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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Israel's Semi-Right Turn

Israelis went to the polls Tuesday to elect a new parliament and prime minister. By yesterday, despite high turnout and 99% of the vote counted, nearly everything was clear except the actual winner.

Chalk that up to an electoral system based on proportional representation, which encourages smaller or one-issue parties to compete rather than merge with larger parties. The result, this time, was that by early Wednesday morning two candidates could credibly claim to have won.

Tzipi Livni, current Foreign Minister and leader of the centrist Kadima Party, came away with the largest share of the vote, albeit by a razor-thin margin, and, with about 28 seats, not even half of the 61-seat coalition she will need to form a government. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the conservative Likud came in right behind, with about 27 seats. But he stands a better chance of assembling a coalition, thanks to the strong performance of other right-wing parties.

Israeli politics will now go into coalition-talks mode, a process that could drag on for weeks. But it isn't too early to draw conclusions about the vote. On balance, the Israeli electorate shifted rightward. Even as Likud failed to win an outright plurality, the party more than doubled its seats in parliament. A second party, Yisrael Beitenu, which campaigned for loyalty oaths as a requirement of citizenship, also increased its share of the vote to about 15 seats; its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, will now play the role of coalition kingmaker. By contrast, Ehud Barak's Labor Party, which once dominated Israeli politics, eked out only 13 seats, while the dovish Meretz got three.

The rightward tilt is easy to appreciate. Under the leadership of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who broke away from Likud to form Kadima, Israel withdrew its settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip. This was an opportunity for Palestinians to showcase the benefits of independent statehood to an ambivalent Israeli public. Instead, Gaza descended first into anarchy and then into the control of Hamas, which used Gaza as a launching pad for firing thousands of rockets of increasing range and sophistication into sovereign Israeli territory.

Israelis aren't eager to repeat the experiment by surrendering what remains of their control of the West Bank. That's especially so since Hamas cemented its alliance with Iran, which in turn is moving rapidly to acquire a nuclear weapon. Many Israelis were disappointed that the Bush Administration didn't do more to deter Iran, and they look skeptically at President Obama's pledge to engage Iran diplomatically.

Still, it would be a mistake to interpret the election as evidence that Israelis have moved to the far right. Yisrael Beitenu -- often denounced by the political left as crass and "fascistic" -- barely increased its share of the vote, while the pragmatic Ms. Livni significantly outperformed her recent polling numbers. Much of her success, we suspect, owes to Israeli fears that Mr. Netanyahu, with his go-slow approach to the Arab-Israeli peace process, would quickly tangle with the Obama Administration, much as he did with the Clinton Administration during his previous time in office.

However the political jockeying plays out, Israelis have once again reaffirmed their commitment to a democratic process that, for all its imperfections, will eventually produce a representative, responsible and lawful government. If only the same could be said of the Palestinians and the rest of Israel's neighbors, on whom any hopes for a lasting peace must ultimately rest.

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100,000 Parents of Citizens Were Deported Over 10 Years

By MICHAEL FALCONE

WASHINGTON — Of nearly 2.2 million immigrants deported in the decade ended 2007, more than 100,000 were the parents of children who, having been born in the United States, were American citizens, according to a report issued Friday by the Department of Homeland Security.

But the department lacks data that might have addressed questions left unanswered by the report, like the number of American children who were left behind in the United States or, alternatively, exited the country with their deported parents. Nor could the report say in how many instances both parents of such children were deported.

Similarly, said Representative José E. Serrano, Democrat of New York, since no one knows how many children a given deportee had, the number of affected children could be much higher than 108,434, the exact number of deported parents of American citizens.

So “the problem goes deeper than just the numbers you see,” said Mr. Serrano, who requested the study. He called the circumstance “tragic.”

“If they took their children back,” he said of the deportees, “then technically we deported an American citizen. No matter which side of the immigration issue you fall on, there’s something wrong with the notion of kicking American citizens out of their own country.”

The Homeland Security Department’s office of inspector general, which conducted the review, said it had ordered a look at the feasibility of tracking down more data about the deportations.

