April 2, 2005
Before the Fall
The recent rally of the United States dollar notwithstanding, the greenback has nowhere to go but down. But the Bush administration is betting that foreign investors will continue to invest huge sums in this depreciating currency. How huge? Last month, the government reported that the United States' deficit in international transactions, mainly trade, reached an unprecedented $666 billion in 2004, a 24 percent increase from the 2003 level and, at 5.7 percent of the economy, about two to three times what most economists consider sustainable.
The administration expects foreigners, mainly Asian central bankers, to keep plugging the trade gap because buying American securities increases their exports. It is also assuming that foreign central banks won't risk the losses in their dollar reserves that would occur if they started shunning dollar-based investments. In brief, the United States is betting that it's too big - in other countries' eyes - to fail.
The dollar's current uptick is just a breather in its overall downward trajectory. It's due largely to the United States' higher interest rates, which lure foreign investors away from euros and into dollar-based investments. But what will happen when the Federal Reserve stops raising rates? Here's a hint: When one Federal Reserve governor suggested recently that rates might peak at a lower level than analysts expected, the dollar promptly slid.
The dollar also drew some of its recent momentum from a government report last month that showed the United States attracted $91.5 billion in net foreign capital in January, easily covering that month's near-record trade deficit, $58.3 billion. That allayed concerns, at least temporarily, about the United States' continued ability to finance its debt on favorable terms. But hedge funds were responsible for much of January's investment, and that clouds the picture.
In general, private investment - as opposed to investment by foreign governments - is an encouraging sign because private investors seek out the best opportunities, while foreign governments often pour money in simply to prop up the dollar. But hedge funds are different; they are often short-term investors that can move out of dollars as quickly as they move in. Given the unreliability of those inflows, and the enormous borrowing needs of the United States, the country will be dependent on foreign government lenders for a long time.
That's a precarious position. To close its trade gap, which must be financed by foreigners, and its budget gap, most of which is covered by foreign investors, the United States will need to attract a projected $1 trillion in 2005 alone - an unprecedented sum. At the same time, however, the Bush administration is relying on a cheap dollar to correct the nation's trade imbalance. So far, the trade deficit has only grown, even as the dollar has fallen. A further decline this year of about 20 percent would probably be needed to begin to have a real impact.
There is gathering evidence that foreign central bankers are seeking to avoid the losses that future dollar investments seem to threaten. Recently, financial markets have been unsettled by comments from Japan, South Korea, India and Russia about diversifying away from dollars. And this week, a tough-talking China vowed not to allow its economic decisions to be dictated by any other country, a statement that was a rebuff to the United States.
If the world's central bankers accumulate fewer dollars, the result would be an unrelenting American need to borrow in the face of an ever weaker dollar - a recipe for higher interest rates and higher prices. The economic repercussions could unfold gradually, resulting in a long, slow decline in living standards. Or there could be a quick unraveling, with the hallmarks of an uncontrolled fiscal crisis. Or the pain could fall somewhere in between. If foreign reluctance to buy Treasury bonds pushed up long-term interest rates, mortgage rates would follow. If the economy is in a housing bubble, as many analysts believe, higher mortgage rates would pop it, with dire results for homeowners' balance sheets and the overall health of the economy.
The dollar is heading down, no matter what. To mitigate the potential harm, the administration and Congress should deliver on budget discipline - far beyond the lip service that's been offered so far - to limit the amounts the United States needs to attract in loans and pay in interest. The administration should also try to forge cooperation among America's trading partners to manage the dollar's decline. Unfortunately, government leaders aren't poised to do either of those things, though action, not attitude, is what the country needs.
Saturday, April 02, 2005
April 2, 2005
Pentagon Redirects Its Research Dollars
By JOHN MARKOFF
SAN FRANCISCO, April 1 - The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency at the Pentagon - which has long underwritten open-ended "blue sky" research by the nation's best computer scientists - is sharply cutting such spending at universities, researchers say, in favor of financing more classified work and narrowly defined projects that promise a more immediate payoff.
Hundreds of research projects supported by the agency, known as Darpa, have paid off handsomely in recent decades, leading not only to new weapons, but to commercial technologies from the personal computer to the Internet. The agency has devoted hundreds of millions of dollars to basic software research, too, including work that led to such recent advances as the Web search technologies that Google and others have introduced.
The shift away from basic research is alarming many leading computer scientists and electrical engineers, who warn that there will be long-term consequences for the nation's economy. They are accusing the Pentagon of reining in an agency that has played a crucial role in fostering America's lead in computer and communications technologies.
"I'm worried and depressed," said David Patterson, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley who is president of the Association of Computing Machinery, an industry and academic trade group. "I think there will be great technologies that won't be there down the road when we need them."
University researchers, usually reluctant to speak out, have started quietly challenging the agency's new approach. They assert that Darpa has shifted a lot more work in recent years to military contractors, adopted a focus on short-term projects while cutting support for basic research, classified formerly open projects as secret and placed new restrictions on sharing information.
This week, in responding to a query from the staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Darpa officials acknowledged for the first time a shift in focus. They revealed that within a relatively steady budget for computer science research that rose slightly from $546 million in 2001 to $583 million last year, the portion going to university researchers has fallen from $214 million to $123 million.
The agency cited a number of reasons for the decline: increased reliance on corporate research; a need for more classified projects since 9/11; Congress's decision to end controversial projects like Total Information Awareness because of privacy fears; and the shift of some basic research to advanced weapons systems development.
In Silicon Valley, executives are also starting to worry about the consequences of Darpa's stinting on basic research in computer science.
"This has been a phenomenal system for harnessing intellectual horsepower for the country," said David L. Tennenhouse, a former Darpa official who is now director of research for Intel. "We should be careful how we tinker with it."
University scientists assert that the changes go even further than what Darpa has disclosed. As financing has dipped, the remaining research grants come with yet more restrictions, they say, often tightly linked to specific "deliverables" that discourage exploration and serendipitous discoveries.
Many grants also limit the use of graduate students to those who hold American citizenship, a rule that hits hard in computer science, where many researchers are foreign.
The shift at Darpa has been noted not just by those researchers directly involved in computing technologies, but by those in other fields supported by the agency.
"I can see they are after deliverables, but the unfortunate thing is that basic research gets squeezed out in the process," said Wolfgang Porod, director of the Center for Nano Science and Technology at the University of Notre Dame.
The concerns are highlighted in a report on the state of the nation's cybersecurity that was released with little fanfare in March by the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee. Darpa has long focused on long-term basic research projects with time horizons that exceed five years, the report notes, but by last year, very little of Darpa's financing was being directed toward fundamental research in the field.
"Virtually every aspect of information technology upon which we rely today bears the stamp of federally sponsored university research," said Ed Lazowska, a computer scientist at the University of Washington and co-chairman of the advisory panel. "The federal government is walking away from this role, killing the goose that laid the golden egg."
As a result of the new restrictions, a number of computer scientists said they had chosen not to work with Darpa any longer. Last year, the agency offered to support research by Leonard Kleinrock, a computer scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles who was one of the small group of researchers who developed the Arpanet, the 1960's predecessor to today's Internet.
Dr. Kleinrock said that he decided that he was not interested in the project when he learned that the agency was insisting that he employ only graduate assistants with American citizenship.
Darpa officials, who declined repeated requests for interviews, disputed the university researchers. The agency, which responded only in writing to questions, contended that the criticisms leveled by the advisory committee and other researchers were not accurate and that it had always supported a mix of longer- and shorter-term research.
"The key is a focus on high-risk, high-payoff research," Jan Walker, a Darpa spokeswoman, stated in an e-mail message. Given the threat from terrorism and the demands on troops in Iraq, she wrote, Darpa is rightly devoting more attention to "quick reaction" projects that draw on the fruits of earlier science and technology to produce useful prototypes as soon as possible.
The Pentagon shift has put added pressure on the other federal agencies that support basic information technology research.
At the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering of the National Science Foundation, the number of research proposals has soared from 2,000 in 1999 to 6,500 last year. Peter A. Freeman, its director, said that the sharp rise was partly attributable to declines in Pentagon support.
"Darpa has moved away from direct funding to universities," Mr. Freeman said. "Even when they do directly fund, some of the conditions and constraints seem to be pretty onerous. There is no question that the community doesn't like what the head of Darpa has been doing, but he has his reasons and his prerogatives."
The transformation of Darpa has been led by Anthony J. Tether, a Stanford-educated electrical engineer who has had a long career moving between executive positions at military contractors and the Pentagon.
Last year, Dr. Tether's new approach led to a series of cutbacks at a number of computer science departments. Program financing for a Darpa project known as Network Embedded Sensor Technology - intended to develop networks of sensors that could potentially be deployed on battlefields to locate and track enemy tanks and soldiers - has been cut back or ended on as many as five university campuses and shifted instead to traditional military contractors.
"The network has now become as vital as the weapons themselves," Dr. Tether said in an appearance before the advisory committee last year, testifying that secrecy had become more essential for a significant part of the agency's work.
That has created problems for university researchers. Several scientists have been instructed, for example, to remove previously published results from Web sites. And at U.C.L.A. and Berkeley, Darpa officials tried to classify software research done under a contract that specified that the results would be distributed under so-called open-source licensing terms.
"We were requested to remove all publicly accessible pointers to software developed under the program," said Deborah Estrin, director of embedded network sensing at U.C.L.A. "This is the first time in 15 years that I have no Darpa funding."
At Berkeley, Edward A. Lee, who was recently named chairman of the computer science department, agreed not to publish a final report at Darpa's request, even though he told officials the data had already become widely available.
Despite the complaints, some pioneering researchers support the changes being driven by Dr. Tether and say they are necessary to prepare the nation for a long battle against elusive enemies.
"There are pressures and demands on Darpa to be relevant," said Robert Kahn, a former Darpa administrator who is now president of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives in Reston, Va. "People think it should stay the same, but times have changed."
