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saturday, july 24, 2004

Catching Up
 
I seem to be having a harder and harder time keeping up with current events. Either the news is speeding up or I'm slowing down; hard to say which.
 
I haven't yet commented on the Sandy Berger controversy. This is partly because I'm finding it very difficult to get the facts of the story straight. Every news source I consult has its own version of what happened. The only part of the story everyone agrees on is that Berger did indeed take something from the National Archives he should not have taken, and he's very sorry about it. 
 
As soon as I step off that tiny island of consensus, however, I am swimming in very murky water. The fact that the usual suspects -- Rush, Tucker, the Screamer, the entire Faux News staff -- are spreading lies and rumors faster than anyone could possibly swat them down isn't helping. Media Matters has an outstanding round-up of the Right-Wing spin. What follows is my attempt to get the story straight.
 
What did Berger take from the National Archives?
 
CNN says he took drafts of a Clinton administration report on the "millennium plot" to bomb the Los Angeles airport on New Year's Eve, 1999. The Washington Post says he took copies, not originals, of "several versions of the report" as well as "papers on which he had taken notes about materials he had reviewed." The originals remained in the National Archives.
 
According to UPI, "one former colleague said Tuesday that Berger only took copies of internal critiques on counter-terrorism from the National Archives last summer, apparently inadvertently, while preparing for testimony before the Sept. 11 Commission."
 
According to MSNBC, "government and congressional officials" said the documents were "highly classified and included critical assessments about the Clinton administration’s handling of the millennium terror threats as well as identification of America’s terror vulnerabilities at airports to sea ports." John Ashcroft told the 9/11 Commission that the documents contained "criticisms of surveillance and other efforts."
 
Possibly related: In April we learned that the White House was withholding thousands of pages of National Archive documents from the 9/11 Commission. These documents were all about Clinton Administration counterterrorism measures. I don't think anyone has determined if the draft copies Berger took were part of those thousands of pages.
 
Why did Berger take these papers?
 
He says it was an accident. Anything beyond that is speculative. Speculations include:
 
Since Berger was working as an unpaid adviser to John Kerry, the Bush-Cheney campaign accused Berger of sharing classified information with Kerry. However, as the New York Times points out, "Mr. Kerry himself, as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, would probably have access to any such documents, and the clearances to read them."
 
A commenter on Kevin Drum's site says, "I'm starting to think that this was done on purpose by Berger to get wingnuts to call for the memo to be de-classified." 
 
David Gergen said on the Today Show last week that “I think it’s more innocent than it looks . . . I have known Sandy Berger for a long time. He would never do anything to compromise the security of the United States.”
 
Since original documents remained in the National Archives, speculation that Berger was trying to hide something is absurd.
 
Were the papers returned?
 
Most were, but some, Berger admits, appear to be lost. The originals remained in the Archives, however, so no information was lost. This doesn't excuse Berger from being very careless with classified information.  
 
Did Berger's actions have any impact?
 
The AP reports the 9/11 Commission got all the papers it needed to complete its report. At this time, I don't think anyone can say whether Berger's actions compromised national security, although of course they could have.
 
What does the National Archive staff say about Berger's actions?
 

Let me get this straight: (a) he had already been caught removing documents on a previous visit, (b) Archives employees set up a special coding system for his second visit, (c) they were watching him like a hawk the whole time — and he must have known it since they had caught him once before, (d) they saw him taking dozens of pages of notes and didn't stop him, (e) they saw him put those notes into his pockets, and (f) they must have also seen him put some documents in his portfolio as well.

But they let him walk out the door without challenging him. Why?

One might conclude the archivists were more interested in the sting than they were in protecting whatever information was in the documents. Weird.
 
And then there is the matter of the socks. Nobody on the record has accused Berger of stuffing documents into his socks or down his pants. An unknown individual -- possibly someone on the National Archive staff, possibly a "jouranlist" --  claimed that Berger had been spotted stuffing documents into his socks (and was then permitted to leave the Archive?). Nanoseconds later, every Right-Wing shill in the news media had pounced on the factoid and repeated it as if it were gospel truth. In fact, it is a rumor. Berger has denied it.
 
What about the investigation?
 
