Wednesday, October 31, 2007

October 31, 2007

American Bar Association Finds Death Penalty Seriously Flawed

By Mary Shaw

It's not just us bleeding-heart liberals who have a problem with the death penalty.

On Monday, the American Bar Association (ABA) released a report on their three-year study of the death penalty and called for a moratorium because the system is so flawed.

So flawed that justice isn't served, it's mocked.

Below is the text of a press release from the ABA, which summarizes the problems found. (Emphasis is per the original release.) The press release is followed by a link to the full report.

ABA Study: State Death Penalty Systems Deeply Flawed

Based on Multi-state Findings, Bar Association Renews Call for Nationwide Moratorium on Executions

WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 29, 2007- The American Bar Association today released the findings from their three-year study on state death penalty systems and called for a nationwide moratorium on executions. Based on a detailed analysis of death penalty systems in eight sample states, the ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project identified key problems common to the states studied, including major racial disparities, inadequate indigent defense services and irregular clemency review processes - making their death penalty systems operate unfairly.

"After carefully studying the way states across the spectrum handle executions, it has become crystal clear that the process is deeply flawed," said Stephen F. Hanlon, chair of the ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project. "The death penalty system is rife with irregularity - supporting the need for a moratorium until states can ensure fairness and accuracy."

While the ABA takes no position for or against the death penalty itself, since 1997 it has urged a moratorium in each jurisdiction that provides for capital punishment until the state conducts a thorough and exhaustive study to determine whether its system meets legal standards for fairness and due process.

For the past three years, teams of local legal experts have assessed their states using 93 protocols developed by the ABA as measuring points of the due process and fairness the state provides. The protocols have not been adopted as ABA policy, but are based on association policies calling for due process and fairness.

Of the eight state teams, five urged their own governmental leaders to impose a temporary halt on executions within the state until more complete analyses could be completed. The five states were Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee. Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania's teams did not call for moratoria.

Several serious problems were found in many of the states:

• Every state studied appears to have significant racial disparities in imposing the death penalty, particularly associated with the race of the victim, but little has been done to rectify the problem.

• Judicial elections mean that electoral pressures may influence judicial decisions, and candidates for judges in many states discuss their views of the death penalty during campaigns.

• States often do not have policies in place to ensure that lawyers representing people with mental retardation or mental illness fully appreciate the significance of their clients' mental disabilities. And states do not formally commute death sentences when an inmate is found incompetent, and they do not require instruction of jurors on the distinction between insanity as a defense and reliance on a mental disorder or disability to mitigate sentencing.

In clemency proceedings, most states fail to specify the type or breadth of review, or to require the clemency decisionmaker to explain reasons for their decisions.

• Most states have had at least one serious incident of mistakes or fraud in crime laboratories. They often do not require that crime laboratories and medical examiner offices be accredited, or that crime laboratories make their standards and procedures public. The laboratories are often seriously underfunded and do not use the most sophisticated testing procedures.

• With respect to collection, preservation and testing of biological evidence, most states do not require preservation of the evidence through the entire legal process until the accused is either released from prison or executed. As scientific testing capability advances, evidence that could prove innocence may be destroyed. Testing statutes create onerous procedural hurdles impeding the ability of convicted persons to file for and obtain DNA testing.

States do not require law enforcement agencies to adopt procedures comporting with national best practices on identification and interrogation, and most states do not require law enforcement agencies to videotape or audiotape custodial interrogations in murder cases.

• States are not establishing policies or requiring prosecutors' offices to establish policies on exercise of prosecutorial discretion, or on evaluating cases that rely on evidence such as testimony of jailhouse snitches, or on eyewitness identification or confessions, considered as less reliable evidence. Many states don't require specialized training for capital cases, and most states have not disciplined the prosecutors even when serious misconduct has been found.

• Some states fail to provide for appointment of defense counsel in post-conviction proceedings, and all states fail to provide for appointment of counsel in clemency proceedings. Capital indigent defense is generally significantly underfunded, and compensation paid to appointed capital defense attorneys is often inadequate. Many states require only minimal training and experience for defense counsel in capital cases.

• Some states do not require a meaningful proportionality review to determine
whether death sentences are imposed on similarly situated defendants and few, if any, maintain databases adequate to achieve such a review.

