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One American Who Isn't For Sale

Robert Scheer   |   June 11, 2013    5:23 AM ET

So it's true, as filmmaker Michael Moore once warned us, the Carlyle Group is Big Brother. That's the $176 billion private equity firm that once employed former President George H.W. Bush, his Secretary of State James A. Baker III and a host of political luminaries that would put any other list of America's ruling elite to shame. Plenty of Democrats too, including former President Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff Mack McLarty and Arthur Levitt, the man Clinton appointed to head the SEC during the creation of the housing bust.

It is also the firm that owns Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., which, thanks to the revelations of one of its employees, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, we now know collects and stores much of the government's immense PRISM database spying on the lives of this nation's citizenry. This is systematic snooping through the telephone and Internet records of hundreds of millions of Americans conducted by Snowden and others in Booz Allen's employ who had the highest access to our most private personal data while working at a for-profit company.

Our data is their commerce, and ever since 9/11, observing us has become mega lucrative. "Booz Allen Hamilton," the New York Times reported Sunday, "has become one of the largest and most profitable corporations in the United States almost exclusively by serving a single client: the government of the United States." The word "serving" might be pushing it here, since 98 percent of the firm's revenue of $5.8 billion last year came from the taxpayers, who are the same folks being spied upon.

Heck, Booz Allen knows all about those taxpayers, since back in 1998, during the Clinton presidency, the firm was hired to "modernize" the IRS. "We made some very dramatic changes in the way the IRS is organized," Booz Allen's CEO claimed at the time. How perfect: Make tax collection more efficient and less painful, so the suckers might not notice when you scoop up the loot at the other end.

Of course, to those swinging through the revolving door between the government and its defense contractors, it must be difficult to draw a distinction between their changing roles. James R. Clapper, the chief intelligence official in the Obama administration, who is now investigating this security lapse, was himself a top Booz Allen executive. And it should be of little surprise that John M. McConnell, currently vice chairman of Booz Allen, was previously the chief intelligence official in the George W. Bush administration. It's crony capitalism at its patriotic best.

"The national security apparatus has been more and more privatized and turned over to contractors," Danielle Brian, executive director of the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, told the Times. "This is something the public is largely unaware of, how more than a million private contractors are cleared to handle highly sensitive matters."

Brian points out that the for-profit folks spying on us also get to grant high level government security clearances. Those private sector employees are then entrusted to work in the most secretive sectors of the government's national security apparatus, including at the National Security Agency. It's good work if you can get it. In January, the Defense Department granted Booz Allen a five-year, $5.6 billion deal assigning its private sector employees in key positions to advise Pentagon personnel on crafting military policy. Maybe they can find some new conventional wars to fight just in case the one against terrorism loses its profitability.

That could happen now that the American public has been alerted to the fact that in the grand design of that war, it is the ordinary American citizen, even when shopping on the Internet, who gets to play enemy. That reality is what seems to have turned Snowden, like others before him, into a courageous whistle-blower. He signed up for training with the Army Special Forces to go fight in Iraq because he bought the Bush administration's line that it was a war "to help free people from oppression." That misplaced idealism collided with the observation that "Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone," Snowden told the British newspaper The Guardian.

Still, he continued to serve the government, both with the CIA and then at the NSA, where he worked as a Booz Allen contractor. There he witnessed a part of the sordid story that he chose to share with his fellow Americans. As he explained to The Guardian:

The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. ... If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards. I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things. ... I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded.
The folks at Booz Allen, and its parent company the Carlyle Group, love that world as a fabulous profit center, and it is truly inspiring that there are still folks like Snowden whom they can't buy.

Ne'er the Twain?

Ian Williams   |   June 10, 2013    9:55 AM ET

Read More: obama, clinton, xi, us, china, roosevelt

In 1907, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt signaled the arrival of the U.S. as as world power by sending the "Great White Fleet" in a grand gesture to the globe it circumnavigated. It was a little premature: the ships were obsolescent and relied on the kindness of strangers to refuel but it did mark Washington's aspirations to put truth in the rumours about the Monroe Doctrine.

Similarly, Xi Jinping's grand tour, which began in California and a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on June 7, is a debut rather than a consolidation.

It is, perhaps wisely, more economic in its theme, brandishing investments rather than waving big sticks.

While modern financial and trading networks need not follow the consolidated marine and land boundaries of previous rising empires, Xi's triumphal progress through America's backyard -- the Caribbean and Mexico -- demonstrates how much more effectively powerful China's economic success is than the Soviet weaponry had been. "The China Dream" is Xi's rallying cry of a China with a seat at the top table.

It will be interesting to note the progress, with small indicators like the almost certain relaxation of Chinese regulations that restrict imports of Mexico's tequila because of methanol levels. A few extra Chinese hangovers is a small price to pay for an economic beachhead right on the Rio Grande.

It is fascinating to watch the interplay between the aspirant and receding superpowers and it is reassuring that both sides are obviously thinking seriously, and not necessarily reflexively about it.

