Senate Majority Project

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


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Another RNC Must Read... (Between the Lines)

RNC’s Favorite Editorial Board Backed Review of Wiretaps

Scratching for anybody to back President Bush’s unilateral secret order to tap Americans’ phone calls, the RNC pointed to a Wall Street Journal editorial entitled (not making this up) “Thank you for Wiretapping.” That the Journal supported the Bush position, and largely echoed his arguements, is not surprising. What is surprising is the degree to which it did at the expense of its own editorial integrity.

In a 2002 editorial headlined “No License to Spy” the Journal editorial board wrote: “We consider ourselves civil libertarians, as wary as anyone of government power,” then went on to explain that the critics of the Patriot Act were “over the top” because,
“FBI agents will not suddenly be able to snoop into American bedrooms. U.S. officials who want a wiretap warrant under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act will still have to convince a court that there is probable cause to believe the target is an agent of a foreign power or terrorist organization.” [No License to Spy, 20 November 2002]
We now know that this isn’t true. President Bush, with the flimsiest legal justification, ordered wiretaps without the FISA review in which the Journal recently placed so much faith.

The Journal explained away Bush’s actions much the same way the president did yesterday -- by pointing to the war on terror. The paper has frequently argued for broad presidential power (at least when it does not affect corporations). However, it has also repeatedly argued for oversight of the power. Only days after 9-11, the Journal editorial pages again announced, “We count ourselves as stalwart civil libertarians,” and explained its support for greater cooperation between agencies saying,
“The best way to reassure people is to ensure our intelligence and law enforcement agencies at some point make their case to some outside authority. That means defining who they are targeting as well as paying more attention to the specifics of accountability. … And we have no objection to putting a sunset provision on any expanded powers, so they can be reviewed by Congress to see if they've been abused.” [Taking Liberties 25 September 2001]

Amazingly the Journal’s editorial position was more suspicious of presidential powers against terrorism when the rubble of the World Trade Center was literaly still settling just blocks away from the paper’s New York headquarters than it is today. Given a chance to draw the line it has so often drawn before, an editorial board which recently proclaimed that “Every free society needs civil-libertarian watchdogs” offered little more than weak apologies.

The most troubling aspect of the Bush orders is the shameless and brazen nature used to exploit presidential power. Bush even claimed that his own judgment and oath of office is enough to check what he appears to see as virtually unlimited power. The Journal editorial board, civil libertarians all, have rolled over and thanked him for it.

Military Brass Ask Senate to Pull ANWR

Senate Republicans Jeopardize Resources for Troops and Families

Yesterday, Sen. John Kerry released a letter from five top retired Generals and a retired Navy Admiral urging Senators Frist and Reid not to let Sen. Ted Stevens get away with his latest scheme to open the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to drilling.

Stevens has attached his drilling plan to the otherwise noncontroversial Defense funding bill in open violation of the Senate Rules, a move that bogged down its passage and could postpone final action sending the much-needed funding bill to President Bush’s desk until after the first of the year.

In the letter, Generals John M. Shalikashvili, Joseph Hoar, Anthony Zinni, Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy, Vice Admiral Lee F. Gunn and Brigadier General Stephen A. Cheney urge Congress to
“finish its work and provide them the resources they need to do their job. … It is not helpful to attach such a controversial non-defense legislative issue to a defense appropriations bill. It only invites delay for our troops.”
ANWR would not produce a single drop of oil for 7 years. Troops and families need resources today. The choice would seem clear, but clearly not for Ted Stevens.

Download the letter here (pdf)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Freedom Isnt Free

Spin, However, Comes Cheap at the RNC

A release from the Republican National Committee hot off the wire touts a Freedom House Survey, pronouncing 2005 a “success.” The actual report, however, is much less rosy, particularly when it comes to the Administrations chief concern of the moment, Iraq.

To begin with, here’s how the group’s research director characterized what the RNC determined was a “successful year.”
"Among other things, the past year has been notable for terrorist violence, ethnic cleansing, civil conflict, catastrophic natural disasters, and geopolitical polarization. That freedom could thrive in this environment is impressive."
You can almost hear the corks popping.

