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MATTHEW PENNINGTON   |   April 10, 2012    7:59 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- French director Luc Besson's biopic of Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has won an unusual endorsement.

Hillary Rodham Clinton says she watched the movie, "The Lady," as she flew to the military-dominated country in December on the first trip there by a U.S. secretary of state in 56 years.

Obama By Default

Robert Scheer   |   April 5, 2012    3:50 AM ET

The Republicans are a sick joke, and their narrow ideological stupidity has left rational voters no choice in the coming presidential election but Barack Obama. With Ron Paul out of it and warmongering hedge fund hustler Mitt Romney the likely Republican nominee, the GOP has defined itself indelibly as the party of moneyed greed and unfettered imperialism.

It is with chilling certainty that one can predict that a single Romney appointee to the Supreme Court would seal the coup of the 1 percent that already is well on its way toward purchasing the nation's political soul. Romney is the quintessential Citizens United super PAC candidate, a man who has turned avarice into virtue and comes to us now as a once-moderate politician transformed into the ultimate prophet of imperial hubris, blaming everyone from the Chinese to laid-off American workers for our problems. Everyone, that is, except the Wall Street-dominated GOP, which midwifed the Great Recession under George W. Bush and now seeks to blame Obama for the enormous deficit spawned by the party's wanton behavior.

Without a militarily sophisticated enemy anywhere on the planet, the United States, thanks to the Bush-bloated budget, now spends almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. Yet the GOP honchos dare claim they are for small government even as their chosen candidate chomps at the bit to go to war with Iran.

They obviously learned nothing from the disasters of Bush the Second, who hijacked the tragedy of 9/11 to launch the most wasteful orgy of military spending in U.S. history in his failed effort to take out an al-Qaida enemy that had no significant military arsenal. That enemy was later eliminated by Obama, whom the Republicans still obstinately refuse to credit for accomplishing what Bush failed to. Can you imagine the explosion of preening self-congratulation that would have resulted if a GOP president had done the deed?

The red-ink deficits that had been stanched under Bill Clinton came to gush uncontrollably because of the swollen military budgets, compounded by the severe costs of the recession that occurred on Bush's watch.

But the Republicans refuse to take ownership of the collapse resulting from their longstanding advocacy of radical financial deregulation that led to the derivatives bubble, hundreds of trillions of dollars of toxic junk, now a permanent, nightmarish feature of the world's economy. Romney, who made his fortune through such financial finagling, even has the effrontery to call for more of the same and blame Obama's tepid efforts at establishing some sane speed limits for the financial highway as a cause of our ongoing crisis.

So insanely gullible are Republican voters that they buy Mitt's line that bailing out the auto industry to save the heart of America's legendary industrial base was an example of big-government waste. Yet to them the almost unimaginable sum spent on the Wall Street bailout represents prudent small-government fiscal responsibility.

The incumbent president has his failings, but compared to Mitt Romney he is a paradigm of considered and compassionate thought. As Obama put it in a speech before a journalism group this week, we are saddled with a national debt "that has grown over the last decade, primarily as a result of two wars, two massive tax cuts, and an unprecedented financial crisis, [and] that will have to be paid down." But instead of dealing with the causes of that debt, Romney has called for an increase in military spending, continued tax breaks for the rich and reversal of the very limited restraints on corporate greed that Obama managed to get through Congress. He has endorsed the House-passed Paul Ryan budget, which, as Obama noted, even Newt Gingrich once derided as "radical" and an effort at "right-wing social engineering."

Such radicalism leaves Obama as the "moderate" choice in the coming election, defending centrist programs that Republicans in the past helped originate. Indeed, the big attack on Obama will involve what the Republicans call Obamacare -- which was modeled in every important respect on Romneycare, enacted when the GOP candidate was governor of Massachusetts.

The overarching lesson of this primary season is that Romney and the Republicans he seeks to win over are incapable of embracing the very moderation that, particularly in the golden era of Dwight Eisenhower, defined the party. Instead, they are now a reckless force bent on destroying the essential social contract that has been the basis of America's economic and social progress.

As Obama said Tuesday in addressing the editors and reporters: "... We're going to have to answer a central question as a nation. ... Can we succeed as a country where a shrinking number of people do exceedingly well, while a growing number struggle to get by? ... This is not just another run-of-the-mill political debate. ... It's the defining issue of our time."

Barbara Lee Pushes to End U.S.-Iran Silent Treatment

Jamal Abdi   |   March 23, 2012   11:23 AM ET

Here is one of those policies that makes you scratch your head and wonder how its taken this long for things to get this bad between the U.S. and Iran: American and Iranian diplomats are actually BANNED from making ANY contact with one another without prior authorization.

That's right--while the entire foreign policy establishment in Washington is running around in circles trying to figure out the magic solution to crack the U.S.-Iran riddle--Is it sanctions? Is it more war threats? Is it strikes? Dare we enter negotiations?--the two governments aren't even talking to each other at the most basic levels.