According to this New York Times story, "The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation to determine whether federal laws on the handling of classified material may have been broken."
 

Berger and his lawyer said the former national security adviser has been told he is the "subject" of an investigation, not the "target" -- which normally means investigators have not decided whether they even have enough evidence to bring a charge.

The investigation has been "ongoing" for at least eight months, but Berger has yet to be interviewed by the FBI. A Berger lawyer said FBI agents searched the former national security adviser's home and office safe.

Although the National Archives established new security measures as a result of the Berger incident, one might conclude the Justice Department is not overly concerned about it.
 
Also according to the New York Times, officials in the White House counsel's office were told about the Justice Department probe of Berger and the documents months ago. The White House denies that anyone outside the counsel's office new about it. (Editorial interjection: Ha.)
 
9/11 Commission chairman Thomas Kean said the Bush administration told him and vice chairman Lee Hamilton about six months ago that Berger was the subject of a Justice Department investigation into removal of the documents.
 
Did the White House leak news of the investigation to divert attention from the 9/11 Commission report?
 
Is the Pope Catholic?
 
Still, Sandy Berger at least deserves a spanking. I would think someone handling classified documents would be drilled in the handling of those documents the way physicians are drilled not to scratch their noses during surgery. It was dumb, dumb, dumb. It might have been criminal, or worse. So no excuses for Berger.
 

11:40 am | link

friday, july 23, 2004

Conventional Lies
 
Shocking, I know, but yesterday Rush Limbaugh, um, misrepresented a few things.
 
In fact, in yesterday's typically incoherent rant I don't believe he got a single sentence out that was incontrovertibly factual. In other words, standard Rush.
 
In the first paragraph Rush drags out the dead "Clintonite Jamie Gorelick created 'the Wall" horse and gives it a quick flogging. You'll remember John Ashcroft's false allegation that 9/11 Commissioner Gorelick created a "wall" between intelligence agencies making it difficult for them to share information. This allegation was exposed as a lie awhile back. (Regarding the Wall see also this and this and this.)
 
Let us not linger on the first paragraph, however. Let us charge ahead to the second, in which Rush says,
... some federal judged named Sweet in New York has issued a ruling that the New York Police Department cannot go through the handbags of protesters during the Republican Convention, and the Mayor and Giuliani and everybody in New York (story) are just outraged over this.
The New York Post article to which Rush linked expressed some outrage. However, the New York Post is not exactly representative of "everybody in New York." (I've long believed the Post is published somewhere in Indiana and airlifted in.) I've not personally seen much in the way of outrage in NYC over Judge Sweet's decision. And the outrage of Mayor Bloomberg and other Republican civic leaders was, I suspect, expressed on orders from the White House. But I'll come back to this later.
 
Note that Rush's own link disagrees with what Rush says. What Judge Sweet ruled was not that bags and backpacks of protesters can never be searched, but that "blanket searches of bags and backpacks in the absence of a specific threat" are barred.
 
In other words, the NYPD cannot arbitrarily stop and search everyone in New York City wearing a "Send Bush to Mars" T-shirt. (Or, in the Village, a beret.) 
 
According to New York Newsday, the major points of Judge Sweet's ruling are these:
  • Police cannot close streets and sidewalks without making reasonable efforts to notify people how they can otherwise access the demonstration sites.
  • Mounted units will be allowed.
  • Police cannot restrict demonstrators through the use of fences.
  • Police cannot conduct blanket searches of demonstrators' bags unless there is both a specific threat to public safety and an indication of how the searches could reduce the threat. [emphasis added]

Rush continues:

If we're going to profile, a protester poses even greater threat than just some average Joe walking down the street, don't you think?
Actually, if I were going to try to sneak into Madison Square Garden and plant a bomb during the RNC convention I'd put on a big-hair wig and a either a pastel dress or a Laura Bush purple plaid suit. And I'd wear 20 Bush-Cheney 2004 buttons and a straw hat with an elephant doll on top. I've already got an honest Ozark Mountain accent I can trot out whenever needed. Nobody'd suspect a thing.
I mean, a protestor is, by virtue of some of the things the protesters that plan on being in New York have said they're going to do! I mean, we've got protesters in New York saying they want to come up with a plan to force Madison Square Garden to be evacuated. They've come up with plans to cause all kinds of havoc. They want to shut down subways and all kinds of things.
I hadn't heard of anyone trying to shut down MSG or the subways or any such thing, although if anyone out there is planning to do so ... don't. Very counterproductive.
I know, every bag is checked going into a courtroom in New York. Every single one. Every bag getting on an airplane is checked today, let's be honest about it. But protesters arriving at the Republican Convention cannot have their bags checked.
This is, of course, way disingenuous. You know the protesters are not going to be allowed into Madison Square Garden. Nobody without party, press, or MSG staff credentials will be allowed into Madison Square Garden, I'm sure. And I can safely say that protesters won't be allowed into the Penn Plaza office complex that looms over Madison Square Garden, because building security won't let even white guys in suits into the office complex unless they can prove they've got business there, and that's been true for a while. And I'm sure protesters won't be allowed to loiter in Penn Station. Even if they could, there have been armed National Guard in Penn Station 24/7 since 9/11, and I doubt they'll go away during the Republican Convention.
 
But Rush implies that protesters will just be able to waltz into Madison Square Garden without questions asked.
The delegates are going to have their bags checked. You know damn well that's going to be the case. You know anybody going into Madison Square Garden is going to be screened like crazy. Have you seen what New York is going to be like for four or five blocks around that hall? They're going to shut off traffic. It's going to be unlike anything anybody's ever seen just trying to get into the four or five-block region surrounding Madison Square Garden. But if you're a protester you can't have your bags examined.   
No, Rush, you can't have your bags examined just because you are a protester.  Protesters attempting to enter a high-security zone will be searched carefully, I'm sure. Then they'll be turned away.
 
But speaking of what it's going to be like in the four or five blocks around the hall -- the biggest anti-Bush-protest organizer, United for Peace and Justice (UPJ), has been trying to get a permit for a big rally on the Great Lawn in Central Park, August 29. Mayor Mike Bloomberg refused because, you know, people would trample the grass or something. This made no sense to me, because Central Park is enormous and can easily absorb 250,000+ protesters while keeping them several blocks away from Madison Square Garden, as well as keeping them off the streets. But Mayor Mike and UPJ remained at an impasse.
 
Then Mayor Mike played hardball. Instead of Central Park, the protesters will have to assemble on Midtown streets and then march past Madison Square Garden. Says UPJ (see little map of Manhattan I marked up):map_manhattan.jpg
We will assemble between 14th Street and 23rd Street, stretching from Sixth to Eighth Avenues. The march will kick off from 23rd Street and head up Seventh Avenue past Madison Square Garden. It will then turn west on 34th Street and head over to West Street, also known as the West Side Highway. We will proceed south on West Street to the rally site, which will stretch north from Chambers Street.
In some ways this is like going to a rental car counter and being told they are out of Chevy Cavaliers, which you reserved, and you will have to settle for a Jaguar. If UPJ had asked for a Midtown street rally, would Mayor Mike have insisted on the Great Lawn? Or, she said in a fit of paranoia, is UPJ being set up somehow?
 
This protest will be less containable and controllable than a rally on the Great Lawn would have been, and it will be difficult for older people, children, and anyone with an infirmity to participate.It's also going to pretty much shut down a big chunk of the city, although there's not much traffic in lower Manhattan on a Sunday.
 
But I digress. What's peculiar to me about the "outrage" expressed by city officials about the protester backpack search ruling is that immediately after Judge Sweet's ruling the City was OK with it. Mayor Mike and others didn't get outraged until the next day. (See, for example, the last sentence of the New York Post article.) On orders from Karl, perhaps?
 
And then there's Bob the Lizard. He writes about the possibility of police picketing the Democratic Convention in Boston next week because of union disputes. The fact that NYPD are protesting now outside Madison Square Garden, however, escapes him.
About 90 police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and teachers protested outside the site of the upcoming Republican convention.

They accused the mayor of not negotiating in good faith and argue that the unions are expected to make too many concessions for too little money. They have been working for up to two years without a contract.