Mr. Serrano, who represents a heavily Hispanic district in the Bronx, is vice chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees spending on the department. He has introduced legislation that would allow immigration judges to take family status into account when deciding on deportations.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a policy institute in Washington that supports tighter controls on immigration, said immigrant parents of children born here should not receive special treatment.

“Should those parents get off the hook just because their kids are put in a difficult position?” Mr. Krikorian said. “Children often suffer because of the mistakes of their parents.”

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U.S. Military Will Offer Path to Citizenship

Rob Bennett for The New York Times

Staff Sgt. Alejandro Campos, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, became a citizen after joining the Army.

By JULIA PRESTON

Stretched thin in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American military will begin recruiting skilled immigrants who are living in this country with temporary visas, offering them the chance to become United States citizens in as little as six months.

Mike Groll/Associated Press

Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley heads Army recruitment.

Immigrants who are permanent residents, with documents commonly known as green cards, have long been eligible to enlist. But the new effort, for the first time since the Vietnam War, will open the armed forces to temporary immigrants if they have lived in the United States for a minimum of two years, according to military officials familiar with the plan.

Recruiters expect that the temporary immigrants will have more education, foreign language skills and professional expertise than many Americans who enlist, helping the military to fill shortages in medical care, language interpretation and field intelligence analysis.

“The American Army finds itself in a lot of different countries where cultural awareness is critical,” said Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, the top recruitment officer for the Army, which is leading the pilot program. “There will be some very talented folks in this group.”

The program will begin small — limited to 1,000 enlistees nationwide in its first year, most for the Army and some for other branches. If the pilot program succeeds as Pentagon officials anticipate, it will expand for all branches of the military. For the Army, it could eventually provide as many as 14,000 volunteers a year, or about one in six recruits.

About 8,000 permanent immigrants with green cards join the armed forces annually, the Pentagon reports, and about 29,000 foreign-born people currently serving are not American citizens.

Although the Pentagon has had wartime authority to recruit immigrants since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, military officials have moved cautiously to lay the legal groundwork for the temporary immigrant program to avoid controversy within the ranks and among veterans over the prospect of large numbers of immigrants in the armed forces.

A preliminary Pentagon announcement of the program last year drew a stream of angry comments from officers and veterans on Military.com, a Web site they frequent.

Marty Justis, executive director of the national headquarters of the American Legion, the veterans’ organization, said that while the group opposes “any great influx of immigrants” to the United States, it would not object to recruiting temporary immigrants as long as they passed tough background checks. But he said the immigrants’ allegiance to the United States “must take precedence over and above any ties they may have with their native country.”

The military does not allow illegal immigrants to enlist, and that policy would not change, officers said. Recruiting officials pointed out that volunteers with temporary visas would have already passed a security screening and would have shown that they had no criminal record.

“The Army will gain in its strength in human capital,” General Freakley said, “and the immigrants will gain their citizenship and get on a ramp to the American dream.”

In recent years, as American forces faced combat in two wars and recruiters struggled to meet their goals for the all-volunteer military, thousands of legal immigrants with temporary visas who tried to enlist were turned away because they lacked permanent green cards, recruiting officers said.

Recruiters’ work became easier in the last few months as unemployment soared and more Americans sought to join the military. But the Pentagon, facing a new deployment of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, still has difficulties in attracting doctors, specialized nurses and language experts.

Several types of temporary work visas require college or advanced degrees or professional expertise, and immigrants who are working as doctors and nurses in the United States have already been certified by American medical boards.

Military figures show that only 82 percent of about 80,000 Army recruits last year had high school diplomas. According to new figures, the Army provided waivers to 18 percent of active-duty recruits in the final four months of last year, allowing them to enlist despite medical conditions or criminal records.

Military officials want to attract immigrants who have native knowledge of languages and cultures that the Pentagon considers strategically vital. The program will also be open to students and refugees.