Thankfully, a commonsense and long overdue proposal has been introduced in Congress by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and nine other Representatives to dispense with the absurd "no contact" policy on the U.S. side. The bill, the Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act (H.R.4173) would finally lift the ban on talking to Iran. Not only would eliminating this policy put us in a much better position to resolve the standoff, it will put the onus on the Iranians to take the necessary steps to end their own restrictions on contact with the U.S.

While the silent treatment may be a good tool for passive aggressive teenagers to resolve tiffs with their siblings, it's utility as a tool of statecraft on the world stage is pretty dubious. When you're trying to prevent war, nuclear proliferation, and human rights abuses, it can help to have diplomats who are allowed to do their job rather than a policy of righteous indignation.

Former Ambassador James Dobbins--who has directly negotiated with Iran--argued for lifting the ban in 2009, saying it could "enable both sides to more accurately gauge the other's real intentions, interests and possible areas of flexibility" and eliminate some of the pressure and hype that has undermined high-level diplomacy. "No negotiation can yield results if the two sides feel compelled to hold a news conference every time they meet," wrote Dobbins.

To that end, H.R.4173 would also appoint a high-level U.S. envoy to lead and sustain direct, bilateral and multilateral talks with Iran. The goal would be to actually invest in pursuing our interests that are only achievable through direct diplomacy. These include not just resolving the nuclear standoff and preventing war--pretty important goals in their own right that have no military fix--but also delving into the equally critical issues like human rights that have never been on the table because we're not talking (and when we do, it is for 45 minutes and never broadened beyond the nuclear issue).

Ask Iranians who are actually on the ground whether sanctions and threats of war are doing any favors for Iran's human rights situation. Unlike what you'll hear from neoconservative "experts"--who want to bring freedom to the Iranian people even if they have to kill every last one of them--the current standoff has choked off Iranian civil society. For the grownups in the room, direct talks can ratchet down tensions and open up space within Iran for the human rights and democracy movement to flourish.

H.R.4173 also has another component that makes perfect sense but will upset the pro-war crowd: it takes war of choice with Iran off the table. The bill states clearly that--in lieu of an actual Congressional authorization for war--no U.S. government funds may be allocated to a war with Iran. This may be commonsense and technically already the law of the land; unfortunately, amidst the threat inflation and demonization of diplomacy occurring in Washington and Tehran, commonsense has been altogether too uncommon.

To tell your Member of Congress to sign on to the Lee bill, you can send a message here.

By MATTHEW LEE   |   March 20, 2012    8:54 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- A new clue in one of the 20th century's most enduring mysteries could soon uncover the fate of American aviator Amelia Earhart, who went missing without a trace over the South Pacific 75 years ago, investigators said Tuesday.

Enhanced analysis of a photograph taken just months after Earhart's Lockheed Electra plane vanished shows what experts think may be the landing gear of the aircraft protruding from the waters off the remote island of Nikumaroro, in what is now the Pacific nation of Kiribati, they said.

At Last, Some Decency on Wall Street

Robert Scheer   |   March 15, 2012    3:10 AM ET

By the time you read this, the PR hacks of Goldman Sachs will be vigorously pressing their efforts to destroy the reputation of whistleblower Greg Smith, a former Goldman executive director whose exposé in Wednesday's New York Times op-ed page was so devastating that the 143-year-old firm might actually, finally, be held accountable.

Smith, a wunderkind who spent the 12 years after he graduated from Stanford University rising through the ranks at Goldman, has revealed the firm's culture to be so fundamentally venal that were financial industry shenanigans not generally exempt from effective legal regulation, Goldman's executives could have been rounded up Wednesday morning on organized-crime charges.

The law that exempted what would have been illegal trading in the murky derivatives that the Smith article denounced was the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, enthusiastically signed by Bill Clinton in the waning months of his administration. The legislation shielded from any regulatory law the very activities that led to the financial meltdown from which Americans are still reeling.

Back in the Clinton era, it fell to the president's last press secretary, Jake Siewert, to justify the freeing of Wall Street investment houses to do their worst, and in one of those delicious ironies Siewert was appointed as a managing director and the global head of corporate communications for Goldman Sachs the day before the devastating Smith exposé broke.

Who better to quickly concoct a strategy of explaining away Goldman's deceit in the sale of those derivatives? Predictably there was the quickly leaked memo by Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein shooting Smith, the previously highly valued young messenger, as a "disgruntled" employee for daring to describe the culture within Goldman "as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it."

Smith's charge about Goldman "routinely ripping their clients off" resonated widely on the Internet because of prior exposures of suspect derivatives deals in which Goldman explicitly bet against the products it was selling. Slightly less than two years ago the Securities and Exchange Commission filed fraud charges against Goldman that resulted in a $550 million fine over such double-dealing.

