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Friday, April 3, 2009

Gingrich warns of third party in 2012

The former Republican Speaker discussed 2012 during a recent speech at a Missouri college.
The former Republican Speaker discussed 2012 during a recent speech at a Missouri college.

(CNN) — Former House speaker Newt Gingrich is warning of a third party mutiny in 2012 if Republicans don’t figure out a way to shape up.

“If the Republicans can’t break out of being the right wing party of big government, then I think you would see a third party movement in 2012,” Gingrich said Tuesday. The speech, to a group of students at the College of the Ozarks in Missouri, was recorded by Springfield TV station KY3.

But Gingrich, bemoaning President Barack Obama’s “monstrosity of a budget,” acknowledged that Republicans are partially to blame for the escalation in federal spending.

"Remember, everything Obama’s doing, Bush started last year,” he said. “If you’re going to talk about big spending, the mistakes of the Bush administration last year are fully as bad as the mistakes of Obama’s first two, three months.”

Gingrich told the students that the current governmental system “is so sick, so out of touch and so arrogant that you’re going to have a nationwide rebellion at the polls of people in both parties who are just fed up.”

“You can do a Facebook page, you can Twitter,” he said. “I Twitter right now and I think we’re at like, I don’t know, 18,000 or 20,000 thousand people that follow my Twitter, which I have to say I think is nuts. But there are ways to communicate, you’re not trapped by CBS news.”

Gingrich has repeatedly said that he will decide in early 2011 whether he plans to seek the White House in 2012.

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Blagojevich, his brother, top aides indicted

Federal prosecutors expanded their case against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich today in an indictment that drew more of his closest aides into the scandal and adds new schemes to the list of charges against him: Pocketing money funneled through his wife through a phony real estate job. Shaking down a powerful congressman. Running the state as a racket.

Coming nearly four months after federal agents roused a sitting governor out of his Northwest Side home in a predawn arrest -- and weeks after lawmakers dumped him from power -- today's indictment of Blagojevich, his brother and four former top insiders could have been anti-climactic.

Indict505x175.jpg

Left to right: Rod Blagojevich, Rob Blagojevich, Christopher Kelly, Alonzo Monk, William F. Cellini Sr., John Harris. (Tribune and AP photos)

Instead, prosecutors added a few more chapters to the Blagojevich saga, further pulling his family into the pay-to-play conspiracy, revealing yet more confidants had turned on him and suggesting he was intent on corruption before he was even sworn in. The indictment carries a potentially lengthy prison sentence and possible forfeiture of his family home should Blagojevich be convicted.

After turning Illinois politics into an amusement-park ride, most notably for allegedly trying to sell President Barack Obama's Senate seat, Blagojevich spent the day of his indictment with his family at Disney World.

Blagojevich was indicted on 16 racketeering, fraud and extortion counts. Among the new, damaging allegations were that Blagojevich delayed a $2 million grant to a public charter school while trying to extort campaign cash from now-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and threatened to withhold future state business from financial institutions that refused to hire his wife.

Blagojevich's effort to profit, both personally and for his Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund, was so pervasive that federal prosecutors labeled the racketeering scheme the "Blagojevich Enterprise."

"The primary purpose of the Blagojevich Enterprise was to exercise and preserve power over the government of the State of Illinois for the financial and political benefit of Rod Blagojevich, both directly and through Friends of Blagojevich, and for the financial benefit of his family members and associates," the indictment alleged.

Prosecutors alleged that Blagojevich and his most trusted confidants conspired to enrich themselves before his election as governor in November 2002, even striking a deal to divide the spoils after he left the state's highest office.

Also indicted were Blagojevich's close friend and fundraiser Christopher Kelly and two former chiefs of staff -- Alonzo "Lon" Monk, a longtime friend who also managed Blagojevich's campaigns for governor and later became a well-heeled lobbyist, and John Harris, who succeeded Monk as chief of staff. Blagojevich's brother, Robert, who headed his campaign fund, also was charged, as was Downstate Republican power broker William Cellini.

Blagojevich's wife, Patricia, was not indicted but was essentially described as a co-conspirator amid efforts to enrich her and the Blagojevich family.

Prosecutors said Harris had agreed to cooperate, and details contained in the indictment indicated that Antoin "Tony" Rezko, once a major fundraiser and adviser to Blagojevich who was convicted in June on corruption charges, also was helping to build the case against the former governor. And in a new twist, sources also said Monk had negotiated to work with federal prosecutors.

In a statement released by the public relations firm representing him, Blagojevich said he was "innocent."

Orlando's WESH-TV posted on its Web site a video of the former governor in sunglasses and shorts sitting beside a pool. As his wife tried to block the camera's view, Blagojevich declined to discuss the charges and said he would talk "at the appropriate time."

It was clear from the indictment that new cooperation from former close associates, such as Rezko, was providing prosecutors with valuable information.

The indictment alleged that Rezko played an integral role in boosting the Blagojevich family's finances, steering little or no-work real estate commissions to Patricia Blagojevich's real estate firm and later hiring her for his own real estate business at $12,000 a month. Rezko also allegedly gave Monk as much as $90,000 to help pay for a car and home improvements.

Among the earliest and biggest plots in the "Blagojevich Enterprise" was a scheme to direct the sale of billions of dollars in bonds to refinance the state's pension debt to a company whose lobbyist secretly agreed to kick back hundreds of thousands of dollars to Rezko. Sources with knowledge of the situation identified that company as Bear Stearns and the lobbyist as Robert Kjellander.

The indictment also alleged that even though it was public knowledge in 2006 that Rezko and Kelly were under federal investigation, Blagojevich continued his effort to benefit from his post. One notable example involved Emanuel, then a Northwest Side congressman, who was supporting a $2 million grant for Chicago Academy and Chicago Academy High School, but Blagojevich allegedly delayed it in an effort to force Emanuel and one of the congressman's brothers to hold a fundraiser for him. No fundraiser was held.

