Friday, June 22, 2007

Libby Apologists Are A Gift to Anthropologists Everywhere

The Huffington Post
RJ Eskow
Libby Apologists Are A Gift to Anthropologists Everywhere

If I were studying sociology or anthropology I'd drop everything right now and run to Washington, DC. There's a great piece to be written about what Scooter Libby's defenders reveal about that city's power elite. (Think Mean Girls meets All the President's Men.) What an opportunity: The response to a perceived attack on one of the tribe is revealing a hidden culture to the world.

Social scientists will tell you that most communities are divided into at least two groups, insiders and interlopers. Washington is no exception. "He came in and trashed the place," David Broder famously wrote of Bill Clinton, "and it wasn't his place." It's Scooter Libby's place, though. He's part of the capital's power elite, a culture with its own social hierarchy, folkways, and shared beliefs

Anthropologists are fond of drawing "kinship charts" that document relationships and hierarchies within a tribe or community. A Washington "kinship chart" would show that the consanguineal loyalties of biological family have been replaced by webs of social intimacy and shared perceptions.

At the top of the DC chart are the designated leaders, the chieftains. The best way to get there is to have occupied a place in the hierarchy for a long time, after working your way up as apprentice to an earlier chief. A history of senior positions in past administrations fits the bill, hence the prominence of figures like Cheney and Rumsfeld. That's why in some ways Cheney holds more totemic power in Washington than does Bush himself.

On the next line down come those who draw their power from the top-line leaders. That's where Scooter comes in, as a Cheney acolyte. That's where Mary Matalin shows up, too, as a long-time operative for Republican administrations. The law school professors who authored a brief challenging the special prosecutor in the Libby case appear on this line, too. They represent a long line of interest groups, think tanks, and academic institutions who benefit from the largesse of the top-line hierarchy through grants of power, funding, and/or support for cherished causes.

Newspaper publishers hold top-line status based on the institutions they control, while the writers and commentators who work for them appear several layers down in the chart. On a practical level, the ability of these writers to survive professionally depends on the favors bestowed on them from their social superiors in government and the media. On a personal level, they identify emotionally with the tribe and react violently when any of its leaders are under attack.

This group's folkways are reinforced every day. Their kids go to the same schools. They go to the same restaurants and clubs. Their intimacy's been ritually celebrated at a thousand cocktail parties, with wine and hors d'oeuvres as the unconsecrated host. And judging from what we've heard lately, it seems that excoriating unruly outsiders (whether they're bloggers, Bill Clinton, or uncooperative voters) has replaced the ritual eating of an enemy's heart.

Maybe that's why writers like Richard Cohen can so casually commit what seems to be journalistic malpractice when writing about the Libby case. For example, no matter how many times Patrick Fitzgerald repeats his belief that an underlying crime was committed in the Libby case, Cohen and his fellows will keep saying that Fitzgerald's asserted no such thing. Why such misdirection, which appears to violate the Society of Professional Journalists' written code of ethics? And now Cohen seems to be asserting that a Republican prosecutor and Republican judge are conducting a leftist show trial in retaliation for the war in Iraq.

That sort of twisted logic isn't unusual among Libby defenders. Why do people who are often smart thinkers and good writers allow themselves to bend the rules of logic and ethics in defense of someone like Libby? Because people who do deceitful things often believe that they're obeying a higher ethical law. Often they're not even conscious of doing anything wrong. So when the Richard Cohens of the world repeatedly misstate the facts, one can only conclude that their belief in Libby's "decency" and the "unfairness" of the prosecution allows them to ignore both good journalism and the national good.

Tribe members consider Libby a decent public servant tricked by inquisitors into perjuring himself. Most other Americans recognize him for what he really is: a convict who convinced a Republican prosecutor and judge - and an entire jury - of his criminality, beyond a reasonable doubt.

That's the problem. Sometimes the pull of cultural beliefs is so strong that people can't even see facts that threaten their shared reality. I would guess that no journalist or pundit working in DC today - not Cohen, not Joe Klein, not David Broder - believes they are doing anything other than upholding their professional principles and serving the nation. That's why they can't react to challenges without indignation, rage, or distortion: Those challenges undermine their shared reality, so the challengers must be personally attacked instead. Their identity becomes the topic. The result? Outsiders such as bloggers become the enemy tribe. The fact that these outsiders don't obey the group's social conventions only amplifies the outrage.