When Richard Nixon went to China, apart from recognition of the previous pariah state's future potential, at least part of the White House motive was counterbalancing the Soviet Union. President Xi's tour of the America epitomizes a renewed appreciation on both sides, but above all of China as a potential counterweight to the U.S. itself. A less confident U.S. is relinquishing the xenophobia, or more specifically Sinophobia, that previously greeted Chinese investment interests.

Across the U.S., job-hungry local governments yearn for the Yuan to come in and do what their own bankers are refusing to do -- invest locally.

The times, they're a-changing

Previous ups and downs of the great powers have been marked by major conflagrations, and we can be grateful that the demotion of the Soviet Union was relatively peaceful. Two decades ago, it would have been difficult to believe that the U.S. of Strategic Defense Initiative, Star Wars and the New American Century fame would have been quite so polite to its most likely supplanter.

Two decades ago, even Japan was viewed with a jaundiced eye as it surged close to overtaking the U.S. economically, even though militarily it was no threat, and indeed, was almost a U.S. protectorate. The costs of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have taxed U.S. power even as it outspends the rest of the world militarily.

But the relationship between China and the U.S. is unique. While there is very real rivalry as they both compete for the same space at the top of the table, it is like a Puerto Rican knife fight with the combatants tied by the wrists to each other. The U.S. needs China, which, after all, has financed Washington's wars with its purchase of U.S. dollars. Conversely, China needs the U.S. Beijing can neither forgo those reserves deposited in its rivals' Treasury vaults and needs its markets to fuel the growth of its economy.

Xi knows that the secret of continuing Communist Party of China (CPC) power in the face of potential domestic dissatisfaction is the growing prosperity that keeping U.S. consumers happy brings.

However, China is developing military potential along with its economic success and the friction over disputed islands around the China Sea is worrying. The scenario of a rising uppity power confronting one that is relatively getting weaker, is all the more worrying when we consider that network of alliances and defence commitments that the US has across the region. China has interests and claims in an area where the US is far from home but has ties made in former days of glory.

Pulling treaty triggers

In 1914, we saw what happened as a result of those treaty triggers being pulled, and in the South China Sea, U.S. commitments to Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines could drag the U.S. into a local conflict with China where the latter has its forces concentrated.

The U.S., of course, is still in imperial overstretch mode, with bases and commitments worldwide. At home, the American public has strictly limited enthusiasm for wars for far-away countries of which, after all, it knows amazingly little.

Conservatives have set up a shopping lists of what Obama should demand of Xi, on economic reforms, currency policy, government etc. Obama is more sophisticated than many of his predecessors -- and of course economic circumstances have weakened his hand. He is, one hopes, not going to be crass in his demands of China.

One assumes that Obama would realize just how counterproductive it would be for the U.S., whose economic model has never looked so dodgy, to lecture China, for whom a growth rate four or five times the U.S.', seems to be overstretched in its own right. He will also understand that Xi has his own domestic politics to worry about.

The Communist Party has pretty much abandoned the dialectic of the class struggle, and the glue that holds it together is the nationalism of an oft-humiliated civilization.

So the talks are an opportunity for quiet dialogue and a development of rapport between the two leaders. Beijing might offer magnanimous compromises or exit routes on many of the maritime border issues, for example, but would certainly bridle at any ultimata. But the U.S. is hardly in a position to brandish ultimata.

Room for compromise

In the case of Taiwan, for example, the administration's efforts are more about stopping Taipei tickling the dragon than building up a prickly defence. The long obfuscation of Congressional efforts to sell F-16s to Taipei shows successive presidents' deference to Beijing's sensibilities, which on the face of it is illogical appeasement. The planes are only of use if China attacks -- no one seriously expects Taiwan to attack the mainland, after all. But Washington has to take account of the importance of the island in China's inner party rivalries.

There is room for compromise. If we consider, for example, North Korea as China's Israel, an embarrassing but ineradicable ally, it would frame the limits of what Washington could reasonably expect China to do in a low key way. Xi can no more disown Kim Jong-un publicly than Obama can repudiate Netanyahu, but there are important gestures available.

Obama could pledge, for example, that U.S. forces would withdraw from the Korean Peninsula in the wake of any re-unification, thus avoiding the triumphalistic mistakes in Europe that still fuel Russian resentment.

In fact, there is another model the two might adopt. Britain and the U.S. were similar rivals and partners, tied as much by financial chains as any alleged common bonds of culture and language.

The U.S. facilitated the decline of its erstwhile rival, moving from debtor to creditor -- and, it might be added, doing its best to stab its ally in the back financially even as they fought together. But it has not approached military tensions since the British burnt the White House in 1814.

Of course, unless the Tea Party triumphs and splits the U.S. into autonomous fragments, the U.S. is never going to decline as precipitately as Britain shorn of empire, but it is possible for a rising China to be partners with a still powerful, although relatively declining America.

