By now we've all heard about the despicable conditions outpatients are living in at Walter Reed Hospital. Veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are living in squalor and are often not getting the care they need. Hopefully pressure from Congress will start to change that. As usual, the White House refuses to accept blame for a lack of Presidential leadership. Watch Press Secretary Tony Snow dodge responsibility here:
When Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez fired 7 federal prosecutors for no apparent reason, it raised suspicion. When it was reported that one of the fired prosecutors was about to indict two figures at the center of the massive Republican Congressional appropriations scandal, fears were confirmed. And when it was discovered that an obscure passage of the Patriot Act allowed the Bush Administration to replace those prosecutors with whomever they wanted, without normal Senate confirmation hearings, the residents of Denmark began evacuating en masse to escape the stench.
Now the WAPO confirms that these 7 wrongly fired prosecutors were accomplished, highly qualified attorneys whose only offenses were investigating corrupt Republicans and working on cases that displeased conservatives in Washington:
All but one of the U.S. attorneys recently fired by the Justice Department had positive job reviews before they were dismissed, but many ran into political trouble with Washington over issues ranging from immigration to the death penalty, according to prosecutors, congressional aides and others familiar with the cases.
Two months after the firings first began to make waves on Capitol Hill, it has also become clear that most of the prosecutors were overseeing significant public-corruption investigations at the time they were asked to leave. Four of the probes target Republican politicians or their supporters, prosecutors and other officials said...
And this isn't an example of normal partisan gamesmanship. The Bush Administration is so devoted to protecting their failed ideology and even the most corrupt members of their party, that that they're firing Republican-appointed prosecutors:
The end result is an unusual spectacle in which Democratic lawmakers are bemoaning the firings of Republican-appointed prosecutors. The political pressure has become so great that Cummins's successor in Arkansas, former White House aide J. Timothy Griffin, announced on Friday that he had decided not to submit his name to the Senate for a permanent appointment.
Fortunately, Congress, and public opinion, may ride to the rescue:
Lawmakers from both parties are pushing to strip Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales of his power to name replacement U.S. attorneys for an indefinite period, although Republicans blocked that proposal in the Senate last week. The House Judiciary Committee is planning hearings on similar legislation in March.
Distressing news from the Justice Department today. Apparantly Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and co. are too busy stripping Habeas Corpus rights, defending torture, and firing highly qualified federal prosecutors to find time to effectively fight terrorism.
Inspector General Glenn A. Fine found that only two of the 26 sets of important statistics on domestic counterterrorism efforts compiled by Justice and the FBI from 2001 to 2005 were accurate, according to a 140-page report. The numbers were both inflated and understated, depending on the data cited and which part of the Justice Department was doing the counting, the report said...
The analysis is the latest to find serious faults with the Justice Department's terrorism statistics, some of which have been featured prominently in statements by President Bush or the attorney general as evidence of the terrorist threat and the department's successful efforts to combat it.
The data are used to justify expenditures and explain to Congress and to the public how the Justice Department is using its resources to protect the country against terrorist attacks, officials said.
And what are they doing to fix the problem? Papering it over it appears:
The Justice Department said in a statement that it has already made most of the improvements suggested by Fine's office and that the U.S. attorneys' office would rename its "anti-terrorism" category to remove the implication that every case involves terrorism.
Today's WAPOgives context to the debate over Medicare Part D. The Part D benefit is clearly helping seniors afford their prescription drugs and, by extension, slowing down rising health care costs. What is unclear is if direct negotiations between the federal government and drug companies, as mandated by a bill passed by the Democratic House, would bring those costs down further.
Federal number crunchers said yesterday that the new Medicare drug benefit appears to be slowing the growth in national spending on prescription medicines because the drug plans are negotiating lower prices with drug companies.
But the analysts also forecasted that overall health-care spending would continue to rise and would account for nearly 20 percent of the economy -- or more than $4 trillion a year -- by 2016. In contrast, health-care spending was about $2.1 trillion in 2006, accounting for about 16 percent of the economy. In 1985, it was just over 10 percent...
Analysts said they expect to see that spending on prescription drugs rose more slowly in 2006 because of the Medicare Part D drug benefit that began last year. In the program, private insurers negotiate prices with drug companies as they compete to attract Medicare beneficiaries.
That has helped hold down prices even as more seniors are able to get drugs, John A. Poisal of the CMS said in a briefing. National spending on prescription drugs was expected to rise to $214 billion in 2006, from $201 billion in 2005. But that increase is 0.4 percentage points less than it would have been without the new drug benefit, he said.
Several national polls have shown that a majority of the public believes government negotiations would hold down drug costs even more. A survey of 1,000 adults released yesterday by AARP, for instance, found that 87 percent of respondents -- including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents -- supported allowing the government to use its bargaining power.