• With respect to post-conviction review, many states provide unreasonably short time periods in which to petition the courts for review, and most states allow judges in such proceedings to adopt findings of fact and conclusions of law proposed by one party, potentially undermining the judge's exercise of independent judgment. Some states assign post-conviction review of whether errors were made at trial to the same judge who presided at trial, and many states make it difficult to obtain discovery, or evidentiary hearings.

Jury instructions often are poorly written and poorly conveyed, making it difficult for jurors to understand their roles and responsibilities. States often fail to provide instructions in writing, and instructions fail to define important terms, or to tell jurors that they may impose life sentences even if there are no mitigating factors or where aggravating factors are proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The teams researched 12 areas: collection, preservation and testing of biological evidence; law enforcement identification and interrogation procedures; crime laboratory and medical examiner office standards and procedures; prosecutorial professionalism; defense services; direct appeals; state post-conviction proceedings; clemency; jury instructions; judicial independence; treatment of racial and ethnic minorities; and mental retardation and mental illness.

With more than 413,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.
>> Read the report containing the ABA's detailed findings. (MS Word format)

Authors Website:

Authors Bio: Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views on politics, human rights, and social justice issues have appeared in numerous online forums and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail:


Friday, October 26, 2007

Life on the Edge in California firestorms and the value of the personal fable

Life on the Edge
Each catastrophe teaches psychologists
more about how the mind copes.
By Jeneen Interlandi
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Updated: 9:28 PM ET Oct 25, 2007

Three nights after his side of San Diego's Wildcat Canyon had been evacuated, Bob Younger talked his way through the police barricade and returned home. While half a million acres of the surrounding region burned and thousands of people sought shelter in Qualcomm Stadium, Younger, 54, and several of his neighbors decided to stay in their houses and fight off the giant embers and spot fires that threatened to burn them down. "We were prepared," he says. "We have water and generators and all the clothing and equipment that firefighters have."

Younger might seem irrational. But to psychologists who specialize in the mental trauma associated with natural disasters, his response is normal--perhaps even healthy. "After a disaster, there are people who flee and people who stay and become more proactive," says Gilbert Reyes, author of the 2005 "Handbook of International Disaster Psychology." "Both are ways of coping and both are normal." The key: people who see their responses to disaster as a sign of personal weakness are more likely to suffer long-term trauma, psychologists say. "That's the single best predictor of how long it will take people to recover," says Gerard Jacobs, director of the University of South Dakota's new Disaster Mental Health Institute.

The field of disaster psychology has exploded as an increasing number of people like the Youngers choose to live in catastrophe-prone regions of the country. With each wildfire, hurricane and flood, researchers find more answers to intriguing questions: why do some people choose to live in threatened areas in the first place or choose to stay after a disaster strikes? Why do some rebound so well, while others slip into despair? And what can our response to natural disasters teach us about ourselves?

While the answers may vary by disaster, geographic region or individual, one constant psychologists have found is that people crave order in the face of unpredictable forces. "Studies show that if the immediate response is disorganized and chaotic, more people will suffer posttraumatic-stress disorder, and for longer periods of time," says Yuval Neria, a clinical psychologist who specializes in disaster psychology at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. "The most crucial element to people's mental and emotional health is a sense of control and leadership, which partly explains why people were so enraged after Katrina."

Younger understood the dangers; he and his wife, Sandra, lost several friends and almost died themselves when the 2003 fires burned their previous house to the ground. They rebuilt immediately--on the same patch of land--a choice they stood behind even as the latest fires blazed around them. "We're near the top of the mountain, so we have an almost-360-degree view," he says. "At night we can see the lights from Mexico. This is our home, and it's still a spectacular place to live."

The ability to rationalize risky choices comes down to what experts call "the personal fable. "People say, 'I know it can happen, but it won't happen to me'," explains Jacobs. That explains why millions of New Yorkers stayed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and why, before Katrina, residents of New Orleans managed to live with the threat from their fragile levees.

After the 2003 fire, the Youngers had no such fables. Instead, when they rebuilt, they did everything they could to take control, including a garage that could double as a fire shelter--all steel, no windows. They also cleared brush with religious devotion and stocked their house with fire helmets, gas masks and heavy fireproof coats. But even that may not be enough if there is a next time. "If we were to lose our house again, we might have to pack it in," he says. Everyone has a limit.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Why Those who love America are feeling brokenhearted, by Andrew Greeley.