The indictment largely restated the criminal charges leveled against Blagojevich in the December complaint. It contended he sought to profit from the sale of his appointment of a U.S. Senate successor to Obama in forms ranging from an ambassadorship or cabinet post to a job for his wife.

The indictment also restated that Blagojevich allegedly tried to seek the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial writers who were critical of him in exchange for granting state help in the sale of Wrigley Field. The indictment indicates Blagojevich directed Harris to go to Tribune Co. leaders with the proposal but did not allege that Harris followed through with the governor's request.

Prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture of more than $188,000 from Blagojevich and threatened to go after his property -- including his Ravenswood Manor home and an apartment in Washington.

Gov. Pat Quinn offered his reaction at a quick news conference after stepping off a plane at O'Hare International Airport.

"This is a very sad day for the people of our state the people of Illinois are entitled to honest government all the time, the charges today are very, very serious. The defendants are entitled to their day in court, we believe in that in America. The people of Illinois are entitled to honest government that works for them 24 hours a day every day, that's what I'm committed to, that's why I was sworn in, I think, 9 weeks ago," Quinn said.

To read a Chicago Tribune editorial on the indictment of Rod Blagojevich, see Vox Pop at chicagotribune.com.

Monique Garcia contributed to this report.

--Rick Pearson and Jeff Coen

Original here

Joe the Plumber Gets Booed Out of Pennsylvania

Somebody in the Republican Party thought it would be a great idea to send Joe the Plumber to Pennsylvania to rally against the Employee Free Choice Act. The pretend plumber faced audiences so hostile in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg that he skipped a rally in Philadelphia. This perfectly sums of the state of both Joe the Plumber’s 15 minutes of fame, and the GOP.

Here is the report from KDKA about Joe in Pittsburgh:


Here is Joe in Harrisburg admitting that only knows a little about the issue:


These two videos pretty much sum up the intelligence of the Republican Party right now. They send a fake plumber on a tour of an increasingly Democratic state to lobby against a bill that he readily admits he doesn’t understand. Not only do they send him to Pennsylvania, but they send him to three of the biggest pro-union areas in the state. Even the conservative parts of Pennsylvania in the so called “T” have union roots due to the mining and manufacturing that used to be here.

I can’t begin to fully express what a stupid idea this was. Joe could have had a nice little tour if he would have went to the conservative areas of the state, but to schedule him for a trip to the two biggest liberal strongholds was dense beyond belief. Plus, Harrisburg as the state capitol has a huge number of public sector union members. Pennsylvania is one of those states where the Employee Free Choice Act is going to be popular with many people.

The latest Joe fiasco is another sign of the Republicans still don’t get it. The state Republican is mirroring the national GOP by moving further to the right, which explains why they are so eager to rid themselves of Arlen Specter. Pennsylvania teased Republican presidential nominees for years, but it is not going to be in play in 2012. It has gone Democratic in 5 straight presidential elections.

There is a growing discussion about whether or not Pennsylvania should be classified as swing state anymore, so sending the intellectually ill equipped Joe the Plumber into such hostile territory reeks of detachment, desperation, and stupidity. Right now those three adjectives could also be used to sum up the state of the Republican Party.

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Lawmakers Have Long Rewarded Their Aides With Bonuses

WASHINGTON -- While Congress has been flaying companies for giving out bonuses while on the government dole, lawmakers have a longstanding tradition of rewarding their own employees with extra cash -- also courtesy of taxpayers.

Capitol Hill bonuses in 2008 were among the highest in years, according to LegiStorm, an organization that tracks payroll data. The average House aide earned 17% more in the fourth quarter of the year, when the bonuses were paid, than in previous quarters, according to the data. That was the highest jump in the eight years LegiStorm has compiled payroll information.

Total end-of-year bonuses paid to congressional staffers are tiny compared with the $165 million recently showered on executives of American International Group Inc., which is being propped up by billions of dollars of U.S. government subsidies. But Capitol Hill bonuses provide a notable counterpoint to the populist rhetoric and sound bites emanating from Washington these past weeks.

Last year alone, more than 200 House lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, awarded bonuses totaling $9.1 million to more than 2,000 staff members, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of office-disbursement forms. The money comes out of taxpayer-funded office budgets, and is surplus cash that would otherwise be forfeited if not spent.

Payments ranged from a few hundred dollars to $14,000. Lawmakers, at their own discretion, gave the money to chiefs of staff, assistants, computer technicians, and more than 100 aides who earned salaries of more than $100,000 a year.

This has gone on for many years. There is no prohibition against handing out excess cash. The lawmakers say it is a nice incentive to get staff to conserve budgets, and it rewards hard work and long hours.

"Most aides could make more money elsewhere, but choose to work on Capitol Hill because they believe in public service," said Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who along with other top House leaders awarded bonuses. (Senators also give bonuses, but documents showing those payments aren't yet available.) Mr. Daly said bonuses are a small perk for underpaid government employees.

Each House office receives between $1.3 million and $1.9 million annually in government funds to pay for office expenses, including salaries. In 2008, some lawmakers returned excess cash to the government, including Rep. Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican (who also gave some bonuses) and Rep. Tim Walz, a Minnesota Democrat. Meredith Salsbery, a spokeswoman for Mr. Walz, said aides are asked to be "thrifty and conscious of taxpayer dollars" and that Mr. Walz "knows the power of setting a good example."

The 435 House offices typically return a total of about $1 million or $2 million a year, or less that 0.5% of the overall budget for office expenses, but the amount can vary widely. In 2006, for example, lawmakers returned just $36,549.