But what is so damning in Wednesday's article is Smith's insistence that the culture of Goldman has only gotten worse since then: "Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence."

In addition to heading Goldman's equity derivatives trading in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Smith was involved in recruiting new talent for the company. It was his supervision over recruits being exposed to the increasingly corrupt Goldman culture -- amid routine reference to clients as "muppets" and chortling about "ripping eyeballs out" -- that finally turned him off.

At the heart of the rot were those derivatives, the collateralized debt obligations [CDO] and credit default swaps [CDS] that were made legal by the legislation Clinton signed and Siewert defended. In his piece, Smith referred to the selling of those designed-to-be-toxic products as the essential avenue of Goldman's greed, saying you "find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym."

Contrast Smith, who announced his resignation from Goldman in the op-ed article, and Siewert, who has just joined up with the greed merchants after working in the administration that made that greed legal. Clearly, people like Siewert, comfortable in the Washington-Wall Street axis, have no sense of shame. They know all too well what Goldman and the other financial swindlers have been up to, causing so much misery for tens of millions throughout the world.

After a stint with Alcoa in the private sector, Siewert returned to government as a top aide to President Barack Obama's treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, who worked in the Clinton Treasury Department before becoming head of the New York Fed. Former Clinton Treasury Secretary and Goldman Sachs executive Robert Rubin recommended Geithner for that position. In his Fed job, Geithner choreographed the bailout of AIG, which compensated Goldman Sachs for its toxic derivatives.

Because Siewert is obviously without a moral compass, he can, as have so many in the elite from both parties, move easily without any hesitation through the platinum revolving door between Washington and Wall Street, becoming filthy rich in the process while betraying the public trust. Hail Greg Smith, and thank the New York Times, for his cri de coeur, a rare example that decency is not always for sale.

  |   March 12, 2012   11:00 AM ET


NEW YORK, March 12 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday of cynically launching new military assaults while meeting with U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan over the weekend.

"We reject any equivalence between premeditated murders by a government's military machine and the actions of civilians under siege driven to self-defense," Clinton told the U.N. Security Council.

"How cynical that, even as Assad was receiving former (U.N) Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Syrian Army was conducting a fresh assault on Idlib and continuing its aggression in Hama, Homs, and Rastan," she said. (Reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols)

Hillary in a Sweater Vest?

David Boaz   |   March 9, 2012    1:06 PM ET

To the casual observer no two politicians could be more different than Hillary Clinton and Rick Santorum -- the career woman who calls herself a "government junkie" and the "true conservative" whose wife home-schools their seven children. But look a little closer, and you'll find some surprising similarities.

  • They're the only two national politicians who actually criticize the fundamental American idea of "the pursuit of happiness." Running for president in 2007, Clinton scoffed, "We can talk all we want about freedom and opportunity, about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but what does all that mean to a mother or father who can't take a sick child to the doctor?" Santorum denounces "this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do," and laments that "we have a whole culture that is focused on immediate gratification and the pursuit of happiness . . . and it is harming America."
  • Hillary wrote a book called It Takes a Village, Santorum wrote It Takes a Family. What they agree on is that individuals can't manage their own lives, and that what "it" really takes is an expansive, nurturing government telling individuals what's best for them. Clinton envisioned a federal government constantly advising, nagging, hectoring parents: "Videos with scenes of commonsense baby care -- how to burp an infant, what to do when soap gets in his eyes, how to make a baby with an earache comfortable -- could be running continuously in doctors' offices, clinics, hospitals, motor vehicle offices, or any other place where people gather and have to wait," she wrote. Santorum proposed such federal programs as national service, promotion of prison ministries, publicly financed trust funds for children, community-investment incentives, strengthened obscenity enforcement, covenant marriage, assorted tax breaks, and economic literacy programs in "every school in America."
  • Both oppose gay marriage. As first lady, Clinton supported the Defense of Marriage Act to override state marriage laws and refuse any federal recognition of same-sex marriages (though she has softened her position). Santorum has made opposition to gay marriage a signature issue. And he supports a constitutional amendment to overrule state marriage laws, which Clinton opposes.
  • As senators, both tried to raise prices for American consumers by supporting protectionist legislation for industries in their states. Santorum had a better overall record on free trade, but he often supported direct subsidies, trade tariffs and import quotas for American steel companies.Clinton opposed many trade agreements as senator and presidential candidate, and in life-imitates-parody echo of the free-trade economist Frederic Bastiat, she even supported 100 percent tariffs to protect New York candle makers.
  • Both think America would be a "cultural vacuum" in the absence of government arts funding. Bucking fellow conservatives in Congress, Santorum regularly supported full funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, saying in 1997, "The arts foster a strong sense of community and bring new ideas and cultures to many individuals and families all over the nation. Elimination of such programs would create a cultural vacuum that could not be easily filled." A year earlier, Clinton said, "This is an ominous time for those of us who care for the arts in America. A misguided, misinformed effort to eliminate public support for the arts not only threatens irrevocable damage to our cultural institutions but also to our sense of ourselves and what we stand for as a people." As I pointed out at the time, no one was proposing to "abandon" the arts. Some Republicans were proposing that of the $37 billion then spent on the arts in the United States (according to the American Arts Alliance), the $167 million that is coercively extracted from taxpayers should be eliminated. Who could view such a cut as "threatening irrevocable damage" or a "cultural vacuum"--except someone who looks at the bounty of civil society and sees a barren wasteland enlightened only by the activities of the federal government?

