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Page   1 - Duke Energy Employee Advocate

Washington - Page 32

"He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been
given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice." - Albert Einstein

New Congress Wants Bigger Trough

The Charlotte Observer – Editorial – January 11, 2003

House leaders make dubious changes by dubious means

(1/10/03) - People in high places should be mindful that some things just don't look good. People in Congress should be especially mindful of it when ethical standards are at issue. U.S. House leaders fell a mile short of this standard Tuesday with sneaky changes to gift and travel rules.

The gift rules already were objects of evasion and manipulation. They said members and staff could not accept personal gifts worth more than $50, and could not accept more than a total of $100 in gifts from any individual in a single year.

Lobbyists, lawmakers and staff interpreted the rules creatively, to say they least. In one example, three lobbyists might take an individual out for a $100 dinner. They'd divide the tab equally so that -- technically speaking -- no one of them had given a gift of more than $50.

Some lobbyists claimed personal relationships under a "friendship" exemption. Still others hosted so many people at one time that their bills, when averaged, didn't exceed $50 per guest. The people who had salads and soda water subsidized the ones who had steak and wine.

One wrinkle was particularly cute. An interpretation of the rules said anyone could throw a party for a lawmaker or staff member if the honoree did not consume $50 or more worth of food and drink. This allowed one lobbyist to throw a surprise 40th birthday party for a senior staff aide -- aboard a yacht in the Potomac River.

Abuses were beginning to attract attention, and the House ethics committee began to tighten up. A November memo said the $50 limit could not be "evaded by ... averaging the expense of gifts given to more than one member or staff person."

Enter the new Congress, and the adoption of broad rules packages that are approved at the beginning of each term. House leaders slipped in a provision that specifically permits the averaging of gift expense. Another change permits any charity certified by the Internal Revenue Service to reimburse lawmakers for "travel and lodging expenses" for events where the net proceeds go toward the charity.

And what did House ethics committee members think of this? The House leadership didn't tell them. Ethics committee officers found out what was up at the last minute.

A spokesman for House leaders called the gift-rule change essentially cosmetic, and says they are mainly meant to benefit interns and low-paid staff. He said the change in travel rules is meant to make it easier for members to support charities.

All of which is doubletalk. The gift rules will make it easier for vested interests to curry favor with the people's representatives. The travel rules will make it easier for members to receive free vacations under the guise of aiding charities.

And the trick of sneaking the whole thing past the House's own ethics committee? Words fail. Ethics committee leaders say they intend to revisit these issues. They should do so with vigor.

Democrats Get Behind Pension Protection

Dow Jones – by Rob Wells – January 8, 2003

(1/7/03) - WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate's Democratic leaders on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious agenda of legislation to overhaul pensions, raise the minimum wage and contain the cost of prescription drugs.

"I think we're really energized," Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., told reporters. Daschle offered an upbeat face on a day the Republicans officially took control of the Senate following their powerful sweep of the November 2002 elections.

Daschle introduced his new leadership team, which includes a conservative, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., liberals such as Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. He also described a dozen bills that will be Democrats' top priorities for the 108th session of Congress, which began Tuesday.

**The bills include the "Pension Protection and Expansion Act of 2003," which would let workers sell shares of their employers' stock invested in 401(k) plans after three years.**

**The bill also would increase companies' liability for breaches of fiduciary duties.**

**Also, companies converting to cash-balance pension plans would have to let current workers have the option of accruing benefits under the existing pension plan.**

**The pension bill also would crack down on corporate tax shelters, prevent companies from moving their headquarters to overseas tax havens and restrict certain types of executive compensation packages funneled through offshore trusts.**

Other priorities include a prescription drug cost containment bill. The measure provides a fixed $25 monthly premium for all beneficiaries and access to local pharmacies.

Democrats also would raise the minimum wage, now $5.15 an hour, to $6.65 in two steps; expand homeland security by hiring additional police officers; ensure greater access for children to preschool; and increase health care coverage.

Democrats spelled out their agenda as the Senate agreed to provide at least 13 additional weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits.

Daschle criticized Republicans for refusing to extend additional benefits for the roughly 1 million workers who had already exhausted a 13-week benefit extension enacted in March 2002.

"At the same time the president is advocating now a $600 billion dollar tax cut, largely dedicated to those at the very top, they can't even pass benefits for those at the very bottom with no jobs," Daschle said. "I mean, that is outrageous."

Expanding Job-Killing NAFTA

Public Citizen - – January 8, 2003

After Millions of Layoffs During the Bush Recession and Massive Growth-Chilling Trade Deficit, President Pushes NAFTA Expansion to Central America

(1/7/03) - WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Bush administration's contempt for the plight of millions of Americans who have lost their jobs during the past two years was spotlighted today as the administration released a stimulus package favoring Wall Street over workers and prepared to launch North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) expansion negotiations tomorrow. Formal negotiations of a proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) begin Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

"Announcing this 'stimulus' package and then launching trade talks, which will export more American jobs and escalate the growth-killing U.S. trade deficit, is like tossing a cup of water into a leaky tub while yanking out the plug," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.