Disbursement forms show that dozens of aides working for the Financial Services Committee got a bonus from panel Chairman Barney Frank. Spokesman Steven Adamske said the Massachusetts Democrat gives bonuses to staffers because "government workers are pretty low paid." He said several aides who got bonuses had worked long hours during 2008 on the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Top Financial Services Committee Republicans also gave their aides bonuses. "These were merit bonuses for people who had performed especially well," said Larry Lavender, an aide to Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the committee.

Overall in the House, disbursements were roughly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

Six lawmakers who lost their re-election races paid more than $300,000 in bonuses to 89 staffers. Thelma Drake, a Republican, gave about $40,000 in extra compensation to about a dozen aides after losing her Virginia seat. Mrs. Drake said the payments were a form of severance to "good staff members who worked their hearts out and who were about to lose their jobs."

A handful of lawmakers who retired handed out a total of $283,000 in bonuses. After Republican Heather Wilson gave up her New Mexico seat in the House to run unsuccessfully for the Senate, she gave 13 aides bonuses as high as $3,000. "My practice over 10 years in Congress was to give bonuses at the end of the year," she said.

Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California handed out the largest payments, giving $14,000 apiece to three aides. Spokeswoman Adrienne Elrod said her boss is "proud of the bonuses she is able to give."

Last fall, Democratic Rep. Tom Udall left the House to run for New Mexico's Senate seat. Several members of his House staff took leaves from their government jobs to work for his campaign. When Mr. Udall won the race and returned to Washington, his office budget had accrued a large surplus. He decided to spend the surplus funds by increasing salaries for nearly his entire staff for a short time.

Disbursement forms show that in late December, Mr. Udall temporarily increased salaries for 19 of his 22 employees to an annualized rate of $163,795. Among those who earned the higher pay were staff assistants, a scheduler, an executive assistant and a part-time employee.

Spokeswoman Marissa Padilla said Mr. Udall traditionally "adjusts salaries at the end of the year based on seniority, merit and unused leave" when his office has a surplus.

Write to Brody Mullins at brody.mullins@wsj.com and Louise Radnofsky at louise.radnofsky@dowjones.com

Original here

O’Reilly: Protesters who use the Internet to organize are just like child molesters.

Thousands of protesters have gathered in London ahead of the G20 summit, many of them angry over a multi-million-dollar pension paid out to a failed executive at the Royal Bank of Scotland. Host Jon Scott asked Bill O’Reilly what he thought of “these nuts,” and O’Reilly said “the Internet’s driving this kind of stuff” — including protesters and, apparently, child molesters:

The Internet’s driving this kind of stuff. … There was always this crew, this anarchist crew, these people can’t fit into society, they’re angry for whatever reason, they want to cause trouble. They’ve always been there. But now they’re coordinated by the internet, now they can talk to each other. It’s like child molesters, you know? I mean, child molesters have always been around but now they got a place to go and gather and do their evil deeds.

Watch it:

O’Reilly has never been a fan of the Internet. Last fall, he decried its well-known liberal bias, and he frequently lashes out at bloggers and the blogosphere in general. No wonder he said he “doesn’t really go” on the Internet.

Original here

Sebelius paid over $7,000 in back taxes

By














Health and Human Services nominee Kathleen Sebelius has paid back taxes and interest of more than $7,800 stemming from "unintentional errors" revealed during her accountant's review of recent tax returns.

The White House on Tuesday released a letter Sebelius sent to the Senate Finance Committee, detailing how she lacked proper paperwork in accounting for some charitable donations and business expenses. The Kansas governor also mistakenly claimed a mortgage interest deduction on a house she had already sold.

Sebelius was nominated for health secretary after President Barack Obama’s first choice, former Sen. Tom Daschle, dropped out after failing to pay more than $100,000 in income taxes on free limo rides provided by a friend and Democratic donor.

But the committee’s reaction to Sebelius’ tax issue was much different that the reaction to Daschle. In attempt to show he didn't consider her nomination in jeopardy, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) quickly issued a statement calling for quick action on Sebelius’ bid to serve as health secretary.

“Congress is going to need a strong partner at the Department of Health and Human Services to achieve comprehensive health reform this year, and we have that partner in Governor Sebelius,” said Baucus. “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Governor Sebelius has the political experience, determination, and bipartisan work ethic to get the job done with Congress this year. She’s the right person for the job and I look forward to hearing from her at the Finance Committee’s hearing on Thursday.”

The details about Sebelius' back taxes emerged several hours after she testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which hears testimony from the HHS nominee as a courtesy but does not vote on whether to send the nomination to the Senate. That power rests with the Finance Committee, which conducts a thorough review of the nominees' records.

In her letter to the Finance Committee, Sebelius said she and her husband hired a certified public accountant to review their tax returns for 2005, 2006 and 2007.

“That evaluation revealed unintentional errors, which we immediately corrected by filing amended returns,” Sebelius wrote.

She paid $7,040 in additional taxes and $878 in interest, Sebelius said.

Regarding charitable contributions of more than $250, she said she could not locate acknowledgment letters from the organizations on three out of 49 donations made in those three years. Sebelius eliminated the deductions, she said.

Sebelius said she sold her home in Topeka, Kan., for an amount less than the outstanding balance on the mortgage. She continued paying off the loan and the interest for which they continued to claim a deduction.

“Another loan for home improvements was treated similarly,” she wrote. “These errors were corrected in our amended returns.”

With the business expenses, Sebelius said she discovered “insufficient documentation required to claim some of our tax deductions for business expenses.”

Baucus and Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, appeared to otherwise give her a clean bill of health. In a letter to Sebelius, the senators said “no additional items were identified that needed to be addressed as a result of our review.”

Original here

And Then They Came for Koh ...