Still, a number of top scientists argue that the Pentagon's shift in priorities could not have come at a worse time. Most American companies have largely ended basic research and have begun to outsource product research and development extensively even as investments in Asia and Europe are rising quickly.
And many computer scientists dispute Darpa's reasoning that fighting wars demands a shift away from basic research. During the Vietnam War, they say, Darpa kept its commitment to open-ended computer research, supporting things like a laboratory in the hills behind Stanford University dedicated to the far-out idea of building computing machines to mimic human capabilities.
John McCarthy founded the Stanford artificial research lab in 1964, helping to turn it into a wellspring for some of Silicon Valley's most important companies, from Xerox Parc to Apple to Intel.
"American leadership in computer science and in applications has benefited more from the longer-term work," Mr. McCarthy said, "than from the deliverables."
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:05 PM
E-Mails Reveal Fraud in Nuclear Site Study
By MATTHEW L. WALD
Published: April 2, 2005
WASHINGTON, April 1 - Government employees studying whether Yucca Mountain in Nevada would be a suitable place to bury nuclear waste acknowledged in e-mail messages to each other that they had made up details about how they had done their research in order to appear to meet quality standards, according to some of the messages made public on Friday.
Some of the frank exchanges included instructions to erase them. The Energy Department, which is trying to open a waste repository at the mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, disclosed the existence of the e-mail messages two weeks ago. On Friday, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Reform released dozens of pages of the messages.
One analyst wrote that a computer program had generated data he could not explain, so he withheld it from the quality assurance department, known as QA.
"Don't look at the last 4 lines. Those are a mystery," wrote the scientist, who the subcommittee said was an employee of the United States Geological Survey, a part of the Interior Department. "I've deleted the lines from the 'official' QA version of the files."
"In the end I keep track of 2 sets of files, the ones that will keep QA happy and the ones that were actually used," he wrote. The message was dated November 1999.
B. John Garrick, the chairman of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, a group of independent experts established by Congress to monitor the Energy Department, said that it was too soon to draw conclusions but that "it is disturbing to see such loosely framed discussions between scientists."
Before releasing the messages, the subcommittee removed the names and titles of the senders and the recipients, and deleted other words that made the full context of some of the messages difficult to ascertain. But the theme was that employees were performing work they did not believe would meet standards set by the quality assurance inspectors, and were sometimes falsifying their work in ways that they believed would satisfy the inspectors.
In a message dated April 22, 1999, a scientist wrote that he did some calculations by hand and that the computer program he wrote, presumably to do those calculations, "is not in the system." He wrote that he feared he would be "taken to the cleaners" by the inspectors because his work did not refer to an established procedure laid out in a scientific notebook, and he asked if he should create such a notebook "and back-date the whole thing??"
The author of another message noted in January 2000 that he could not document the way certain work was done. "I can start making something up, but then the (deleted) projects will need to go on hold," he wrote.
In an e-mail message in March 2000, a government worker wrote that he did not know when software he had used had been installed. "So I've made up the dates and names," he wrote. "If they need more proof I will be happy to make up more stuff, as long as its not a video recording of the software being installed."
The chairman of the panel that released the messages, Representative Jon Porter, Republican of Nevada, pointed out that the Energy Department and the White House had repeatedly said that their recommendation of the Yucca Mountain site was based on "sound science."
"If the project has been based upon science, and the science is not correct, it puts the whole project in jeopardy," said Mr. Porter, a longtime opponent of Yucca Mountain plan. "I believe these e-mails show science is not driving the project; it's expedience to get the job done."
In a well-done scientific investigation, he said, the methods used to derive predictions about crucial factors like water infiltration should be transparent and reproducible.
A lawyer who represents the State of Nevada, Joseph Egan, said that after reading the messages, "you can't even say it's wrong; you have to say it's not reliable."
"You don't know how badly they've fudged this stuff," Mr. Egan said.
Some of the correspondents explicitly discuss problems and say they do not believe that they make any material difference to the ability of the mountain, a volcanic structure on the edge of the Nevada Test Site, to hold the waste for thousands of years.
But the issue of quality control is crucial to the Energy Department because to open a repository, it must win the approval of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has scuttled some projects because of quality assurance problems. In one case in the 1980's, the commission forced the owners of a nuclear reactor to abandon their project, after they had spent nearly $2 billion and when the reactor was said to be 98 percent complete, because of questions about whether some welds had been made properly and inspected adequately by qualified inspectors.
The subcommittee on the federal work force, which released the e-mail messages, plans to hold a hearing on Yucca Mountain on Tuesday. The witnesses include several prominent opponents, including Gov. Kenny Guinn of Nevada and Senator Harry Reid, also of Nevada, the Democratic leader.
Posted by politicalstuff at 8:57 PM
April 2, 2005
Illinois Pharmacies Ordered to Provide Birth Control
By MONICA DAVEY
CHICAGO, April 1 - With a growing number of reports of pharmacists around the country refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control and emergency contraception, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich on Friday filed a rule requiring Illinois pharmacies to accept and dispense all such prescriptions promptly.
"Our regulation says that if a woman goes to a pharmacy with a prescription for birth control, the pharmacy or the pharmacist is not allowed to discriminate or to choose who he sells it to or who he doesn't sell it to," Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat, said. "No delays. No hassles. No lectures."
Two Chicago women, he said, reported in February that they had been turned away from a downtown drugstore when they tried to fill prescriptions for morning-after birth control pills. On Friday, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation filed a formal complaint against that pharmacy, one in the Osco chain, and said it could face discipline ranging from a fine to the revocation of its license. No one from Osco's corporate offices could be reached for comment on Friday.
Nationally, the leaders of Planned Parenthood and Naral Pro-Choice America said they had seen more and more cases like that over the past year. They emphasized that women in smaller communities or in rural areas, with perhaps only one pharmacy to use, might be left unable to receive their prescribed birth control if the pattern was allowed to continue.
"Pharmacies have an ethical and legal obligation," said Nancy Keenan, the president of Naral.
Governor Blagojevich, saying that his emergency rule clarified an existing state requirement, said he suspected that the pattern of complaints over the past year was no coincidence, but rather "part of a concerted effort" to prevent women from getting the birth control they wanted.
Under the emergency rule put in place in Illinois, pharmacies that do not have a particular prescribed contraceptive would be required to order some or to send the prescription to another pharmacy.
But Susan C. Winckler of the American Pharmacists Association, which represents 52,000 pharmacists, said she had concerns about the emergency rule in Illinois. The association, she said, believes that pharmacists should be allowed to "step away" in cases where they feel uncomfortable dispensing a particular drug - so long as their customers can still get their drugs from alternative sources.
Ms. Winckler said she also worried that Governor Blagojevich's new rule might reach beyond the question of a pharmacist's own moral sensibilities, and require pharmacists to dispense all prescriptions, even those that were "clinically inappropriate" for patients. Such cases might include ones in which a pharmacist discovered a customer's allergy or a potential drug interaction that a prescribing doctor had missed.
"Depending on the wording of the rule, there is a real risk that the governor could be creating," Ms. Winckler said. "The pharmacist is not a gas station attendant where if there is gas you have to sell it. Pharmacists are supposed to assess the appropriateness of a drug."
Abby Ottenhoff, a spokeswoman for Mr. Blagojevich, said the new rule did not take away a pharmacist's right to counsel a patient about a prescription within the confines of existing state law.
"That doesn't change," she said. "What cannot happen is the pharmacist cannot allow personal factors and feelings to interfere."
Posted by politicalstuff at 8:45 PM
April 2, 2005
C.I.A. Answers Criticism With Pledge to Do Better
By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON, April 1 - A day after a presidential commission harshly criticized its erroneous assessment of Iraqi weapons and weak reporting on other subjects, the Central Intelligence Agency said Friday that it was trying to give policy makers a more candid account of the reliability of intelligence it passed on.
"The intelligence community has acknowledged flaws in its findings on the Iraq weapons of mass destruction target," said Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman. "It has worked hard to improve its operational and analytic tradecraft across the board and to ensure that its customers get not only a judgment, but a clear sense of the strength of the sourcing and reasoning behind the judgment."
Mr. Gimigliano added, "Our goal is to do even better."
The commission, headed by Laurence H. Silberman, a senior federal judge, and former Senator Charles S. Robb of Virginia, grimly assessed all the intelligence agencies' work, not only on Iraqi weapons, but on such current threats as Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.
The commission called the agencies' information about possible unconventional weapons in Iraq in the two years before the American-led invasion as "dead wrong," a collection of thin reports dressed up as reliable intelligence and based on information from sources who turned out to be liars.
The commission also made more than 70 recommendations to centralize power over the nation's 15 far-flung, competing spy agencies in the hands of a director of national intelligence. President Bush has nominated John D. Negroponte, a veteran diplomat, for the post.
A statement from the National Security Agency, portrayed in the report as lagging in technology and sometimes resistant to outside ideas, pledged the agency's cooperation.
In an interview Friday at the commission's offices in Arlington, Va., Mr. Robb and Judge Silberman said they were gratified by President Bush's initial reaction to the report in a 70-minute meeting Thursday.
"He expressed general enthusiasm about our report," Judge Silberman said. "He did not tell us that every jot and tiddle of our recommendations would be implemented."
Mr. Robb added, "The bottom line is, he didn't raise any specific recommendation that he felt was unworkable, unmanageable or undoable."
Both men said the president appeared quite familiar with the report, roughly 700 pages in its classified version and preceded by a 37-page summary.
"He went into our report in great detail," Judge Silberman said. "It was obvious that he'd certainly read the executive summary and he'd been briefed extensively on the rest of the report."
The commission co-chairmen said Mr. Bush had indicated that he knew some agencies would resist some proposed changes and hinted that he might have already heard arguments against the commission's ideas. He has assigned his homeland security adviser, Frances Townsend, to oversee carrying out the recommendations.
The two men said that they would meet privately on Tuesday with the Congressional leadership and the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to discuss the report.