Talks between the office of the U.S. Trade Representative and trade ministers from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica aim to spread the failed NAFTA model farther into the hemisphere. NAFTA has:

  • Turned the 1993 pre-NAFTA $1.7 billion U.S. trade surplus with Mexico into a $25 billion deficit, while the U.S. trade deficit with Canada has grown from $10.8 billion to $44.9 billion under NAFTA. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has called the U.S. trade deficit a significant drag on growth;

  • Eliminated nearly 1 million well-paying U.S. jobs and deteriorated the U.S. manufacturing base;

  • Impoverished the Mexico-border region in the United States, with many U.S. border cities now facing higher unemployment rates than before NAFTA;

  • Encouraged union-busting and depressed wages and benefits in the U.S. as companies threaten workers with the prospect of overseas moves, especially to Mexico; and

  • Granted transnational corporations the power under NAFTA's Chapter 11 to claim reimbursement with U.S. taxpayer money (to date over $13 billion) for "future lost profits" when domestic public safeguards limit profitability.

The Bush administration has made CAFTA a priority as part of its jigsaw puzzle strategy to stretch the disastrous NAFTA model throughout the hemisphere with the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), Wallach said. With growing opposition to the FTAA model in several key South American countries, the administration hopes to create momentum on FTAA with CAFTA.

"Launching CAFTA talks is not going to overcome opposition to NAFTA expansion in South America any more than tax breaks on dividends will replace more good jobs lost to NAFTA-style trade deals," Wallach said.

'Pork for Pensions'

L. A. Times – January 6, 2003

By Andrew G. Biggs and Maya MacGuineas, Andrew G. Biggs is a Social Security analyst at the Cato Institute. Web site: Maya MacGuineas is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Web site:

(12/31/02) - The midterm elections ended the misconception that proposing changes to Social Security leads to a swift political death. President Bush has repeated his support for voluntary personal retirement accounts, and the moderate Democratic Leadership Council also leans toward the idea.

But how to pay for it? Reformers had targeted budget surpluses to fund the transition of Social Security from government collections and disbursements to personally directed investment accounts. But the war on terrorism and the recession-induced decline in tax revenue have produced a fiscal noose that threatens reform.

A potential solution is to take an ax to corporate welfare. Instead of draining taxpayers' pockets, the billions in subsidies, grants and handouts could finance the transition to a sustainable Social Security program. Investing corporate pork in Americans' retirements is a bargain both left and right could learn to love.

Corporate welfare is a revenue source with appeal to Democrats and Republicans, who recognize -- but who so far have lacked the courage to address -- the waste and inequities that special business preferences create. Corporate welfare extends from classic political pork, such as a $1.1-billion loan guarantee to build cruise ships in Sen. Trent Lott's hometown, to financial assistance for large companies from the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and to farm subsidies that ate up $35 billion last year.

Time magazine estimated in 1998 that corporate welfare costs taxpayers $125 billion annually, a figure that includes "tax expenditures" granting exemptions to favored industries, such as timber, energy and insurance. Domestically, these handouts favor certain companies and industries over others. Internationally, corporate welfare weakens the free-trade credentials of the U.S. and invites retaliation from Europe and Asia.

Efforts by the Bush administration's budget director, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., to curb federal pork have yet to bear fruit.

While corporate welfare benefits are concentrated among knowledgeable Washington insiders and special interests, the costs are spread among millions of taxpayers who have little idea what they are funding. Politicians are far more likely to hear from farmers and business people seeking to preserve their handouts than from taxpayers who are sick of paying for them.

Social Security reform can break the political logjam. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) have called for a commission to pinpoint and eliminate corporate subsidies. Taking the idea a step further and earmarking the savings for individual accounts could overcome resistance from special interests.

It may not be possible to cut all corporate welfare, and by itself corporate welfare may not fix Social Security. Nevertheless, cutting even half the total pork could fund any of the three personal account plans from President Bush's 2001 Social Security reform commission.

Why not just transfer corporate welfare money into the current program? Why do we need personal accounts?

As it is, Social Security has no way of truly saving money. Surplus funds are credited to Social Security's trust fund, but the actual cash just covers up deficits elsewhere in the budget. Increasing Social Security's surpluses without saving the money in individual accounts tempts another round of corporate handouts. Personal accounts are the only true "lock box" that the government can't pick.

Washington is reluctant to act on Social Security without a viable means to pay for reform. Likewise, it would be tough to persuade politicians to give up corporate welfare without something to offer in exchange. This "pork for pensions" trade-off could clear the way for action.