It would appear that Xi and the Chinese are prepared for this.

In terms of domestic politics, Japan is the foreign scapegoat up front while the U.S. is relatively benign in China's image.

Similarly, China benefits in the U.S. from not being the Soviet Union and also the main trading partner, an object of admiration and emulation.

Xi and Obama might be the two right people in the right place to make the mutually respectful links needed -- and these talks will demonstrate that, one way or another.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the publisher's editorial policy.

The BRICS Post

Joanna Zelman   |   May 17, 2013    3:44 PM ET

"We are in a race against time," former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Wednesday night, in an interview with actor Harrison Ford.

"We still live in a state of denial," Clinton suggested, regarding the future impacts of climate change. "We see it, we experience it, but we have a great deal of difficulty in summoning the political will ... to address it."

Ford interviewed Clinton on challenges ranging from climate change to poaching as part of Conservation International's annual New York Gala Dinner.

Clinton focused specifically on small Pacific Island nations whose existences, she said, "are truly at stake."

At the Pacific Islands Forum in the Cook Islands last August, she announced aid for programs focused on sustainable economic development and climate change adaptation.

Many island nations are already being forced to adapt to the effects of a changing environment. Earlier this year, Kiribati President Anote Tong told The Huffington Post that unprecedented coastal erosion is forcing some of his island nation communities to relocate, and declared that the United States should "not be so scared to talk about climate change."

Recent research confirmed that virtually all scientists agree that humans are contributing to climate change through actions such as the burning of fossil fuels.

On Wednesday, Clinton also spoke out against wildlife poaching. "We have a wildlife trafficking, poaching, murdering crisis," she said.

Beyond endangered species concerns, "Think about ungoverned space that is dominated by criminal and terrorist elements," Clinton warned, "murdering park ranchers and local people who try to prevent them from killing large numbers of animals, and think about what that means to our own security."


Clinton cited an incident earlier this month in the Central African Republic, where armed poachers killed at least 26 elephants at a protected sanctuary.

The country has been plagued by violence recently, and rebels ousted the president earlier this year.

Clinton pushed for conservation groups to help nations protect wildlife and their habitats, while also encouraging tougher ivory penalties in the U.S.

Luke Johnson   |   April 25, 2013   12:21 PM ET

Former President Bill Clinton, speaking at the George W. Bush Presidential Center dedication on Thursday, said that he had considered asking his successor to paint a picture of him, but joked that he backed off after he saw the hacked self-portraits of Bush nude in the bathroom.

"I probably shouldn't say this, but I'm going to anyway," Clinton said at the ceremony on Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas. "Your mother showed me some of your landscapes and animal paintings and I thought they were great, really great, and I seriously considered calling you and asking you to do a portrait of me -- until I saw the results of your sister's hacked emails. Those bathroom sketches were wonderful, but at my age I think I should keep my suit."

The Smoking Gun released Bush's pictures of himself in the shower and the bathtub in February. Art experts contacted by The Huffington Post said uniformly that they were perplexed by the paintings.

The former president's wife, Laura Bush, said Thursday on NPR that there would be no paintings at the Bush center until he gets "better."

JIM SALTER   |   April 6, 2013    9:06 AM ET

ST. LOUIS -- Former President Bill Clinton and a panel of successful entrepreneurs had a simple message Friday for college students gathered in St. Louis: Dream big, have a social conscience and commit to your goals.

The former president brought his Clinton Global Initiative to Washington University. More than 1,000 university students from 75 countries and all 50 states are gathered for a weekend of sessions seeking practical and innovative solutions to the world's problems.

How Can the Opposition Make Sure Hillary Does Not Win in 2016...

Dee Evans   |   April 4, 2013    6:30 PM ET

...let the liberal media and "Clintonistas" keep commanding the airwaves, newspapers and Internet 24/7 for the next two years with "Hillary is a shoo-in" 2016 talk. That'll do it!

As a woman and left-leaning voter, let me first say that I really like Hillary Clinton and I, too, hope that she runs (and hopefully wins) in 2016, so I can say this with perfect truth... if I as a potential Hillary supporter am already getting sick of hearing her name, then I know there are some others who are getting sick as well.

Barack Obama isn't even three full months into his second term and all I hear every time I turn on my television or open my newspaper or log onto a political website is... Hillary... Hillary... Hillary!

Remember the quote: "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Translation: you did this in 2006-07 and it didn't work out so well... so stop it!!!

2016 is a long way from now and, as we all know from 2008, anything can happen. Hillary Clinton was the presumptive, unequaled, hands-down, unstoppable shoo-in, a bet-your-house-on-it nominee back then, and if I had a dollar for every time some so-called political know-it-all said on national TV or in an article that Barack Obama didn't stand a chance against the "Clinton Machine," I could be retired right now.