Clinton and Santorum disagree on a great deal. But in their view of adult Americans as helpless without the all-embracing support of the federal government, their disdain for the founding idea of America, and their curious notion the most dynamic culture in the world would be a "vacuum" without modest taxpayer funding, they are siblings under the skin.

David Boaz is executive vice president of the Cato Institute.

Jeffrey McCracken and Hans Nichols   |   March 6, 2012   12:40 PM ET

Former President Bill Clinton has agreed to make joint appearances with President Barack Obama at a series of campaign fundraisers, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Fair-Weather Capitalists: Conservative Politics Gone Wild

Jeff Schweitzer   |   February 28, 2012    5:37 PM ET

As recently as a few months ago, Republicans were betting on beating Obama on the issue of the economy, with an emphasis on unemployment. They were counting on history repeating itself: no president since FDR has won a second term when unemployment rates exceeded 7.2% on election day. The rate was 7.8% when Obama took office, which is about where economists predict the rate will be next November. That would seem to make Obama extremely vulnerable, causing Republicans to salivate.

But these numbers are not static, and trends matter. When Obama took office the number of jobs lost per month was greater than 700,000, so the trend of unemployment was sharply up. If predictions are borne out and the rate is about 7.8% next November, the trend line will be sharply down from a peak rate tickling 10 percent. A downward trend engenders optimism, which is good for America but bad for Republicans.

The fact is that our economy is improving under Obama by measure of most major indicators. For example, comparing August 2011 to January 2012, we see unemployment fell from 9.1 to 8.3 percent. The much touted increase in gasoline prices is partially offset by a 2% decline in natural gas prices and a 0.3% decline in food prices. There is good news on retail sales and industrial production. We are now seeing a rebound in sales of previously-owned homes, a reversal indicating the market there has bottomed out.

Blaming Obama for the collapsing economy and declining stock market he inherited was to be the primary strategy for Republicans in the presidential election. But, oh, how strange that is (even before being made obsolete by a recovery). Remember that George Bush complained for eight years that every economic woe over which he presided was Clinton's fault. This is not hyperbole, but fact: he claimed in a speech at a Mississippi high school in August 2002 that the weak economy could be explained by the fact that, "When I took office, our economy was beginning a recession." Even as he was walking out the door of the Oval Office Bush blamed Clinton for Wall Street's collapse in a final attempt to push his failures onto his predecessor. Said Bush, "I think when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so" before he became president. Bush simply took no ownership or responsibility for the economic decline and near collapse that happened on his watch.

Bush's false assertion about what he inherited from Clinton is a classic example of the Big Lie, an untruth repeated so frequently that people accept the falsehood as real. What Bush actually inherited from Clinton was, at worst, a mild reduction in growth following eight years of historic economic expansion. That conclusion is not mine, but that of National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a non-partisan organization that is considered the definitive word on business cycles. Here is the NBER November 26, 2001 report:

The NBER's Business Cycle Dating Committee has determined that a peak in business activity occurred in the U.S. economy in March 2001. A peak marks the end of an expansion and the beginning of a recession. The determination of a peak date in March is thus a determination that the expansion that began in March 1991 ended in March 2001 and a recession began. The expansion lasted exactly 10 years, the longest in the NBER's chronology.

Be clear about this; Clinton presided over the longest expansion recorded, and when he left office that momentum carried the economy forward to a peak in March 2001, into the first month of the Bush presidency. Bush took office January 18, 2001. But the Bush debacle is nevertheless all Clinton's fault even though no president in modern history ever inherited an economy as healthy as what Bush got from Clinton.

I bring up this history of the transition between Clinton and Bush because it reveals a remarkable and glaring hypocrisy in the Republican mind set now that a Democrat occupies the White House. By Bush's own formulation, Obama should blame Bush for all of the country's economic woes during the entire tenure of his presidency, even at the end of a second term. Republicans should accept this assessment without question. After all, that is what Bush did to Clinton with full Republican support. Obama's position in assigning blame to his predecessor is in fact much stronger, for what he inherited from Bush is vastly more onerous than what Bush was gifted from Clinton. Bush inherited a reduction in growth while Obama was bequeathed an economy on the verge of catastrophic collapse. But with the roles reversed, transitioning from a Republican to a Democrat in the Oval Office, Republicans repudiate everything they previous said about the role of a president's successor.