Why Those Who Love America Are Feeling Brokenhearted

by Andrew Greeley

"Both parties are led by fools." I could not agree more.

I am ashamed for America. Note carefully that I do not say I am ashamed of America. Despite all its inherent flaws and all its tragic mistakes, the United States stands, however incompletely and with whatever imperfections, for the highest standards of freedom and democracy that the world has yet known.

I am ashamed for America because all the evil done in the nation’s name in recent years is turning off the light on the mountaintop.

1. The president urges Congress in effect to accept the Turkish protest against the attribution of Armenian genocide because it might interfere with Turkish logistic cooperation in the ill-starred and foolish Iraq war. That’s like silencing all congressional action on the Holocaust because we need Germany on our side. If Turks expect to become part of Europe and the West, they must acknowledge what their ancestors did. They could pass a resolution of their own accusing us of genocide against Native Americans if it would make them happy. How humiliating that the president wants us to ignore what happened to the Armenians so we can be victorious in the “global war on terror” (the current replacement for “weapons of mass destruction”). That’s called appeasement, and it was appeasement when President Bill Clinton did the same thing.

2. The government kidnaps, tortures and murders the way the Gestapo did in Nazi Germany. The president blithely dismisses these charges. The United States, he says, does not torture. But that deception is based on a memo from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defining torture, which the White House won’t let anyone else look at.

3. The government pays large salaries to 148,000 “individual contractors” in Iraq — more than the total American military there. A third of these are toting guns. They are mercenaries — often, it would seem, with very quick trigger fingers. Ironically, the most recent victims were two Armenian Christian women. These contractors are a kind of American Foreign Legion, like the notorious French and Spanish foreign legions. They may well be very brave people who do very tough jobs. They also compensate for Mr. Rumsfeld’s criminal underestimate of the number of troops required. If, however, the country is going to have a Legion Etranger, it should make sure that it works under tight control. An unrestrained security force quickly becomes a mafia. Humphrey Bogart, where are you when we really need you?

4. At a remarkably frank meeting of middle-range officers (majors and colonels) at Fort Leavenworth, the soldiers debated not whether there should have been a war in Iraq, but who was to blame for losing it. Was it the senior officers or the joint chiefs or the civilian leaders? The war is not even over yet, and already the officers who fought it and will have to fight its continuation have already given up hope. Too bad for them, because the president has made up his mind that we are still going to win the war and the Democratic presidential candidates speak about a 10-year presence in Iraq. Whatever the political leadership is or will be in 2009, no candidate seems capable of saying, “We’re getting out now!” And the rest of the world laughs at us because both parties are led by fools.

Anyone who cares about the United States and its legacies has to be brokenhearted at what has been done to our beloved country by the crazy people who are running it — people who have become so skilled at deception they don’t even realize anymore that they are deceiving. Just like the Democrats don’t realize they are again stealing defeat out of the jaws of victory.

Andrew Greeley is a priest in good standing of the Archdiocese of Chicago. for 52 years, a columnist for 40 years, a sociologist for 45 years, a novelist for 28 years, distinguished lecturer at the University of Arizona for 28 , research associate at National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago for 46 years.

© 2007 The Chicago Sun Times

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Right Wing Derangement over Gore

Gore Derangement Syndrome

by Paul Krugman

On the day after Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize, The Wall Street Journal’s editors couldn’t even bring themselves to mention Mr. Gore’s name. Instead, they devoted their editorial to a long list of people they thought deserved the prize more.

And at National Review Online, Iain Murray suggested that the prize should have been shared with “that well-known peace campaigner Osama bin Laden, who implicitly endorsed Gore’s stance.” You see, bin Laden once said something about climate change - therefore, anyone who talks about climate change is a friend of the terrorists.

What is it about Mr. Gore that drives right-wingers insane?

Partly it’s a reaction to what happened in 2000, when the American people chose Mr. Gore but his opponent somehow ended up in the White House. Both the personality cult the right tried to build around President Bush and the often hysterical denigration of Mr. Gore were, I believe, largely motivated by the desire to expunge the stain of illegitimacy from the Bush administration.

And now that Mr. Bush has proved himself utterly the wrong man for the job - to be, in fact, the best president Al Qaeda’s recruiters could have hoped for - the symptoms of Gore derangement syndrome have grown even more extreme.