The NYT has good news on American corporations embracing preventive care for its employees. I only hope this is more than anecdotal and is the beginning of a major trend:
Major employers like Marriott International, Pitney Bowes, the carpet maker Mohawk Industries and Maine’s state government have introduced free drug programs to avoid paying for more expensive treatments down the road.
Companies now recognize that “if you get people’s obesity down, cholesterol down, asthma down, you save a lot of money,” said Uwe E. Reinhardt, a health economist at Princeton University.
Despite the Bush administration’s efforts to promote “consumer directed” health care, many companies are recognizing the limits to shifting too much of the cost of medical care to employees. Experience, Professor Reinhardt said, is contradicting the theory that “patients will be more prudent shoppers for health care if they ache financially when they ache physically.”
Another motive for the business world could be to stave off a greater government involvement in health insurance, now that most presidential candidates and other politicians are promoting health care reform.
A new Wall Street Journal Online/Harris health-care poll found that 49% of Americans do not trust President Bush when it comes to health-care reform. Only 9% trust him “a great deal.” Among 2008 presidential hopefuls, Hilary Clinton ranks highest in voter confidence, with 48% saying they have a great deal or some trust in her ability to effect health-care reform.
According to an article in the Miami Herald, Hillary Clinton touched on immigration reform yesterday in Liberty City, FL, saying:
"Let's bring them out of the shadows,'' Clinton said. "If they're criminals, let's deport them, but for all the others, let's give them a path to legalization. But don't let them jump the line over people who have been waiting legally.''
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In hopes of "keeping the conversation going", Hillary Clinton is launching weekly "HillCasts" to those who want to know what she's thinking. Her website says you can discuss the HillCast on blogHillary, and you can get HillCast updates. Let's see: Blogs? Check. iPod/new technology related outreach? Check. Video? (Hillary TV) Check. Spanish-language media? Mobile outreach? We'll see...But either way, it seems obvious that Hillary is embracing technology to the utmost.
Below is an e-mail about the latest HillCast on Iraq.
For more information on NDN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election, click here.
Right now, there isn't one of us who isn't thinking about Iraq. That's why I went there recently: to meet with the commanders on the ground, to talk with Iraqi leaders, and to speak to the men and women who are fighting this war so heroically.
I came back even more determined to stop the president's escalation of troops into Iraq and to start the redeployment of troops out of Iraq. So I outlined a plan, and on Friday, I introduced it to Congress as the Iraq Troop Protection and Reduction Act.
My plan accomplishes a number of goals. It stops the president's escalation. It protects our troops by making sure they aren't sent to Iraq without all of the equipment and training they need. It puts an end to the blank check for the Iraqi government. It calls for an international conference to bring other countries together to help forge a stable future for Iraq. Finally, my plan would begin a phased redeployment of our troops out of Iraq. I've been pushing for this for almost two years.
For more details about my plan, please watch Friday's HillCast, the first of what I hope will be a regular series of web broadcasts:
The Iraq Troop Protection and Reduction Act is a roadmap out of Iraq. I hope the president takes this road. If he does, he should be able to end the war before he leaves office. But let's not kid ourselves. From everything we've seen, this president is going down a very different path. He's fighting to escalate the war, not to end it.
I know we're at the start of a presidential campaign, but I think all Democrats should be focused on working together to push the president to change course. We have to end this war in a smart way, not a Republican or a Democratic way, but a way that makes us safer and gets our troops home as soon as possible. That's what I'll be fighting for.
But let me be clear, if George Bush doesn't end this war before he leaves office, when I'm president, I will.
Please watch the HillCast for more details of my plan:
Senators Carl Levin (D-MI), Barack Obama (D-IL) and Norm Coleman (R-MN) have introduced long-overdue legislation to crack down on overseas tax havens. The Washington Post has more:
Three senators proposed legislation that would target what they say is $100 billion a year in tax revenue lost each year because of overseas tax havens, in part by forcing hedge funds to track their foreign investors.
The measure would impose tougher requirements on U.S. taxpayers using offshore secrecy jurisdictions, give the U.S. Treasury the authority to take action against foreign jurisdictions that impede tax enforcement, stiffen penalties against abusers and close offshore trust loopholes, according to a summary of the bill released by Michigan Democrat Cal M. Levin.
The legislation would require hedge funds to establish programs to combat money laundering and better track offshore investors, under guidance from the Treasury Department. The measure would also prohibit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office from issuing patents for accounting strategies intended to "minimize, avoid, defer, or otherwise affect liability for federal, state, local, or foreign tax."