So. Republicans blamed Obama for what he inherited from Bush, but disavow any idea that Obama should be credited with the astonishing growth during his presidency. We are back to the tired Republican refrain: all bad things are due to the current president; all good things are a consequence of actions taken by his predecessor. But the facts belie this fantasy. Republicans hollered with indignation when Obama supporters pointed out that he inherited the problem of rapidly rising unemployment and an economy on the verge of total collapse. They absolved Bush of all responsibility not just one month into Obama's administration, but actually prior to Obama taking office, preaching that just the anticipation of his presidency was causing the market collapse.

Republican statements about Obama in early March 2009 are stunning in their duplicity. Obama was to blame for a collapsing economy after only five weeks in office but George Bush was free of any responsibility after eight years. Let's take a quick look at right wing publication headlines as the new Administration settled in:

Bloomberg.com (March 6, 2009): "Obama Bear Market Punishes Investors as Dow Slumps." In this article the claim is further advanced with, "President Barack Obama now has the distinction of presiding over his own bear market."

Wall Street Journal (March 6, 2009): "Obama's Radicalism is Killing the Dow." Author Michael Boskin prognosticates that, "It's hard not to see the continued sell-off on Wall Street and the growing fear on Main Street as a product, at least in part, of the realization that our new president's policies are designed to radically re-engineer the market-based U.S. economy, not just mitigate the recession and financial crisis." The DOW is now over 12,000 so the claim was blatantly wrong; I have heard no apology yet.

• Perhaps most astonishing of all, John Tanny of Real Clear Markets, wrote on November 25, 2008, an article entitled, "This Is Obama's Market, Good and Bad." Obama was not yet president! That did not stop Tanny from writing that, "Lacking clarity, investors can only guess about what's ahead based on Obama's decidedly anti-business rhetoric used during the campaign. Whatever direction he takes, it should be clear that today's stock market is the Obama stock market, so it's up to him to decide its basic direction." Even though Obama was not yet president.

These claims were absurd when made, and have been proven wrong factually. Where are Bloomberg, the WSJ and Real Clear Markets now? Where is the praise for Obama for a market moving beyond 12,000? Silence. Nothing but silence. No apology; no mea culpa. These organizations blamed Obama for a declining market after one month is office, but now offer no support for his policies three years later, policies that have lead to a growing economy recovering from the abyss of a Bush recession; policies vigorously and ferociously opposed by Republicans. Voters should be screaming with frustrated indignation at this outrage.

While the economy has a long road ahead to recover from the depths of the downturn, the trends are clearly positive. Perhaps most striking in this regard, and the most detrimental to Republican aspirations, is the health of the stock market, and where credit lies for the recovery. Again, some history is helpful. On Bill Clinton's first inaugural day, the DJIA was at 3310. The market was 6813 when he was next inaugurated. At the end of Clinton's second term, on the day Bush took office, the DJIA was at 10,578; that is the market Bush inherited from Clinton. When Bush left the Oval Office on January 20, 2009, the Dow was at 7,949, a decline of 25% over the eight years Bush was president. By March the DJIA had completed its tumble to bottom out with a 12-year low at just over 6500. Blindly forgetting their tale from Clinton to Bush, Republicans blamed Obama for the continuing decline from 7,900 to 6,500 during his first month in office, but not Bush for the loss from 10,600 to 7,900 in eight years as president. About one year later the Dow hit 11,000. The stock market doubled in value during Obama's first 14 months in office. Now the DJIA exceeds 12,000. No wonder Republicans no longer mention "Obama's economy." The closest they now foray into this territory is a sad effort to blame Obama for gas prices. That is all they have left. But none feel embarrassed by the long-held view, now fully discredited, that the economy was declining under Obama due to his socialist tendencies.

And so the Republicans suddenly want to change the subject. We get Santorum becoming nauseated over a JFK speech about separating Church and State, arguments over gay marriage, controversy over contraception and Romney repudiating his own views on a woman's right to choose. Extreme views on social issues play well to the right wing base that controls much of the primary mechanism, and so each candidate is trying to out-nut-case the other with inflammatory, outrageous statements and positions. Every time Santorum opens his mouth, another vote somewhere falls to Obama. Let's hope the Republican primary seasons continues to be arduous with no clear winner as the candidates dig themselves into an ever deeper whole of extreme views that will never play well in a national election. With unemployment declining and the Dow rising, Republicans will only become ever more desperate, creating a widening gap with mainstream America. November 2012 is looking up in the face of the GOP's tenuous relationship with reality. Outrageous hypocrisy may sell in the Tea Party, but not with the majority of Americans.

Dr. Jeff Schweitzer is a former White House senior policy analyst the author of five books, including A New Moral Code and his latest, Calorie Wars. Learn more about Jeff at his website.

DONNA CASSATA   |   February 28, 2012   11:16 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar Assad fits the definition of a war criminal for the violence he has unleashed on his people.