The Army’s one-year pilot program will begin in New York City to recruit about 550 temporary immigrants who speak one or more of 35 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Igbo (a tongue spoken in Nigeria), Kurdish, Nepalese, Pashto, Russian and Tamil. Spanish speakers are not eligible. The Army’s program will also include about 300 medical professionals to be recruited nationwide. Recruiting will start after Department of Homeland Security officials update an immigration rule in coming days.

Pentagon officials expect that the lure of accelerated citizenship will be powerful. Under a statute invoked in 2002 by the Bush administration, immigrants who serve in the military can apply to become citizens on the first day of active service, and they can take the oath in as little as six months.

For foreigners who come to work or study in the United States on temporary visas, the path to citizenship is uncertain and at best agonizingly long, often lasting more than a decade. The military also waives naturalization fees, which are at least $675.

To enlist, temporary immigrants will have to prove that they have lived in the United States for two years and have not been out of the country for longer than 90 days during that time. They will have to pass an English test.

Language experts will have to serve four years of active duty, and health care professionals will serve three years of active duty or six years in the Reserves. If the immigrants do not complete their service honorably, they could lose their citizenship.

Commenters who vented their suspicions of the program on Military.com said it could be used by terrorists to penetrate the armed forces.

At a street corner recruiting station in Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, Staff Sgt. Alejandro Campos of the Army said he had already fielded calls from temporary immigrants who heard rumors about the program.

“We’re going to give people the opportunity to be part of the United States who are dying to be part of this country and they weren’t able to before now,” said Sergeant Campos, who was born in the Dominican Republic and became a United States citizen after he joined the Army.

Sergeant Campos said he saw how useful it was to have soldiers who were native Arabic speakers during two tours in Iraq.

“The first time around we didn’t have soldier translators,” he said. “But now that we have soldiers as translators, we are able to trust more, we are able to accomplish the mission with more accuracy.”

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Canadian judge: No warrant needed to see ISP logs

By Jacqui Cheng

Canadian judge: No warrant needed to see ISP logs

Your activities on the Internet are akin to your activities out in public—they're not private and are possibly open for police scrutiny, according to an Ontario Superior Court. The ruling was made by Justice Lynne Leitch on—surprise!—a child pornography case. The judge said that there's "no reasonable expectation of privacy" when it comes to logs kept by ISPs. Canadians, watch out, because everything you do online could soon be turned into legal fodder, even without a warrant.

The case in question came about when, in 2007, police asked Bell Canada to hand over subscriber information for a particular IP address that they suspected of accessing and "making available" child porn online. According to the National Post, the ISP handed over the name and contact information for the account without asking for a warrant, which is apparently typical among ISPs in Canada only if the request is related to a child porn investigation.

The lawyer for the defendant—the defendant being the husband of the woman whose name was on the account—disagreed with Bell Canada's actions. He argued that since there were no accusations of luring a child or putting a minor in danger, a warrant should have been required. This argument was rejected by Judge Leitch, however, who equated the information to data that the state already has.

"One's name and address or the name and address of your spouse are not biographical information one expects would be kept private from the state," she wrote. She also stated that Canada's Personal Information Protection Electronics Documents Act allows for ISPs to give IP information to a "lawful authority," which she interpreted as not requiring a warrant.

Though it's clear that the ruling in the case (which is still ongoing) was made with good intentions, privacy advocates know what the road to hell is paved with. Critics fear that such a precedent could open the doors to police asking for information on all manner of Internet activities, ranging from the embarrassing to the questionable-but-legal, without judicial oversight.

One instructor from Toronto's Osgoode Hall Law School argued that, even when criminal activity is suspected, a warrant should be required.

"[E]veryone wants to get at the child abusers," professor James Stribopoulos told the National Post, which is why judges seem to be agreeing with Judge Leitch's interpretation of the law. "It is not just your name, it is your whole Internet surfing history. Up until now, there was privacy. An IP address is not your name, it is a 10-digit number. A lot more people would be apprehensive if they knew their name was being left everywhere they went."