Right now, Hillary's people are their own worst enemy. I know they love and adore and worship the Clintons (to be honest, sometimes it can get a bit sickening) but the best way to ensure Hillary's 2016 success is to just shut up for a minute! Stop opening PACs and holding "I'm Ready For Hillary" rallies and going on television basically daring other Democrats to run against her when the woman hasn't even committed to running yet. You have plenty of time for that, trust me.

The best thing supporters can do for Hillary right now is to just say that they support her in whatever she decides to do and that they will stand with her when she does make that decision. The worst thing they can do is go on an almost daily full Clintonesque-diatribe al a Chris Matthews and Ed Rendell about how absolutely shiny and perfect she is and how she's a shoo-in and it's "her turn" and everybody else (i.e., Joe Biden) should just get the hell out of the way. Seriously, whether you know it or not, it's really beginning to get on people's nerves!

Another thing I'm beginning to hear is the slightest bit of resentment from some loyal Obama supporters who feel like President Obama's second term is being completely overshadowed "only three months in" by all the Hillary 2016 talk. They like Hillary but what they don't like is feeling like "their guy" is not being given the time and respect he's earned as a second-term president by Clinton people completely turning every discussion, every appearance and every event into a Hillary 2016 push. Obama supporters are fully prepared for 2016 presidential talk -- around late 2014, but not March of 2013. Too soon? Hell yeah, ya think? And believe it or not, there are quite a few voters out there who are labeled "Obama voters" -- they are not loyal to the Democratic party, they are loyal to Barack Obama. So let's not forget Clinton people, you just might need a few of those "Obama people" to come out and vote.

In closing, if Hillary decides to run, I will root for her all the way. I have the greatest respect for how she "womaned-up" and worked side-by-side with the man who beat her in a hard fought battle in 2008. I honestly don't know if I could have done it. She has earned our complete respect and admiration and through all of this, she should have also earned something else: a group of followers who should know better.

So to all the over the top Clinton worshipers whose well intentions are actually doing more harm than good I say: give it a rest already! Stop being silly! Didn't 2008 teach you bunch of loopty-loops anything? Nothing in this life is guaranteed and if any profession teaches us this, it's politics. When Hillary's ready, she'll let you know, then you can let us know, then we can all gas up the bandwagon together and hit the road to 2016!

Dee Evans

HILLEL ITALIE   |   April 4, 2013    8:07 AM ET

NEW YORK — So what does it all mean?

Hillary Rodham Clinton has a deal for a memoir and policy book about her years in the Obama administration, Simon & Schuster told The Associated Press. The book has yet to be titled and is tentatively scheduled for June 2014, in time for the summer reading season and for the midterm elections, when a promotional tour could easily blend with Democratic efforts work to recapture the House.

It Wasn't David Stockman Who Wrecked the Economy

Robert Scheer   |   April 2, 2013    3:48 AM ET

Why is David Stockman driving everyone crazy? The shoot-the-messenger frenzy that has greeted Sunday's New York Times op-ed by Ronald Reagan's former budget director leaves one searching for the message that has so unhinged his critics.

I borrowed that word "unhinged" from more than one of Stockman's critics upset over his "rant" bemoaning the loss of the gold standard and the statist economics practiced by just about every American president from Franklin Roosevelt through Ronald Reagan on to the current inhabitant of the White House.

The only exception was a few golden years of fiscal responsibility under Dwight Eisenhower, who, like Stockman, was possessed of prudent Midwestern economic values. Stockman remains some kind of naive libertarian actually convinced that a free market ought to be free of control by the financial cartels and the cronies they purchase in government. What's all the outrage about? What's wrong with "putting the great Wall Street banks out in the cold to compete as at-risk free enterprises, without access to cheap Fed loans or deposit insurance"? That's the same cold world in which the rest of us live.

The headline on Stockman's piece -- "State-Wrecked: The Corruption of Capitalism in America" -- is unquestionably accurate. Actually, the title of his just-released book -- The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America -- is a bit softer, but you get the point. What his critics find so disturbing is not a quant argument about the purity of monetary policy but rather the bold assertion that the overall American system of crony capitalism is in fact wrecked. This is a contention that most Americans might readily agree with in terms of their daily experience, but one that the hardly suffering pundit class would rather not contemplate.

For all of the strident attacks on Stockman's column, I have yet to read a serious critique of his most brazen claim, that the bailouts and quantitative easing that have saved Wall Street and brought the stock market back to historic heights represent class warfare with the vast majority of Americans on the losing side:

Since the S&P 500 first reached its current level, in March 2000, the mad money printers at the Federal Reserve have expanded their balance sheet sixfold (to $3.2 trillion from $500 billion). Yet during that stretch, economic output has grown by an average of 1.7 percent a year (the slowest since the Civil War); real business investment has crawled forward at only 0.8 percent per year; and the payroll job count has crept up at a negligible 0.1 percent annually. Real median family income growth has dropped 8 percent, and the number of full-time middle class jobs, 6 percent. The real net worth of the 'bottom' 90 percent has dropped by one-fourth. The number of food stamp and disability aid recipients has more than doubled, to 59 million, about one in five Americans.
It wasn't Stockman who wrecked the economy. It was Bill Clinton who deregulated the too-big-to-fail banks, and it was George W. Bush and Barack Obama who bailed them out. But even Paul Krugman, who knows how bad things are and yet manages to be charitable in appraisals of his Princeton colleague Ben Bernanke, dismisses Stockman's critique as "cranky old man stuff. ..."

