Editor's note: Joseph Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a nonprofit organization that makes grants to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and the author of "Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons." He formerly was a senior vice president at the Center for American Progress, a think tank that describes itself as "progressive," and was on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee.
(CNN) – President Clinton did more than free two unjustly jailed journalists. He jump-started the successful diplomacy he had begun 15 years earlier.
In October 2000, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang. During Bill Clinton's presidency, the administration had locked down North Korea's plutonium production program, which had created enough deadly material for two bombs during the Reagan years. They had stopped all missile tests. They were a few details away from concluding a deal to end these programs completely.
But Clinton ran out of time. Enmeshed in Middle East peace talks, Clinton could not get assurances that a presidential visit to North Korea would seal the deal. He passed off the almost completed process to the incoming George W. Bush administration.
On March 6, 2001, new Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "We do plan to engage with North Korea to pick up where President Clinton and his administration left off." But Bush had different ideas. On March 7, Bush kneecapped Powell.
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BURBANK, California (CNN) – Laura Ling on Wednesday expressed the shock she and Euna Lee felt when former President Clinton showed up in Pyongyang, North Korea, to help secure the two journalists' release.
"We feared at any moment that we could be sent to a hard labor camp and then suddenly we were told we were going to a meeting," a tearful and emotional Ling said at a news conference in California shortly after arriving by plane with Lee and Clinton.
She spoke minutes after the two women were reunited with their families at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank outside Los Angeles. They had been detained in North Korea since March.
North Korea pardoned Ling, 32, and Lee, 36, after Clinton's brief trip Tuesday to Pyongyang.
"We were taken to a location, and when we walked through the doors, we saw standing before us President Bill Clinton," Ling said with Lee standing beside her.
"We were shocked, but we knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end."
She expressed her and Lee's "deepest gratitude" to Clinton and his "wonderful, amazing" team.
With all the talk these days about health care reform – a trillion dollars to insure every American – we wondered, could the total cost be lowered if we as a nation spent a little time and energy on prevention?
Take obesity: medical spending on obesity-related conditions has skyrocketed to 147 billion dollars a year. That's nearly 10 percent of all medical spending in the United States. And that's just the beginning.
The White House today is pushing President Obama's plans to fix the economy. The president is going back to a place that was devastated by the recession: Elkhart, Indiana. Unemployment there is nearly 17%. That is up ten points since last year.
So do people there have any hope that an economic recovery is on the way? Elkhart’s mayor, Dick Moore, spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Wednesday.
John Roberts: We should point out that … Elkhart, Indiana, is famous as the RV capital of America. Let’s talk about what’s been happening there. Unemployment was up around 18%, a little more than 18% for a while earlier this year. It's down a little bit to about 16.8%. Is this any kind of effect of the stimulus that the president had passed earlier this year? What's the situation there now in Elkhart?
Dick Moore: Well I certainly think so. I remember the comment that doing nothing is absolutely not an option. And I do believe something has to be done. And I think we're experiencing the effects of what has been done at this time. Here in Elkhart we're seeing some spending has increased. The economic indicators are up. And the city actually – we went to beyond 20% in unemployment. Meaning one out of every five of us was out of a job. We bettered that some by a couple of percents now. Something is happening here.
This August, lawmakers on summer break are holding town hall meetings so voters can ask questions and get answers about health care reform. Except, as some describe it, in some districts those town hall meeting have turned into a kind of town-hell – with lawmakers being met by groups of angry hecklers.
In Texas over the weekend, Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett tried to talk to a constituent about health care reform. He says it was nearly impossible.
"The crowd certainly was angry, I suppose some might have been concerned to see a beautiful full color photo of a marble tombstone with my name on it, or might have had a negative reaction to the poster that said 'Lloyd Doggett, traitor to Texas, devil to all people,'" he says.
"But I found it more amusing than I did something to be fearful of." Doggett adds: "This is not a grass roots, pitchfork operation. If anything, it’s pure Astro turf." He claims local Republicans organized the protests; a Texas GOP spokesman denies that. Max Pappas, of the conservative group Freedomworks, says they encourage members to attend the town halls, "to sit down and talk with the congressmen."
But, some Democrats say Freedomworks doesn't want that at all. Some claim it urges its thousands of members to participate, not in a discussion about health care reform, but a shout down. "You get some instances where people get so passionate," Pappas says. "When they get into discussion they start yelling or chanting. But it's not fake outrage."
Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, was shouted down himself in a town hall meeting Sunday. But he appeared to take it in stride. "My preference would be to have it more sedate, but listen, a democracy is robust, it can be rough and tumble. Nothing really surprises me anymore."
What do you think? Is it possible to talk about health care reform and come to some sort of compromise? Or are passions too inflamed for a reasoned debate? Can we talk – civilly?
Do the health care reform headlines leave you with more questions than answers? Dr. Gupta is your AM insider – and he wants to hear from you!
Post your questions for Dr. Gupta in the comments below or tweet him @SanjayGuptaCNN.
Programming note: Tune in this week to hear Dr. Gupta answer your health care reform questions LIVE on American Morning – weekdays 6-9 a.m. ET on CNN.
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