CHILE’S CHOICE

Marc Cooper writes: The election of Socialist pediatrician Michelle Bachelet as Chile’s first woman president and one of the very few female heads of state in Latin American history was good news. But her potential to enact more than symbolic change must be viewed with skepticism. Her Socialist Party, governing in alliance with the center-right Christian Democrats, has refused to fundamentally alter or reform the “savage capitalist” economic system imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship. Chile is one of the most unequal economies in the world, producing fabulous wealth for a few and just-above-subsistence for many. A victim of torture under the Pinochet regime (as was her father, an air force general), Bachelet should be more aggressive than her predecessors in allowing prosecution of the perpetrators of torture and murder. She should also show the courage to enact significant economic reforms. The broken private pension system cries out for attention, as do underfunded schools and the dilapidated public health system. The Chilean minimum wage needs a hyper-boost, and the 8 percent unemployment rate must be lowered by a public works program. If Bachelet doesn’t take bold steps to re-engage Chileans in political life, the novelty of her gender will very soon wear thin.

PRO-IMPEACHMENT MAJORITY

In a recent Zogby poll, commissioned by AfterDowningStreet.org, 52 percent of respondents agreed with the proposition that if President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge, “Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment.” In last week’s Nation Elizabeth Holtzman made the case that Bush’s illegal authorization of warrantless wiretapping was cause for impeachment. In a recent tough speech, Al Gore made a similar case–minus the I-word. “What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping,” he said, “virtually compels the conclusion that the President of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and persistently. A President who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government.”

PAYBACK TIME FOR WAL-MART

Katrina vanden Heuvel and Sam Graham-Felsen write: On January 12 Maryland’s legislature overturned Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich’s veto and passed the Fair Share Health Care Act, which makes Maryland the first state in the nation to require that Wal-Mart and other large companies devote a share of their payroll to health benefits. “This is an incredible victory for Maryland families, children and taxpayers,” said Chris Kofinis of the Wake Up Wal-Mart campaign. “It proves that the American people have the power to hold large corporations like Wal-Mart accountable.” More than half of Wal-Mart’s 1.3 million employees nationwide must rely on Medicaid programs because they’re not covered by the company’s health insurance. Laws similar to Maryland’s are being introduced in at least thirty other states. “What you will see,” said Kofinis, “is that other states will follow Maryland’s lead, and the pressure on Wal-Mart to change into a responsible company will grow and grow.”

THE TRUE COST OF IRAQ

Remember when White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey was sacked for predicting that the Iraq War would cost up to $200 billion? And neocons embedded in the Administration were airily saying, Oh, a year’s Iraqi oil revenues will pay for the whole show? Two years later the bill keeps rising. Congress has appropriated $251 billion thus far for military operations, but the real costs will go much, much higher, according to two recent independent economic studies. They estimate the total dollar price of Bush’s war, assuming it continues into 2015, at more than $l trillion. The studies–by Scott Wallsten, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, with Linda Bilmes of Harvard–include the value of each military and civilian life, the expense of lifetime care for thousands of disabled vets, lost productivity by activated reserves and more. The papers can be accessed on The Economists’ Voice, a web journal (www.bepress.com/ev).

ANNOUNCING… A STUDENT WRITING PRIZE

We’re pleased to announce the Nation Student Writing Contest. We’re looking for original, thoughtful, provocative student voices to tell us what issue is of most concern to their generation. Essays should not exceed 800 words and should be original, unpublished work that demonstrates fresh, clear thinking and superior quality of expression and craftsmanship. We’ll select five finalists and one winner, who will be awarded a $500 cash prize and a Nation subscription. The winning essay will be published in the magazine and featured on our website. The five finalists will be awarded $100 each and subscriptions, and their entries will be published online. The contest is open to students at American high schools and to undergraduates at American colleges and universities. Entries (only one per student) will be accepted through March 31. A winner will be announced by May 31. Please send entries to studentprize@thenation.com.