Mary Matalin's letter on behalf of Libby (co-signed by her husband James Carville) is an especially useful vein for reserchers in search of DC folklore. "His wife and my husband share similar (presumably centrist Democratic) political views," Matalin writes. This speaks to "bipartisanship," a so-far mythical political movement extolled by Broder and others. Bipartisanship remains attractive to members of the insider group because it places greater importance on tribal standing than on heartfelt political values.

"Our service put great strains on our respective families," writes Ms. Matalin. This echoes a common theme in many of Mr. Libby's letters of support, which emphasizes the bonding ritual of long hours spent working in the corridors of power.

But it is in speaking of children that Ms. Matalin best articulates the folkways and loyalties of the DC tribe. She writes movingly of Libby's attempts to entertain children isolated in a "secure undisclosed location" one Halloween, and asks the judge to consider "what further justice would be served by additional devastation to them and the many other children who love Scooter."

This shouldn't need to be said, but let's be clear: Nobody wants Libby's children or their friends to suffer. It's tough to be the child of a felon. What I find striking about the Matalin letter is not its tender concern for children, which is admirable, but the underlying amorality shown by its inability to see the suffering of Valerie Plame Wilson's children or the many others hurt by Libby's actions. Those children are simply less real to her. Out of sight, out of mind. That's Ms. Matalin's problem, and it's Cohen's too.

Libby's lawyer reportedly tried to block the release of the letters written on his behalf by Matalin and such top-line chieftains as Henry Kissinger and Donald Rumsfeld. His argument was that their publication would subject their authors to scorn and ridicule, especially by that hostile tribe known as "bloggers." Maybe, but I'm more concerned about making sure they're available to be catalogued, studied, and understood.

The underground folkways and practices of this particular tribe may not be this visible again for years. Graduate students, take note. This is your chance to study a culture that's rarely observed in the field. The more it's exposed to the light of day, the more it will be robbed of its power.

Any takers? It would be a good way to write your thesis - and help your country at the same time.


A dozen rulings in the last year have been a boon to corporations by making it harder to sue them or limiting lawsuit damages

High court has been good for business
A dozen rulings in the last year have been a boon to corporations by making it harder to sue them or limiting lawsuit damages.
By David G. Savage
Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration and corporate lobbyists long have sought sweeping "tort reform" to limit lawsuits and massive jury awards — without much success. But in the last year, they quietly have been winning much of what they've wanted on a case-by-case basis in the Supreme Court.

With a week to go in their term, the justices have handed down a dozen rulings that sharply limit the damages that can be won in lawsuits or make it harder to sue corporations.

"The Roberts court is even better for business" than the court led for two decades by the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, said Washington attorney Maureen E. Mahoney, who is a longtime friend of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and a former clerk for Rehnquist. "There is unquestionably a greater number of business cases before the court, and [the justices] are quite willing to limit damage remedies."

In February, for example, the court threw out an $80-million punitive damage verdict against cigarette maker Philip Morris, ruling that juries cannot use a single victim's suit to punish a company for harm done by its products to thousands of others.

Last month, in a similar decision, the court set aside a California jury's $55-million verdict against Ford Motor Co. arising from a rollover accident involving its Ford Explorer.

Two weeks ago, the court shielded the insurance industry from paying millions of dollars in damages for not notifying customers when they check their credit ratings.

A few days before that, the court protected employers from being sued over pay discrimination against women and minorities that occurred in past years. The 5-4 decision overturned a verdict in favor of a female supervisor at a Goodyear Tire plant, saying she had failed to point to discrimination in the 180 days prior to filing her suit — a strict statute of limitations set in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

On Monday, the court threw out a massive suit alleging "an epic Wall Street conspiracy" among the nation's leading investment bankers to fix the prices of new stock offerings during the Internet boom of the late 1990s. It was the third decision this year to restrict the reach of antitrust laws.

None of these pro-business decisions came as a huge surprise. But lawyers who practice regularly before the high court say it is noteworthy that business has been winning so consistently.

It is "a very business-friendly court," said Beth S. Brinkmann, a Washington lawyer who served in the Clinton administration. The justices have made it harder to sue business on many fronts, she said.

Los Angeles Times
Corporate lawyers say that suing companies should not be too easy because that encourages frivolous suits, and defending against them — even when the claim is ultimately rejected — can cost millions of dollars.

Last month, in the case of Bell Atlantic vs. Twombly, the Supreme Court made it easier for companies to win a quick dismissal of some claims.