Meanwhile, the group determined that Iraq merited no improvement in its rating over the past year. In fact, Freedom House issued chilling cautions that whatever small gains occurred could be easily lost. And Freedom House earlier expressed reservations about the Iraqi constitution even calling the effort a “waste:”
Freedom House is very concerned that the emerging constitution will seriously undermine the prospects for democracy and the safeguarding of human rights in the new Iraq. After all the American blood and treasure that has been expended to bring freedom to Iraq, it would be worse than a shame if the new constitution were to enshrine the triumphalist vision of a minority within a particular sect, rather than reflect a national consensus on a democratic framework; it will have been a waste.
Of the gains in Iraq over the last year, the group seemed to express some skepticism that the presence of American troops was helpful to the process, and whatever gains occurred could be fleeting:

Indeed, some have argued that the rise in anti- American sentiment has tarnished the democratic idea in the minds of ordinary Arabs, although several of their countries have taken steps towards expanded freedom.

It is also clear that some of the gains noted in this year’s survey are fragile and could be reversed in the future. Gains made in Iraq could be wiped out if the current level of violence escalates into outright civil conflict among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds.
And the big successes touted by Bush are represented by Freedom House as “small gains” in “modestly successful” elections.

In addition, Freedom House has spoken out strongly against the Bush Administration’s own growing involvement in torture:
Among others opposing American involvement in torture are the American Civil Liberties Union, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, members of the 9-11 Commission itself, the American Bar Association, Human Rights First, Freedom House, and Amnesty International. A joint statement signed by some of these groups emphasizes that the torture provisions "undermine the credibility of U.S. efforts to promote human rights and democracy in the Arab world, which President Bush has identified as a key element in the Administration's long-term strategy to combat terrorism . . . "

Advances in Democracy should be welcomed, but clearly the Mission is not quite Accomplished.

Frist Surrenders … to the French

Do You Want Fries With That Tax Break?

Today the New York Times reported about the Budget Cuts Senate leaders have agreed to in order to make room for $100 billion in tax cuts. The cornerstone of the remaining appropriations bill is the Defense bill funding, among other things, equipment and benefits for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this bill has become the Christmas tree that others are looking to hang pet provisions having nothing to do with defense in hopes that opponents would cringe at opposing a bill funding troops during wartime. Sen. Bill Frist decided to use this bill to ram through his misguided plan to let drug makers off the hook for producing vaccines that cause serious side effects, even death.
One of the last items added to the military spending bill was a provision sought by Mr. Frist that would shield drug makers from lawsuits related to vaccines that protect against biological agents or viruses like the one that causes the avian flu. The language would allow lawsuits against vaccine makers only if they engaged in "willful misconduct." The government would pay medical expenses and benefits to those injured or killed by vaccines.
Mr. Frist contends that the provision is necessary to encourage drug companies to make vaccines. But it is likely to draw criticism, with some arguing that it would be a windfall for those companies.

Likely to draw criticism … In fact it already has.

Among other things the Frist plan would remove practically all economic incentive to fully test and protect against side effects that could cause even more serious illness or deaths, especially in vulnerable populations like children and the elderly. Supporters say that its necessary to encourage drug makers to manufacture vaccines for the avian flu.

The trouble with that argument is that a French vaccine maker recently signed a $100 million contract with the U.S. government to produce an avian flu vaccine…without any additional liability protections. And, this contract was fifth pandemic-related agreement that the company has entered into with the U.S. government since May 2004.

Maybe they were late getting Frist’s memo while it was being translated into French, because after signing the deal, the company’s spokesperson said,
"Full liability protection is a requirement for our participation in the development and production of a pandemic vaccine,’ said Len Lavenda, spokesman for Sanofi Pasteur.” [Washington Post, 11/17/05]
Or maybe the businesses making vaccines know that they can make a profit off the expanding vaccine market without the deal that Frist and the drug company lobbyists are ramming through on the back of the defense funding bill. In fact, industry analysts expect the market for new vaccines to expand dramatically in the next few years. Companies including Merck, Wyeth, GlaxoSmith Kline, and Novartis have all announced large investments in expanding their vaccine manufacturing capabilities … all without the sweetheart deal that Frist is pushing through.

Face Time With Karl Rove...

If you could spend time with Karl Rove, isn't this what you'd do ... more or less...?