Fed Chairman Bernanke, who predicted this would be an era of the "Great Moderation" back in 2004 and as late as March 2007 assured the nation that the subprime mortgage crisis "seems likely to be contained," remains a member in good standing of the political establishment. Not so Stockman, who dares write: "Instead of moderation, what's at hand is a Great Deformation, arising from a rogue central bank that has abetted the Wall Street casino, crucified savers on a cross of zero interest rates and fueled a global commodity bubble that erodes Main Street living standards through rising food and energy prices. ..."

Bernanke, who throws $85 billion a month at the bankers who caused this mess, purchasing their toxic mortgage based derivatives, is still treated with respect. But Stockman, who opposed bailing out the banks so they, like those tens of millions of foreclosed homeowners, could learn a tough love lesson in real economics, is now an object of derision.

Herein is a lesson that the bankers should have been taught back during the Clinton presidency when, as Stockman writes, the principle of a bailout for Wall Street's hustlers "was reinforced by the Fed's unforgivable 1998 bailout of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management."

That fiasco's enablers -- Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers -- and the more disastrous ones to follow were crowned "The Committee to Save the World" on Time magazine's Feb. 15, 1999, cover and are still welcomed in those polite circles where truth-teller Stockman is being treated as a pariah.

Jessica Prois   |   March 11, 2013   12:43 PM ET

A forum this week is bringing together global leaders to tackle education solutions for the approximately 139 million children who are missing out on schooling worldwide.

During the inaugural Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai March 14-17, world leaders including Bill Clinton and Tony Blair will be discussing private-public partnerships to improve education equity.

Former President Clinton will deliver the keynote address and will answer questions from Twitter in partnership with Varkey GEMS Foundation, a nonprofit that empowers underserved children worldwide, for which he serves as honorary chairman. Clinton, who tackles global education issues through his Clinton Global Initiative and Clinton Foundation, has long stressed the need for providing greater education opportunities.

The global forum will cover topics including new technologies, technical and vocational education and solutions to pressing issues such as empowering girls. Attending world leaders have stressed the power of education-related public-private partnerships as a means to stability.

The Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova said in a release: “Global companies have their global interests. But there is something new coming about, and that’s the common understanding that it’s in the private sector’s interest that people are well educated.

The Varkey GEMS Foundation CEO Vikas Pota has called for a disruption in education in a similar way global heath issues such as polio have been tackled by NGOs. Pota wrote in a blog:

"The overwhelming evidence points to the inability or motivation of governments to challenge the status quo. Are NGO's able to leverage their expertise?"

The Global Education and Skills Forum is in partnership with organizations including UNESCO, the UAE Ministry of Education and the Varkey GEMS Foundation.

Huffington Post Impact is a media partner for the Global Education and Skills Forum. Impact will exclusively live stream the event Friday, March 15 at 10:45 a.m. EST. Tweet #AskClinton to have your question considered, and follow @GemsEducation for updates.

Bill Clinton and DOMA: The Indelible Stain on a Presidency

Michelangelo Signorile   |   March 8, 2013    3:10 PM ET

A stain on Bill Clinton's presidency that will never be blotted out is his signing of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Today, in an op-ed, Clinton asked the Supreme Court to overturn DOMA, which, he and his defenders like to point out, he signed late at night with no fanfare. It's certainly a great thing for an ex-president to weigh in with a reversal and give his opinion to the Supreme Court. And I commend Clinton for his evolution. But that doesn't remove this damaging act from Clinton's legacy, nor certainly the harm that that one law caused for almost 20 years.

Clinton has at various points engaged in revisionist history in offering the reasons why he signed DOMA after the GOP pushed the law through Congress. The most disingenuous attempt was in 2009 when he, following on claims a year earlier by Hillary Clinton's campaign, stated that Democrats were trying to stop a constitutional amendment from being passed. In fact, gay activists cannot recall any mention of a constitutional amendment until years later.

''That's complete nonsense," Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry told Metro Weekly in 2011. "There was no conversation about something 'worse' until eight years later. There was no talk of a constitutional amendment, and no one even thought it was possible -- and, of course, it turned out it wasn't really possible to happen... That was never an argument made in the '90s.''

The reason Bill Clinton signed DOMA is, quite simply, because he refused to be leader on a civil rights issue, irrationally fearful of the ramifications of vetoing the bill and rationalizing the damage caused by signing it. That refusal to take leadership really goes back to day one of his presidency. That was when he signaled to the GOP, like a frightened person on the street signals fear to a barking dog, that he was deathly afraid of the gay issue and would not be a leader on it.