IP addresses aren't necessarily accurate indicators of who's behind certain activities online. As many college campuses in the US have argued to the RIAA, IP addresses are reassigned often and no single student can be tied to a single IP address much of the time. IP address data can even be incorrect (or incorrectly matched up by ISPs), leading to some being unfairly accused of illegal activities.

Judge Leitch's ruling has privacy advocates in Canada worried, as it is binding to lower courts in Ontario. "There is no confidentiality left on the Internet if this ruling stands," Stribopoulos said.

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Keith Olbermann Traces "Anatomy Of A Smear" -- Bizarre Stimulus Attack (VIDEO)

As the stimulus package wended its way through Congress this week, a familiar face popped up to get up to some familiar shenanigans. Betsy McCaughey, a Republican former Lieutenant Governor of New York, was suddenly on the Bloomberg website and on TV, issuing dire warnings about the changes that the stimulus package was going to wreak on health care. How? McCaughey claimed that the plan contained health technology language that let the federal government could "monitor" patient care in order to "guide your doctor's decisions." In short, a top-down bureaucracy that would enforce its own set of medical treatment protocols.

Naturally, that would be bad, and naturally, not a word of it was true. That didn't stop the contention from flowing from the Rush/Drudge edges onto cable news, most notably Lou Dobbs' CNN show. Happily, however, the media seems to be gathering to put McCaughey's nonsense back on the dungheap.

Last night, Keith Olbermann featured a debunking of McCaughey on Countdown:

But CNN was among the first to dispute McCaughey's claims, deploying senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen to correct the record:

COHEN: Now, we asked Betsy McCaughey, because she's been through this bill page by page, "point us to the language that says that this bill will dictate what your doctor does," and she showed us language that didn't actually, specifically say that. It didn't say that the government will have the right to dictate what your doctor does. But she says it's vague enough that the government would be able to do that. And, of course, we ran this by the folks who wrote the bill. They said that any accusations that this bill will allow the government to dictate anything to your doctor, they say those accusations are "wildly inaccurate and preposterous."

[WATCH.]

James Fallows, at Atlantic yesterday, in an item titled "Let's Stop This Before It Goes Any Further," pointed to an article in the Washington Monthly by Steve Benen:

The claim, not surprisingly, isn't true. The National Coordinator for Health Information Technology isn't "new"; it was created by George W. Bush five years ago. More importantly, the measure is about medical records, not limiting physicians' treatments.


In fact, the language in the House bill that McCaughey ... referenced does not establish authority to "monitor treatments" or restrict what "your doctor is doing" with regard to patient care, but rather addresses establishing an electronic records system such that doctors would have complete, accurate information about their patients "to help guide medical decisions at the time and place of care."

So, the opinion piece Bloomberg ran was wrong.

What's awfully depressing about this little dust-up is that no one should have been paying McCaughey any heed in the first place. Back in 1994, McCaughey penned a critique of the Clinton health care plan for the New Republic entitled "No Exit," which was as fine a work of misreading and misleading as ever you will see. The White House issued a point-by-point refutation, and was supported by thorough takedowns from Fallows and Mickey Kaus. But McCaughey's claptrap became the conventional wisdom anyway. While then-editor Andrew Sullivan defended the piece as a bit of debate-kindling, The New Republic eventually had to recant and apologize.

The way in which McCaughey's claims are getting batted down is reassuring. Hopefully the next editor who holds a piece from her on healthcare will see it as the equivalent of Plaxico Burress penning an op-ed on clubwear, and file it in the closest cat litter box.

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Walter Jones, GOP Congressman, Signs On To Investigating Bush

Sam Stein

There is, in fact, an element of bipartisan support for creating of a truth and reconciliation committee to investigate illegalities from the Bush years. And it comes from within Congress.

Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, has signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation introduced by House Judiciary Chair John Conyers to establish "a national commission on presidential war powers and civil liberties."

A self-described conservative who brought "Freedom Fries" to Congress, Jones developed into one of the most vocal Republican critics of the Bush administration. He took particular umbrage at the handling of the Iraq War and the decision to prohibit photographs of returning coffins of American soldiers. Late in the past administration's time in office he was reported to have been reading Vincent Bugliosi's book, "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder."