The worst thing about Mr. Gore, from the conservative point of view, is that he keeps being right. In 1992, George H. W. Bush mocked him as the “ozone man,” but three years later the scientists who discovered the threat to the ozone layer won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 2002 he warned that if we invaded Iraq, “the resulting chaos could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam.” And so it has proved.

But Gore hatred is more than personal. When National Review decided to name its anti-environmental blog Planet Gore, it was trying to discredit the message as well as the messenger. For the truth Mr. Gore has been telling about how human activities are changing the climate isn’t just inconvenient. For conservatives, it’s deeply threatening.

Consider the policy implications of taking climate change seriously.

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said F.D.R. “We know now that it is bad economics.” These words apply perfectly to climate change. It’s in the interest of most people (and especially their descendants) that somebody do something to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but each individual would like that somebody to be somebody else. Leave it up to the free market, and in a few generations Florida will be underwater.

The solution to such conflicts between self-interest and the common good is to provide individuals with an incentive to do the right thing. In this case, people have to be given a reason to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, either by requiring that they pay a tax on emissions or by requiring that they buy emission permits, which has pretty much the same effects as an emissions tax. We know that such policies work: the U.S. “cap and trade” system of emission permits on sulfur dioxide has been highly successful at reducing acid rain.

Climate change is, however, harder to deal with than acid rain, because the causes are global. The sulfuric acid in America’s lakes mainly comes from coal burned in U.S. power plants, but the carbon dioxide in America’s air comes from coal and oil burned around the planet - and a ton of coal burned in China has the same effect on the future climate as a ton of coal burned here. So dealing with climate change not only requires new taxes or their equivalent; it also requires international negotiations in which the United States will have to give as well as get.

Everything I’ve just said should be uncontroversial - but imagine the reception a Republican candidate for president would receive if he acknowledged these truths at the next debate. Today, being a good Republican means believing that taxes should always be cut, never raised. It also means believing that we should bomb and bully foreigners, not negotiate with them.

So if science says that we have a big problem that can’t be solved with tax cuts or bombs - well, the science must be rejected, and the scientists must be slimed. For example, Investor’s Business Daily recently declared that the prominence of James Hansen, the NASA researcher who first made climate change a national issue two decades ago, is actually due to the nefarious schemes of - who else? - George Soros.

Which brings us to the biggest reason the right hates Mr. Gore: in his case the smear campaign has failed. He’s taken everything they could throw at him, and emerged more respected, and more credible, than ever. And it drives them crazy.

Paul Krugman is Professor of Economics at Princeton University and a regular New York Times columnist. His most recent book is The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century.

© 2007 The New York Times Company

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

The "Good Germans" among us, Op Ed, Frank Rich

The "Good Germans" Amng Us

“BUSH lies” doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s time to confront the darker reality that we are lying to ourselves.

Ten days ago The Times unearthed yet another round of secret Department of Justice memos countenancing torture. President Bush gave his standard response: “This government does not torture people.” Of course, it all depends on what the meaning of “torture” is. The whole point of these memos is to repeatedly recalibrate the definition so Mr. Bush can keep pleading innocent.

By any legal standards except those rubber-stamped by Alberto Gonzales, we are practicing torture, and we have known we are doing so ever since photographic proof emerged from Abu Ghraib more than three years ago. As Andrew Sullivan, once a Bush cheerleader, observed last weekend in The Sunday Times of London, America’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques have a grotesque provenance: “Verschärfte Vernehmung, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the ‘third degree.’ It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation.”

Still, the drill remains the same. The administration gives its alibi (Abu Ghraib was just a few bad apples). A few members of Congress squawk. The debate is labeled “politics.” We turn the page.

There has been scarcely more response to the similarly recurrent story of apparent war crimes committed by our contractors in Iraq. Call me cynical, but when Laura Bush spoke up last week about the human rights atrocities in Burma, it seemed less an act of selfless humanitarianism than another administration maneuver to change the subject from its own abuses.

As Mrs. Bush spoke, two women, both Armenian Christians, were gunned down in Baghdad by contractors underwritten by American taxpayers. On this matter, the White House has been silent. That incident followed the Sept. 16 massacre in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, where 17 Iraqis were killed by security forces from Blackwater USA, which had already been implicated in nearly 200 other shooting incidents since 2005. There has been no accountability. The State Department, Blackwater’s sugar daddy for most of its billion dollars in contracts, won’t even share its investigative findings with the United States military and the Iraqi government, both of which have deemed the killings criminal.