Politicians may like pork, but they'll like the credit from saving Social Security even more.

The Free Trade Big Lie

Chicago Tribune - by Rep. Bernie Sanders - January 5, 2003

Turns out it's American workers who are waving goodbye to their jobs

(12/31/02) - Though I am a congressman from Vermont, it outrages me that Maytag Corp. will shut down production at its refrigerator factory in Galesburg, Ill., and lay off the plant's 1,600 workers by late 2004.

Maytag is using the North America Free Trade Agreement, which I opposed, to move its plant to Mexico. In Mexico it will be able to hire workers at $2 an hour, rather than pay the average wage of $15.14 earned by workers in Galesburg. And the Newton, Iowa, appliance manufacturer is closing its Illinois plant despite recent concessions from the union and substantial sums of corporate welfare given it by city, county and state governments.

Illinois citizens should have no illusions that what is happening in Galesburg is unique. I can tell you that the same thing is happening in my state. In fact, it's happening in many regions of the country. In Vermont, in recent years, as a result of such disastrous trade policies as NAFTA, most-favored-nation status with China and permanent normal trade relations with China and other trade agreements, we have lost thousands of decent paying jobs in Shaftsbury, Newport, St. Johnsbury, East Ryegate, Island Pond, Randolph, Orleans, Bennington, Springfield and Windsor--among other communities.

The simple truth is that our nation's manufacturing base is collapsing. As unemployment rises, more and more Americans are searching for non-existent jobs. In the past two years we have lost just under 1.8 million factory jobs nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and, at 16.5 million, we now have the lowest number of factory jobs in 40 years.

As the U.S. produces less and imports more, we have developed a huge trade deficit of more than $400 billion, including an $80 billion trade deficit with China. Millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages, many of them at part-time or temporary jobs with minimal benefits. And yet, despite all of this, President Bush, almost all Republicans and many Democrats in Congress continue to spout the corporate line about how wonderful unfettered "free trade" is. And the establishment media continue, in editorial after editorial, to repeat that big lie.

The simple truth is that American workers cannot, and should not, be "competing" against desperate workers in developing countries who are forced to work for pennies an hour. This is creating a horrendous "race to the bottom." Aaron Kemp is a Maytag worker in Galesburg. He expressed a lot more understanding of our current trade policies than most member of Congress when he told a reporter; "This is heartbreaking. This is one of the most unpatriotic, most un-American things I can imagine a company doing. They want Americans to buy their products, but they don't want to put Americans to work making those products."

Clearly, we need fundamental changes in our trade policies. If the American economy is going to survive, if our workers are to earn a living wage, corporations are going to have to start reinvesting in the United States.

In Washington, everybody knows what the story is. President Bush and many members of Congress have received hundreds of millions in campaign contributions from the corporations that benefit from our free trade policies. They have taken those donations--and sold out American workers by giving their support to a trade policy that is destroying our economy. If the U.S. is going to survive as a great economic power, we must rebuild our manufacturing base and create jobs that pay workers a living wage with decent benefits.

Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the only independent congressman in the House

Whose side are you on, Mr. President?

Hearst Newspapers – by Helen Thomas – January 3, 2003

The Bush administration has it in for trial lawyers and is planning a big push for "tort reform."

The public should be wary of this new attempt to curtail consumer protection. And I hope Congress will slam the brakes on this White House maneuver to trample on the rights of citizens who seek recourse from doctors for malpractice and from big corporations for defective products.

The administration has co-opted the word "reform" to roll back progress and promote its goals of weakening government restraints in a variety of areas.

It's noteworthy that the administration has never pursued the corporate chieftains whose greed stunned the nation last year with the same energy that it goes after lawyers who are fighting for the consumer.

"Reform" implies intent to make things better and to correct defects and abuses. But buyers, beware. This so-called reform is double speak -- a euphemism to try to block private suits by trial lawyers in behalf of consumers.

Egged on by many congressional Republicans, the administration wants to put a $250,000 cap on malpractice awards for "pain and suffering."

It follows a speech President Bush made last July 24 when he claimed that "the cause of the medical liability crisis is a badly broken system of litigation that serves the interest of specialized trial lawyers, not patients."

Medical doctors are especially happy over the elevation of Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a surgeon, to Senate Republican leader. Frist has championed capping malpractice awards. After he was elected to lead his fellow GOP senators, Frist was praised by Donald Palmisano, president-elect of the American Medical Association.

"It's encouraging to us that many issues (Frist) has championed are our top priorities," said Palmisano. He said the AMA's top issue is the $250,000 liability cap.

Frist also is the author of a provision in the Homeland Security bill providing liability relief to the makers of Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that recently has been added to various childhood vaccines. The provision is applicable even to pending cases and is expected to result in the dismissal of numerous ongoing cases alleging that Thimerosal has caused autism in children.