So while it is surprising to see an elected Republican official endorse the establishment of an investigatory committee to probe the Bush years, it is slightly less surprising that that official is Jones.

Nevertheless, Democrats on the Hill who are committed to the idea are ecstatic to have the congressman on board. Jones' office did not return repeated requests for comment.

As for what the Obama administration thinks of the matter, that remains shrouded in a bit of mystery. I asked the president about Sen. Patrick Leahy's proposal for a truth and reconciliation committee at his Monday night press conference. He responded that he had would not comment on a proposal he had not seen. Asked on Friday whether the White House was in a better position to offer an opinion and if not, when, a spokesman replied: "I don't have a timetable to share... I will keep you updated if there is movement."

In the meantime, polling firms are beginning to take the issue seriously enough to gauge public opinion. The results are somewhat mixed, but they certainly demonstrate that the notion of investigating the Bush administration for possible illegal activities is not a revenge fantasy of the fringe "left."

A USA Today/Gallup poll showed that 38 percent of Americans support launching criminal investigations into the use of torture and warrantless wiretapping, while 41 percent support criminal investigations of Justice Department politicization. Thirty percent support setting up an "independent panel" to investigate what happened at DOJ, while roughly 25 percent support an independent investigation into warrantless wiretapping and the authorization of torture.

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Obama hails stimulus plan as 'major milestone'

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama on Saturday hailed a 787-billion-dollar economic stimulus plan

passed by Congress as "a major milestone" and promised to sign the bill into law shortly.

With the enormous package aimed at reviving a foundering US economy, creating millions of new jobs and stemming home foreclosures which helped spark the global financial meltdown last year, Obama claimed the biggest political victory yet of his nascent administration.

"This is a major milestone on our road to recovery, and I want to thank the members of Congress who came together in common purpose to make it happen," Obama said in his weekly radio address.

The Congress late Friday approved the package of tax cuts and fresh spending to salvage the broken US economy, with the Senate voting 60-38 to pass the measure after it cleared the House of Representatives by a 246-183 margin.

The passage sets the stage for Obama to sign it into law by his self-imposed February 16 deadline, timing that his spokesman Robert Gibbs said was possible provided the paperwork was completed quickly.

Obama expressed confidence that the plan "will save or create more than 3.5 million jobs over the next two years, ignite spending by business and consumers alike, and lay a new foundation for our lasting economic growth and prosperity."

The legislation, a product of hard-fought negotiations this week, allocates 120 billion dollars to infrastructure spending, including money for highways.

It also features nearly 20 billion dollars for renewable energy and 11 billion to modernize the US electrical grid -- steps former vice president Al Gore warmly endorsed weeks ago as a major downpayment on Obama's strategy for fighting climate change.

The bill includes tax cuts -- expected to benefit 95 percent of US families -- and tens of billions of dollars for extending unemployment benefits, bolstering healthcare for the least well-off and funds to help cash-strapped states avoid cuts in services like education.

A provision inserted by Senate Democrats would also prohibit cash bonuses for top executives at large companies that receive money under the government's bailout program, US newspapers reported Saturday.

But Obama's victory was bittersweet, as lawmakers approved a compromise stimulus that was smaller than the president had requested, and most Republicans rebuffed his appeals to join Democrats in backing it.

"This isn't Monopoly money. It's real. It adds up, and it has to be paid back, by our children and by their children," said Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, delivering the Republican party's response to the president Saturday, said "Republicans have been supportive of a stimulus plan all along" but were skeptical about whether one of the largest US government outlays in history would create jobs.

"Over the past few weeks, a serious difference of opinion has emerged over what an economic recovery plan should include," Murkowski said.

"Democrats, it seems, settled on a random dollar amount in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars and then set out to fill the bucket."

In his address, the president vowed to spend taxpayer dollars "with unprecedented accountability, responsibility, and transparency."

He said once the plan is put into action, a new website -- recovery.gov -- will allow Americans to watch where the money goes and weigh in with comments and questions.