The gunmen who mowed down the two Christian women worked for a Dubai-based company managed by Australians, registered in Singapore and enlisted as a subcontractor by an American contractor headquartered in North Carolina. This is a plot out of “Syriana” by way of “Chinatown.” There will be no trial. We will never find out what happened. A new bill passed by the House to regulate contractor behavior will have little effect, even if it becomes law in its current form.

We can continue to blame the Bush administration for the horrors of Iraq — and should. Paul Bremer, our post-invasion viceroy and the recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts, issued the order that allows contractors to elude Iraqi law, a folly second only to his disbanding of the Iraqi Army. But we must also examine our own responsibility for the hideous acts committed in our name in a war where we have now fought longer than we did in the one that put Verschärfte Vernehmung on the map.

I have always maintained that the American public was the least culpable of the players during the run-up to Iraq. The war was sold by a brilliant and fear-fueled White House propaganda campaign designed to stampede a nation still shellshocked by 9/11. Both Congress and the press — the powerful institutions that should have provided the checks, balances and due diligence of the administration’s case — failed to do their job. Had they done so, more Americans might have raised more objections. This perfect storm of democratic failure began at the top.

As the war has dragged on, it is hard to give Americans en masse a pass. We are too slow to notice, let alone protest, the calamities that have followed the original sin.

In April 2004, Stars and Stripes first reported that our troops were using makeshift vehicle armor fashioned out of sandbags, yet when a soldier complained to Donald Rumsfeld at a town meeting in Kuwait eight months later, he was successfully pilloried by the right. Proper armor procurement lagged for months more to come. Not until early this year, four years after the war’s first casualties, did a Washington Post investigation finally focus the country’s attention on the shoddy treatment of veterans, many of them victims of inadequate armor, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military hospitals.

We first learned of the use of contractors as mercenaries when four Blackwater employees were strung up in Falluja in March 2004, just weeks before the first torture photos emerged from Abu Ghraib. We asked few questions. When reports surfaced early this summer that our contractors in Iraq (180,000, of whom some 48,000 are believed to be security personnel) now outnumber our postsurge troop strength, we yawned. Contractor casualties and contractor-inflicted casualties are kept off the books.

It was always the White House’s plan to coax us into a blissful ignorance about the war. Part of this was achieved with the usual Bush-Cheney secretiveness, from the torture memos to the prohibition of photos of military coffins. But the administration also invited our passive complicity by requiring no shared sacrifice. A country that knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch was all too easily persuaded there could be a free war.

Instead of taxing us for Iraq, the White House bought us off with tax cuts. Instead of mobilizing the needed troops, it kept a draft off the table by quietly purchasing its auxiliary army of contractors to finesse the overstretched military’s holes. With the war’s entire weight falling on a small voluntary force, amounting to less than 1 percent of the population, the rest of us were free to look the other way at whatever went down in Iraq.

We ignored the contractor scandal to our own peril. Ever since Falluja this auxiliary army has been a leading indicator of every element of the war’s failure: not only our inadequate troop strength but also our alienation of Iraqi hearts and minds and our rampant outsourcing to contractors rife with Bush-Cheney cronies and campaign contributors. Contractors remain a bellwether of the war’s progress today. When Blackwater was briefly suspended after the Nisour Square catastrophe, American diplomats were flatly forbidden from leaving the fortified Green Zone. So much for the surge’s great “success” in bringing security to Baghdad.

Last week Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq war combat veteran who directs Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, sketched for me the apocalypse to come. Should Baghdad implode, our contractors, not having to answer to the military chain of command, can simply “drop their guns and go home.” Vulnerable American troops could be deserted by those “who deliver their bullets and beans.”

This potential scenario is just one example of why it’s in our national self-interest to attend to Iraq policy the White House counts on us to ignore. Our national character is on the line too. The extralegal contractors are both a slap at the sovereignty of the self-governing Iraq we supposedly support and an insult to those in uniform receiving as little as one-sixth the pay. Yet it took mass death in Nisour Square to fix even our fleeting attention on this long-metastasizing cancer in our battle plan.