Testifying before two Senate committees, Clinton was pressed about the months of strife in Syria that a United Nations official said Tuesday had killed more than 7,500 people and several lawmakers described as a civil war.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has called for arming the rebels challenging Assad, asked whether the international community should consider the Syrian president a war criminal.

"I think that based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity, there would be an argument to be made that he would fit into that category," Clinton told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations.

She stopped short of calling for the international community to make that designation or leveling charges, saying such a step "limits options to persuade leaders perhaps to step down from power."

Graham said he hoped the world community could persuade Assad to leave eventually.

"I just don't know how to define 'eventually' right now," Clinton said.

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the administration's opposition to arming the rebels.

"Now is not the time to further militarize the situation in Syria," Carney told reporters. "We are working with our allies through the Friends of Syria to isolate and pressure Assad and to try to get him to realize that his days are numbered and to cease the brutality that he's been waging against his own people."

Clinton testified on Capitol Hill on the proposed budget for next year for the State Department and foreign operations.

Chelsea Clinton for Congress? What Does That Tell Us About America?

Steven Strauss   |   February 26, 2012    8:02 PM ET

"For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required." -- Luke 12:48.

Recently, the New York Times (NYT) praised Chelsea Clinton's current successes and commitment to public service. Ms. Clinton is the daughter of current U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President William Jefferson Clinton. It reported some Democrats' excitement about having Ms. Clinton in Congress, because according to Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf: "She's smart, she's charming, and she's got the last name Clinton."

Western media criticize the favorable treatment received by offspring of the politically important outside the U.S., particularly the princelings in China. In a vicious circle, princelings' access to powerful people (derived from their parents) gains them prestigious private-sector positions (with high pay for little work). These prestigious private-sector positions justify public-sector leadership positions, which justify even more lucrative private-sector opportunities, and so on. Princelings insist a sense of noblesse oblige draws them to leadership. A fawning domestic press facilitates this cycle by treating princelings as celebrities.

Government by princelings easily becomes government by kleptocracy. Companies granting princelings lucrative positions expect a return on their investment, through influence with (or at least access to) the government. Even if not overtly corrupt, this nepotistic approach erodes leaders' legitimacy (making it difficult to govern), and prevents the best qualified from leading (resulting in less competent institutions). Most corrosively, government by princelings sends a message that putting personal and family interests ahead of society's interests is acceptable.

Ms. Clinton's rapid career progress raises the same issues for America as with the princelings overseas.

The NYT reported Ms. Clinton is making the sacrifice of leading us because she feels a responsibility to serve the public good and "hopes to make a positive, productive contribution."

Ms. Clinton's newsworthy steps toward public service, noted by the NYT, include: meeting people such as Elton John and Richard Gere, taking a public role with her father's Clinton Global Initiative, presenting an award to her mother at Diane Von Furstenberg's International Women's Day event, and hosting her father's 65th birthday at a Clinton Foundation Hollywood benefit with fellow guests Lady Gaga and Bono.

Ms. Clinton's board of directors seat at media conglomerate IAC, alongside former Disney CEO Michael Eisner and former Warner Music Group CEO Edgar Bronfman, was also described. Ms. Clinton's IAC position pays $50,000 a year, plus a $250,000 grant of restricted stock. Mentioned too was Ms. Clinton's joining NBC News as a special correspondent, after her advisers arranged interviews with top network executives.

The NYT noted downsides to being the Clinton daughter, including critics attributing her success (such as the IAC position) solely to her famous parents. But the NYT didn't question why a 30ish year old (with no significant media or management experience) joins the board of a multi-billion dollar media corporation, with compensation qualifying Ms. Clinton (by my quick calculation) for America's top 1 percent, for only about 1 to 2 hours of work per week. The IAC position clearly raises the issue of whether Ms. Clinton is being paid for her skills, or access to her family.

The NYT article cited another leadership qualification: "... unlike some other famous offspring, she has never been photographed drunkenly stumbling out of a club..." (Note to the NYT: For a photo of Ms. Clinton apparently drunkenly stumbling out of a club, please see -- "Boozy Night for Chelsea".)

The U.S. has fought two wars over the past decade. Many Americans of Ms. Clinton's generation volunteered at great personal risk to support their country, in the military or in other ways -- the NYT did not report that Ms. Clinton has not.

My concern is that Ms. Clinton is not an outlier, but part of a trend. The Washington Post found a pattern of members of Congress using tax dollars to benefit their families (e.g., tax money to entities represented by lobbyist relatives). It's no wonder we've lost faith in our leaders, with Congress' approval rating in single digits.

As has been widely discussed, income inequality in the U.S. is at record levels. Such inequality would be more acceptable if resulting from individual effort. However, we are increasingly a society of class privilege and inherited opportunities. According to "A Family Affair" (OECD, 2010), America has among the lowest social mobility levels of any major developed country. The 1 percent arrange advantages for their families that aren't available to the rest of society.