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat, said he believed that legislation approved in December to reorganize the intelligence agencies should be adjusted, something he will bring up with Mr. Negroponte during his confirmation hearing, scheduled for April 12.
"The D.N.I. should have more control of budget and personnel, and he should be given the mechanisms necessary to ensure quality, independent, and objective intelligence," Senator Rockefeller said.
Judge Silberman and Mr. Robb said only a handful of changes would require Congressional action. Most of the ideas, from reshuffling the C.I.A.'s clandestine service to creating a National Intelligence University, can be done at the president's order or at the direction of the national intelligence director, they said.
On other issues raised by their report, Mr. Robb and Judge Silberman said, the panel was shocked to learn of the loss of critical intelligence assets over the past 20 years as a result of leaks to the news media.
"We were stunned even in the war on terror to find out how leaks had so hampered that," Judge Silberman said. As a remedy, they suggested prosecuting leakers and discussed granting journalists a limited privilege to protect anonymous sources, setting out circumstances under which reporters would be required to disclose sources. But the panel could not reach agreement on such a proposal, they said.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting for this article.
Posted by politicalstuff at 8:39 PM
Friday, April 01, 2005
US job creation stalls in March
Jobs growth in the US slowed sharply in March, casting fresh doubts on the strength of the US economy.
The Department of Labor said non-farm payrolls grew 110,000 in March, having gone up by 243,000 the month before.
Many economists estimate that about 200,000 jobs need to be created each month simply to keep employment stable, given population growth.
At the same time, US consumers - the engine of the economy - lost some of their bullishness, other data showed.
The University of Michigan's closely-watched measure of consumer confidence dropped to 92.6 in March from 94.1 the previous month.
The slowing rate of job growth was the result of shrinking employment in both retail and manufacturing, while professional services and government employment grew much more slowly than in the month before.
The new figures also trimmed previous months' job growth, with February dropping almost 20,000 from the 262,000 originally estimated.
The last time the labour market expanded so slowly was in July 2004.
The participation rate - which measures how many of the working-age population are either in work or looking for it - stayed at 65.8%, the lowest figure for 17 years.
But the employment figures also showed jobless numbers fell 330,000 to 7.7 million, cutting the unemployment rate to 5.2%.
Friday's job figures are likely to revive concerns about the strength of the US economy in the face of soaring energy prices.
They could also, however, take the edge off worries about the pressure on inflation from volatile energy and food costs.
Inflation is a key concern for the US, not least because Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan has identified it as key to future decisions on interest rates.
The Fed lifted rates to 2.75% in March, and some investors are betting on an acceleration of rate rises in the months to come.
US growth remains reasonably solid at 3.8% in the fourth quarter of 2004 - albeit a slowing from the breakneck pace set earlier last year.
Consumer spending, the engine of the US economy, is staying firm too with growth of 0.5% in February after a disappointing December and January.
Many economists, however, remain concerned about the US economy's relationship with the rest of the world.
The US had a current account deficit of more than $600bn in 2004, meaning a massive gap in goods, services and investments between what the US sucks in and what it sends out.
Part of that is driven by consumers' growing demand for foreign-sourced goods and services.
It also reflects the large budget deficit, largely sustained by the buying of government debt by foreign - particularly Asian - central banks.
The deficits have been the main pressure bearing down on the US dollar, which, despite its recent recovery, is down some 25% against its main rivals since the start of the year.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:26 AM
This Is Not the Way
Friday, April 1, 2005; Page A26
"We will look at an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president."
THUS DID House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Tex.) respond yesterday to the unwillingness of the federal courts to participate in the cynical game Congress played with the last days of Terri Schiavo's life. What exactly he means to do about judges -- who are appointed for life -- was a little vague. His message of intimidation, however, was crystal clear. Asked whether he would consider impeachment proceedings against the robed villains who thwarted his will, he responded, "There's plenty of time to look into that." His remarks cap a remarkable set of attacks on judicial independence by a Congress that has acted in this matter with profound disrespect for the judicial function. Such crude threats of retribution against judges of both parties who were only doing their jobs is, indeed, a mark of an arrogant and out-of-control federal power -- but that power is the legislature, not the judiciary.
For all that conservative partisans rail against "judicial activism," the bill Congress passed asked the courts for exactly that. They sought an intervention from the federal courts based on the thinnest of constitutional reeds to overturn a lengthy and comprehensive state-court adjudication of a sensitive matter traditionally governed by state law. In response, the federal courts -- liberal and conservative judges alike, up and down the federal appellate ladder -- politely and respectfully demonstrated precisely the values of restraint that conservatives purport to admire. Already, some conservatives are suggesting that the Schiavo case shows the need to break the filibuster and confirm President Bush's judges. They delude themselves. For conservatives on the bench were no more itchy than liberals to bend to Congress's will. Having been invited to jump in and find a way to help Congress's favored party prevail, the bench declined with near unanimity. Having been invited to play games like politicians, in other words, America's judges responded like judges.
And for this, the majority leader of the House of Representatives promises that "the men responsible for this [will] answer for their behavior." This country has an independent judiciary precisely to shield judges who make difficult decisions under intense political and time pressure from the bullying of politicians. It is essential that the judges who stood up to Congress now receive ample support -- so that judges will feel secure in emulating them.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:30 AM
AIG in Damage Control
Cooperation Counts in 3 Investigations
By Carrie Johnson and Ben White
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 1, 2005; Page E01
American International Group Inc. has warned investors about a $1.7 billion reduction in capital, pushed out its chairman of the past four decades and disclosed that deals under federal investigation were "improper."
And that's only the past four days.
AIG, one of the world's largest insurance companies, is struggling to respond to inquiries from New York's attorney general, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department. The investigations span the world and involve some of Wall Street's most prominent figures, including former AIG chairman Maurice R. "Hank" Greenberg and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. leader Warren E. Buffett. Both men will sit down for interviews with investigators this month to talk about a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary's dealings with AIG.
The investigations also raise questions that have become familiar in the fallout from corporate scandals at Enron Corp., WorldCom Inc. and other companies: Did the company use accounting tricks to hit the numbers investors were looking for? What did top management know?
Investigators are examining Greenberg's involvement in several insurance deals that may have been used to make the company's earnings look better or boost its reserve accounts. AIG said Wednesday that it continues to review transactions that could reduce its net worth by $1.7 billion. Regulators are scrutinizing those and other deals between AIG and several U.S. and offshore insurance companies. An attorney for Greenberg, who is scheduled to be interviewed by regulators April 12, did not return calls.
One transaction under scrutiny is a deal between AIG and General Re Corp., a reinsurance company that is part of Berkshire Hathaway. Regulators have said Buffett is cooperating and is not a subject or target of the investigation.
AIG's managers and board are pursuing a strategy that emphasizes cooperation with government investigators, even at the expense of such figures as Greenberg, who stepped down under pressure from the board Monday after nearly 40 years in charge. Convincing regulators that AIG is a changed company could help reduce any penalties the company is forced to pay.
AIG has fired three employees in the past month, including chief financial officer Howard I. Smith, for refusing to cooperate with investigators and invoking their right against self-incrimination. AIG's board also has hired two law firms to investigate the company's accounting and to represent outside board members. One of the firms, Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton and Garrison LLP, once employed New York Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer when he was in private practice.
Christopher D. Winans, an AIG spokesman, said: "We require that employees cooperate with authorities with regard to matters involving the company. If somebody's going to refuse to cooperate, then they're not on the team anymore."
Greenberg was replaced as chairman by former securities industry regulator Frank G. Zarb, an independent director. Of the board's 16 members, 10 are independent. Among them are former defense secretary William S. Cohen, a director since February of last year, and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Richard C. Holbrooke, who joined the board in 2001.
Some shareholder advocates and pension fund officials described AIG's recent actions as too little too late from a board that has long been rated one of the least effective in corporate America. The moves have been largely intended to limit board members' personal liability, according to critics of the board, who noted that AIG's accounting revelations came after former directors at Enron and WorldCom agreed to pay millions of dollars of their own money to settle shareholder lawsuits.
"AIG's board has been consistently worst in class," said Nell Minow, a co-founder of the Corporate Library, a research group that rates companies on governance. Minow and others have consistently described AIG's board as dominated by Greenberg and loaded with less-than-vigilant outside directors.
The company's board, advised by the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, is straining to avoid criminal and civil charges against the company.
In the past few years, after an indictment that essentially put accounting firm Arthur Andersen LLP out of business in 2002, the Justice Department frequently has employed deferred prosecution agreements with companies implicated in wrongdoing. Under the terms of those deals, firms must agree to stay clean for a specified period and hire outside monitors or accounting experts to review their books.
Cooperation generally consists of "doing an internal investigation, getting rid of bad apples and, if appropriate, waiving privilege," said former SEC enforcement official Thomas C. Newkirk. "Most defense counsel believe the wise course is to provide meaningful cooperation and convince regulators you're doing that."
Securities regulators cite the case of Royal Ahold NV, the Dutch company that owns Giant Food Inc., as perhaps the best recent example of cooperation by a company under siege. Ahold fired several top officials, investigated 17 operating units for accounting problems around the globe and made international witnesses available to U.S. prosecutors and investigators. Ahold paid no civil fines in a settlement with the SEC last year, despite maneuvers that led to $830 million in inflated profits.
The investigation is also looking into whether companies that entered into transactions with AIG knew that it was using them to make its earnings look better. Several companies have been penalized for helping others manipulate their books. For example, Time Warner Inc. and its America Online Inc. subsidiary paid $300 million last week to settle SEC charges, including allegations that the company helped Homestore Inc. and PurchasePro.com Inc. exaggerate their revenue using fraudulent online advertising deals.
Holding top executives criminally responsible for helping others manipulate their balance sheets remains a challenge for investigators. But prosecutors have built a few such cases successfully in the past few years.