Similarly, it took until December 2005, two and a half years after “Mission Accomplished,” for Mr. Bush to feel sufficient public pressure to acknowledge the large number of Iraqi casualties in the war. Even now, despite his repeated declaration that “America will not abandon the Iraqi people,” he has yet to address or intervene decisively in the tragedy of four million-plus Iraqi refugees, a disproportionate number of them children. He feels no pressure from the American public to do so, but hey, he pays lip service to Darfur.

Our moral trajectory over the Bush years could not be better dramatized than it was by a reunion of an elite group of two dozen World War II veterans in Washington this month. They were participants in a top-secret operation to interrogate some 4,000 Nazi prisoners of war. Until now, they have kept silent, but America’s recent record prompted them to talk to The Washington Post.

“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” said Henry Kolm, 90, an M.I.T. physicist whose interrogation of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, took place over a chessboard. George Frenkel, 87, recalled that he “never laid hands on anyone” in his many interrogations, adding, “I’m proud to say I never compromised my humanity.”

Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those “good Germans” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Supply side economics: laugh or cry at Repubs la la land?

October 9, 2007

Laugh with Laffer over Supply-Side Economics

By Richard E Walrath and Patricia L Johnson

Since 1913, almost a hundred years now, this is the first time that we have had back-to-back elected presidents of opposing parties who have served two full terms.

Being able to compare the results of the economy under such diametrically different policies is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity. Balanced budget and surplus under Clinton - endless and mindless tax-cuts for the rich and big business under Bush, resulting in a National Debt increase of $3.2 trillion dollars.

Economic policies in effect under President Clinton were not only able to balance the U.S. Budget; they were able to put the budget in surplus. When the U.S. is over budget, it creates a budget deficit as well as increased interest payments on the national debt. When the U.S. is under budget, we have a budget surplus as well as decreased interest payments on the national debt.

Historically, the pattern for the United States has been budget deficits and interest payments would rise in tandem, but we had another first with President Clinton. The budget surpluses created lower interest payments, which in turn succeeded in reducing the amount the national debt rose.

If you look at the statistics, your immediate reaction will be 'hey, wait a minute – the national debt increased under President Clinton' – which is correct, but the increases were entirely due to the interest charged on the federal debt. When a new president takes office, the interest on the national debt doesn't stop - it continues, so the interest charges are still there.

Bill Clinton was in office for 8 years. The U.S. National Debt increased by $1.5 trillion dollars during his 8-year presidency. During this same 8-year period interest on the National Debt totaled $2.7 trillion dollars. If you eliminate the interest, the National Debt was actually reduced by $1.2 trillion dollars under President Clinton.

In contrast, George W. Bush has been in office since January 20, 2001. During the 6 years and 8 months that he has been in office, the National Debt has increased $3.2 trillion dollars.

An interesting note is the National Debt has increased by twice as much during the 6 years and 8 months that Bush has been in office, compared to the full 8 years that Clinton was in office.

Chart 1 -

Remove interest from the equation and the National Debt was reduced by $1.2 trillion dollars under Clinton policies and increased $803 billion dollars, to date, under Bush.

Chart 2 -

Arthur B. Laffer's napkin theory has to do with what is known as supply side economics. There is nothing very original about it, actually, a French economist, Jean Baptiste Say, came up with the idea well over a hundred years ago with Say's Law which says, simply, "Supply creates its own demand."

The idea is that if you're going to produce something, you have to go out and buy the raw materials first in order to manufacture the product. The Bush years should have been the best possible of all times for supply-side economics. The theory was practiced to the fullest possible extent. We're going to hear a lot about supply-side economics because it has been such a dismal failure for the last almost seven years. What is really laughable is the Bush comment at his September 20 press conference at which he declared that he is a "supply-sider."

"I'm a supply-sider. I believe supply-side economics, when properly instituted, enables us to achieve certain objectives. One, people find work and there's hope in the economy. Two, that supply-side economics yields additional tax revenues. And if we're smart about how we manage the fiscal budget, it leads to balance, and that's what we have done..."