We are viewed as a relatively corrupt country, where connections, family, and political campaign contributions drive business. Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index 2011 ranks the U.S. as more corrupt than Qatar, a small Middle Eastern state ruled by a hereditary monarchy with a tradition of nepotism. (U.S. ranks 24th, behind Qatar ranked 23rd and far behind New Zealand, ranked 1st.)

Ms. Clinton received opportunities other Americans -- without her family connections -- don't have. Using these connections might not be illegal, but it isn't admirable. Ms. Clinton's career isn't a cause for celebration, but an urgent wakeup call that, for America to compete effectively in the 21st Century, we need the best leaders our society can produce, whatever their last names.

We have the right to expect more from a leader than simply being smart, charming, and named Clinton.

Please let me know your thoughts:

  • Do you believe Ms. Clinton achieved her positions through merit, or did family connections play a part?
  • Do you feel America is increasingly a country where the 1% structure society to benefit themselves?
  • If you are concerned about these issues, what would you suggest to re-focus America on equality of opportunity?


About the Author: Steven Strauss was founding Managing Director of the Center for Economic Transformation at the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). He is an Advanced Leadership Fellow at Harvard University for 2012. He has a Ph.D. in Management from Yale University and over 20 years private sector work experience. You can follow him on twitter at: @Steven_Strauss.

The PBS Clinton Series' Lack of Proportionality

Lanny Davis   |   February 23, 2012    1:29 PM ET

To watch four hours of the so-called documentary on the eight years of the Clinton presidency gave me the sensation of a report about a glass of water that is 75 percent full and 25 percent empty. The PBS presentation, I am guessing, spent 75 percent of the four hours reporting on 25 percent of the story, i.e., the issue of "scandal" in the Clinton presidency, omitting the substance and policy achievements of the Clinton presidency, i.e., issues that affected the lives of most Americans and that they care about most.

But the problem with the presentation wasn't just my view of disproportional emphasis on the "scandals" versus the substance. It was about accuracy. The writers and producers simply got it wrong. They failed to report the fact that every single "scandal" that so preoccupied the media, the punditry and partisan Republicans over the eight years -- save for the final one, the Lewinsky matter -- was 100 percent bogus, rabbit holes seeking to prove wrongdoing by the Clintons and leading nowhere.

Here's a fact omitted from the four-hour "documentary" (I put quotation marks around the word because normally that word is used when there is accuracy, but that is not the case here):

Over the eight years of the Clinton presidency, and eight independent counsels, who collectively spent over $116 million investigating President and Mrs. Clinton (over $50 million of which was Kenneth Starr on the rabbit hole called Whitewater), five Cabinet secretaries and two senior administration officials, there was not a single conviction of any administration official for conduct that occurred during the president's time in office.

Here's another fact about the "scandal" that led to everything bad -- Whitewater: Despite all the headlines and thousands of column inches, especially in the Washington Post and the New York Times, and breathless TV coverage on broadcast networks and cable news, leading to the decision of President Clinton to appoint an independent counsel, ultimately leading to the appointment of Starr, who spent approximately $50 million -- at the end, Starr announced that no criminal charges would be filed against either President or Mrs. Clinton. None.

Even when Starr's successor, Robert Ray, finally imposed a penalty on President Clinton, it was about his false-deposition testimony in the Paula Jones case, not about Whitewater. And the penalty was a civil one, not a criminal one, for testifying falsely under oath in a civil deposition (a deposition, I must add, in a civil case that was ultimately thrown out of court as being so frivolous it could be decided on "summary judgment" without a trial).

As to the Lewinsky matter, which took up at least half of the second two-hour segment, Clinton was not truthful about a personal relationship that embarrassed him and for which ultimately he suffered great pain and humiliation, apologized to his wife, friends and the American people, and asked to be forgiven as a sinner with personal weaknesses.

That being said, let us not forget that had the scandal machine that existed in the 1990s existed in the 1790s: Alexander Hamilton's affair with a married woman and his payment of hush money to her and her husband would have ended his career; Thomas Jefferson's affair with a slave and his fathering at least one, if not many children out of wedlock would have deprived him of the presidency in 1800; and what would have happened to Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and other presidents who allegedly had extramarital relationship(s) had they been subjected to this media-partisan scandal machine?

Of course the impeachment vote needed to be included, but again, it seemed to lack perspective and facts. Unreported was the fact that the impeachment vote of President Clinton was done by a lame-duck House, with the difference in two counts succeeding votes cast by defeated incumbents. And the vote in the Senate was a dramatic repudiation of the House Republicans -- out of 55 Republicans, only 45 voted for one count, and 50 (less than a majority) voted for the second.

Maybe PBS would argue there wasn't enough time? But there was enough time for an interview of Lucianne Goldberg, the individual who egged on Linda Tripp to secretly tape Lewinsky's conversations, when Lewinsky, a frail and vulnerable young woman, was trusting and confiding in Tripp. And PBS decided to use a clip of Goldberg describing why "we hated" Hillary Clinton -- something about her being too "pushy" and that she "couldn't decide on her hair."