"They won't even listen to us," said Firefighter Glenn Cloherty, 33, of Engine Co. 28 in the Lower East Side. "They won't even come to the bargaining table."
And these guys are serious. They've even brought out the giant inflatable rat.
 

7:22 am | link

thursday, july 22, 2004

I Have a Headache
 
Other bloggers are commenting on this, but it's too weird to resist. I had to read it several times to wrap my head around it. I will explain it as clearly as I can.
 
As you might recall, in 2001 and 2002 Congress passed a whole lot of tax cuts championed by the Bush Administration. These tax cuts are set to expire pretty soon. Republican conservatives in the House and Senate want to pass a bill that would make the tax cuts permanent. However, Republican moderates are opposed to making these tax cuts permanent unless the cuts are offset by reductions in spending or an increase in other taxes.
 
Now, it came to pass that both conservative and moderate Republicans were eager to pass some kind of tax reduction bill before the Democratic convention next week. So, Republicans in the House and Senate worked out a deal that would have extended some tax cuts considered "middle class" cuts for just two years without any offsets.
 
The biggest of these cuts is a $1,000 child tax credit, which without an extension will be reduced to $700 at the end of this year. The Republicans also want to extend (or make permanent) a reduction in the "marriage penalty," which pushes two-income families into higher tax brackets. They also want to expand the 10-percent tax bracket to cut taxes for more middle-income families.
 
Now, you would think the White House would be happy to at least get an extension on these tax cuts before they expire. But there's a problem -- a whole lot of House and Senate Democrats, including Senator Kerry, indicated they'd be happy to vote for the two-year extension.
 
Well, we can't have that. If the Democrats support a tax-cut bill right before the election, it will be harder for Republicans to bash Democrats as tax-raisers. The White House in particular does not want to give Kerry a chance to vote for a middle-class tax cut extension before the election.
 
As it says in the Times article, "'If the Democrats had been on the same side, it would have taken a lot of arrows out of the quiver,'' said one Republican staff member."
 
So, the White House scuttled the deal.

... in an improbable series of machinations, White House officials opposed the tentative deal worked out between House and Senate Republican leaders that would have extended the tax cuts for two years at a cost of about $80 billion.

That left Republicans conceding that the tax-cutting effort is over, at least until Congress returns from its recess in September.

The Republicans' inability to agree among themselves cost them the chance to highlight their link to tax cuts as the election season moves into high gear. . . .

White House officials, though, insisted that the tax cuts be extended for at least five years, without paying for them through either tax increases or spending cuts. House Republicans, who had originally sought a five-year extension as well, backed away from the deal on Wednesday once it was clear the White House was not budging.

Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, said the administration was still trying to negotiate. But Republican Congressional officials said the administration did not want a deal that Democratic lawmakers might support, giving them a tax-cutting credential, too.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee

As a sop to Republican lawmakers, the White House offered a concession in a highway spending bill. The Bushies had been threatening to veto any bill costing more than $256 billion, but the Senate passed a bill that would spend $318 billion. On Wednesday, the White House raised the veto threshold to $284 billion. This will give the lawmakers more room for pork barrel projects popular in their districts.
 

11:54 am | link

wednesday, july 21, 2004

Great Blue Heron
 
Those of you who ordered copies of "Mybook" should get your copies any day now. When I left my abode this morning to take a power walk to the neighborhood duck pond (a.k.a. "Bird Butt Lagoon") I tripped over a box of books sitting at the front door of Chez Maha. I suspect this means my publisher's warehouse is shipping books.
 
In what I take to be an omen of good fortune, there was a great blue heron stalking breakfast in the lagoon. That's the first one I've seen this year.
 

8:48 am | link

Ronstadtnacht
The American singer Linda Ronstadt got a taste of the acrimony of this polarised election year in the US when she was escorted from a Las Vegas casino after she had dedicated a song to the filmmaker Michael Moore.

Calling Moore a "great American patriot" and "someone who is seeking the truth," she urged her audience to see his film Fahrenheit 9/11. ...

After her comments, dozens from the 1,300-strong audience left,with some reportedly tearing down posters. Ronstadt, 58, was not permitted to return to her suite and was removed from the building....

At the weekend Sir Elton John spoke out against what he termed the "atmosphere of fear" in the US that prevented artists speaking out against the war in Iraq.