Former CIA Director James Woolsey (R), vice president of the Global Strategic Security Division of Booz Allen Hamilton; listens as Harold Hongju Koh (R). Click image to expand.It's 11:45 a.m. on April 1, and if you run a Google News search on Harold Koh, dean of Yale Law School and President Obama's pick for legal adviser to the State Department, here's what you'll find: 13 pieces on far-right Web sites characterizing Koh as dangerous and anti-American; several Fox News stories, updated several times daily, one of which describes the anti-Koh screeds as "burning up the Internet"; and a measly two blog posts defending Koh from these attacks. By the time you read this, I suspect that Fox News will have a scrolling red banner that reads, "Obama's Koh pick imperils us all" (and … wait for it … BINGO!), the anti-Koh pieces will number 18, and the pro-Koh blog posts will number three.

And yet by my most recent tally, every one of the anti-Koh rants dutifully repeats a canard that first appeared in a hatchet piece in the New York Post by former Bush administration speechwriter Meghan Clyne. She asserts that Koh believes "Sharia law could apply to disputes in US courts." The evidence for her claim? "A New York lawyer, Steven Stein, says that, in addressing the Yale Club of Greenwich in 2007, Koh claimed that 'in an appropriate case, he didn't see any reason why Sharia law would not be applied to govern a case in the United States.' "

Needless to say, if the future lawyer for the State Department wanted to apply sharia law willy-nilly in American courtrooms, it would be a terrifying prospect. And so Daniel Pipes can title his post "Obama's Harold Koh, Promoter of Shari'a?" … OMG, people! Dean Koh wants to see women executed in the middle of the town square for wearing the wrong color burkha.

But, of course, Koh believes nothing of the sort. And the only real revelation here is that truth can't be measured in Google hit counts or partisan hysteria.

The New York Post today published a letter from Robin Reeves Zorthian, who actually organized the Yale Club dinner to which Stein refers. In that letter, Zorthian writes that "the account given by Steve Stein of Dean Koh's comments is totally fictitious and inaccurate" and that she, her husband, "and several fellow alumni ... are all adamant that Koh never said or suggested that sharia law could be used to govern cases in US courts." Why should we believe her and her colleagues over Stein? Well, for one thing, Koh in all his academic articles and many public statements has never said anything to suggest some dogged fealty to sharia. But the right-wing blogs have yet to take note of Zorthian's version of events; the sharia fable is chuffing along on its own steam now; and Fox can continue to pass along Stein's account of the story in a breathless game of sky-is-falling telephone.

Chris Borgen, at Opinio Juris, has done a great job of debunking some of the worst of Clyne's distortions of Koh's legal and constitutional views, and Above the Law treats her absurd sharia claims with all the unseriousness they warrant. The underlying legal charge from the right is that Koh is a "transnationalist" who seeks to subjugate all of America to elite international courts. We've heard these claims from conservative critics before. They amount to just this: The mere acknowledgment that a body of law exists outside the United States is tantamount to claiming that America is enslaved to that law. The recognition that international law even exists somehow transforms the U.S. Supreme Court into a sort of intermediate court of appeals that must answer to the Dreaded Court of Elitist European Preferences.

Harold Koh is not a radical legal figure. He has served with distinction in both Democratic and Republican administrations (under Presidents Clinton and Reagan), and in that capacity he sued both Democratic and Republican administrations. He was confirmed unanimously 11 years ago, and yet this time around, he is a threat to American sovereignty.

Clyne's gross distortions of Koh's views have gone completely unanswered in the mainstream press. You can certainly argue that ignoring the whole story signals that it's beneath notice. But it also means that, once again, the only players on the field work for Fox News. So last night, while you were reheating Monday's lasagna, Glenn Beck was jubilantly warning his viewers that Koh went to Europe and "protested against Mother's Day." And thus one of the country's leading academics—a man who has authored 175 law review articles and/or legal editorials and eight books—has been reduced to an ad hoc answer to a gotcha question that nobody but the questioner himself seems to understand.

Why am I bothered by this? This kind of vicious slash-and-burn character attack, the kind in which the nominee is attacked as a vicious hater of America, is hardly new. The little trick of upending Dean Koh's legal arguments and recharacterizing them as the nefarious plotting of Dr. Evil is a surprise to nobody at this point. But we can be bothered even if we're not surprised. When moderate Americans and the mainstream media allow a handful of right-wing zealots to occupy the field in the public discussions of an Obama nominee, they become complicit in a character assassination. Dawn Johnsen, a law professor at Indiana University and one of the most qualified candidates ever tapped to head the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, now faces the prospect of a Senate filibuster because it took weeks for the mainstream media to evince outrage at how she was being treated.*

As Neil Lewis observes today in the New York Times, the attack on Johnsen (who is an acquaintance and used to write for Slate) also started out with an attack from a handful of conservative blogs. The posts asserted that a 20-year-old footnote in a brief Johnsen had authored "equated pregnancy with slavery." And this bizarre claim rapidly became a holy truth to Senate Republicans at her confirmation hearing, even when they couldn't quite recall where they had read it or why.

Original here

Why Legalizing Marijuana Makes Sense


By Joe Klein

For the past several years, I've been harboring a fantasy, a last political crusade for the baby-boom generation. We, who started on the path of righteousness, marching for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam, need to find an appropriately high-minded approach to life's exit ramp. In this case, I mean the high-minded part literally. And so, a deal: give us drugs, after a certain age — say, 80 — all drugs, any drugs we want. In return, we will give you our driver's licenses. (I mean, can you imagine how terrifying a nation of decrepit, solipsistic 90-year-old boomers behind the wheel would be?) We'll let you proceed with your lives — much of which will be spent paying for our retirement, in any case — without having to hear us complain about our every ache and reflux. We'll be too busy exploring altered states of consciousness. I even have a slogan for the campaign: "Tune in, turn on, drop dead."