Five years ago, a group of plaintiffs' lawyers alleged the "Baby Bell" companies that provide local phone service had secretly conspired not to compete with each other. If this were true, these companies had violated antitrust laws and were subject to damages that could run into the billions. The lawyers claimed to represent every American who had phone service or subscribed to a high-speed Internet line.

Two years ago, a federal appeals court in New York cleared the suit to go forward. But on May 21, the Supreme Court threw it out. It was not enough to say a conspiracy was possible, Justice David H. Souter said in an opinion for a 7-2 majority. Rather, the plaintiffs must show real evidence of a "plausible" conspiracy at the start, he said.

This seemingly technical tweak is likely to have a broad effect, legal experts say, because it set a higher hurdle for civil suits. It will also encourage more trial judges to dismiss claims at the earliest stages, they said.

The ruling strikes "a blow to the plaintiffs' bar, which has used such bare assertions to extort money from businesses operating legitimately," said Robin S. Conrad, a lawyer and vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Frivolous lawsuits have huge costs to consumers, workers and the overall economy."

But a lawyer who represents consumers and accident victims in the high court said business advocates are celebrating too soon.

"I think it's a premature to say this a pro-business court," said Robert S. Peck, president of the Center for Constitutional Litigation. "The court takes on these issues one at a time, and in some of the cases, they are taking baby steps. Business is not always getting the victory they asked for."

Peck represented the family of the deceased smoker in the punitive-damages case involving Philip Morris. He noted the Supreme Court did not set a hard-and-fast rule for limiting such verdicts, but rather told the Oregon courts to reconsider the $80-million award in this case. "It's not clear they will change the award at all," he said, referring to the Oregon judges.

Consumer advocates say it is especially important that victims of corporate wrongdoing have the option of going to court, partly because the federal government for years has been scaling back its regulation of business.

"It is only in the courtroom where an individual consumer stands on an equal footing with a powerful corporation. It is there they can have their day in court before a jury," Peck said. "If it is all decided in the halls of power, the corporations are going to have their way."

The high court is due to issue more decisions today and release its final rulings of the term next week.

One closely watched case will decide whether to protect companies from suits alleging securities fraud. Business lawyers want to make it harder to sue companies for fraud after a sharp drop in the stock price. They say plaintiffs need real evidence of fraud and deceit, not just rosy predictions for the future that did not come true. A ruling on this issue is due in Tellabs vs. Makor.

The justices also have yet to decide a business case that could affect how much shoppers pay for products ranging from watches and handbags to golf clubs and tennis rackets. For nearly a century, it has been illegal under antitrust laws for manufacturers to set a minimum retail price for their products.

That rule is being challenged this year by a Los Angeles maker of women's handbags. Mahoney predicted the court is likely to strike down the long-standing rule.

"This court subscribes to the Chicago school of law and economics," she said, referring to the free-market theories associated with the University of Chicago that cast a skeptical eye on nearly all regulation of business.



Poll shows Bush's approval rating hits new low

People's Daily
Poll shows Bush's approval rating hits new low

The latest Newsweek poll found U.S. President George W. Bush's approval rating has hit a record low, with only 26 percent of the respondents endorsing him.

Meanwhile, a record high 65 percent disapprove of him, including nearly a third of Republicans, according to poll results released by the Newsweek website on Thursday.

Most notably, the 26 percent rating, a two-point drop from the last Newsweek poll in May, puts Bush lower than Jimmy Carter, who sunk to his nadir of 28 percent in a Gallup poll in June 1979.

In fact, the only president in the last 35 years to score lower than Bush is Richard Nixon.

Nixon's approval rating tumbled to 23 percent in January 1974, seven months before his resignation over the botched Watergate break-in.

The war in Iraq continues to be the major factor that drags Bush's rating down.

A record 73 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Bush has done handling Iraq.

Despite "the surge" of U.S. forces in Iraq, a record-low 23 percent of Americans approve of the president's actions in Iraq, down 5 points since the end of March.

Moreover, Bush scores record or near record lows on every major issue: from the economy (34 percent approve, 60 percent disapprove) to health care (28 percent approve, 61 percent disapprove) to immigration (23 percent approve, 63 percent disapprove).

Source: Xinhua


Waxman Decries Cheney Security Exemption

Guardian Unlimited
Waxman Decries Cheney Security Exemption
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - House Democrats on Thursday denounced Vice President Dick Cheney's idea of abolishing a government office charged with safeguarding national security information - and criticized him for refusing to cooperate with the agency.