There's an atmosphere in America right now that is deadly," he told Interview magazine. "Everyone is too career-conscious. They're all too scared.

I don't know if there's been a time when the fear factor played such an important role in America since McCarthyism in the 1950s, as it does now," he added. [Dan Glaister, "Linda Ronstadt Banned for Tribute to Michael Moore," The Guardian, July 21, 2004]

Back in the McCarthy Era, the Red-Baiters went after entertainers, too. (Did you know that libertarians like Charlton Heston and the folks at the Ayn Rand Institute, including [I assume] Ayn Rand, approved of House Un-American Activities Committee and the Hollywood blacklist? Weird. I guess totalitarianism is okay as long as the totalitarians are capitalists.)

Update: Madame d'Arc of Body and Soul comments on Ronstadtnacht.

Update update: See iddybud to learn about a Disney-Saudi connection to the Aladdin hotel.

Update update update: Predictably, mouth-breathing goons like this creep applaud the Nazis rioters audience.

7:04 am | link

tuesday, july 20, 2004

Headlines I'd Like to See 6:11 am | link

monday, july 19, 2004

Blogs v. Journalism
 
Via Jay Rosen's Pressthink -- Alex Jones writes in the Los Angeles Times that "Bloggers Are the Sizzle, Not the Steak: Convention seats do not turn Internet gossips into journalists." Humph.
 
To be accurate, Alex Jones didn't write the headline; somebody on the LA Times copydesk did. And I do try to be accurate. This is what Jones wrote:

... bloggers, with few exceptions, don't add reporting to the personal views they post online, and they see journalism as bound by norms and standards that they reject. That encourages these common attributes of the blogosphere: vulgarity, scorching insults, bitter denunciations, one-sided arguments, erroneous assertions and the array of qualities that might be expected from a blustering know-it-all in a bar. ... should blogging displace traditional reporting and journalism, as some in the blogosphere predict it will, then the steak will have been swapped for the sizzle. It's better to have both.

Steak? What steak? Dear Mr. Jones, where's the beef?

In the first chapter of "Mybook," copies of which may arrive this week, I have a section called "Blogs versus Journalism."  I'm going to quote just a bit of it now (gotta leave something out for you to want to buy the book, you know).

On the evening of January 19, 2004, I flipped on the television and settled down to watch news coverage of the Iowa Caucus. I watched the usual Talking Heads fill air time by discussing the Democratic presidential campaign as if it were a horse race — who’s in the lead, who’s expected to close the gap, who might fade in the stretch, and so on. After a while I went to my computer and soon found blogging from within caucuses. Caucus goers with laptops provided a moment-to-moment narrative as delegates were chosen. It was a lot more interesting. And on other blogs I found open debate on issues and the candidates’ backgrounds.

 

Flip back to the television. The pundits were still talking about a horse race. No discussion of issues, little information on where the candidates stood on issues, no background information on the candidates. Just endless chatter about who’s ahead and who’s behind and what strategies the campaign managers would be using to keep their thoroughbreds—I mean, candidates—competitive.

 

[snip]

 

How about telling us something about what sort of men Dean, Edwards, or Kerry actually are? How about providing information on where they stand on issues? Is that too much to ask?

 

In 2000, we were subjected to catty remarks about Al Gore's earth tone suits, or Al Gore misrepresenting the price of dog medicine, and endless chatter about who was up or down in the polls and what strategies the candidates would use. And hardly anyone—nobody on television, for sure—actually did the work of investigating the candidates and their proposals.

 

It's not as if journalism were ever a pure and noble profession in selfless service to the people. It's had its moments, of course, and there have been many journalists through the years who have done excellent work. But there have also been lazy and incompetent reporters and media owners who imposed their biases on what was published or broadcast. This isn't new.

 

And it's not hard to see the forces corrupting news media today. Ownership of media is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, eliminating competition. In television and radio, news departments have been merged into entertainment divisions. The pundits covering Washington politics move in the same social circles as the politicians they cover. All of this has given us political reporting that is bland and superficial at best and deliberately misleading at worst. And it is often worst.