Former Merrill Lynch & Co. investment banking chairman Daniel H. Bayly will be sentenced this month for colluding with Enron Corp. officials to help Enron meet earnings targets in late 1999. Testimony in Bayly's trial indicated that he participated in a conference call with Enron chief financial officer Andrew S. Fastow, in which Fastow essentially guaranteed that Merrill Lynch would not lose money on an energy deal. The fact that no money was at risk invalidated the business purpose of the deal, making it illegal, prosecutors argued.
That kind of concrete knowledge is necessary to bring criminal indictments and prove to a jury that executives intended to deceive investors, legal experts said.
Investigators are reading e-mail messages and other documents and interviewing witnesses about the Greenberg's role in a 2000 deal the firm struck with General Re. The deal allowed AIG to boost its reserves and keep its stock price high at a time investors were raising questions.
The SEC, the Justice Department, and Spitzer are scheduled to interview Buffett April 11. Buffett is represented by a Berkshire Hathaway lawyer and has not been notified that his interests diverge with his company's. Buffett's spokeswoman did not return calls, but the company issued a statement this week saying he was not briefed on the "structure" of the deals or their purpose. Buffett is a longtime Washington Post Co. board member.
Former General Re chief executive Ronald E. Ferguson and other Berkshire figures already have been interviewed by regulators and have helped them understand the terms of the complex deals. Darren Dopp, a spokesman for Spitzer, said that for now, investigators are approaching Greenberg and Buffett differently, in part because they have no evidence that Buffett intended to help AIG manipulate its books.
"You've got to show that Warren Buffett or anyone else at Berkshire was aware of the purpose of the transactions, that they didn't have any other independent business reality other than the inflation of numbers at AIG," said John C. Coffee Jr., a corporate law professor at Columbia University.
Martin J. Sullivan, a longtime AIG executive who assumed the chief executive role last month, is not a target of the investigations, an AIG spokesman said. "He's clearly in it for the long haul and that's why the company picked him," Winans said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:29 AM
The New York Times
April 1, 2005
Theresa Marie Schiavo
One of the most astonishing things about the human experience is the realization that loved ones die. The first time it happens, we are invariably amazed that nearly everyone who has ever lived has weathered an experience so wrenching. We see other humans on the street and in the shops and marvel that they manage to simply go about their business - that there is no constant, universal primal scream in the face of such an awful fact.
That level of grief seldom brings out the noblest emotions. The sufferers can barely make their way through the day, let alone summon their best reserves of patience and compassion for the lucky people who continue to live. In the case of Terri Schiavo, the whole world witnessed what happens when that natural emotional frailty is taken captive by politics.
It was awful, and according to the polls, the American public shrank from the sight of it.
What little we know about Terri Schiavo - the person, as opposed to the videotape - tells us that she would have been appalled by the last weeks of her life. What worse nightmare could a rather shy and affectionate young woman conjure up than 15 years of lingering unconsciousness, in which the entire globe became intimately familiar with the sight of her wasted limbs while the people she loved most engaged in a vicious court fight for control of her body?
That kind of ordeal - even if the victim was unaware she was enduring it - deserves to be honored with some meaning. On the most pragmatic level, she has been the instrument of thousands, and probably millions, of intimate conversations in which family members told one another what they would like to happen if their own bodies outlived their minds. In countless other cases, people recalled the days on which they had said goodbye to loved ones, and perhaps many came closer to peace in dealing with their own great losses.
Americans are a deeply pragmatic people, who constantly surprise ideologues of every persuasion with their willingness to accept whatever solution seems to work best at the moment. Our great ideals, when they are boiled down at a moment of crisis, often turn out to be mainly instincts - for fairness, for the right of individual self-determination or sometimes just for the pursuit of happiness. Watching the Schiavo case unfold, most Americans quickly opted for the solution that would end the ordeal.
Some people hold religious convictions so heartfelt that they could not bow to public opinion or the courts and accept the conclusion that Ms. Schiavo should be allowed to die. They deserve respect, just as her husband and her other relatives deserve sympathy.
Those relatives also deserve to be left alone, to be protected from a spotlight that turned a family tragedy into an international spectacle of sometimes shocking vulgarity and viciousness. The case attracted outsiders in search of little more than another opportunity to further their own self-aggrandizement. But worst of all were the powerful people who looked at the world we live in today, in which politics is about maximizing hysteria at the margins, and concluded that the Schiavo fight was a win-win - for everyone but the people who actually cared about the dying woman.
Today, finally, there is a moment of consensus. Rest in peace, Theresa Marie.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:25 AM
The New York Times
April 1, 2005
We Can't Remain Silent
By BOB HERBERT
At dinner on a rainy night in Manhattan this week, I listened to a retired admiral and a retired general speak about the pain they've personally felt over the torture and abuse scandal that has spread like a virus through some sectors of the military.
During the dinner and in follow-up interviews, Rear Adm. John Hutson, who is now president of the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, N.H., and Brig. Gen. James Cullen, a lawyer in private practice in New York, said they believed that both the war effort and the military itself have been seriously undermined by official policies that encouraged the abuse of prisoners.
Both men said they were unable to remain silent as institutions that they served loyally for decades, and which they continue to love without reservation, are being damaged by patterns of conduct that fly in the face of core values that most members of the military try mightily to uphold.
"At some point," said General Cullen, "I had to say: 'Wait a minute. We cannot go along with this.' "
The two retired officers have lent their support to an extraordinary lawsuit that seeks to hold Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ultimately accountable for policies that have given rise to torture and other forms of prisoner abuse. And last September they were among a group of eight retired admirals and generals who wrote a letter to President Bush urging him to create an independent 9/11-type commission to fully investigate the problem of prisoner abuse from the top to the bottom of the command structure.
Admiral Hutson, who served as the Navy's judge advocate general from 1997 to 2000, said he felt sick the first time he saw the photos of soldiers abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. "I felt like somebody in my family had died," he said.
Even before that, he had been concerned by the Bush administration's decision to deny the protections of the Geneva Conventions to some detainees, and by the way prisoners at Guantánamo Bay were being processed and treated. He said that when the scandal at Abu Ghraib broke, "I knew in my soul that it was going to be bigger than that, that we had just seen the tip of the iceberg and that it was going to get worse and worse and worse."
The letter to President Bush emphasized the wide scope of the problem, noting that there were "dozens of well-documented allegations of torture, abuse and otherwise questionable detention practices" involving prisoners in U.S. custody. It said:
"These reports have implicated both U.S. military and intelligence agencies, ranging from junior enlisted members to senior command officials, as well as civilian contractors. ... No fewer than a hundred criminal, military and administrative inquiries have been launched into apparently improper or unlawful U.S. practices related to detention and interrogation. Given the range of individuals and locations involved in these reports, it is simply no longer possible to view these allegations as a few instances of an isolated problem."
Admiral Hutson and General Cullen have worked closely with a New York-based group, Human Rights First, which, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed the lawsuit against Mr. Rumsfeld. A report released this week by Human Rights First said that the number of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan has grown to more than 11,000, and that the level of secrecy surrounding American detention operations has intensified.
Burgeoning detainee populations and increased secrecy are primary ingredients for more, not less, prisoner abuse.
One of the many concerns expressed by Admiral Hutson and General Cullen was the effect of the torture and abuse scandal on members of the military who have had nothing to do with it. "I think it does stain the honor of people who didn't participate in it at all," said Admiral Hutson. "People in the military who find that kind of behavior abhorrent are painted with the same broad brush."
General Cullen, who has served as chief judge of the Army's Court of Criminal Appeals, spoke in terms of grief. "You feel sorrow," he said, "because you know there are so many servicemen and women out there who want to do the right thing, who are doing tough jobs every day. And to see these events blacken their names and call into question their whole mission just makes me sad. Very, very sad."
Paul Krugman is on vacation.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:23 AM
The New York Times
April 1, 2005
Albany Passes Budget on Time, a Feat Unequaled Since 1984
By AL BAKER
ALBANY, March 31 - For the first time in 21 years, New York State lawmakers passed an on-time budget on Thursday. The $105 billion spending plan limits the costs of Medicaid for local governments, raises taxes and fees on motor vehicles and mortgages, and increases spending in areas like education and transportation.
The budget, which may still face challenges from Gov. George E. Pataki, could end more than two decades of governmental dysfunction that had paralyzed local governments year after year and had made state legislators a national laughingstock.
Mr. Pataki, who applauded the Legislature's action, said that the budget package still needed work but that he was confident that the final details would be worked out soon. He has until April 12 to issue any vetoes.
"Quite simply, the budget is done and that is a very positive step," Mr. Pataki told reporters after lawmakers finished their work. "But this is not as good a budget as it should be."
Unfinished or not, the budget represents a startling political and cultural change in how business gets done in Albany. This year, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle felt compelled to complete an official document on time, fearing the wrath of voters, who in one poll after another have made clear their disgust with how Albany decided to spend taxpayer money: in secret, among only a handful of officials, and late each year since 1984, when Mario M. Cuomo was governor.
"The public was so fed up with the state budget process that there was an outcry to get the damn thing done by the deadline," said Assemblyman Michael N. Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who has been trying to democratize government workings.
Legislative officials said the $105.1 billion plan left out $1.5 billion they had wanted to spend on items like welfare, construction projects for public and private colleges, protections for the environment and an overhaul of the state's dilapidated election system. With those items added, they said, the budget would be about $106.6 billion. Typical for Albany, though, there was disagreement over the numbers. Aides to the governor, who presented a $105.6 billion plan, said the legislative plan was worth $105.4 billion without the extra items and $106.9 billion with them.
The Legislature rejected many of Mr. Pataki's proposed increases in taxes and fees, including some that would have raised taxes on wine sales and an assessment on nursing homes. But it raised taxes and fees by about $1.1 billion.
It extended for another year a sales tax on clothing under $110 for all state residents, to raise $450 million. A separate sales tax surcharge in 2003 that was supposed to expire in the coming year will be phased out everywhere except in New York City and its suburbs, to pay for Metropolitan Transportation Authority projects. That tax surcharge will be reduced by half in that region. Mortgage recording taxes and motor vehicle and campground fees will all increase under the plan.