In the first few days of his presidency in 1993, Clinton blinked. Rather than sign an executive order ending the ban on gays and lesbians in the military, as he'd promised during the campaign -- and just as he signed various directives reversing anti-abortion policy of the Bush years -- Clinton bowed to the GOP and conservative Democrats like Georgia Senator Sam Nunn. We ended up with the loathsome "don't ask, don't tell" law, which in the end was no better than the outright ban.

Would the GOP and anti-gay Democrats have reacted harshly and passed a law banning gay service if Clinton had signed the executive order? Perhaps. But Clinton would have defined himself as a leader on the issue and could have helped to change public opinion. Instead, the gay issue was something he ran away from during the rest of his presidency and which the GOP knew he was vulnerable on and would use over him every time. That was when what Joe Sudbay calls "political homophobia" took hold -- when our supposed friends run from us, irrationally fearful of the political ramifications of embracing gay equality.

What if Clinton had decided to lead on the gay issue rather than bow? We'll never know for sure, but it's ridiculous to think Bill Clinton would have lost reelection over the gay issue, no matter what happened. And it's highly probable that his leadership could have helped change minds. In 1996, when he signed DOMA into law, Clinton was well ahead of Bob Dole in the polls. Anybody who would vote against him because he vetoed DOMA was already voting against him.

LGBT leaders of the time are to blame as well because they allowed Clinton and his administration to cravenly perpetuate political homophobia (which was carried with Rahm Emanuel and others into the first years of the Obama administration, too). LGBT leaders may have spoken against the signing of DOMA at the time, but they rallied around Clinton, continuing to raise money for him and making the case to the community to get out and vote for the man who'd just signed a law against them. There were no ramifications for Clinton of any kind from the gay community.

Contrast that to the Obama years. Though some in the Obama administration, including the president himself, were fearful of the gay issue early on, grass roots LGBT activists made it known that it was unacceptable. Members of groups like Get Equal chained themselves to the White House fence and interrupted Obama's speeches, while big donors withheld money. They made it clear that this was not the way to make his base enthusiastic heading into his re-election campaign.

Obama was pushed to the take the lead, and he did. Sure, public opinion was in a much different place on gay issues in 1993 and 1996 than it is now. But it was also in a different place in 2008, when Obama took office, and even in 2011, when Obama came out for marriage equality. The president's support of gay marriage -- his decision to take a leadership role on the issue -- helped push public opinion dramatically. Rather than hurt him, the issue helped to galvanize his base. BIll Clinton's presidency had enshrined political homophobia in Democratic politics, and it took almost 20 years for it to begin to diminish.The Defense of Marriage Act is part of that legacy.

You Are Not a Person, Anwar al-Awlaki

Peter Van Buren   |   March 5, 2013    1:47 PM ET

Though I spent 24 years working for the State Department as a Consular Officer, charged in part with the issuance and (very rarely) revocation of U.S. passports, there is still room to learn something new: The Government of the United States can, and apparently does, take away passports from American Citizens because "The Secretary of State determines that the applicant's activities abroad are causing or are likely to cause serious damage to the national security or the foreign policy of the United States."

If the government feels it is against its interest for you to have a passport and thus the freedom to travel, to depart the United States if you wish to, it will just take it away. The law allows them to do this prospectively, the "or are likely to cause..." part of the law, meaning you don't need to have done anything. The government just needs to decide that you might.


We learned via a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act request that prior to having him and his 16 year old son away blown away via drone in 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton secretly revoked the passport of Anwar al-Awlaki, al Qaeda propagandist and U.S. Citizen. The State Department even tried to invite al-Awlaki into the U.S. Embassy in Yemen so they could hand him a letter announcing the revocation and so that they could encourage him to return to the U.S. to face charges. Six months later (al-Awlaki never dropped by the Embassy, by the way), the U.S. Government simply killed him. Two weeks after that it killed his 16 year old son.

Phillip Agee

I have been unable to track down many recent examples where the U.S. Government revoked the passport of an American simply because his/her presence abroad bothered-- or might bother-- the Secretary of State. In fact, the only example I was able to locate was that of infamous ex-CIA officer Phillip Agee, who in the 1970's exposed CIA officers identities. It was Agee's case that prompted a Supreme Court review of the Department of State's ability to revoke passports simply because the government didn't want you to travel abroad (the Supreme's upheld the government's ability to do so based on a 1926 law after lower courts said no. The Court stated that "The right to hold a passport is subordinate to national security and foreign policy considerations.")