 

Still, when I consider the quality of journalism so far in the 2004 election cycle, I wonder—do these people not realize what schlock this is? Those at the top of the profession, the famous faces who do the big interviews and conduct the debates, do little more than try to trip candidates into misspeaking to get easy story hooks. Younger reporters can't seem to see past the spin du jour and who is up or down in the polls.

And speaking of "vulgarity, scorching insults, bitter denunciations, one-sided arguments, erroneous assertions and the array of qualities that might be expected from a blustering know-it-all in a bar" -- ever watch Bill O'Reilly, Mr. Jones?

Fact is, a large part of the "erroneous assertions" that show up in the Blogosphere originate in establishment journalism. The Right Blogosphre in particular would be lost without the Weekly Standard, the National Review, the Wall Street Journal, and Faux News.

And although bloggers don't hire fact checkers, the unique transparency of our medium -- the web -- punishes the dishonest. Readers can follow links to check out source material for themselves. For example, you can click on the link to the Alex Jones article and read that he did have some nice things to say about blogs, and my representation of his article might not be the whole truth. Also, on most blogs readers can leave corrections in comments boxes. As I write in "Mybook,"

Compare that to newspapers, in which an error and the correction are separated by time and space into different editions. Since bloggers often monitor each other, a blog-generated story that is inaccurate is quickly slapped down by other blogs.

It's true that we tend to stay our "our" side of the Blogosphere, but isn't that true of consumers of establishment media, also? How many people listen closely to Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken? 

In his New York Times column yesterday, Frank Rich reviewed the new Will Farrell film, "Anchorman," and wrote:

When Mr. Ferrell turned up on "The Daily Show" the next night, Jon Stewart ribbed him for not basing his characterization of Ron Burgundy on the fake anchorman Mr. Stewart himself plays on TV. But such is the vacuum now often left by the real news that Mr. Stewart's fake anchor is increasingly drafted to do the job of a real one. One recent instance occurred after Dick Cheney appeared on CNBC on June 17. The CNBC interviewer, Gloria Borger, asked the vice president about his public assertion that a connection between the 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and Saddam Hussein's government was "pretty well confirmed." Not once but three times Mr. Cheney said that he "absolutely" had "never said" any such thing. But Ms. Borger had been right. And it was left to Mr. Stewart, not her actual TV news colleagues, to come to her defense by displaying the incontrovertible proof on "The Daily Show": a clip from "Meet the Press" in December 2001, in which the vice president flatly told Tim Russert "it's been pretty well confirmed" that Atta met with "a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service."

That's what I'm talkin' about. Be sure to read the entire Frank Rich article, which is brilliant.

I do agree with Alxes Jones that news blogging is not the same thing as news reporting. Bloggers are not journalists, and most (Matt Drudge excepted) do not pretend to be. The problem is, these days too many journalists aren't journalists, either.  

10:14 pm | link

Nosedive Into History
 
Bob the Lizard reports that "Republicans have been on a catastrophic course." bobnovak.jpg
 
"How could they lose the class-action bill when they had a clear majority?" the Reptile writes. "How could they fail to win a majority on the gay marriage amendment? How could they fail to pass a budget? Why did they succumb to Teddy Kennedy on the tobacco buyout?"
 
The Reptile blames Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
Multiple parliamentary blunders transformed a solid Senate majority for the class-action lawsuit bill into a failed attempt for 60 votes to impose cloture. Republican senators were even more baffled and dismayed by the tactical train wreck on gay marriage when Republicans could collect only 48 votes.
Poor babies.
 
It's hard to believe Republican Senators were genuinely "baffled and dismayed" over the failure to pass the "gay marriage" amendment. If I knew they didn't have the votes, how come they didn't know? It's obvious the "gay marriage" nonsense was just an act to please the social conservatives on the hard Right, and I suspect the Reptile understands this perfectly well.
 
The Reptile is also astonished that the class-action bill, a.k.a. the "tort reform" or "trial lawyer bashing" bill, also went down to defeat. However, Matthew Quinn of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that nine tort reform bills have been defeated in the Senate in the past 14 months. The issue pits the American Association of Trial Lawyers against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, plus doctors (the AMA in particular) and businesses. The results suggest that you don't want to mess with trial lawyers.  
 