In Bush's eyes, the bogeymen, of course, are those trial lawyers.

Trial lawyers are used to being demonized and they are a favorite political target of conservatives.

When Bush was governor of Texas, he led a crusade to make the state's legal system less helpful to consumers. He pushed through legislation that capped punitive damages, limited class actions to federal courts and made it easier for judges to impose sanctions on plaintiffs who filed so-called "frivolous" lawsuits.

Let's have more of that "frivolity." That is actually a misnomer because some of those lawsuits led to dramatic safety improvements, forced on corporations through jury verdicts. Nothing gets their attention like writing a big check to an injured customer.

The record is replete with tragic cases that produced verdicts and precedents that have saved lives and prevented others from suffering.

Consider some of these lessons in recent years:

· When women using super-absorbent tampons were dying from toxic shock syndrome, the manufacturer -- Playtex -- disregarded studies that showed tampons were at fault. It took a $10 million verdict to convince Playtex it would be smart to remove the tampons from the market.

· Eli Lilly was selling an arthritis pain-relief drug whose side effects included a fatal kidney-liver ailment. It took a $6 million jury verdict against the drug company to persuade it to stop selling the medicine.

· Another drug maker -- Johnson & Johnson -- knew that Tylenol turned poisonous when mixed with alcohol but the company did not put warnings on its bottles until a jury socked it with a $8.8 million judgment.

There are two ways of enforcing consumer protections. One is through government intervention. That's the job of agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Labor Department, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration and a host of others and their state and local counterparts.

The second way to enforce consumer rights is the private lawsuit. Bush's war on the trial lawyers can only please those from the consumer-be-damned school of corporate wrongdoing. In President Bush's "compassionate conservatism," just whom does he feel compassion for?

I fear I know the answer.

John Edwards for President

Associated Press – by Rebecca Miller – January 2, 2003

Edwards tells friends he will run for president

RALEIGH - Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., will run for president in 2004, telling guests at a New Year's Day party at his home Wednesday he will form an exploratory committee.

Walter Dellinger, a former U.S. solicitor general who now teaches law at Duke University, said the first-term senator told about 200 friends he will announce his plans publicly Thursday.

"John Edwards is running for president to give Americans a choice," Dellinger said. "He's going to stand up for regular people while the Bush administration will stand up for the wealthy and the influential."

Edwards, 49, a millionaire former trial lawyer, has spent months making the rounds at Democratic functions in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere.

He is scheduled to appear on NBC's "Today" show Thursday morning to make his announcement official. He also has two fund raisers scheduled for Saturday in Raleigh.

Edwards' guests gathered in the back yard of his home in a posh, leafy neighborhood of central Raleigh while the senator, standing with his family on steps leading from the house, thanked them for their support while he has been in the Senate and in "what I'm going to do next."

As Edwards spoke, a loud cheer could be heard by reporters waiting out front.

"John was talking about where he wants to lead the country," Ed Turlington, a former state Democratic party chairman, said when asked what happened. "Today was an opportunity for those of us who want to support John. He asked for our support. Our answer was yes."

The announcement gives Edwards the jump on several of his colleagues in Congress who are also expected to join the Democratic field in 2004.

Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry are already running, and associates expect Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt to announce he's running within the next week.

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman is leaning toward a run, though he hasn't set a timetable for his decision. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle is still talking with supporters with a plan to decide by mid-January, and Florida Sen. Bob Graham has said he will decide this month.

Earlier Wednesday, Edwards told reporters outside his house that his family has been uppermost in his mind as he considered whether to run.

"I've been thinking about North Carolina and the nation and what effect it's going to have on my family," he said as his two youngest children clung to his hands. "There is nothing more important in the world to me than my family."

Edwards' move toward a run has drawn a lot of attention. He was an early hit with Democratic activists who saw him as telegenic and able to connect with voters.

The last three Democratic presidents - Lyndon Johnson of Texas, Jimmy Carter of Georgia and Bill Clinton of Arkansas - have been from the South.

Edwards grew up as the son of a textile mill employee, born in South Carolina but spending his teenage years in Robbins, N.C. He became a successful trial lawyer in Raleigh, winning personal injury cases against big companies and amassing a fortune of $14 million.

On the Net:

Edwards' Senate Web site:

Do You Have to be Smart in Congress?

The Charlotte Observer – by Don Hudson – December 31, 2002

(12/30/02) - Cass Ballenger, the Hickory Republican congressman who told the Observer that U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, a black Democrat from Georgia, had made him have "segregationist feelings," took a lot of heat nationwide.

Ballenger also called McKinney, known for her abrasive style, a "bitch."

A day later, Ballenger backtracked and apologized for what he called "pretty stupid" remarks. He also told our political reporter Jim Morrill that his black lawn jockey had just gotten a makeover -- and is now a white lawn jockey.