The bills were approved by midday. The mood in the Capitol was positively self-congratulatory as lawmakers, in the hallways and on the chamber floors, praised one another for passing a plan before sundown more than four months earlier than they did just last year, when it came in on Aug. 11.
"I am grateful and I am proud," Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the Assembly, told his packed chamber at 2:50 p.m. Applause followed. "A promise was made, a promise of reform."
Later, Joseph L. Bruno, the Republican leader of the Senate, said at a news conference that it was "a season to govern, and we're governing." The lawmakers filed out of the Capitol, but said they were aware that with the $1.5 billion held out of the budget, another phase of debates on spending and taxing was coming.
Still, State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi said he would certify the budget, and congratulated state officials for finally meeting the deadline. "Some issues were raised: 'If there are pieces not in the budget does that mean it's not done?' and the answer is no," said Mr. Hevesi, who shook Mr. Silver's hand at the Capitol. "In the days when the budget was always on time, there was always a supplemental budget, traditionally at least one and sometimes more later on in the session."
From New York City, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg also weighed in, offering praise. But he pointedly reminded Albany of its work ahead, particularly in overhauling Medicaid, the colossal $44.5 billion health insurance program for the poor, and addressing a State Court of Appeals decision that said New York's 1.1 million public school students had been shortchanged for years.
This year's budget includes $848 million more in education spending than last year's, with most of the additional money going to districts outside New York City. A state judge ruled last month that an additional $1.4 billion must be spent in the coming school year on the city's ailing schools alone, but it was clear that that mandate would not be heeded.
Assemblyman Steven Sanders, a Manhattan Democrat who heads the Assembly's Education Committee, said Mr. Pataki's promise to appeal the ruling, and the Legislature's desire to pass a timely budget this year, meant that there were few opportunities to come up with the kind of money the court required.
But the plaintiff in the case, a group called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which brought the lawsuit more than a decade ago, was disappointed. "It's a flagrant contempt of the judicial branch," said Michael A. Rebell, the group's executive director. "I think it's a disgrace that in order to speed things along and pass a timely budget, the Legislature and the governor are continuing to defy the courts. It's a cruel April Fools' joke."
The Legislature rejected the governor's plan to raise annual tuition by $500 at state and city universities. It rejected proposed cuts in the Tuition Assistance Program and regular annual increases in tuition for incoming students. It approved a $38.5 billion transportation plan and will ask voters to approve $2.9 billion in borrowing to pay for transportation projects, with the money evenly split between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and roads and bridges upstate and on Long Island.
Of all the topics on the table, health care proved the stickiest of all. The governor wanted the state to cap the rate of growth in localities' rising Medicaid costs. But his plan was tied to $1 billion in spending cuts, and he wanted an independent panel to make suggestions on which ailing hospitals and nursing homes should be closed.
Mr. Silver opposed the cuts, particularly in a program that provides health insurance to low-income workers. Lawmakers restored many of them and, though they agreed in principle on forming a hospital-closing panel, the details were not worked out.
In the final hours, a sense of giddiness took hold among lawmakers. Even the governor seemed somewhat ebullient. Officials in the executive and legislative branches gave credit to one another; each called for an open and speedy process. But many in and out of government said that in meeting its deadline, state officials simply did their job and met their constitutional obligations.
"It was simply an act of will," said Edmund J. McMahon, the director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy of the Manhattan Institute, who added that a court ruling affirming the governor's vast budget-writing powers helped by narrowing lawmakers' options. "Rather than swelling with pride in their accomplishments, they might feel embarrassment in showing they were able to do it all along."
Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the State University College of New York in New Paltz, said the accomplishment should not be trivialized. "It showed that they heard that people care about competence in government and they set out to demonstrate that competence: meeting a deadline."
Greg Winter contributed reporting for this article.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:20 AM
The New York Times
April 1, 2005
A Collision of Disparate Forces May Be Reshaping U.S. Law
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON, March 31 - The life and death of Terri Schiavo - intensely public, highly polarizing and played out around the clock on the Internet and television- has become a touchstone in American culture. Rarely have the forces of politics, religion and medicine collided so spectacularly, and with such potential for lasting effect.
Ms. Schiavo, the profoundly incapacitated woman whose family split over whether she would have preferred to live or die, forced Americans into a national conversation about the end of life. Her case raised questions about the role of government in private family decisions.
But her legacy may be that she brought an intense dimension - the issue of death and dying - to the battle over what President Bush calls "the culture of life."
Nearly 30 years after the parents of another brain-damaged woman, Karen Ann Quinlan, injected the phrase "right to die" into the lexicon as they fought to unplug her respirator, Ms. Schiavo's case swung the pendulum in the other direction, pushing the debate toward what Wesley J. Smith, an author of books on bioethics, calls " the right to live."
"This is the counterrevolution," said Mr. Smith, who has been challenging what he calls the liberal assumptions of most bioethicists. "I have been frustrated at how difficult it is to bring the starkness of these issues into a bright public discussion. Schiavo did it."
Experts say that unlike the Quinlan case, which established the concept that families can prevail over the state in end-of-life decisions, the Schiavo case created no major legal precedents. But it could well lead to new laws. Already, some states are considering more restrictive end-of-life measures like preventing the withdrawal of a feeding tube without explicit written directions.
That troubles some medical ethicists and doctors.
"I am concerned about the erosion of a very hard-won multiple-decade process of agreeing that these decisions belong inside families," said Dr. Diane E. Meier, an expert in end-of-life care at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. "We've always said that autonomy and self-determination does not trump the infinite value of an individual life, that people have the right to control what is done to their own body. I think that is at risk."
For social conservatives who argue that sanctity of life trumps quality of life, Ms. Schiavo came along at the right place and time, at a moment of their ascendancy in American politics. The election last November kept Mr. Bush in the White House and gave Republicans firmer control of Congress, particularly in the Senate, where conservatives gained several seats.
Among those conservative freshmen is Senator Mel Martinez, Republican of Florida, who prodded Congress to pass a bill allowing a federal court to review the Schiavo case. The move prompted a backlash, with polls showing an overwhelming majority of Americans opposed to it, though there is no way to assess whether that sentiment will have lasting political effects.
"I am amazed by the attention and the passions that have been aroused by this," Mr. Martinez said. "It may be one of those issues that touches families, that transcends the cultural wars."
Others say that far from transcending the cultural wars, Ms. Schiavo's case landed smack in the middle of them.
"It may be that her legacy is to set off an ongoing debate in American public policy about the sanctity of life and how we are going as a society to make decisions about when life begins, when it ends and what protections it ought to have," said Gary L. Bauer, president of American Values, a conservative group.
That language percolates through other debates that involve clashes of medicine, politics and religion like the fights over abortion and embryonic stem cell research.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a Christian conservative group, drew the connection in an e-mail message to backers who mourned Ms. Schiavo.
"We often hear about the culture of life that we are trying to protect," Mr. Perkins wrote, "yet rarely do we talk about the culture of death."
Ms. Schiavo brought these ideas home in a deeply personal way. Her history had a captivating narrative arc and a compelling cast of characters. The patient: Ms. Schiavo, who had lingered for 15 years in what doctors describe as a "persistent vegetative state." The husband: Michael, painted by some as a villainous adulterer as he sought to have her feeding tube withdrawn. The parents: Robert and Mary Schindler, determined to keep their daughter alive.
As the drama unfolded, television viewers could watch Ms. Schiavo on videotape and make a judgment.
"The closest thing to it, but not quite as poignant, are the debates about stem cell research," said Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council, who became familiar with conservative politics when he worked for the Christian Coalition. "But they deal with diseases that touch upon every family, but not a single individual."
The debate also exposed fissures among Republicans, pitting social conservatives who framed the debate around preserving life against those who favor states' rights and limited government. "There was a philosophical train wreck," Mr. Wittmann said.
The case also fueled conservatives' anger over what they regarded as a runaway judiciary, laying the groundwork for future fights over Mr. Bush's judicial nominees.
"It shows just how much power the courts have usurped from the legislative and executive branches," Mr. Perkins said, "that they now hold within their hands the power of life and death."
The courts have been weighing in on such issues for years. One of the first major cases was in 1976, with Ms. Quinlan. The New Jersey Supreme Court permitted her parents to turn off her respirator.
In 1990, in the case of another brain-damaged woman, Nancy Cruzan, the United States Supreme Court recognized for the first time a right to forgo unwanted treatment. In 1997, Oregon passed an assisted suicide law, letting doctors prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Bush administration's challenge to the law.
In all these battles, the common theme was that medical technology had run amok, stripping patients of their dignity at the end of their lives.
"In the classic cases around death and dying, they were again and again efforts by families to get the patient out of the medical grip," said David J. Rothman, director of the Center for the Study of Society and Medicine at Columbia University.
The Schiavo case, Professor Rothman said, is "really the effort to force physicians to intervene, rather than force them to desist."
"So you've got a shift here," he said.
That shift made for odd bedfellows. Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate, joined Mr. Smith, the bioethicist, in calling for legal action "to let Terri Schiavo live." Advocates for disability rights prompted Democrats like Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa to take up her cause.
Mr. Martinez, who said his sister suffered a brain disorder that left her unable to communicate at the time she died, called it "a beautiful moment of coming together for a sick and disabled person." He said he intended to work with Mr. Harkin to press Congress to "provide an avenue of due process and legal recourse which may not exist today" for patients like Ms. Schiavo.
Around the country, state lawmakers are contemplating changes, as well. The Alabama Starvation and Dehydration Prevention Act would bar the withdrawal of a feeding tube without explicit written instructions. A lawmaker in Michigan is proposing a measure that would prevent an adulterer from making medical decisions for an incapacitated spouse.