Keynes, in his The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, attacked the problem from the other direction--demand. Nobody was going to go out and do anything if there was no demand for it. During slack times, such as recessions, the government could help take up the slack by providing demand for goods and services through spending. Ideally, the government would run at a deficit during recessions and a surplus when aggregate demand was sufficient to provide full employment. According to Wikipedia, Laffer commented on Bush's supply-side economic policies on page A18 of the February 14, 2005 Wall Street Journal as follows:

"When 'W' ran for president in 2000, I voted for him but not enthusiastically. I had voted for Bill Clinton in the prior two presidential elections, but with Al Gore as the Democratic candidate in 2000 the choice was easy for me even if I wasn't all that excited about George Bush. I am now flabbergasted by the performance of Bush 43. [...] George W. Bush could well turn out to be the best president in recent history. [...] Because of President Clinton, President Bush's budget deficits can easily be absorbed by the U.S. economy. [...] Supply-side pro-growth economics couldn't ask for a better champion -- nor could any American."

A common misconception regarding tax cuts is that if government revenues increase after tax cuts, it must be that the tax-cuts were the reason. The question you would have to ask is, what would revenues have been if there had been NO tax-cuts. This, of course, is a debatable issue because it is difficult to prove.

The following chart depicts US Revenues for the period of 2000 through 2006. 2000 was the last full year that Clinton was in office and 2001 through 2006 are the first six years of the Bush presidency.

The combined totals are as follows:


Fiscal YearCombined usRevenuesIndividual plus Corporate(TRILLIONs)
BUSH2006 est.$1.2

All the tax cuts provided to the rich and big business by the Bush administration have failed to provide increased revenues for this country. We had revenues of $1.2 trillion the last year of the Clinton presidency and we're still at $1.2 trillion at the end of the 6th year of the Bush presidency.

In 2005 Corporate revenues increased considerably so it could be said the Bush economic policies are working as planned, but are they?

Corporate revenues increased due to the fact the Department of Defense contract awards doubled from $133 billion in 2000, to $269 billion in 2005 and further increased to $295 billion in 2006.


YearDepartmentof DefenseContractAwards(in billions)

The question that should be raised is why corporate revenue increases aren't higher. If you use the $133 billion from 2000 as a base number for each subsequent year, we have exceeded that amount in contract awards by $521 billion - half a trillion dollars in contracts, should bring in far more revenues than this country is receiving.

The differences between the two presidencies are dramatic – under Clinton there were tax increases, coupled with increased benefits as well as increased revenues, budget surpluses "as far as the eye can see" and a reduction in the increase in National Debt. Under Bush there have been tax cuts, coupled with benefit cuts, decreased revenues, budget deficits and major increases in the National Debt.

Nobody, anywhere, is forecasting a surplus now.

Bush is now talking about eliminating the budget deficit by 2013, as he continues to add billions of dollars to the National Debt.

How is it possible to turn a surplus "as far as the eye can see" into $3.2 trillion of additional debt? Just what is so good about doing that? How many additional billions of dollars is that just to pay the interest on the $3.2 Trillion?

Where did the money go?

Obviously your first response will be "don't you know we're fighting the Global War on Terror?" The GWOT accounts for $610 billion dollars from fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2007. That leaves $200 billion in National Debt increases unaccounted.

The $610.6 billion appropriated by Congress for GWOT from fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2007 includes costs for Iraq, Afghanistan, enhanced security for DOD, State Department and for Department of Veterans' Affairs medical costs and is split as follows:


amount(in billions)
Department of Defense $568.0
US State Department and USAID 41.0
Department of Veterans Affairs 1.6
TOTAL (may not add due to rounding) $610.6

The $610 billion is split by operation as follows:


amount(in billions)
Iraq $450.4
OEF – Afghanistan, etc. 126.7
Enhanced Security 28.1
Unallocated 5.5
TOTAL (may not add due to rounding) $610.6

An interesting note is the increase in allocations since 2003. Do you remember 2003 - when President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished"



We can easily go one step further in our comparison of the two presidencies – their employment records.

In December of 1992 total nonfarm employment, seasonally adjusted, was 109,418,000. In December of 2000 that number had increased to 132,484,000 or payroll employment increased by 23.1 million jobs during the Clinton presidency.

In sharp contrast, using the December 2000 figure of 132,484,000 and the preliminary September 2007 figure of 138,265,000, only 5.8 million jobs have been added to total nonfarm employment during the 6 years and 9 months of the Bush presidency.

Republicans will say that eight (8) million jobs have been created in the last four years and that's a true statement. At the end of 2003 employment was 130,398,000 and at the end of September 2007 employment is 138,265,000 indicating a gain of 7.967 or eight (8) million jobs, but the Bush presidency did not begin in 2003.