The president of the Catawba County NAACP has since called for Ballenger to step down -- something Ballenger's chief of staff says the congressman isn't likely to do.

As with former Senate majority leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., the question isn't whether Ballenger is a racist.

It's whether he is smart enough to be in Congress...

Cass Ballenger Asked to Resign

GOP Plans New Caps on Court Awards

Washington Post – by Jim VandeHei – December 30, 2002

Piecemeal, Republicans Have Limited Lawsuits Against Some Businesses

Sunday, December 29, 2002; Page A05

Republicans, backed by many corporate executives, are making significant if little-noticed progress in their campaign to strike back at trial lawyers and shield U.S. companies from multimillion-dollar liability lawsuits. Now that the GOP controls both chambers of Congress, they plan deeper pushes in the months ahead.

President Bush and his congressional allies in the past two years have written into federal law new limits on the public's ability to sue airplane manufacturers, drug makers, builders of anti-terrorism devices and teachers for alleged misconduct or gross negligence. Republicans inserted many of the legal protections into legislation during last-minute negotiations with little fanfare or debate.

At the state level, chief executive officers are persuading governors to do the same. Their biggest victory came early this month when Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) signed a law capping court-awarded punitive damages and protecting retailers from some types of suits. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups had targeted Mississippi as the nation's most plaintiff-friendly state, and spent millions of dollars on campaigns to strengthen the hand of corporations there.

When the GOP-controlled Congress convenes next month, Republicans plan to build on their success by pushing new federal protections for physicians, managed care firms, asbestos manufacturers, small businesses and major corporations hit with class-action suits, according to party officials. Most of the industries seeking legal protections are major GOP donors.

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) -- recently deposed as party leader but still a veteran member of the majority -- said in an interview that trial lawyers, who he likened to a "pack of wolves," are "going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg" if they aren't reined in. To do this, he said, Republicans have settled on a strategy to impose broad liability caps in "small pieces" for "serious problems like medical liability and outlandish class-action lawsuits."

Such piecemeal measures, he said, can attract enough support from pro-business Democrats to pass the Senate and enable proponents to avoid an unwinnable fight over one "big tort reform bill." Tort refers to the body of law allowing injured people to seek compensation for a defendant's alleged recklessness or other serious misconduct.

This strategy has worked well so far. Republican leaders used the wide-ranging education bill to provide new protections to teachers; the airline security bill to protect Boeing from lawsuits stemming from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and the homeland security bill to protect vaccine makers and companies that build anti-terror products.

"This is what happens when you have people in power willing to stick these things in in the dark of night," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the incoming House minority whip.

Legal protections at the federal level have included caps on punitive damages and requirements that liability suits be heard in federal courts, which are less apt than state courts to accept cases and render large verdicts.

While Democrats and Republicans disagree about the merits of curtailing lawsuits, this much is indisputable: Corporations stand to benefit financially, while individuals may lose the opportunity to win significant jury awards if they are harmed by certain products.

The plaintiff -- the person filing the suit -- often seems overlooked in the broader political clash. Democrats get much of their money and political support from plaintiffs' attorneys, known as trial lawyers. These lawyers typically receive a sizable percentage of any monetary awards given to their clients -- and nothing if the client's case is lost. Therefore, they have an incentive to push for damage awards as high as possible. Some have been known to seek out courts with reputations for quick and easy verdicts against businesses.

Republicans, meanwhile, get most of their donations from the business community, which has sought legal protection from such lawsuits and damage awards for years. This ideological alignment has left little room for compromise and lots of room for sharp debate.

Consumer activists and many Democrats oppose arbitrary caps on civil awards meant to compensate victims for pain and suffering, economic losses or other damages when a defendant has acted unlawfully. In egregious or malicious cases, they say, juries should be free to add "punitive damages" as a way to punish companies for making dangerous products and to repay Americans hurt by them.

Critics say cynical trial lawyers and sympathetic juries have slapped outrageous penalties on companies for regrettable but understandable events, such as a fast-food diner being scalded by spilt coffee. Home Depot, Wal-Mart and other frequent targets of lawsuits have spent tens of millions of dollars on a campaign to curtail punitive damages and limit their liability by demonizing trial lawyers and prodding Bush and congressional Republicans to enact "tort reforms."

Republicans, in general, believe trial lawyers abuse the legal system and drive some companies out of business by filing frivolous lawsuits designed to pad their pockets. Still, it wasn't until Bush's election that Republicans had enough power to start clamping down.

Bush was a champion of limiting lawsuits when he was governor of Texas, but his appetite for change at the federal level seemed to wane after a wave of corporate scandals rocked the country and rattled his administration early this year. White House officials are still drawing up their business agenda for next year, but congressional Republicans are pressing for stronger action on torts.