Some medical ethicists say they are horrified. R. Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, foresees a chilling effect on hospitals and doctors, who may become uncomfortable carrying out a patient's wishes against the backdrop of a family feud. Professor Charo said there was no way for lawmakers to predict all the permutations that play into decisions on death and dying.
"If you go back to Cruzan, the presumption was in favor of extending biological life," she said. "Over the last 30 years, the presumption has slowly shifted toward allowing people to die. What we are seeing is the counterinsurgency."
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:18 AM
Thursday, March 31, 2005
JUSTICE: Torturing detainees puts us on the road to moral ruin
By BOB HERBERT
The Bush administration is desperately trying to keep the full story from emerging. But there is no longer any doubt that prisoners seized by the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have been killed, tortured, sexually humiliated and otherwise grotesquely abused. People have been rounded up, stripped, shackled, beaten, incarcerated and in some cases killed, without being offered even the semblance of due process. No charges. No lawyers. No appeals.
These atrocities have been carried out in an atmosphere in which administration officials have routinely behaved as though they were above the law and, thus, accountable to no one. Arkan Mohammed Ali is a 26-year-old Iraqi who was detained by the U.S. military for nearly a year at various locations, including the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. According to a lawsuit filed against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Ali was beaten into unconsciousness during interrogations. He was stabbed, shocked with an electrical device, urinated on and kept locked - hooded and naked - in a wooden, coffin-like box. He said he was told by his captors that soldiers could kill detainees with impunity.
Ali's story is depressingly similar to other accounts pouring in from detainees, human rights groups, intelligence sources and U.S. government investigators. If you pay close attention to what already is known about the barbaric treatment of prisoners by the United States, you can begin to wonder how far we've come from the Middle Ages.
No charges were filed against Ali, and eventually he was released. But what should be of paramount concern to Americans is this country's precipitous and frightening descent into the hellish zone of lawlessness that the Bush administration, on the one hand, is trying to conceal and, on the other, is defending as absolutely essential to its fight against terror.
The lawsuit against Rumsfeld was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First, a New York-based group, on behalf of Ali and seven other former detainees from Iraq and Afghanistan who claim to have been tortured by U.S. personnel.
The suit charges that Rumsfeld personally authorized unlawful interrogation techniques and abdicated his responsibility to stop the torture and other abuses of prisoners in U.S. custody. It contends that the abuse of detainees was widespread and that Rumsfeld and other top administration officials were well aware of it. It cites a wealth of evidence readily available to the secretary, including the scandalous eruptions at Abu Ghraib prison, the reports of detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay, myriad newspaper and magazine articles, internal U.S. government reports and concerns expressed by such reputable groups as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Whether this suit ultimately will be successful in holding Rumsfeld personally accountable is questionable. But if it is thoroughly argued in the courts, at least it will raise another curtain on the stomach-turning practices that have shamed the United States in the eyes of the world.
The primary aim of the lawsuit is, quite simply, to re-establish the rule of law. "It's that fundamental idea that nobody is above the law," said Michael Posner, executive director of Human Rights First. "The violations here were created by policies that deliberately undermined the rule of law. That needs to be challenged."
Lawlessness should never be an option for the United States. Once the rule of law has been extinguished, you're left with an environment in which moral degeneracy can flourish and a great nation can lose its soul.
originally published 03/30/2005
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:40 PM
The New York Times
March 31, 2005
I Spy a Screw-Up
By MAUREEN DOWD
Like the new Woody Allen movie, "Melinda and Melinda," it is possible to view today's big story on the tremendous intelligence failures before the Iraq war as either comedy or tragedy, depending on how you look at it.
For instance, on the comic side, The Times reported yesterday that administration officials were relieved that the new report by a presidential commission had "found no evidence that political pressure from the White House or Pentagon contributed to the mistaken intelligence."
As necessity is the mother of invention, political pressure was the father of conveniently botched intelligence.
Dick Cheney and the neocons at the Pentagon started with the conclusion they wanted, then massaged and manipulated the intelligence to back up their wishful thinking.
As The New Republic reported, Mr. Cheney lurked at the C.I.A. in the summer of 2002, an intimidating presence for young analysts. And Douglas Feith set up the Office of Special Plans at the Pentagon as a shadow intelligence agency to manufacture propaganda bolstering the administration's case.
The Office of Special Plans turned to the con man Ahmad Chalabi to come up with the evidence they needed. The Iraqi National Congress obliged with information that has now been debunked as exaggerated or fabricated. One gem was the hard-drinking relative of a Chalabi aide, a secret source code-named Curveball, who claimed to verify the mobile weapons labs.
Mr. Cheney and his "Gestapo office," as Colin Powell called it, then shoehorned all their meshugas about Saddam's aluminum tubes, weapons labs, drones and Al Qaeda links into Mr. Powell's U.N. speech.
The former secretary of state spent four days and three nights at the C.I.A. before making the presentation, trying to vet the material, because he knew that Mr. Cheney, who had an idée fixe about Saddam, was trying to tap into his credibility and use him as a battering ram.
He told Germany's Stern magazine that he was "furious and angry" that he had been given bum information about Iraq's arsenal: "Some of the information was wrong. I did not know this at the time."
The vice president and the neocons were in a fever to bypass the C.I.A. and conjure up a case to attack Saddam, even though George Tenet was panting to be of service. When Mr. Tenet put out the new National Intelligence Estimate on Oct. 2, 2002, nine days before the Senate vote on the war resolution and after our troops and aircraft carriers were getting into position for battle, there was one key change: suddenly the agency agreed with Mr. Cheney that Iraq was pursuing the atomic bomb.
Charles Robb, the former senator and governor of Virginia, and Laurence Silberman, a hard-core conservative appeals court judge, headed the commission. Unlike Tom Kean, Judge Silberman held secret meetings; he made sure the unpleasantness wouldn't come up until Mr. Bush had won re-election.
It is laughable that the report offers its most scorching criticism of the C.I.A. when the C.I.A. was simply doing what the White House and Pentagon wanted. Isn't that why Mr. Tenet was given the Medal of Freedom? (Freedom from facts.)
The hawks don't want to learn any lessons here. If they had to do it again, they'd do it the same way. The imaginary weapons and Osama link were just a marketing tool and shiny distraction, something to keep the public from crying while they went to war for reasons unrelated to any nuclear threat.
The 9/11 attacks gave the neocons an opening for their dreams of remaking the Middle East, and they drove the Third Infantry Division through it.
The president planned to announce today that he would put into place many of the commission's recommendations, including an interagency center on proliferation designed to play down turf battles among intelligence agencies.
As Michael Isikoff and Dan Klaidman reported in Newsweek, in the three and a half years since 9/11, the intelligence agencies still haven't learned how to share what they know. At the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, the Homeland Security guy complained he was frozen out by the F.B.I. and C.I.A.
Like "Melinda and Melinda," the other side of this wacky saga is deadly serious. There are, after all, more than 1,500 dead American soldiers, Al Qaeda terrorists on the loose and real nuclear-bomb programs in Iran and North Korea that we know nothing about. No laughs there.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:39 PM
U.S. Citizen, 3 Romanians Kidnapped, U.S. Says; Al-Jazeera Airs Alleged Tape of Hostages in Iraq
By MARIAM FAM
The Associated Press
Mar. 31, 2005 - Al-Jazeera satellite channel aired a tape Wednesday that purported to show three Romanian journalists kidnapped in Iraq and a fourth unidentified person, apparently an American. The U.S. State Department said Wednesday that a U.S. citizen was taken hostage with the three Romanians. However, the department gave no further information so there was no way of confirming if the American was also on the video.
The station said the four were held by an unnamed militant group and no demands were made.
Private Romanian television station Realitatea TV reported that an Iraqi-American who worked as the journalists' translator was the fourth person kidnapped.
The video, which could not be independently verified, showed three men and a woman seated on the floor in a room, with blankets hung behind them. Two armed men their faces covered with scarves pointed guns at them.
The woman in the group had a yellow headscarf wrapped around her head. She spoke into a small microphone, but the station didn't air the audio.
On Tuesday, the Romanian government reported that three journalists were abducted a day earlier near their Baghdad hotel after interviewing Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. One victim used a cell phone to report the kidnapping.
More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq and more than 30 have been killed.
Also Wednesday, dozens of French lawmakers made an emotional appeal for the release of a French journalist Florence Aubenas and her guide Hussein Hanoun held hostage in Iraq for 84 days.
Joined by members of the families of Aubenas and Hanoun as well as former French hostages, dozens of deputies and senators gathered near the Eiffel Tower, releasing hundreds of purple balloons, all marked "Florence and Hussein," into the Paris sky.
"Don't call me crazy when I tell you that these balloons will reach them," said Florence's father Benoit Aubenas.
Aubenas, of the daily newspaper Liberation, and Hanoun were kidnapped Jan. 5. The first public sign of life came March 1 with the release of a video showing a weary and distraught Aubenas pleading for help.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:25 PM
WMD Commission Releases Scathing Report
Panel Finds U.S. Intelligence on Iraq's Weapons Was 'Dead Wrong'
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 31, 2005; 4:07 PM
A special presidential commission reported today that the U.S. intelligence community was "dead wrong" when it overstated pre-war Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and today knows "disturbingly little" about the weapons programs and intentions of U.S. adversaries, such as Iran and North Korea.
And while it also said the United States had some "solid intelligence successes" in the past, the commission's report added that the future requires innovations leading to "understanding the worst weapons that our enemies possess and how they intend to use them against us." It noted, however, that "our collection agencies are often unable to gather intelligence on the very things we care the most about."
The panel, officially called the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, presented its 600-page report and 74 recommendations to President Bush this morning as the product of its year-long investigation. The nine member commission was named in February 2004 and led by senior U.S. Appeals Judge Laurence H. Silberman and former senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.).