Agee was a naughty boy. According to the Supreme Court:

In 1974, Agee called a press conference in London to announce his "campaign to fight the United States CIA wherever it is operating. He declared his intent "to expose CIA officers and agents and to take the measures necessary to drive them out of the countries where they are operating." Since 1974, Agee has, by his own assertion, devoted consistent effort to that program, and he has traveled extensively in other countries in order to carry it out. To identify CIA personnel in a particular country, Agee goes to the target country and consults sources in local diplomatic circles whom he knows from his prior service in the United States Government. He recruits collaborators and trains them in clandestine techniques designed to expose the "cover" of CIA employees and sources. Agee and his collaborators have repeatedly and publicly identified individuals and organizations located in foreign countries as undercover CIA agents, employees, or sources. The record reveals that the identifications divulge classified information, violate Agee's express contract not to make any public statements about Agency matters without prior clearance by the Agency, have prejudiced the ability of the United States to obtain intelligence, and have been followed by episodes of violence against the persons and organizations identified.

We Will Never Know

In Anwar Al-Awlaki's case, the Government has not made much of a case (never mind for the passport, remember he was murdered by a drone). In fact, officially, we do not know why al-Awlaki was killed at all, or under what laws or by what decision process. Some reports tie him to the failed idiot underwear bomber, but being part of a failed plot seems not to rise to the usual standard for capital punishment. It is all secret.

The Government of the United States executed one of its own citizens abroad without any form of due process. This is generally seen as a no-no as far as the Bill of Rights goes. The silly old Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees "no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law" and includes no exceptions for war, terrorism, or being a really bad human being.

Could the passport revocation have been simply a ruse, a bureaucratic CYA attempt at providing some sort of illusion of "due process?" Could al-Awlaki's not dropping by the U.S. Embassy to chat about his passport have been a veiled attempt to justify his killing in that he was thus not able to be arrested? Or was the passport revocation just a simple act of dehumanizing someone to make killing him that much more palatable?

We'll never know.

Sequester Insanity

Joe Peyronnin   |   February 20, 2013    8:19 AM ET

It is doubtful that Congress and the White House will reach a budget agreement in time to avoid the deep mandatory cuts, known as the "sequester," from going into effect at the end of next week. The consequences, according to many economists, could be disastrous for the already anemic American economy.

Conventional wisdom currently is that the sequester deadline will pass and then Washington will come up with some sort of compromise solution. Perhaps just in time for the next self-inflicted crisis, the threat of a federal government shutdown on March 27 if Congress does not approve funding.

At the heart of this crisis is the debate over how to reduce the annual deficits that Washington continues to rack up. The national debt is currently $16.5 trillion, or about $50,000 for each citizen.

On Tuesday, Erskine Bowles and former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson released their new deficit reduction plan, which they say splits the difference between President Barack Obama and House Republicans. Their plan would reduce the deficit by $2.4 trillion dollars over the next decade.

Bowles worked in the Clinton administration, and Simpson was a highly respected Republican Senator. They served as co-chairmen of the White House's 2010 deficit-reduction panel, which put together a bipartisan package of tax and spending changes that was rejected by both the administration and Congressional Republicans.

The Bowles-Simpson plan includes $600 billion in cuts from Medicare and Medicaid, $600 billion in new tax revenue from ending or reducing deductions and breaks, and $1.2 trillion in cuts to discretionary spending, along with cuts in cost-of-living increases for Social Security, the farm program and civilian and defense retirement programs. Bowles-Simpson 2.0, as it is being called, sharply reduced tax revenues from their original plan, perhaps in an effort to win over some Republicans.

In the current deficit debate, the White House favors a $1.5 trillion package that includes smaller cuts in social programs, investments in education, new technologies and infrastructure, and additional revenues achieved by closing tax loopholes. Republicans say they will propose a $4 trillion package of cuts that they claim will result in a balanced budget in 10 years, although they have not provided details. But Republicans have ruled out any further tax revenues.

Meanwhile, some economists question making deep cuts in federal spending at a time when the nation's economic recovery is so weak. They point to failed austerity measures in European countries, like England, which slipped back into another recession.

A compromise like the Bowles-Simpson plan seems appropriate for the country to avoid further calamity. "Our plan is not perfect, but it can serve, we believe, as a mark for a bipartisan deal," Mr. Bowles told reporters Tuesday morning. However, it is unlikely that the plan will receive any traction in Washington.

So, at the end of next week, the sequester is likely to go into effect. It calls for $85 billion in across the board cuts, and gives the government little discretion in how to enact them. The president called it a "meat cleaver" approach, warning that national security and vital services will be reduced, resulting in furloughs for border patrol agents, first responders, teachers and air traffic controllers.

With Congress on a break, no negotiations are underway. Instead, Congressional leaders are pointing fingers and playing the blame game. On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner said, "Words alone won't avert it. Replacing the president's sequester will require a plan to cut spending that will put us on the path to a budget that is balanced in 10 years. To keep these first responders on the job, what other spending is the president willing to cut?"