A fantasy, I suppose. But, beneath the furious roil of the economic crisis, a national conversation has quietly begun about the irrationality of our drug laws. It is going on in state legislatures, like New York's, where the draconian Rockefeller drug laws are up for review; in other states, from California to Massachusetts, various forms of marijuana decriminalization are being enacted. And it has reached the floor of Congress, where Senators Jim Webb and Arlen Specter have proposed a major prison-reform package, which would directly address drug-sentencing policy. (See pictures of stoner cinema.)

There are also more puckish signs of a zeitgeist shift. A few weeks ago, the White House decided to stage a forum in which the President would answer questions submitted by the public; 92,000 people responded — and most of them seemed obsessed with the legalization of marijuana. The two most popular questions about "green jobs and energy," for example, were about pot. The President dismissed the outpouring — appropriately, I guess — as online ballot-stuffing and dismissed the legalization question with a simple: "No." (Read: "Can Marijuana Help Rescue California's Economy?")

This was a rare instance of Barack Obama reacting reflexively, without attempting to think creatively, about a serious policy question. He was, in fact, taking the traditional path of least resistance: an unexpected answer on marijuana would have launched a tabloid firestorm, diverting attention from the budget fight and all those bailouts. In fact, the default fate of any politician who publicly considers the legalization of marijuana is to be cast into the outer darkness. Such a person is assumed to be stoned all the time, unworthy of being taken seriously. Such a person would be lacerated by the assorted boozehounds and pill poppers of talk radio. The hypocrisy inherent in the American conversation about stimulants is staggering.

But there are big issues here, issues of economy and simple justice, especially on the sentencing side. As Webb pointed out in a cover story in Parade magazine, the U.S. is, by far, the most "criminal" country in the world, with 5% of the world's population and 25% of its prisoners. We spend $68 billion per year on corrections, and one-third of those being corrected are serving time for nonviolent drug crimes. We spend about $150 billion on policing and courts, and 47.5% of all arrests are marijuana-related. That is an awful lot of money, most of it nonfederal, that could be spent on better schools or infrastructure — or simply returned to the public. (See the top 10 ballot measures.)

At the same time, there is an enormous potential windfall in the taxation of marijuana. It is estimated that pot is the largest cash crop in California, with annual revenues approaching $14 billion. A 10% pot tax would yield $1.4 billion in California alone. And that's probably a fraction of the revenues that would be available — and of the economic impact, with thousands of new jobs in agriculture, packaging, marketing and advertising. A veritable marijuana economic-stimulus package! (Read: "Is Pot Good For You?")

So why not do it? There are serious moral arguments, both secular and religious. There are those who believe — with some good reason — that the accretion of legalized vices is debilitating, that we are a less virtuous society since gambling spilled out from Las Vegas to "riverboats" and state lotteries across the country. There is a medical argument, though not a very convincing one: alcohol is more dangerous in a variety of ways, including the tendency of some drunks to get violent. One could argue that the abuse of McDonald's has a greater potential health-care cost than the abuse of marijuana. (Although it's true that with legalization, those two might not be unrelated.) Obviously, marijuana can be abused. But the costs of criminalization have proved to be enormous, perhaps unsustainable. Would legalization be any worse?

In any case, the drug-reform discussion comes just at the right moment. We boomers are getting older every day. You're not going to want us on the highways. Make us your best offer.

Original here




Obama’s Nobel Headache

Paul Krugman has emerged as Obama's toughest liberal critic. He's deeply skeptical of the bank bailout and pessimistic about the economy. Why the establishment worries he may be right.

By Evan Thomas | NEWSWEEK

Andrew Eccles for Newsweek

Traditionally, punditry in Washington has been a cozy business. To get the inside scoop, big-time columnists sometimes befriend top policymakers and offer informal advice over lunch or drinks. Naturally, lines can blur. The most noted pundit of mid-20th-century Washington, Walter Lippmann, was known to help a president write a speech—and then to write a newspaper column praising the speech.

Paul Krugman has all the credentials of a ranking member of the East Coast liberal establishment: a column in The New York Times, a professorship at Princeton, a Nobel Prize in economics. He is the type you might expect to find holding forth at a Georgetown cocktail party or chumming around in the White House Mess of a Democratic administration. But in his published opinions, and perhaps in his very being, he is anti-establishment. Though he was a scourge of the Bush administration, he has been critical, if not hostile, to the Obama White House.

In his twice-a-week column and his blog, Conscience of a Liberal, he criticizes the Obamaites for trying to prop up a financial system that he regards as essentially a dead man walking. In conversation, he portrays Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and other top officials as, in effect, tools of Wall Street (a ridiculous charge, say Geithner defenders). These men and women have "no venality," Krugman hastened to say in an interview with NEWSWEEK. But they are suffering from "osmosis," from simply spending too much time around investment bankers and the like. In his Times column the day Geithner announced the details of the administration's bank-rescue plan, Krugman described his "despair" that Obama "has apparently settled on a financial plan that, in essence, assumes that banks are fundamentally sound and that bankers know what they're doing. It's as if the president were determined to confirm the growing perception that he and his economic team are out of touch, that their economic vision is clouded by excessively close ties to Wall Street."