Lott said congressional Republicans early next year will push for legislation proposed by the president that would dramatically limit the liability of physicians sued for medical malpractice. Under the plan, aggrieved patients could seek no more than $250,000 for pain and suffering, even if their state's law permitted a much higher award. There would be no federal limits on compensation for economic damages, such as lost wages and medical costs.

When Bush announced the plan earlier this year, he said the limit was needed to keep doctors from being forced out of business by escalating malpractice insurance costs. Democrats say the $250,000 limit is much too low, particularly for patients whose lives are changed forever by a physician's wrongdoing.

In the last two years, doctors have given the GOP $7.8 million and Democrats $3.8 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

More important to the chief executives who have bankrolled the anti-trial lawyer campaign through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups is a broad limit on class-action lawsuits. Such suits allow hundreds or even thousands of similarly situated people to be considered plaintiffs in a liability suit, making them eligible for court-awarded damages if the defendant loses.

Most congressional Republicans want to limit class-action suits against big corporations such as Wal-Mart and Intel by steering the cases into federal court and mandating a speedier appeals process. Democrats characterize this as favor to the some of the GOP's biggest business donors, a charge the White House might want to avoid as the 2004 elections approach.

Republicans also want to provide new protections to asbestos manufacturers -- including a subsidiary of Halliburton Co., which Vice President Cheney used to head -- and to HMOs as part of bigger legislative packages, party officials say. Carleton Carl of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America said Republicans can't muster the 60 votes needed to break a Senate filibuster unless they continue to insert the provisions in bills dealing with homeland security.

Yet in a sign that some trial lawyers see an unstoppable train coming, some plaintiffs suing Halliburton and other companies in asbestos-related cases started talking about out-of-court settlements right after the GOP sweep last month, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"Clearly, Republicans are in a better position" to make bigger changes next Congress, Hoyer said.

The Bush Failure – by Kelly Candaele, Peter Dreier - December 29, 2002

The Rich Have Reason to Rejoice

(12/23/02) - In Dickens's "A Christmas Carol," Ebenezer Scrooge was forced to view his own death in order to gain some self-awareness of his life as the epitome of cruelty and selfishness. This Christmas it is unlikely that George W. Bush, Scrooge on the Potomac, will be transformed by any ghostly visits. Indeed, since the November 5 election (in which the Republicans' narrow majorities in the Senate and House were mirrored by a slim majority of the popular vote), Bush and his cronies seem to believe they have a mandate to outdo themselves in rewarding the corporate class that helped bring them to power.

Yes, this holiday season--even as Bush prepares the nation for war--selfishness is back in style for those at the top of the economic pyramid. Sacrifice and "compassionate conservatism" are out.

It almost calls for resurrecting the phrase "ruling class," a notion once popular in left-wing circles that claims that the primary function of the highest levels of government is to protect the interests of the very rich. According to this view, big business and the ultra rich influence government at various levels through campaign contributions, personal relationships and ideological affinity. Policy-making becomes not a "mediation" of competing interests but a not so subtle capturing of policy-making institutions by the rich and powerful.

While the Bush Administration is doing all it can to focus our attention on the threat of Iraq and Al Qaeda to the "American way of life," a close look at the current Republican domestic agenda makes you wonder whether this crude radical theory warrants a closer look. Ironically, while the GOP and much of the media apply the term "class warfare" any time the Democrats and their allies in the labor and environmental movements push for even the most timid reform, it is the Bush Administration that perfected the most blatant version of ruling-class politics.

During its first two years in office--from its $1.35 trillion tax cut (including elimination of the inheritance tax), which primarily benefits the wealthiest 2 percent of the population, to its repeal of Clinton-era "ergonomics" standards, affecting more than 100 million workers, that would have forced companies to alter their work stations, redesign their facilities or change their tools and equipment if employees suffered serious work-related injuries from repetitive motions--the Bushies have acted without shame to serve the interests of their friends in corporate board rooms and the very rich.

But ever since November 5, W. and his cronies have been even more blatant. Virtually every week since the election, the Administration and Republicans in Congress have made or proposed changes in our laws designed to help the rich and powerful while harming the most vulnerable people in society. It is easy to read the newspaper and be appalled by the crude class warfare being waged by the President and his Congressional allies. But the list of daily horrors can be so numbing that one can lose sight of the cumulative impact of the Bush/GOP agenda.

Taken together, it adds up to the most direct assault on working people, the environment and the poor that the country has seen since the presidency of William McKinley a century ago. President Bush has packaged some tidy Christmas gifts this year for his allies and friends, but the vast majority of Americans will receive a lump of coal in their stockings from this Administration. Among them:

  • Cut $300 million from the $1.7 billion federal program that provides subsidies to poor families so they can heat their homes during the winter--a move that leaves 438,000 families in the cold.