No wonder a recent Quinnipiac poll showed that 72 percent of American registered voters disapprove of the way Congressional Republicans are doing their job. And now Republicans are ready to bring the country to its knees rather than compromise on a more balanced budget deal to avert the latest Washington manufactured crisis. This is insanity.

Second Verse, Same as the First?

Andrei Cherny   |   February 19, 2013    8:52 PM ET

President Obama chose to begin his State of the Union address last week with a quotation from President Kennedy. It was appropriate and well-chosen. However, the agenda that he presented to the nation brought to mind another of Kennedy's quotes, this one from his 1960 campaign. A standard line in JFK's stump speech was that the Republican Party reminded him of its mascot: a "circus elephant, with his head full of ivory, a long memory and no vision." What went unsaid but left to his audience to infer was that the pachyderms invariably had to be trailed by a man with a shovel to clean up the mess.

It was a similar - and similarly unpleasant task - that occupied much of President Obama and President Clinton's first terms in the aftermath of the Great Recession and the double-dip recession of the early 1990s, respectively. In both men's presidencies, a stabilizing economy at the start of their second terms made it possible for them to speak to propose to the nation a longer term and broader set of ideas. Having been privileged to be part of President Clinton's post-reelection White House, what was remarkable to me in listening to this year's State of the Union address was how much of President Obama's new agenda had a familiar ring.

Whether it was raising the minimum wage, strengthening infrastructure, promoting research and innovation, providing high-quality preschool to every child in America, making college more affordable, addressing climate change, stemming gun violence, or even passing specific legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act much of the 2013 State of the Union address picked up - even with the same words - where the 2000 State of the Union speech left off.

Yet while aspects of the agenda may be similar, the moment is very different. The intervening years between Clinton and Obama were not simply a pause but a detour - a devastating attack on the country, two painful wars, runaway deficits, economic policies that tilted away from middle class opportunity, and ever more corrosive politics.

The broadly shared growth and yawning budget surpluses of the end of the Clinton presidency have not yet reappeared, and it is doubtful we will see them soon. That means that some of the more ambitious elements of the Clinton agenda of 2000 - such as new universal retirement savings accounts to supplement Social Security - are now out of reach. "Of all sad words of tongue or pen," wrote John Greenleaf Whittier, "the saddest are these: 'It might have been!'"

The question, however, is what yet might be. That is because more has changed in the intervening years than our economic and budgetary situation. The partisan polarization already well in evidence in Congress in the late 1990s has been overtaken by an ideological polarization. The ranks of moderate Republicans, Blue Dogs, and New Democrats have dramatically thinned. Where Clinton could laugh about "the seesaw" he was witnessing in his 2000 speech with Democrats giving ovations at some points and Republicans providing them at others, Speaker Boehner and his Republicans could scarcely be roused to their feet to applaud what once would have been considered common sense.

Though the times are different, a president's agenda can still speak to that dynamic. So much of what was said in 2000 and in 2013 overlapped, but just as important as the specific programs was Obama's eloquent plea to address Medicare spending in a balanced way by appropriating the targets of the Bowles-Simpson commission. In doing so, he echoed the passion Clinton demonstrated for approaches such as reinventing government and reforming welfare - ideas that broke the mold and broke out of the traditional contours of the two party debate.

Perhaps it is too late to recreate "the seesaw" of the late 1990s, but these types of ideas are crucial to building a new long-term governing majority among the independents distrustful of the stalest parts of both parties' programs.

"The era of big government is over, but we can't go back to a time when our citizens were just left to fend for themselves," said Clinton in his 1996 State of the Union address. "It's not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth," argued Obama seventeen years later. What passed between their presidencies took America in a wrong direction in so many ways. In his 2013 State of the Union address, Obama held out the promise of building the bridge to a better 21st century.

Mollie Reilly   |   February 18, 2013   10:15 AM ET

Hillary Clinton will begin giving paid speeches this year, Politico's Mike Allen reported Monday.

Clinton, who retired as U.S. secretary of state earlier this month, is joining the Harry Walker Agency and is expected to earn fees in the six-figure range. However, Politico reports that she will likely speak for no fee on behalf of causes she supports, and will donate some of her earnings to charity.

The agency confirmed the news on its website Monday morning.

"We are proud to share the exciting news that Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has joined the Harry Walker Agency exclusively for her speaking engagements," reads the announcement.

Former President Bill Clinton, also represented by Harry Walker Agency, has had a lucrative career on the speaking circuit since exiting the White House in 2001. In 2011, he earned $13.4 million from speaking fees, increasing his total speaking earnings to $89 million over 10 years.

Other notable political figures at the agency include Al Gore, Dick Cheney, Joe Lieberman, Howard Dean, and Karl Rove.

Hillary Clinton is expected to join the paid speaking circuit in April or May.

As speculation swirls about whether or not she will run for president in 2016, Clinton has insisted she intends to take a break from politics after her busy four years at the State Department. In addition to her new speaking gig, she has also announced plans to write another memoir, focusing on her time as secretary of state.