If you are of the establishment persuasion (and I am), reading Krugman makes you uneasy. You hope he's wrong, and you sense he's being a little harsh (especially about Geithner), but you have a creeping feeling that he knows something that others cannot, or will not, see. By definition, establishments believe in propping up the existing order. Members of the ruling class have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are. Safeguarding the status quo, protecting traditional institutions, can be healthy and useful, stabilizing and reassuring. But sometimes, beneath the pleasant murmur and tinkle of cocktails, the old guard cannot hear the sound of ice cracking. The in crowd of any age can be deceived by self-confidence, as Liaquat Ahamed has shown in "Lords of Finance," his new book about the folly of central bankers before the Great Depression, and David Halberstam revealed in his Vietnam War classic, "The Best and the Brightest." Krugman may be exaggerating the decay of the financial system or the devotion of Obama's team to preserving it. But what if he's right, or part right? What if President Obama is squandering his only chance to step in and nationalize—well, maybe not nationalize, that loaded word—but restructure the banks before they collapse altogether?

The Obama White House is careful not to provoke the wrath of Krugman any more than necessary. Treasury officials go out of their way to praise him by name (while also decrying the bank-rescue prescriptions of him and his ilk as "deeply impractical"). But the administration does not seek to cultivate him. Obama aides have invited commentators of all persuasions to the White House for some off-the-record stroking; in February, after Krugman's fellow Times op-ed columnist David Brooks wrote a critical column accusing Obama of overreaching, Brooks, a moderate Republican, was cajoled by three different aides and by the president himself, who just happened to drop by. But, says Krugman, "the White House has done very little by way of serious outreach. I've never met Obama. He pronounced my name wrong"—when, at a press conference, the president, with a slight note of irritation in his voice, invited Krugman (pronounced with an "oo," not an "uh" sound) to offer a better plan for fixing the banking system.

It's possible that Krugman is a little wounded by this high-level disregard, and he said he felt sorry about criticizing officials whom he regards as friends, like White House Council of Economic Advisers chair Christina Romer. But he didn't seem all that sorry.

Krugman is having his 15 minutes and enjoying it, although at moments, as I followed him around last week, he seemed a little overwhelmed. He is an unusual mix, at once nervous, shy, sweet and fiercely sure of himself. He enjoys his outsider's power: "No one has as big a megaphone as I have," he says. "Aside from the world going to hell, it's great." He is in much demand on the talk-show circuit: PBS's "The NewsHour" and "Charlie Rose" on Monday last week, ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" this past Sunday. Someone has even cut a rock video on YouTube: "Hey, Paul Krugman, why aren't you in the administration?" A singer croons, "Hey, Paul Krugman, where the hell are you, man? We need you on the front lines, not just writing for The New York Times." (And the cruel chorus: "All we hear [from Geithner] is blah, blah, blah.")

Krugman is not likely to show up in an administration job in part because he has a noble—but not government-career-enhancing—history of speaking truth to power. With dry humor, he once told a friend the story of attending an economic summit in Little Rock after Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992. As the friend recounted the story to NEWSWEEK, "Clinton asked Paul, 'Can we have a balanced budget and health-care reform?'—essentially, can we have it all? And Paul said, 'No, you have to be disciplined. You have to make choices.' Then Paul says to me (deadpan), 'That was the wrong answer.' Then Clinton turns to Laura Tyson and asks the same questions, and she says, 'Yes, it's all possible, you have your cake and eat it too.' And then [Paul] says, 'That was the right answer'." (Tyson became chairman of Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers; she did not respond to requests to comment.) Krugman confirmed the story to NEWSWEEK WITH a smile. "I'm more tolerant now," he says. But at the time, he was bitter that he was kept out of the Clinton administration.

Krugman has a bit of a reputation for settling scores. "He doesn't suffer fools. He doesn't like hauteur in any shape or form. He doesn't like to be f––ked with," says his friend and colleague Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz. "He's not a Jim Baker; he's not that kind of Princeton," says Wilentz, referring to the ur-establishment operator who was Reagan's secretary of the Treasury and George H.W. Bush's secretary of state. But Wilentz went on to say that Krugman is "not a prima donna, he wears his fame lightly," and that Krugman is not resented among his academic colleagues, who can be a jealous lot. Krugman's fellow geniuses sometimes tease him or intentionally provoke his wrath. At an economic conference in Tokyo in 1994, Krugman spent so much time berating others that his friends purposely started telling him things that they knew weren't true, just to see him get riled up. "He fell for it every time," said a journalist who was there but asked not to be identified so she could speak candidly. "You'd think that eventually, he would say, 'Oh, come on, you're just jerking my chain'." Krugman says he doesn't recall the incident, but says it's "possible."

Born of poor Russian-immigrant stock, raised in a small suburban house on middle-class Long Island, Krugman, 56, has never pretended to be in the cool crowd. Taunted in school as a nerd, he came home one day with a bloody nose—but told his parents to stay out of it, he would take care of himself. "He was so shy as a child that I'm shocked at the way he turned out," says his mother, Anita. Krugman says he found himself in the science fiction of Isaac Asimov, especially the "Foundation" series—"It was nerds saving civilization, quants who had a theory of society, people writing equations on a blackboard, saying, 'See, unless you follow this formula, the empire will fail and be followed by a thousand years of barbarism'."

His Yale was "not George Bush's Yale," he says—no boola-boola, no frats or secret societies, rather "drinking coffee in the Economics Department lounge." Social science, he says, offered the promise of what he dreamed of in science fiction—"the beauty of pushing a button to solve problems. Sometimes there really are simple solutions: you really can have a grand idea."

Searching for his own grand idea (his model and hero is John Maynard Keynes) Krugman became one of the top economists in the country before he turned 30. He took a job on the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration at the age of 29. His colleague and rival was another brilliant young economist named Larry Summers. The two share a kind of edgy braininess, but they took different career paths—Summers as an inside player, working his way up to become Treasury secretary under Clinton and president of Harvard, then Obama's chief economic adviser. Krugman preferred to stay in the world of ideas, as an "irresponsible academic," he puts it, half jokingly, teaching at Yale, MIT, Stanford and Princeton. In 1999 he almost turned down the extraordinary opportunity to become the economic op-ed columnist for The New York Times. He was afraid that if he became a mere popularizer he'd blow his shot at a Nobel Prize.