If you ignore the jobs losses incurred during the first two years of his presidency you are still going to fall far short of the 23 million jobs created under Clinton. By the time Bush leaves office he will have created less than ½ the number of jobs that were created during the Clinton presidency.

H.R. 4601 and H.R. 5173 were two bills introduced in 2000 to reduce the Federal Debt Limit. Both passed the House - H.R. 4601 on June 20, 2000 and H.R. 5173 on September 18, 2000. The bills were introduced because we no longer needed such a high federal debt limit, due to Clinton economic policies that had resulted in budget surpluses and reduced national debt increases.

Then came the 2000 election and President George W. Bush.

H.J. Res. 43, a joint resolution increasing the statutory limit from $8.965 trillion to $9,815 trillion passed the House on May 17, 2007 and passed the Senate on September 27, 2007.

This $850 billion dollar increase in the statutory limit on the public debt is the fifth time the Federal Debt limit has been raised since 2002.

The real question now is not, does supply-side trickle-down economics work? It never did, but, what made it fail so miserably this time?

It's time to start turning the clock and the wheel in a different direction. They've been turning backwards for almost seven years.

(1) National Debt – U.S. Department of the Treasury

(2) Revenues – Budget of the United States 2007 – Historical tables

(3) Department of Defense Contract Awards – Department of Defense

(4) Employment – Bureau of Labor Statistics

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Democrats who enable Bush

The Democrats Who Enable Bush

by Helen Thomas

President Bush has no better friends than the spineless Democratic congressional leadership and the party’s leading presidential candidates when it comes to his failing Iraq policy.

Those Democrats seem to have forgotten that the American people want U.S. troops out of Iraq, especially since Bush still cannot give a credible reason for attacking Iraq after nearly five years of war.

Last week at a debate in Hanover, N.H., the leading Democratic presidential candidates sang from the same songbook: Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York, and Barack Obama of Illinois and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards refused to promise to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by 2013, at the end of the first term of their hypothetical presidencies. Can you believe it?

When the question was put to Clinton, she reverted to her usual cautious equivocation, saying: “It is very difficult to know what we’re going to be inheriting.”

Obama dodged, too: “I think it would be irresponsible” to say what he would do as president.

Edwards, on whom hopes were riding to show some independence, replied to the question: “I cannot make that commitment.”

They have left the voters little choice with those answers.

Some supporters were outraged at the obfuscation by the Democratic front-runners.

On the other hand, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., are more definitive in their calls for quick troop withdrawals.

But Biden wants to break up Iraq into three provinces along religious and ethnic lines. In other words, Balkanize Iraq.

To have major Democratic backing to stay the course in Iraq added up to good news for Bush.

Now comes a surprising Clinton fan.

President Bush told Bill Sammon — Washington Examiner correspondent and author of a new book titled “The Evangelical President” — that Clinton will beat Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination because she is a “formidable candidate” and better known.

Sammon says Bush revealed that he has been sending messages to Clinton to urge her to “maintain some political wiggle room in your campaign rhetoric about Iraq.”

The author said Bush contends that whoever inherits the White House will be faced with a potential vacuum in Iraq and “will begin to understand the need to continue to support the young democracy.”

Bush ought to know about campaign rhetoric. Remember how he ridiculed “nation building” in the 2000 presidential campaign? Now he claims he is trying to spread democracy throughout the Middle East.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is another Democratic leader who has empowered Bush’s war.

Pelosi removed a provision from the most recent war-funding bill that would have required Bush to seek the permission of Congress before launching any attack on Iran. Her spokesman gave the lame excuse that she didn’t like the wording of the provision. More likely, she bowed to political pressure.

Is it any wonder the Democrats are faring lower than the president in a Washington Post ABC approval poll? Bush came in at 33 percent and Congress at 29 percent.

Members of Congress seem to have forgotten their constitutional prerogative to declare war; World War II was the last time Congress formally declared war.

Presidents have found other ways to make end runs around the law, mainly by obtaining congressional authorization “to do whatever is necessary” in a crisis involving use of the military. That’s the way we got into the Vietnam and Iraq wars.

So what are the leading Democratic White House hopefuls offering? It seems nothing but more war. So where do the voters go who are sick of the Iraqi debacle?

Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. E-mail:

Copyright 2007 Hearst Newspapers