But he cautioned that the stimulus package would be the beginning rather than the end of efforts to turn the economy around because "the problems that led us into this crisis are deep and widespread.

"For our plan to succeed, we must stabilize, repair, and reform our banking system, and get credit flowing again to families and businesses," said Obama.

"We must write and enforce new rules of the road, to stop unscrupulous speculators from undermining our economy ever again."

He also said the US government must stem the spread of foreclosures and do everything it can to help responsible homeowners stay in their homes.

Over the long term, the president said measures would be needed to tame the country's burgeoning federal deficit, but expressed confidence that Americans would be able to overcome the hardships.

"It will take time, and it will take effort, but working together, we will turn this crisis into opportunity and emerge from our painful present into a brighter future."

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Democrats muscle huge stimulus through Congress

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D- Ohio, leaves the Senate chambers after voting to pass the stimulus bill Friday, Feb. 13, 2009 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — In a major victory for President Barack Obama, Democrats muscled a huge, $787 billion stimulus bill through Congress late Friday night in hopes of combating the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Republican opposition was nearly unanimous.

After lobbying energetically for the bill, Obama is expected to sign it within a few days, less than a month after taking office.

Supporters said the legislation would save or create 3.5 million jobs. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., conceded there was no guarantee, but he said that "millions and millions and millions of people will be helped, as they have lost their jobs and can't put food on the table of their families."

Vigorously disagreeing, House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio dumped a copy of the 1,071-page bill to the floor in a gesture of contempt. "The bill that was about jobs, jobs, jobs has turned into a bill that's about spending, spending, spending," he said.

The Senate approved the measure 60-38 with three GOP moderates providing crucial support _ the only members of their party to back it. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio cast the decisive vote after flying aboard a government plane from Ohio, where he was mourning his mother's death.

Hours earlier, the House vote was 246-183, with all Republicans opposed to the package of tax cuts and federal spending that Obama has made the centerpiece of his plan for economic recovery.

The legislation, among the costliest ever considered in Congress, provides billions of dollars to aid victims of the recession through unemployment benefits, food stamps, medical care, job retraining and more. Tens of billions are ticketed for the states to offset cuts they might otherwise have to make in aid to schools and local governments, and there is more than $48 billion for transportation projects such as road and bridge construction, mass transit and high-speed rail.

Democrats said the bill's tax cuts would help 95 percent of all Americans, much of the relief in the form of a break of $400 for individuals and $800 for couples. At the insistence of the White House, people who do not earn enough money to owe income taxes are eligible, an attempt to offset the payroll taxes they pay.

In a bow to political reality, lawmakers included $70 billion to shelter upper middle-class and wealthier taxpayers from an income tax increase that would otherwise hit them, a provision that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said would do relatively little to create jobs.

Also included were funds for two of Obama's initiatives, the expansion of computerized information technology in the health care industry and billions to create so-called green jobs the administration says will begin reducing the country's dependence on foreign oil.

Asked for his reaction to House passage of the bill, Obama said "thumbs up" and indeed gave a thumbs-up sign as he left the White House with his family for a long weekend in Chicago.

There was little or no suspense about the outcome, although the final act played out over hours and extended late into the night.

That was to allow time for Brown to fly back. He cast his vote more than five hours after most senators had left the Capitol for a 10-day vacation, one of the longest roll calls in Senate history.

Congress cast its votes as federal regulators announced the closing of the Sherman County Bank in Loup City, Neb.; Riverside Bank of the Gulf Coast in Florida, based in Cape Coral; Corn Belt Bank and Trust Co. of Pittsfield, Ill.; and Pinnacle Bank of Beaverton, Ore. They raised to 13 the number of failures this year of federally insured banking companies and were the latest reminders of the toll taken by recession and frozen credit markets.

The day's events at the Capitol were scripted to allow Democratic leaders to fulfill their pledge to send Obama legislation by mid-February.

"Barack Obama, in just a few short weeks as president, has passed one of the biggest packages for economic recovery in our nation's history," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, anticipating final Senate passage.