"We cannot tolerate tax cheats offloading their unpaid taxes onto the backs of honest taxpayers," Levin said in a joint statement with co-sponsors Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.). "Offshore tax havens have declared economic war on honest taxpayers by helping tax cheats hide income and assets that should be taxed in the same way as other Americans."
Davos seems to have worked a little bit of magic, and now there is talk of one more push on the stalled Doha round of WTO trade negotiations. Richard Holbroke and Stuart Eizenstat wrote an op-ed on Doha in the WSJ, and it's a great primer for understanding why these negotiaitons are morally as well as economically urgent:
Africa's Last Best Chance Wall Street Journal
By RICHARD HOLBROOKE and STUART EIZENSTAT
The long-stalled Doha round of trade talks recently had, in the words of WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, a jolt of "new energy" after the recent meeting of key trade ministers in Davos. What is not clearly understood is that if a successful agreement is reached, it will be especially good news for Africa.
Failure, conversely, would have tragic consequences for the continent. It would lead the United States and the European Union to negotiate more bilateral free-trade agreements with key countries, but not with sub-Saharan Africa and other poor countries, which offer few attractive markets for developed countries' manufactured goods and services. Africa, which has seen its share of world trade shrink in recent years, would fall even further behind.
Developing countries felt that previous multilateral trade negotiations like the Kennedy round, the Tokyo round and the Uruguay round primarily benefited the highly developed nations. While they undertook costly obligations to protect developed countries' intellectual property and impose sanitary and phytosanitary standards, the developed countries did not significantly open their markets to the labor-intensive manufactured goods and agricultural products of developing countries.
For the Doha round launched in 2001, however, there is a development agenda. At its heart is agriculture -- a politically sensitive sector in the EU and the U.S. but the largest employer in low-income countries, accounting for about 60% of their labor force and 25% of their GDP. The World Bank estimates that these agricultural products face what former U.S. Trade Representative Robert Portman observed is a practically insurmountable global average tariff rate of 62%, and that 93% of the benefits from a successful Doha round would come from improved market access for developing nations' agricultural products.
Farmers represent less than 5% of the labor force in industrial countries, but they have very substantial political power in the U.S., EU and Japan. These political forces, especially in the EU, led to the eventual derailment of the Doha round last summer. But as the Doha talks take on new life, Congress and the Bush administration need to stay true to the commitments of the Doha Development Agenda, especially in agriculture.
Two weeks ago the administration proposed ending subsidies for 80,000 wealthy farmers, substituting trade-distorting subsidies with cash payments to farmers, and trimming traditional agriculture programs by $4.5 billion over the next decade. These proposals, if approved, would directly benefit some of the poorest people on earth, save lives and ultimately reduce American foreign aid, while helping Susan Schwab, the U.S trade representative, put wind in the sails of the ministers' pledge in Davos to restart serious talks.
The promise for developing countries, and particularly the poorest African nations, is huge. In particular, Africa stands to gain significantly if sensitive product exclusions do not disproportionately target key African exports. Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner, pledged recently that Europe will significantly improve its previous tariff reduction offer; he needs to make good on that promise. But even the current U.S. and EU proposals on the table far surpass those offered in previous multilateral trade rounds and offer real gains for developing countries:
* WTO members have agreed to provide duty-free/quota-free market access to the least developed countries for at least 97% of their products.
* An agreement has been reached to end the direct EU and U.S. export subsidies by 2013 that have squeezed out the products of farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
* Assistance will be given to help poor countries streamline their customs procedures to help with the red tape and corruption that historicallyimpeded engagement in significant international trade.
Developing nations also must make serious commitments to complete the Doha round. A growing percentage of trade is between developing nations, withmore than 70% of the duties paid by developing countries to other developing countries. This makes no sense.
The World Bank has found a significant increase in per capita income of developing countries that lower their own trade barriers, and concluded thattotally eliminating global trade barriers could lift 300 to 500 million of the world's poor out of poverty -- growing their economies by $259 billion by 2015. Opening their trade arteries to manufactured goods and services is also important. It will help developing nations trade with each other, which is growing 50% faster than world trade overall, but where levels of protection on goods are four times higher than levels of protection in rich countries. Intraregional trade in Africa was only 5.3% of GDP in 2002, in part due to self-destructive trade barriers between African countries.
As trade ministers make an effort to reach a Doha deal, they should recognize that it is the poorest nations, particularly those in Africa, that would be the biggest losers if Doha collapses. We hope this will be understood by everyone, on a bipartisan basis, as this crucial negotiation heads into its final phase. For Africa, this may be the last best chance.
Mr. Holbrooke is a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and vice chairman of Perseus, LLC. Mr. Eizenstat held several senior positions in the Clintonadministration, including U.S. ambassador to the EU, and heads the international practice at Covington & Burling, LLP.