Yes, Lucianne Goldberg on a PBS documentary on Hillary Clinton's hair.

And what did the PBS producers and writers decide to de-emphasize or entirely omit?

Only one mention of 22 million jobs created during the Clinton presidency -- a 60-second or so interview with then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

No mention (as far as I can remember) of Clinton inheriting a $300 million deficit and converting it, eight years later, into a $1 trillion surplus.

Only passing reference to welfare reform -- which has proven over time to have benefited the poor dependent on welfare more than anyone else -- and even that reference was framed by emphasizing that liberal leaders had resigned from his administration in protest.

And no reference (again, as far as I can remember) to the American people's verdict on all the so-called scandals over the eight years of the Clinton presidency, including the tragic Lewinsky matter. That verdict was quantifiable and dramatic: On his last day in office, Clinton had a 65 percent approval rating, one of the highest for a second-term president since polling was invented.

The American people got it: While they disapproved of Clinton's personal conduct, what was far more important was the good job he had done improving their lives. Should PBS have thought about that verdict in determining the proportion of time to devote to "scandal," especially knowing that they were almost all bogus, versus substance and issues that led to the 65 percent approval rating?

I would have thought so -- since it is, after all, PBS, not the E! network. At least I thought so.

How sad. How unfortunate, in my view, for PBS's reputation and the integrity of its "American Experience" series on the presidency.

And how unfair to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

# # # #

Mr. Davis, who served as Special Counsel to President Clinton and a White House spokesman on various congressional investigations from 1996-98, is the author of "Scandal - How 'Gotcha' Politics Is Destroying America (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), from which some of the data in this article is drawn. He is the principal in his own law firm that specializes in "legal crisis management" and is the author of a forthcoming book, to be published by Simon and Schuster this spring, called: "Crisis Tales - Five Rules for Handling Scandal in Business, Politics, and Life."

Clinton: 'Liberal' PBS Smear

Marshall Fine   |   February 14, 2012   11:45 AM ET

Everything that is currently wrong with politics -- but, in particular, the way the media allows itself to be handmaiden to and enabler of the polarizers who have learned how to manipulate it with lies and half-truths -- can be seen in the "American Experience" two-part documentary, Clinton, which airs on PBS next week (Feb. 20 and 21).

And that includes Clinton itself.

Put it this way: If St. Reagan were receiving a similarly critical treatment on the same network, we already would be hearing the cries to keep it off the air, as well as demands to cut off funding for public broadcasting -- or, to be more accurate, louder cries to do so.

This nearly four-hour documentary by Barak Goodman, a long-time "American Experience" producer and director, is a smear job, though more the death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach than a straight-ahead takedown. It's guilty in miniature of all the same flaws that major media coverage has fallen prey to since the rise of both the 24-hour news cycle and the Internet. Interestingly, the origins of both can be traced to the presidential era of Bill Clinton.

Clinton devotes its first two hours to Clinton's journey to the White House (through his years as Governor of Arkansas), ending with the rise of Newt Gingrich as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Republican landslide of 1994. The second half is devoted to the final six years of the Clinton presidency -- but a solid hour of that is devoted, naturally, to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Indeed, the first part begins with Clinton's apology about that scandal and frames the entire documentary as the story of a guy whose self-destructive streak tainted and overshadowed everything he did.

OK, that's one way of looking at it.

The nature of media -- and the nature of documentaries, for that matter -- is to telescope any story into bite-sized chunks. The pieces the media focus on are the ones that enter public awareness; control that message (as the Republicans so masterfully do) and you sway the public.

And that begins, of course, with who you use to tell your story. Tellingly, while there are former Clintonites in the mix (press secretary Dee Dee Myers, deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes, Secretary of Labor Robert Reich), much of the talking is done by journalists, whose authority is essentially based on second-hand information. More to the point, writers like Joe Klein and Gail Sheehy have their own axes to grind in terms of their viewpoints about who Bill and Hillary Clinton were during these years. They aren't unbiased witnesses of history; both were writing things then (and now) that were attempts to sway the way that history is viewed.

There's also the question of context. At various points in the first part, before they've actually been revealed as serious players in the story, witnesses such as Dick Morris, a former Clinton political consultant, and Lucianne Goldberg, identified only as a "literary agent," are allowed to comment without ever being identified as the rabid anti-Clinton partisans they were and still are. Even when they enter the story itself (Goldberg as the right-wing puppet-master behind Linda Tripp; Morris as an increasingly right-wing consultant with sexual peccadilloes of his own that are never mentioned), they are never identified as having strong interests that shape the stories they tell.

This commentary continues on my website.

JFK Mistress

Jeff Danziger   |   February 9, 2012    3:11 PM ET

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