Last October, he won his Nobel. Most economists interviewed by NEWSWEEK agreed that he richly deserved it for his pathbreaking work on global trade—his discovery that traditional theories of comparative advantage between nations often do not work in practice. He was stepping into the shower at a hotel when his cell phone rang with the news that he had achieved his life's ambition. At first, he thought the call might be a hoax. His wife Robin's reaction, once the initial thrill wore off, was, "Paul, you don't have time for this." He is, to be sure, insanely busy, producing two columns a week, teaching two courses and still writing books (his latest is "The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008"). He posts to his blog as many as six times a day. Last Thursday morning, he was gleeful because he was able to thump a blogger who insisted, wrongly, that Keynes did not use much math in his work.

In class that day, discussing global currency exchange with a score of undergraduates, he was gentle, bemused, a little absent-minded, occasionally cracking mordant jokes (on trade with China: "They give us poisoned products, we give them worthless paper"). He says he plans to reduce his teaching load a little, and his colleagues say his best academic work is behind him. "His academic career culminated with him winning the prize," says his Princeton colleague and friend Gene Grossman. "He's not that engaged anymore with academic research. He has a public career now. That's what he views as his main avocation now—as a public intellectual."

He has made enemies in the economics community. "He's become more and more outspoken. A lot of what he says is wrong and not considered," says Daniel Klein, professor of economics at George Mason University. A longtime mentor, MIT Nobel laureate Robert Solow, who taught Krugman as a grad student, remembers him as "very unassertive, mild-mannered. One thing he still has is a smile that plays around his face when he's talking, almost like he's looking at himself and thinking, 'What am I doing here?' " But, Solow added, "when he started writing his column, his personality adapted to it."

Academic life, bolstered by book and lecture fees, has been lucrative and comfortable. Krugman and Robin (his second wife; he has no children) live in a lovely custom-built wood, stone and glass house by a brook in bucolic Princeton. Krugman pointed out that unlike some earlier Nobel Prize winners, he has not asked for a better parking place on campus. (He was not kidding.)

Arriving at the Times just before Bush's election in 2000, he was soon writing about politics and national security as well as economics, sharply attacking the Bush administration for invading Iraq. Someone at the Times—Krugman won't say who—told him to tone it down a bit and stick to what he knew. "I made them nervous," he says. In 2005, Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent wrote, "Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults." Krugman says that Okrent "caved" to the criticism of conservative ideologues who were out to get him. ("I tried to be an honest broker," says Okrent. "But when someone challenged Krugman on the facts, he tended to question the motivation and ignore the substance.") It's true that during the Bush era Krugman was the target of cranks and kooks, but it is also true that in areas outside his expertise he sometimes gets his facts wrong (his record has improved lately). Krugman is unrepentant about his Bush bashing. "I was more right in 2001 than anyone in the pundit class," he says.

Ideologically, Krugman is a European Social Democrat. Brought up to worship the New Deal, he says, "I am not overflowing with human compassion. It's more of an intellectual thing. I don't buy that selfishness is always good. That doesn't fit the way the world works." Krugman is particularly passionate about the growing gap between rich and poor. Last week he raced down to Washington to testify on the subject before the House Appropriations Committee. In the 2008 election, Krugman first leaned toward populist John Edwards, then Hillary Clinton. "Obama offered a weak health-care plan," he explains, "and he had a postpartisan shtik, which I thought was naive."

Krugman generally applauds Obama's efforts to tax the rich in his budget and try for massive health-care reform. On the all-important questions of the financial system, he says he has not given up on the White House's seeing the merits of his argument—that the government must guarantee the liabilities of all the nation's banks and nationalize the big "zombie" banks—and do it fast. "The public wants to trust Obama," Krugman says. "This is still Bush's crisis. But if they wait, Obama will be blamed for a fair share of the problem."

Obama administration officials are dismissive of Krugman's arguments, although not on the record. One official made the point that pundits can have a 60 percent chance of being right—and just go for it. They have nothing to lose but readers, and Krugman's many fans have routinely forgiven his wrong calls. The government does not have the luxury of guessing wrong. If Obama miscalculates, he could truly crash the stock market and drive the economy into depression. Krugman's suggestion that the government could take over the banking system is deeply impractical, Obama aides say. Krugman points to the example of Sweden, which nationalized its banks in the 1990s. But Sweden is tiny. The United States, with 8,000 banks, has a vastly more complex financial system. What's more, the federal government does not have anywhere near the manpower or resources to take over the banking system.

Krugman swats away these arguments, though he acknowledges he's not a "detail" man. He believes he is fighting a philosophical battle against the plutocrats and money-changers. Although he thinks Geithner has been captured by Wall Street, he has hope for Summers. "I have a strong suspicion that if Larry was on the outside and I was on the inside, we'd be reversing roles," he says, but adds, "Well, not entirely. Larry has more faith in markets. I'm more of an interventionist."

Last week Krugman and Summers were "playing phone tag." ("It doesn't necessarily mean that much," says Krugman. "We've known each other all our adult lives." Summers initiated the call; Krugman suspects he wanted to talk him through the administration's plan.) In Friday's column, Krugman tweaked Summers directly for his faith in markets, though he grudgingly gave the Obamaites credit for calling for extensive regulation of the financial world. Krugman thinks that Obama needs some kind of "wise man" to advise him and mentions Paul Volcker, the former Fed chairman who tamed inflation for Reagan and now heads an advisory panel for Obama. How about Krugman himself for that role? "I'm not a backroom kind of guy," he says, schlumped over in his Princeton office, which overflows with unopened mail. He describes himself as a "born pessimist" and a "natural rebel." But he adds, "What I have is a voice." That he does.