  • Added special-interest legislation to the Homeland Security bill that protects Eli Lilly, the giant pharmaceutical firm, from lawsuits over a preservative (thimerosal) in vaccines--which could result in the dismissal of thousands of suits filed by parents who claim that mercury in thimerosal has poisoned their children, causing autism and other neurological problems. John Ashcroft's Justice Department also asked a federal claims court to seal documents relating to hundreds of claims that thimerosal had caused these problems in children. (George W.'s dad sat on Lilly's board in the 1970s; White House budget director Mitchell Daniels Jr. is a former Lilly executive; and Bush appointed current Lilly CEO Sidney Taurel to sit on the President's Homeland Security Advisory Council).

  • Tucked an additional rider into the Homeland Security bill that will allow American companies to win government contracts even if they have moved offshore to evade corporate taxes, while giving the new department a free hand to bypass civil service rules in promoting and firing workers and allowing the President to exempt unionized workers from collective bargaining agreements in the name of "national security."

  • Gave annual bonuses as large as $25,000 to top political appointees (who typically already earn $115,000 to $140,000), while cutting a pay raise, already passed by both houses of Congress, for 1.8 million federal employees. Bush said it would "interfere with our nation's ability to pursue the war on terrorism."

  • Called for as many as 850,000 government jobs--nearly half the federal civilian work force--to be outsourced to private contractors--a move designed to reduce their pay and benefits and eliminate union protections, prompting Bobby Harnage Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, to say that Bush had "declared all-out war on federal employees."

  • Refused to support an extension of unemployment benefits to about 750,000 American families whose benefits would run out three days after Christmas, until pressured by Congressional Democrats a week after front-page headlines announced that the nation's unemployment rate had reached 6 percent (an eight-year high) and that each week an additional 95,000 workers will lose their benefits. Bush changed his position in mid-December, but did not indicate whether he would advocate the twenty-six-week extension supported by Democrats or whether he would support extending benefits to jobless workers whose original round of benefits will soon run out.

  • Proposed changes in rules covering employee pensions that will save companies money but threaten the retirement funds of older workers.

  • Repealed a Clinton-era Labor Department rule that allows states to use unemployment insurance money to help people who take a leave from work to have babies or adopt children--a rule that the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) opposed, claiming it was essentially a tax on employers.

  • Proposed additional tax cuts--including making last year's "temporary" ten-year cut a permanent one--that would primarily benefit the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.

  • Pushed to privatize Social Security by diverting trillions of dollars to stockbrokers, putting the retirement cushion for millions of Americans at risk.

  • Lowered product-labeling standards, allowing food makers to list health claims on labels before they have been scientifically proven. Bush's new Food and Drug Administration chief Mark McClellan announced in mid-December that the FDA will no longer require claims to be based on "significant scientific agreement," but instead on the "weight of scientific evidence"--a change that the National Food Processors Association, the trade association of the $500 billion food processing industry, had lobbied for. Bruce Silverglade of the Center for Science in the Public Interest told the Los Angeles Times that the ruling would lead to a "marketplace free-for-all of false and misleading claims."

  • Loosened EPA air pollution standards for oil refineries and manufacturing plants, which allows them to modernize their facilities without installing pollution-control equipment--a rule change that could actually increase the level of dangerous pollutants emitted into the air. A spokesman for the NAM, which fought for the change, called the new rules "a refreshingly flexible approach to regulation."

  • Moved to renew thirty-six oil company leases of land off Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties for possible future development, arguing that the California Coastal Commission had no authority to restrict oil drilling in coastal waters. Bush's move was blocked by a three-judge panel, which ruled in early December that the state has the authority to review potential effects of oil drilling along its coast--a ruling the Bush Administration is likely to appeal.

  • Allowed logging companies to cut down old-growth trees in our nation's forests under the guise of reducing the risk of forest fires.

  • Rolled back safeguards, opposed by the American Forest and Paper Association, that protect fish and wildlife from logging in 155 national forests with 192 million acres of public land in forty-four states. It removed a Clinton-era regulation requiring comprehensive environmental impact statements whenever the Forest Service revises its forest management plans. The Bush plan, instead, will give each forest manager discretion in deciding whether and how to assess environmental impacts; a move that the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife said would allow "reckless logging by timber-industry profiteers and the destruction of habitat for many species of wildlife."

  • Reversed a Clinton Administration rule banning snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

  • Approved the drilling of two new natural gas wells in Texas's Padre Island National Park adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico--which lies along the nation's longest stretch of undeveloped beach and which is home to eleven endangered species--by BNP Petroleum, a private firm based in Corpus Christi. This is one part of the Bush Administration's plan to promote drilling at more than fifty new sites on federal land in the lower forty-eight states as well as in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Opined the New York Times: "Such is this Administration's appetite for extractable resources that no area seems safe."