[ Full report available here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/wmd/index.html ]
The report detailed various intelligence failures related to Iraq, providing some information not disclosed in previous congressional and internal CIA investigations. The panel looked to the new director of national intelligence (DNI) to integrate the intelligence community, which it describes as "fragmented, loosely managed and poorly coordinated." Nonetheless, the report pointed out, it is valuable to insure that the intelligence analysts at individual agencies such as the Pentagon, CIA, State Department, Department of Energy and FBI, remain diverse and continue to debate their individual interpretations of information.
Under the recommendations from the commission, the DNI would also be given responsibility to direct new collection methods for human and technical intelligence, because the panel found that in the past the intelligence community has been "too slow to change the way it does business."
It also calls for greater exchange of information among agencies.
For example, the report notes, before the speech by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003, the CIA failed to provide information "casting serious doubt on the reliability" of intelligence about Iraq's alleged mobile biological facilities initially obtained from an Iraqi defector.
The analysts who helped prepare Powell's speech were unaware that, as the commission's report puts it, the defector was "lying" and that he was the single source for that information, which became a central feature of Powell's presentation.
The panel also criticized the daily intelligence reports that Bush received before the Iraqi war -- known as the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) -- for being "more alarmist and less nuanced" in headlines and contents than longer studies, such as the National Intelligence Estimates. It said the reports never cast doubt on prior information provided to Bush on Iraqi weapons programs when such doubts turned up and thus "seemed to be 'selling' intelligence in order to keep its customers, or at least the First Customer, interested." The PDB, it concluded was "disastrously one-sided."
The panel called for changes in the PDB, a toning down of headlines and limiting its contents to intelligence that "requires high-level attention." In addition, it approved Bush's announced decision that the new director of national intelligence have a small staff to take responsibility for the PDB, as well as the daily President's Terrorist Threat Report and the morning briefing by the FBI director. But it also said the intelligence director should not appear each morning because it puts too much of a burden on his time.
One of the major structural suggestions in the report is directed at the FBI. The panel found the FBI's current internal reform, which puts new emphasis on intelligence, will not be concluded until 2010 and leaves "murky" its relationship to the rest of the intelligence community.
The commission recommended that the bureau's counterintelligence and counterterrorism divisions as well as its new intelligence division be merged into a separate national security service within the FBI. The head of this new service would have authority to direct agents in the field and be subject to the DNI as well as the FBI director, much like the intelligence agencies at the Pentagon respond to both the DNI and defense secretary.
The panel reported it found no evidence that policymakers, such as Vice President Cheney influenced analysts' reports on Iraq's weapons programs. But the panel made clear it did not explore the controversial subject of how policymakers such as Bush and Cheney used the intelligence.
In the report it disclosed it was "not authorized" to review that subject, and although it interviewed current and former policymakers about how the intelligence community communicated with them, the purpose was "not to review how policymakers subsequently used that information."
Looking to the future, the panel raised a question ignored by other investigators. It complained that the intelligence community had not made study of biological weapons a priority. That approach, the panel said, was unacceptable and it recommended "new urgency and new strategies." In the area of human intelligence, the panel recognized the primacy of the CIA in the espionage field and suggested creation of a directorate to coordinate what it describes as increasing activity abroad by both the FBI and the Pentagon that "heightens the risk that intelligence operations will not be properly coordinated with the CIA's human espionage operations." The new directorate would be senior to the CIA's Directorate of Operations and would coordinate all human intelligence issues, including standards for community-wide training and tradecraft.
The panel found that covert action, the clandestine activities carried out overseas to counter terrorism and proliferation of weapons, are "energetic, innovative and well-executed." Because of secrecy, those programs were not described.
The panel questioned whether technical collection of electronic messages and imagery through satellites has kept up to date. For example, it disclosed for the first time that the National Security Agency lost access to "important aspects of Iraqi communications."
Imagery from satellites, which was an important tool against the Soviet Union, did not work against Iraq's unconventional weapons, according to the panel. Today, as countries learn deception methods, such satellites are not effective against some priority targets, the report said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:22 PM
Meet Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), the man Republicans have chosen as their Majority Leader in the House of Representatives.
Tom DeLay is at the center of a bewildering array of investigations into corruption, abuse of power, and ethics violations.
As the courts and committees investigate DeLay's misdeeds and hand down indictments, keeping track of all the scandals can be a full-time job. So we thought it would helpful to offer folks this quick and easy guide.
The Westar Scandal
[Selling influence and access Launched an investigation]
In 2002, executives at Kansas energy company Westar wrote a memo outlining how they could purchase a "seat at the table" with $56,500 in contributions to political committees associated with Tom DeLay and the GOP. DeLay was later admonished by the House Ethics Committee for creating the appearance of impropriety.
The House Medicare Vote Bribery Scandal
[Partisan attack on democracy Launched an investigation]
Tom DeLay and the Republican leadership kept open the vote for the Medicare bill for three hours -- long past the 15 minutes specified in House procedures -- in order to pressure Republicans to vote for the bill. Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) said GOP leaders offered "bribes and special deals," leading to an investigation by the Ethics Committee, which admonished DeLay.
The Texas Redistricting Scandal
[Partisan attack on democracy Launched an investigation]
When DeLay and his fellow Republicans were redrawing the Congressional districts in Texas to push Democrats out of the House, he used the Federal Aviation Administration to try and track a plane containing Democratic state legislators. The House Ethics Committee investigated DeLay's actions and once again admonished him.
The K Street Scandal
[Selling influence and access Partisan attack on democracy Launched an investigation]
Tom DeLay has pushed lobbying firms to deny jobs to Democrats, and hire only Republicans, resulting in another Ethics Committee admonishment for inappropriately pushing a lobbying firm to hire a former GOP congressman. DeLay has pressured GOP lobbyists to make contributions to Republican candidates and the RNC.
The TRMPAC Scandal
[Selling influence and access Partisan attack on democracy Launched an investigation]
In Texas, it's illegal for corporations to make donations to fund political campaigns. So Tom DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee (TRMPAC) took $190,000 in corporate contributions and funneled them to the RNC, which then donated exactly $190,000 to TRMPAC-supported candidates. DeLay and TRMPAC are currently under investigation by a grand jury.
The Travel Scandal
[Selling influence and access Launched an investigation]
An investigation by the Justice Department showed that Tom DeLay accepted a trip financed by the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council, breaking House rules that prohibit accepting travel expenses from "a registered lobbyist or agent of a foreign principal."
The Ethics Committee Scandal
[Partisan attack on democracy Launched an investigation]
Knowing that he faced investigation for a growing pile of scandals, Tom DeLay and the GOP House leadership purged the Ethics Committee of Republicans -- including Chairman Joel Hefley (R-CO) -- who weren't willing to overlook charges against DeLay, replacing them with members loyal to the leadership. They then changed the Committee rules to make it more difficult to begin investigations. Democrats on the Committee have refused to take any action in protest until the rules are restored.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:16 PM
Terri Schiavo Has Died
* Feeding Tube Was Removed March 18
Mar 31, 2005 10:17 am US/Eastern
The attorney for Terri Schiavo's husband says the brain-damaged woman has died.
Word of the death came shortly after the parents, through their adviser, asked that they be allowed to be at her bedside when she died.
It was nearly two weeks ago that she was disconnected from the feeding tube that had kept her alive for years. Even after that, her parents continued their desperate legal battle to have the tube re-attached.
Schiavo's death comes after her parents lost two more rounds in court on Wednesday in their battle with their son-in-law, over the 41-year-old woman's fate.
She had been expected to survive one to two weeks after the tube was removed by court order March 18.
"Any pretense of a meaningful legal battle is now over. Terri Schiavo is over," said CBSNews.com Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "Her parents still may try to get into court — there is no law against it — but it is hard to imagine any judges even willing now to entertain a motion or hold a hearing."
Schindler family supporter Frank Pavone said he had a message for Michael Schiavo and his attorney, George Felos.
"If I speak to him, if I speak to Michael, if I speak to Judge (George) Greer, if I speak to any of these people, I will not hesitate to call them exactly what they are: murderers," he told CBS News Correspondent Peter King and other reporters outside the hospice.
A Vatican cardinal said Thursday that leaving Terri Schiavo with no food and water amounts to murdering her, and that one cannot stand by inert without becoming an accomplice.
The comments by Cardinal Renato Martino reflect other remarks by Vatican prelates in the past weeks over the case of Terri Schiavo, a woman whose feeding tube was disconnected almost two weeks ago.
"The prolonged interruption in her feeding ... is shaping up as an unjust death sentence to an innocent, in one of the most inhumane and cruel forms — that of death from hunger and thirst," Martino, who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told Vatican Radio.
Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, dispute that their daughter is in a persistent vegetative state, as court-appointed doctors have determined.
"She is demonstrating an amazing sparkle and desire to live," David Gibbs III, who represents the Schindlers, said Wednesday. "I would say she looks pretty stable compared to the last couple of days."
As for next legal steps, Gibbs said: "It appears that will be the last legal appeal at this time, unless something comes up."
"Their lawyer now has to be mindful of his obligation not to file frivolous lawsuits," said Cohen.
The Schindlers maintained that while Schiavo was weak, her organs were functioning Wednesday and she was responsive. "I'm asking that nobody throw in the towel as long as she's fighting, to keep fighting with her," Bob Schindler said.
George Felos, the attorney for Schiavo's husband, declined to comment.
The case has spent seven years winding its way through the courts, with the Schindlers repeatedly on the losing end. The country's highest court on Wednesday declined to intervene for the sixth time. Hours earlier in an 9-2 ruling, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta declined to grant a new hearing in the case — the fourth time since last week that it ruled against the Schindlers.
One of the appeals court judges rebuked the White House and lawmakers Wednesday for acting "in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers' blueprint for the governance of a free people — our Constitution."
"Any further action by our court or the district court would be improper," wrote Judge Stanley F. Birch Jr., appointed by President Bush's father.
Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990, when her heart stopped for several minutes because of a chemical imbalance apparently brought on by an eating disorder.
Her parents doubt she had any end-of-life wishes and say she laughs, tries to speak and responds to them when they visit the hospice.