With Pat Wingert, Daniel Stone, Michael Hirsh and Dina Fine Maron

Original here


Begin discussion on legalizing drugs

   Diane Monson smokes marijuana to relieve back pain at her home.
Diane Monson smokes marijuana to relieve back pain at her home.
AP FILE

lpitts@miamiherald.com

Maybe we should legalize drugs.

I come neither eagerly nor easily to that maybe. Rather, I come by way of spiraling drug violence in Mexico that recently forced Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to acknowledge the role America's insatiable appetite for narcotics plays in the carnage. I come by way of watching Olympian Michael Phelps do the usual public relations song and dance after being outed smoking weed, and knowing the whole thing was a ritualized farce. Most of all, I come by way of personal antipathy: I don't like and have never used illegal drugs.

But yeah, I'm thinking maybe we should legalize them.

Or at the very least, begin the discussion.

I find myself in august -- and unexpected -- company. Ronald Reagan's secretary of state, George Schultz, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the late Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman and the late conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. have all said much the same thing.

And then, there is Jack A. Cole, who spent 26 years with the New Jersey State Police, 12 of them as an undercover narcotics officer. In 2002, he founded LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (www.leap.cc), which now claims 12,000 members -- FBI, DEA, cops, prosecutors and judges united in the belief that the War On Drugs has failed and that the solution to the drug problem is legalization, regulation and taxation.

''So we want to end drug prohibition just like we ended alcohol prohibition in 1933,'' he says. ``Because as law enforcers we understand that the day after we ended that terrible law, Al Capone and all his smuggling buddies were out of business. They were no longer killing each other, they were no longer killing us cops fighting that useless war, and they were no longer killing our children caught in the crossfire.''

The War on Drugs came into being under President Richard Nixon, whose chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, once quoted the president as saying, ''You have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this all while not appearing to.'' Small wonder blacks account for 13 percent of the nation's regular drug users, but over 70 percent of all those jailed for drug use.

Then there's the collateral damage. ''When somebody gets arrested,'' says Cole, ''it's not only that person whose life is crippled. It drags down their whole family.'' This, because the conviction makes it nearly impossible to get a job, go to college, even rent an apartment.

And for what? This ''War'' has been an exercise in futility. In 1970, says Cole, about 2 percent of the population over the age of 12 had at some point or another used an illegal drug. As of 2003, he says, that number stood at 46, an increase of 2,300 percent -- yet we've spent over a trillion dollars and imprisoned more people per capita than any country in the world in order to reduce drug use?

So yeah, maybe we should legalize them.

By the way, I use that weasel word ''maybe'' only to cover myself in the event somebody raises an objection I had not considered. But I doubt anyone will: Cole makes a compelling case. He has agreed to take a few of your e-mailed questions and comments, so we'll continue this discussion on my blog (http:/blogs.herald.com/leonard_ pitts/) and, if warranted, in this space.

In the meantime, I leave you one last statistic. Cole says that in 1914, when the first federal drug law was enacted, the government estimated 1.3 percent of us were addicted to illegal drugs. In 1970, when the War on Drugs began, the government estimated 1.3 percent of us were addicted to illegal drugs. Thirty-nine million arrests later, he says, the government says 1.3 percent of us are addicted to illegal drugs.

''That,'' says Cole, ``is the only statistic that's never changed at all.''

Original here

Commentary: War on drugs is insane

By Jack Cafferty
Special to CNN

Jack Cafferty says America's effort to prohibit illegal drugs doesn't work and should be rethought.

Jack Cafferty says America's effort to prohibit illegal drugs doesn't work and should be rethought.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Here's something to think about:

How many police officers and sheriff's deputies are involved in investigating and solving crimes involving illegal drugs? And arresting and transporting and interrogating and jailing the suspects?

How many prosecutors and their staffs spend time prosecuting drug cases? How many defense lawyers spend their time defending drug suspects?

How many hours of courtroom time are devoted to drug trials? How many judges, bailiffs, courtroom security officers, stenographers, etc., spend their time on drug trials?

How many prison cells are filled with drug offenders? And how many corrections officers does it take to guard them? How much food do these convicts consume?

And when they get out, how many parole and probation officers does it take to supervise their release? And how many ex-offenders turn right around and do it again?

So how's this war on drugs going?

Someone described insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time. That's a perfect description of the war on drugs.

The United States is the largest illegal drug market in the world. Americans want their weed, crack, cocaine, heroin, whatever. And they're willing to pay big money to get it.

The drug suppliers are only too happy to oblige. The Mexican drug cartels now have operations in 230 American cities. That's 230 American cities!

And we're not just talking about border towns, but places such as Anchorage, Alaska; Boston, Massachusetts; Atlanta, Georgia; and Billings, Montana. They're everywhere. And they don't just bring drugs, but violence and crime as well -- lots of it at no extra charge.

They have been able to infiltrate those 230 cities because we have not bothered to secure our borders. In addition to illegal aliens who come here to work and avail themselves of our social programs, we have criminals from Mexico bringing drugs in, taking money and guns back, and recruiting American kids into their criminal enterprises while they're here. iReport.com: Is it time to legalize pot?

What do you suppose the total price tag is for this failed war on drugs? One senior Harvard economist estimates we spend $44 billion a year fighting the war on drugs. He says if they were legal, governments would realize about $33 billion a year in tax revenue. Net swing of $77 billion. Could we use that money today for something else? You bet your ass we could. Plus the cartels would be out of business. Instantly. Goodbye crime and violence.

If drugs were legalized, we could empty out a lot of our prison cells. People will use this stuff whether it's legal or not. Just like they do booze. And you could make the argument that in some cases alcohol is just as dangerous as some drugs. I know.

Like I said ... something to think about. It's time.

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