Cheney's office - over the objections of the National Archives - has exempted itself from a presidential executive order that seeks to protect national security information generated by the government, according to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Under the order, executive branch offices are required to give the Information Security Oversight Office at the archives data on how much material it has classified and declassified.

Cheney's office provided the information in 2001 and 2002, then stopped. Henry Waxman, chairman of the committee, said Cheney's office claims it need not comply with the executive order because it is not an ``entity within the executive branch.''

``Your decision to except your office from the president's order is problematic because it could place national security secrets at risk,'' Waxman wrote in a letter to Cheney on Thursday.

Megan McGinn, a spokeswoman for the vice president, said Cheney's office was not breaking the law, but did not elaborate.

``We are confident that we are conducting the office properly under the law,'' she said.

The Information Security Oversight Office has asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resolve the legal dispute over whether the order applies to Cheney's office. So far, the Justice Department has not ruled on the issue.

Waxman said J. William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office, told the panel that after he sought advice from the Justice Department, Cheney's office recommended that the executive order be amended to abolish the ISOO. ``I question both the legality and wisdom of your actions,'' Waxman said.

Waxman said Leonard also told the panel that in 2004, Cheney's office blocked the archives from doing an onsite inspection of his office to make sure classified information was being properly protected.

``To my knowledge, this was the first time in the nearly 30-year history of the Information Security Oversight Office that a request for access to conduct a security inspection was denied by a White House office,'' Waxman wrote.

The eight-page letter asks Cheney to respond to a series of questions about why he believes his office is exempt, and what steps his office has taken to ensure that national security information is protected.


Bush, Senate head for showdown on domestic spying

Bush, Senate head for showdown on domestic spying
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush headed toward a showdown with the Senate over his domestic spying program on Thursday after lawmakers approved subpoenas for documents the White House declared off-limits.

"The information the committee is requesting is highly classified and not information we can make available," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said in signaling a possible court fight.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the subpoenas in a 13-3 vote following 18 months of futile efforts to obtain documents related to Bush's contested justification for warrantless surveillance begun after the September 11 attacks.

Three Republicans joined 10 Democrats in voting to authorize the subpoenas, which may be issued within days.

"We are asking not for intimate operational details but for the legal justifications," said Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat. "We have been in the dark too long."

Authorization of the subpoenas set up another possible courtroom showdown between the White House and the Democratic-led Congress, which has vowed to unveil how the tight-lipped Republican administration operates.

Last week, congressional committees subpoenaed two of Bush's former aides in a separate investigation into the firing last year of nine of the 93 U.S. attorneys.

Bush could challenge the subpoenas, citing a right of executive privilege his predecessors have invoked with mixed success to keep certain materials private and prevent aides from testifying.

Bush authorized warrantless surveillance of people inside the United States with suspected ties to terrorists shortly after the September 11 attacks. The program, conducted by the National Security Agency, became public in 2005.


Critics charge the program violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires warrants. Bush said he could act without warrants under wartime powers.

In January, the administration abandoned the program and agreed to get approval of the FISA court for its electronic surveillance. Bush and Democrats still are at odds over revisions he wants in the FISA law.

"The White House ... stubbornly refuses to let us know how it interprets the current law and the perceived flaws that led it to operate a program outside the process established by FISA for more than five years," Leahy said.

Interest in the legal justification of the program soared last month after former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified about a March 2004 hospital-room meeting where then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales tried to pressure a critically ill John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, to set aside concerns and sign a presidential order reauthorizing the program.

With top Justice Department officials threatening to resign, Bush quietly quelled the uprising by directing the department to take steps to bring the program in line with the law, Comey said.

Leahy noted that when Gonzales, now attorney general, appeared before the panel on February 6, he was asked if senior department officials had voiced reservations about the program.

"I do not believe that these DoJ (department) officials ... had concerns about this program," Leahy quoted Gonzales as saying. Leahy added, "The committee and the American people deserve better."

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick)


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Iraq now ranked second among world's failed states

Iraq now ranked second among world's failed states
By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iraq has emerged as the world's second most unstable country, behind Sudan, more than four years after President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, according to a survey released on Monday.

The 2007 Failed States Index, produced by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace, said Iraq suffered a third straight year of deterioration in 2006 with diminished results across a range of social, economic, political and military indicators. Iraq ranked fourth last year.

Afghanistan, another war-torn country where U.S. and NATO forces are battling a Taliban insurgency nearly six years after a U.S.-led invasion, was in eighth place.

"Iraq and Afghanistan, the two main fronts in the global war on terror, both suffered over the past year," a report that accompanied the figures said.