The approval also capped an early period of accomplishment for the Democrats, who won control of the White House and expanded their majorities in Congress in last fall's elections.

Since taking office on Jan. 20, the president has signed legislation extending government-financed health care to millions of lower-income children who lack it, a bill that President George W. Bush twice vetoed. He also has placed his signature on a measure making it easier for workers to sue their employers for alleged job discrimination, effectively overturning a ruling by the Supreme Court's conservative majority.

Obama made the stimulus a cornerstone of his economic recovery plan even before he took office, but his calls for bipartisanship were an early casualty.

Republicans complained they had been locked out of the early decisions, and Democrats countered that Boehner had tried to rally opposition even before the president met privately with the GOP rank and file.

In retrospect, said White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, the White House wasn't "sharp enough" in emphasizing the benefits of the bill as Republicans began to criticize spending on items such as family planning services, anti-smoking programs and reseeding the National Mall.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid faced a different task _ finding enough GOP moderates to give him the 60 votes needed to surmount a variety of procedural hurdles. To do that, he and the White House agreed to trim billions in spending from the original $820 billion House-passed bill, enough to obtain the backing of GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

As the final compromise took shape in a frenzied round of bargaining earlier this week, it was trimmed again to hold the support of the moderates, whose opposition to a new program for federal school construction caused anger among House Democrats.

In the end, a compromise was reached that allows states to use funds for modernizing schools. But in a display of displeasure, Pelosi decided to skip the news conference last Wednesday where Reid announced a final agreement.

In addition to tax relief for individuals and businesses who purchase new equipment, lawmakers inserted breaks for first-time homebuyers and consumers purchasing new cars in an attempt to aid two industries particularly hard-hit by the recession. In response to pressure from lawmakers from Pennsylvania, Indiana and elsewhere, the bill was altered at the last minute to permit the buyers of recreational vehicles and motorcycles to claim the same break as those buying cars and light trucks.

In the House, all 246 votes in favor were cast by Democrats. Seven Democrats joined 176 Republicans in opposition.

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A Truth Commission to Investigate Bush-Cheney Administration Abuses

Sen. Patrick Leahy


We have just emerged from a time when White House officials often acted as if they were above the law. That was wrong and must be fully exposed so it never happens again.

The Huffington Post community and the netroots played a vital role pursuing, demanding, and exposing the Bush-Cheney administration's numerous abuses. But there's still more we don't know, and more we must uncover, about the misdeeds of the past eight years.



That is why I proposed the idea of a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate abuses during the Bush-Cheney administration. These abuses may include the use of torture, warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, and executive override of laws. 



I have set up a petition at BushTruthCommission.com, and I hope you will sign it to urge Congress to consider establishing a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the Bush-Cheney administration's abuses. We already have over 7,000 signatures, but we need to hit 10,000 signatures -- or more -- by next week, to build momentum behind this idea.

During the past several years, this country has been divided as deeply as it has been at any time in our history since the Civil War. It has made our government less productive and our society less civil. In this week when we begin commemorating the Lincoln bicentennial, there is need, again, "to bind up the nation's wounds." President Lincoln urged that course in his second inaugural address some seven score and four years ago.



Rather than vengeance, we need a fair-minded pursuit of what actually happened. The best way to move forward is getting to the truth, finding out what happened, so we can make sure it does not happen again.



The Obama administration has already made huge strides to restore the Constitution and renew our commitment to international law after eight corrosive years. But we must read the full page on this dark chapter in American history before we can turn it for good, which is why I feel so strongly about investigating what really happened.

 I hope you agree.



On Monday, I delivered a speech at Georgetown University where I outlined my ideas about why we need a truth and reconciliation commission and how it could work.



A truth and reconciliation commission would be tasked with seeking answers. It would provide Congress and the American people with a shared understanding of the failures of the recent past, so we do not repeat them in the future.



Thank you, in advance, for taking action at www.BushTruthCommission.com to prevent history from repeating itself and joining me to support the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission.

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