Quinn says also that tort reform is an issue that just does not resonate with the public. For example, the GOP has been bashing Senator John Edwards as hard as it can by calling him a "trial lawyer," to little effect.

Campaigning across the Midwest, Bush tied Edwards to "frivolous lawsuits" that have clogged the courts and resulted in exorbitant jury awards — a familiar refrain from advocates of tort reform legislation.

"You cannot be pro-small-business and pro-trial-lawyer at the same time," Bush declared in Wisconsin last week. "You have to choose. My opponent has made his choice, and he put him on the ticket."

The Republican National Committee also issued a blistering critique of Edwards' trial lawyer history and dependence on lawyers for almost half of the $19 million he raised for his own presidential campaign.

However, there was scant evidence that the attacks are sticking. ...

Matt Towery, an Atlanta pollster and political consultant who has worked for both Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, sees signs that the Republicans are already backing off. "This isn't moving votes," he said.

Bush and his minions want people to think that frivolous lawsuits are the primary, if not only, cause for out-of-control health care costs. "Edwards consistently has supported an agenda that advances the interests of a handful of lawyers at the expense of working families and their access to affordable health care," says the president of the American Tort Reform Association.

Currently, every American pays more than $800 per year $3,200 for a family of four in higher costs for goods and services, simply to cover the increasing cost of litigation. This cost has climbed sharply in the past years because Edwards and others have opposed such reforms.

In keeping with the agenda of the personal injury bar a powerful Washington special interest Edwards voted against many in his own party and opposed class-action lawsuit reform that would have put a stop to bogus litigation that rewards lawyers with millions in fees and often "rewards" victims with nearly worthless coupons, or checks for a few cents.

Today, our health-care system is in crisis. Many physicians have closed up shop, retired early or moved to states with fairer litigation environments. The result is a system where those who need access to health care, and are least able to afford it, are harmed the most.

It's heartwarming how much the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) cares about those uninsured families. And it's heartwarming to see how much money the ATRA donates to the Republican State Leadership Committee. In fact, some go so far to say that ATRA is an affiliate of the GOP (along with the AMA).  

There are problems with the tort system, but juries handing out extravagent awards to undeserving litigants is not one of those problems. Bob Herbert of the New York Times wrote on June 25,

Just last January the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said this about the link between high malpractice premiums and the availability of physicians in various specialties:

The General Accounting Office ''investigated the situations in five states with reported access problems and found mixed evidence. On the one hand, G.A.O. confirmed instances of reduced access to emergency surgery and newborn delivery, albeit 'in scattered, often rural, areas where providers identified other long-standing factors that affect the availability of services.' On the other hand, it found that many reported reductions in supply by health care providers could not be substantiated or 'did not widely affect access to health care.' ''

That hardly sounds like a crisis. Moreover, in several states specifically characterized by the A.M.A. as in ''crisis,'' the evidence is rolling in that malpractice claims and awards are not appreciably increasing, and in some instances are declining.

The A.M.A. has its crisis states marked in red on a map of the U.S. on its Web site. One of the red states is Missouri. But a press release in April from the Missouri Department of Insurance said, ''Missouri medical malpractice claims, filed and paid, fell to all-time lows in 2003 while insurers enjoyed a cash-flow windfall.''

Even more interesting, Herbert reported that "malpractice payments in New Jersey had declined by 21 percent from 2001 to 2003. But malpractice insurance premiums surged over the same period."

''Insurance companies' investment yields have been lower for the past few years,'' said the Congressional Budget Office, ''putting pressure on premiums to make up the difference.''

Not that many of us ever file malpractice suits. But nearly all of us have to deal with medical insurance companies, sooner or later, and most who do have a horror story or two to tell about it. This, I suspect, is why so many people are able to see through the Republican propaganda that the health care system would be just peachy if it weren't for those pesky trial lawyers. 

Next up: The tobacco bill and the budget.

9:29 am | link


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Ben Merens, "Conversations with Ben Merens,"
September 9, 2004, WHAD Milwaukee, 90.7 FM

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September 15, 2004, 90.1 FM.

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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

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The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

[Mark Twain, 1905]

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Copyright 2003, 2004 by Barbara O'Brien

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