress from passing budgets that increase the deficit.

I’m for pay-as-you-go. The question, however, is whether to go further. Suppose the Democrats can free up some money by fixing the Medicare drug program, by ending the Iraq war and/or clamping down on war profiteering, or by rolling back some of the Bush tax cuts. Should they use the reclaimed revenue to reduce the deficit, or spend it on other things?

The answer, I now think, is to spend the money — while taking great care to ensure that it is spent well, not squandered — and let the deficit be. By spending money well, Democrats can both improve Americans’ lives and, more broadly, offer a demonstration of the benefits of good government. Deficit reduction, on the other hand, might just end up playing into the hands of the next irresponsible president.

In the long run, something will have to be done about the deficit. But given the state of our politics, now is not the time.

Photo Credit: Paul Krugman. (The New York Times)

Tom Sees Green

And the Color of the Year Is ...
By Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
I know that you should never generalize about global warming from your own weather, but as a longtime resident of Washington, D.C., it’s hard not to, considering that it’s been so balmy this winter season I’m half expecting the cherry blossoms to come out for Christmas. In fact, my wife was rummaging through her closet the other day and emerged to tell me she needed a whole new wardrobe — “a global warming wardrobe,” clothes that are summer weight but winter colors.

For this, and other reasons, had I been editing Time magazine I would not have opted for the “you” in YouTube as Person of the Year — although that was very clever. No, I’d have run an all-green Time cover under the headline, “Color of the Year.” Because I think that the most important thing to happen this past year was that living and thinking “green” — that is, mobilizing for the environmental/energy challenge we now face — hit Main Street.

For so many years the term “green” could never scale. It was trapped in a corner by its opponents, who defined it as “liberal,” “tree-hugging,” “girly-man,” “unpatriotic,” “vaguely French.”

No more. We reached a tipping point this year — where living, acting, designing, investing and manufacturing green came to be understood by a critical mass of citizens, entrepreneurs and officials as the most patriotic, capitalistic, geopolitical, healthy and competitive thing they could do. Hence my own motto: “Green is the new red, white and blue.”

How did we get here? It was a combination of factors: Katrina, Al Gore’s terrific movie, the growing awareness that our gas guzzlers are financing the terrorists, preachers and rogue regimes we’re fighting, the real profits that major companies like G.E. and DuPont are making by going green, and the fact that even the Pentagon has given birth to “Green Hawks,” who are obsessed with powering our army with less energy.

The most telling sign was the last election, when “being green became pragmatic,” said the Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. “No one thought that running an ad on alternative energy was something for an elite target audience anymore. The only debate we had was whether it was one of the three things a candidate should talk about or the only thing.”

And now, Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has earned its black eyes for labor practices. But the world’s biggest retailer lately has gotten the green bug — in part to improve its image, but also because it has found that being more energy efficient is highly profitable for itself and its customers.

Wal-Mart has opened two green stores where it is experimenting with alternative building materials, lighting, power systems and designs, the best of which it plans to spread to all its outlets. I just visited the one in McKinney, Tex. From the big wind turbine in the parking lot and solar panels on key walls, which provide 15 percent of the store’s electricity, to the cooking oil from fried chicken that is recycled in its bio-boiler and heats the store in winter, to the shift to L.E.D lights in all exterior signs and grocery and freezer cases — which last longer and sharply reduce heat and therefore the air-conditioning bill — you know you’re not in your parents’ Wal-Mart.

Other big companies are now sending teams to inspect the green Wal-Marts, and customers are asking the manager how they can adopt these innovations at home.

“When I started having people stop me in the aisles and say, ‘How do I do that?’ or ‘Can I do that?’ that’s when we really started realizing that this isn’t just a small thing, this can be really large and can be very rewarding to the planet,” said the store’s manager, Brent Allen.

Hey, the more energy-saving bulbs Wal-Mart sells, the more innovation it triggers, the more prices go down. That’s how you get scale. And scale is everything if you want to change the world, but to achieve scale you have to make sure that green energy sources — biofuels, clean coal, and solar, wind and nuclear power — can be delivered as cheaply as oil, gas and dirty coal. That will require a gasoline or carbon tax to keep the price of fossil fuels up so investors in green-tech will not get undercut while they drive innovation forward and prices down. The U.S. Congress has to stop running from this fact.

Because while our embrace of green has finally reached a tipping point, the tipping point on climate change and species loss is also fast approaching, if it’s not already here. There’s no time to lose. “People see an endangered species every day now when they look in the mirror,” said the environmentalist Rob Watson. “It is not about the whales anymore.”

Photo Credit: Thomas Friedman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)