  • Approved construction by Calpine, a private utility company that contributed to the Bush campaign, of a forty-eight-megawatt geothermal power plant in the Modoc National Forest in California that had been blocked by the Clinton Administration because of concerns by environmental groups and by Indian tribes that consider part of the area sacred. In approving the project, the Bush Administration rejected a recommendation by the Advisory Council on Historical Preservation, a federal agency.

  • Replaced three ruling-class members of his economic team (SEC chairman Harvey Pitt, a lawyer for the major accounting firms; Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, former CEO of Alcoa; and chief economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey, former Federal Reserve Board governor) with three other ruling-class members (John Snow, chief executive of CSX Corporation and former head of the powerful Business Roundtable, to the Treasury post; investment banker William Donaldson to the SEC job; and Stephen Friedman, former chairman of investment banking firm Goldman Sachs and current director of unionbuster Wal-Mart, as chief economic adviser).

  • Picked war criminal and liar Henry Kissinger to chair a task force investigating the 9/11 events without requiring him to disclose his consulting firm's business clients, which include some of the most powerful multinational corporations (reportedly among them Exxon Mobil, ARCO and American Express), which, as the New York Times noted, "depend on maintaining cordial ties with foreign governments and Washington officials"--an obvious conflict of interest. (Under public pressure to choose between making money and public service, Kissinger quickly resigned from the task force.)

  • Went to court to stop Congressional watchdogs (along with the Sierra Club) from forcing Vice President Dick Cheney--former CEO of the scandal-plagued energy services company Halliburton--to turn over documents detailing meetings between oil and gas industry lobbyists and executives (including representatives of Enron) and Cheney's energy policy task force, which called for expanded oil and gas drilling on public lands and an easing of regulations on the building of nuclear power plants. Helping craft the Bush legal strategy was White House counsel Alberto Gonzales (a possible Bush nominee for the Supreme Court), who, when he served as a justice on the Texas Supreme Court, received more than $100,000 in political contributions from the energy industry (including Enron and Enron's law firm, where he once worked).

Having Bush in the White House and Republicans in control of both houses of Congress makes it difficult to open the paper every morning. But rather than contribute to a sense of resignation and despair, the outrages of the Bush Administration should, like Thomas Paine's list of grievances against our eighteenth-century colonial masters, rouse us to revolt. Pass this list to your friends, activists and colleagues and let's get started.

Cass Ballenger Asked to Resign

The Charlotte Observer – by Hannah Mitchell – December 28, 2002

CATAWBA - The president of the Catawba County NAACP called Friday for U.S. Rep. Cass Ballenger to resign because of a comment the Hickory congressman made about a black colleague.

Lewis Woods, president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called Ballenger's remark about U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia "disturbing and degrading."

At a press conference at Woods' house in the town of Catawba, Woods read from a letter he sent to Ballenger on Thursday, asking for the congressman's resignation: "... your record proves that you do not think that African Americans are first-class citizens," Woods said.

Last week, when talking about U.S. Sen. Trent Lott's racially charged comments about retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond, Ballenger told The Observer he sometimes had "segregationist feelings" about McKinney. Ballenger also called McKinney "a bitch." He later apologized.

The Republican congressman, who easily won re-election in November, couldn't be reached for a response to Woods' request. He was on vacation with his family in the Dominican Republic, said Dan Gurley, his chief of staff. Gurley said that Ballenger's apology for the McKinney comment was enough and that Ballenger wouldn't resign.

Woods said Ballenger's comment showed insensitivity toward blacks. "I think Mr. Ballenger's been saying these things behind the scenes, and they've now caught up with him."

He cited another Ballenger comment that angered blacks: When addressing a redrawing of congressional district lines in 1999, Ballenger told a civic club that the new district lines "took the country club people away from me and gave me all the blacks."

During Ballenger's 16 years in Congress, he's disregarded the needs of blacks with his votes, Woods said. He produced an NAACP scorecard of votes on bills supported by the organization in 2001. Ballenger voted for 21 percent of the bills, according to the scorecard.

Many of the bills don't deal directly with civil rights but address programs that could benefit blacks, such as smaller class sizes.

Woods said he doesn't believe Ballenger's contention that he supports the black community and civil rights. Woods said he'll ask religious leaders to join him in asking Ballenger to resign.

Gurley said Ballenger often votes against NAACP-supported bills because the group is "a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party."

As for Ballenger's controversial comments, Gurley said, "If you're an elected official, there's nothing that should prohibit you from having opinions, as opposed to anyone else. He's already apologized for saying things he wished he hadn't said."

Cass Ballenger Joins Lott in Hot Water

Is Rep. Ballenger on the ‘Lott Track’?

Robin Hayes and Cass Ballenger Sell Out

Washington - Page 31