"Their experiences show that billions of dollars in development and security aid may be futile unless accompanied by a functioning government, trustworthy leaders, and realistic plans to keep the peace and develop the economy."

The index said Sudan, the world's worst failed state, appears to be dragging down its neighbors Central African Republic and Chad, with violence in the Darfur region responsible for at least 200,000 deaths and the displacement of 2 million to 3 million.

The authors of the index said one of the leading benchmarks for failed state status is the loss of physical control of territory or a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.

Other attributes include the erosion of legitimate authority, an inability to provide reasonable public services and the inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.

Foreign Policy magazine is published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank. The Fund for Peace is an independent research group devoted to preventing and resolving conflicts.


Bush aides may have illegally lost e-mail, Dems say

Bush aides may have illegally lost e-mail, Dems say
By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Karl Rove and dozens of other White House staffers appear to have illegally routed official e-mails through a Republican group that subsequently deleted them, a congressional report said on Monday.

By using Republican National Committee e-mail accounts for official business, senior White House aides may have broken a law requiring them to preserve presidential records, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said in an interim report.

"This should be a matter of grave concern for anyone who values open government and the preservation of an accurate historical record," said committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat.

The Presidential Records Act of 1978 requires White House officials to save official correspondence. While the White House automatically archives its e-mail the RNC typically deletes messages on its server older than 30 days, the report said.

The White House and the RNC said Waxman's committee was jumping to conclusions.

"We have seen a number of times right now where people have been putting together investigations to see what sticks. They have had very little success so far," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

White House officials have for years used RNC e-mail accounts to comply with the Hatch Act, which forbids public servants from using government property to conduct political business.

At least 88 White House staffers had RNC accounts and there are signs that many of them used those accounts extensively for nonpolitical matters, the committee said.

Rove, a top political adviser to President George W. Bush, sent more than 100 e-mail messages and received more than 200 each day through his RNC account in 2007, the report said.

More than half of the 140,000 Rove messages saved by the RNC was correspondence with other government officials, the committee said. Most of his correspondence from Bush's first term has not been preserved, it said.

Rove thought his messages were being archived, his former assistant Susan Ralston told the committee. His lawyer has said he never intentionally deleted e-mail from any accounts.

The RNC said it is still searching for the missing e-mails.

"There is no basis for an assumption that any e-mail not already found would be of an official nature," RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said by e-mail.

The report also points a finger at Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, currently facing pressure to resign over U.S. attorney firings that Democrats say were political in nature.

As White House counsel, Gonzales may have known that Rove and others were using RNC accounts but did nothing to stop it, the report says.

A Justice Department official referred questions to the White House.

The committee said it will investigate Gonzales' role further and search federal agencies for copies of the missing e-mails. It also said it plans to subpoena Bush's 2004 re-election campaign for additional e-mails because the campaign has not cooperated.


House panel drops auto fuel standard from plan

House panel drops auto fuel standard from plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leaders of the committee writing energy legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives backed away on Monday from controversial elements of the bill, including new fuel economy standards for automobiles.

Michigan Democrat John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher, who leads the subcommittee writing the bill, said in a letter to members that the panel was pressed for time and could not reach agreement on several issues.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants energy legislation ready before the July 4 recess and has been negotiating with Dingell on key elements of the bill with mixed success.

Instead, the panel plans to focus on a scaled-back plan. This will include an initiative to improve efficiency of the nation's electricity grid as well as auto-related proposals to advance battery technology for electric cars and accelerate production of alternative fuels, like gasoline/ethanol blends favored by major carmakers.

Committee leaders dropped a measure to block California and 11 states from landmark regulations to limit tailpipe emissions, labeled as a culprit of global warming. Pelosi, a California Democrat, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, opposed congressional interference on that issue.

To be considered later are provisions that would promote liquefied coal for vehicle fuels and standards to lower carbon output in fuels. Proposals for making new vehicles go further on a gallon of gasoline -- aimed at quickly reducing oil imports -- would be left out of the bill.

Draft fuel economy standards proposed by the committee were weaker than those being considered this week in the U.S. Senate, and were sharply criticized by some senior members of the House panel.

The leading plan in the Senate would require 4 percent annual increases in fuel economy, which auto industry contends is not feasible.

Dingell is a longtime ally of Detroit automakers who have resisted tougher fuel standards. He and Boucher said provisions dropped from the bill would be revived during debate on climate change legislation in the fall.