Reconnecting the feeding tube now could actually cause harm, say experts.
"Basically they can't absorb it. They can't make use of it. And it actually can make people sicker," Dr. Diane Meier, an expert in life's final stages at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, told CBS News.
"This is it — or should be it," said legal analyst Cohen. "The federal courts have now undertaken as complete and exhaustive an appellate review as they think they must and as they ever will. And there is no higher court, or other branch to turn to, for the Schindlers to get help under the law."
Timeline in the case of Terri Schiavo:
Feb. 25, 1990: Schiavo collapses in her home from a possible potassium imbalance caused by an eating disorder, temporarily stopping her heart and cutting off oxygen to her brain.
November 1992: Schiavo's husband, Michael, wins more than $1 million in a malpractice suit.
July 29, 1993: Bob and Mary Schindler try to have Michael removed as their daughter's guardian. They accuse him of not properly caring for Schiavo. The case is later dismissed.
Feb. 11, 2000: Circuit Judge George W. Greer approves Michael Schiavo's request to have Terri's feeding tube removed, agreeing that she had told her husband she wouldn't want to be kept alive artificially.
April 2001: State and U.S. Supreme courts refuse to intervene, and Schiavo's tube is removed, but another judge orders it reinserted two days later.
Feb. 13, 2002: Mediation attempts fail, and Michael Schiavo again seeks permission to remove feeding tube.
Nov. 22, 2002: After hearing medical testimony, Greer finds no evidence that Schiavo has any hope of recovery and again orders tube removed.
Oct. 15, 2003: Tube removed for second time.
Oct. 21, 2003: Republican Gov. Jeb Bush signs hastily passed bill allowing him to intervene, then orders tube reinserted.
Dec. 2, 2003: Independent guardian finds "no reasonable medical hope" that Schiavo will improve.
Sept. 23, 2004: Florida Supreme Court strikes down the law that allowed Bush to intervene and have the tube reinserted as unconstitutional.
Feb. 25, 2005: Greer gives permission for tube removal at 1 p.m. March 18.
March 16-17: Florida House passes bill intended to keep Schiavo alive but the Senate defeats a different version. In Washington, lawmakers can't reconcile differences in bills passed by the House and Senate.
March 18: Feeding tube removed. Greer rules against congressional Republicans who had tried to put off tube removal by seeking her appearance at hearings.
March 19: Congressional leaders from both parties agree on a bill that would allow a federal court to review the case and prolong Schiavo's life.
March 20-21: Congress passes the bill after members scramble to return to Washington for an early morning vote. President Bush signs the bill outside his White House bedroom. Parents file an emergency request with a federal judge to have the tube reconnected.
March 22: U.S. District Judge James Whittemore refuses to order the reinsertion of the tube. Parents appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
March 23: The 11th Circuit declines to order the reinsertion of the tube. The Schindlers turn to the U.S. Supreme Court.
March 24: The U.S. Supreme Court denies the appeal.
March 25: The Schindlers again ask Greer to intervene, saying Schiavo tried to say, "I want to live."
March 26: Greer rejects another effort by the Schindlers to get the feeding tube reinserted; Florida Supreme Court declines to intervene.
March 29: 11th Circuit agrees to consider the Schindlers' emergency bid for a new hearing on whether to reconnect her feeding tube.
March 30: The 11th Circuit declines to intervene. Hours later, the Schindlers appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which also refuses to intervene.
March 31: Terri Schiavo dies at 41.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:20 AM
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:36 AM
The Payoff Of Cowardice
Public opinion polls show Americans disapprove of the Republican Congress’ handling of the Terri Schiavo case. Corn argues that the public’s revulsion at the GOP intervention in a private family issue exposes a strategy Democrats can exploit: accusing Republicans of misusing their power for partisan purposes. With tough fights ahead on judicial nominations and stem cells, this strategy could prove useful.
David Corn writes The Loyal Opposition twice a month for TomPaine.com. Corn is also the Washington editor of The Nation and is the author of The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers).
The Democratic response to Tom DeLay's self-righteous, exploitative save-Terri-Schiavo crusade was, by large, run and hide. In the Senate, Democrats opposed to the last-minute legislation that would allow Schiavo's parents to challenge Florida court decisions in federal court did nothing. In the House, a few Democrats—Barney Frank, John Lewis, Robert Wexler and Debbie Wasserman Schultz—valiantly attempted to beat back DeLay's judicial activism. But their opposition was not a party-line position, and several dozen House Democrats voted for the measure. In this absence of (much) political bickering, the public, according to multiple polls, sided overwhelmingly against butting into this sad family conflict. At the same time, George W. Bush, who flew from his Crawford ranch to Washington to sign the bill, saw his approval ratings hit an all-time low. Coincidence?
It's possible that by not creating a big political fuss, the Democrats unintentionally helped shape the Schiavo affair into a one-party controversy. This was a Republican deal, and a large majority of the public—including many Republican citizens—came to believe that crass politics, not values, were motivating Bush, DeLay, Denny Hastert, Bill Frist and the others. And if the Republican campaign was indeed values-driven, then why did DeLay and the rest not seek further action (even Supreme Court intervention) when the federal courts refused to revisit the Schiavo case? Was it because that by this point the first wave of polls had hit? It's true, as many pundits have stated in recent days, that those most likely to mutter "Remember Terri" when they enter a voting booth in 2006 will be people who fervently looked for the DeLay crowd to intervene. (They'll probably be appreciative of the GOP efforts, though the more extreme advocates of Schiavo's parents might resent the Republicans for having not done enough, such as sending in the National Guard.) But perhaps the DeLay maneuver will also shift the terrain in Washington in a favorable direction for Democrats concerning at least two high-profile battles to come: judicial nominations and stem cells.
With the Social Security fight waning—and the Democrats politically ahead in that war of attrition—the next big thing in Washington, baring any unforeseen Schiavo-like episodes, will be what's known as the "nuclear option" in the Senate. The Republicans, pissed off that Democrats have blocked 10 of Bush's 200 judicial appointments with filibusters, are considering rewriting Senate rules to end the use of filibusters on judicial appointments. The Democrats have vowed that if Republicans go "nuclear" in this manner, they will block almost all Senate activity (except the most essential, such as funding the troops overseas). The question this week is, do the Republicans have the votes to launch such an assault—several GOP moderates and traditionalists have resisted—and will they actually push the button? If this war does break out, the goal of each side will be to blame the other for bringing the Senate to a standstill.
No one can predict how much the public will care about a Senate slowdown. This would not be the same as the federal government shutdown of 1995, during which Bill Clinton was able to cast Newt Gingrich as the bad guy. Social Security checks will keep going out. Still, the Republicans will have Bush and the presidential megaphone on their side, as they seek to convince the public the Democrats are do-nothing, just-say-no-no-no obstructionists. For the Democrats, Senate minority leader Harry Reid will be leading the charge. I'm not sure I like those odds. But here's where the Schiavo episode might help the Dems. Since much of the public saw the Schiavo affair as an instance of Republicans overreaching, it might now be easier for the Democrats to sell their argument that the GOPers, by going "nuclear," are once again misusing their power for partisan purposes.
The Schiavo case may have further riled up the social conservative base of the Republican Party about judicial appointments. One unnamed GOP consultant told The Los Angeles Times, "It reinforces the notion that when it comes to matters of social policy, it is literally a matter of life and death in terms of who these judges are." But the Schiavo story also reinforced the notion that congressional Republicans are willing to employ desperate measures—such as stacking the federal judiciary—for partisan gains. Senate Democrats preparing to go into this mother of all legislative battles ought to consider how to tie the GOP's "nuclear" attack to the Republican extremism that offended most Americans in the Schiavo matter. Perhaps Democrats—or their allies (unions and progressive groups will be spending millions of dollars to support the Democrats in the filibuster battle)—can argue that the craven Republican busybodies who tried to hijack the courts in the Schiavo affair cannot be trusted to fill the federal courts. I'm not a political consultant who makes a living crafting bumper sticker-sized slogans and 10-second-long soundbites. But I do see potential here. And, remember, this is a "nuclear" war the Democrats don't have to win; they only need to fight to a draw.
As for stem cells, the House Republican leaders have promised to permit a debate and a vote on legislation that would expand the number of stem cell lines available for federally funded research. Why would they do this? I don't know. It may be a sign that there are too many GOPers who want to vote against Bush's restrictions on stem cell research and the House leaders cannot hold back the tide. Then again, the House leaders have not yet said when a vote would occur or what legislation would be allowed to come up for a vote. So it's possible that delays and various machinations will be employed by the House leadership to prevent a debate and vote. But Democratic supporters of expanding federal stem-cell research could be assisted by the Schiavo episode. Social conservatives will yelp about the Republicans granting advocates of stem cell research a vote. But after the Schiavo business—and the polls—will Republicans want to be seen as the lapdogs of the religious right, especially when the issue involves possible cures for various diseases? The Schiavo controversy was evidence that many Americans approach social issues with a pragmatism detached from ideology. They probably view stem-cell research in the same give-us-results fashion. (Even Nancy Reagan and Orrin Hatch do.) Democrats ought to press for a vote soon, and turn stem-cell research into another political issue that will discomfort those GOPers eager to toss red meat to their social conservative base. In other words, work that wedge.
By no means does the Schiavo case redefine politics in Washington. Both the Bush budget proposal and the GOP budget plans are mean and ugly, cutting social programs while extending tax cuts for the wealthy. The Democrats lost the vote on drilling in Alaska, and Democratic aisle-jumpers allowed Bush to rack up easy wins on bills to restrict class-action lawsuits and to assist the credit card companies on consumer bankruptcies. Bush's god-awful nominations (Wolfowitz, Negroponte and Bolton) are likely to be confirmed. But if the Democrats are cunning—yeah, a big if—they may be able to do more than stymie Bush's going-nowhere Social Security initiative. After all, cowardice is not likely to work again.
originally published March 30, 2005
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:30 AM