Friday, July 30, 2004

McCain-Feingold has failed to reduce the influence of money in politics.

Why you’re right:

1. It paved the way for unlimited “independent” expenditures by the parties. A 2003 Supreme Court ruling stated that, though McCain-Feingold limits party spending to $16.2 million on activities coordinated with the candidates, it left the Democratic and Republican national committees free to spend as much as they can raise on “independent” electioneering—anything not directly coordinated with the candidate’s campaign. This year, the DNC plans to spend between $50 and $100 million on its effort. The RNC, with nearly $20 million more in the bank than its Democratic counterpart, is poised for an advertising blitz after Bush’s nomination becomes official on September 2. (Washington Post)

2. Spending by 527s has rendered the soft money ban meaningless. McCain-Feingold bans previously unlimited soft money contributions to political parties from corporations, unions, and individuals. But the Federal Elections Commission ruled in May that the ban does not apply to 527s, the non-party organizations named for the section of the tax code under which they are registered. The groups are not technically partisan, but advocacy for one party, as in the cases of America Coming Together and the Club for Growth, is their explicit reason for being. During the period from March to mid-July, 527s were responsible for nearly $44 million of the $170 million spent on advertising in the presidential campaign. (Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times)

3. Doubling the hard money limit has led to record fundraising for Bush and Kerry. McCain-Feingold doubled the cap on a donor’s contributions to a campaign from $1,000 to $2,000. In this election cycle, both Bush and Kerry have received unprecedented sums of money: Kerry, at $186 million through June, set the record for a Democrat, while Bush, at around $230 million, has set the all time record for a candidate. Although final numbers on the percentage of contributors who give the maximum are not yet available, 60% of Bush donations in 2000 came from such donations. The candidates’ efforts are aided by fundraising captains who “bundle” maximum contributions for the candidates. Bush calls those who bundle $100,000 or more “Pioneers” and those who bundle $200,000 or more “Rangers.” The DNC and RNC are following suit with new designations for effective bundlers. (USA Today, Washington Post)

Why they’re wrong:

Senators McCain and Feingold cling to what they perceive as the successes of the law at ending “the raising and spending of unlimited soft money by elected officials and political parties.” While this is literally true, the open loopholes in the law have merely shifted the unlimited spending to 527s and left politicians as indebted to individual bundlers as they were to individual donors beforehand. Further, claiming as they do that “McCain-Feingold broke the link between big donors and legislative and executive branch policymaking” ignores the influence that big time bundlers will inevitably have in the administration of either of the candidates. (The Cincinnati Post)

A better idea:

Public financing of elections should be expanded so that candidates have a meaningful alternative to placing themselves in debt to individuals and organizations.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

The president should immediately support all of the 9/11 commission's recommendations

Why you're right:

1. Cherry-picking allows the administration to avoid difficult but critical reforms. The administration has already hinted it will reject some reforms recommended unanimously by the bi-partisan commission. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has "signaled administration opposition to the idea of a new intelligence chief" – a key recommendation of the commission. If the administration selects a subset of the recommendation it will enable officials "defend their turf" by lobbying against changes that would reduce their influence. This is the same mentality that contributed to the intelligence failures leading to 9/11. The cherry-picking could result in the administration "choosing harmless changes that involve little more than moving boxes on an organization chart." (USA Today, Washington Post)

2. Any delay endangers our national security. The recommendations are designed to correct flaws in the nation's security apparatus that failed to prevent 9/11 – an event that occurred almost three years ago. Many of the proposals are not new. Every day we delay implementing the full slate of the 9/11 commission's reforms makes it more likely that terrorists will be able to successfully strike American again. (Sen. Bob Graham)

3. The recommendations are already narrowed down. The commission's recommendations were not designed to be smorgasbord of options from which the administration could choose. Co-Chairman Lee Hamilton said "We have made a limited number of recommendations, focusing on the areas we believe most critical." (9/11 Commission News Conference, 6/22/04)

Why they're wrong:

The president recently claimed “we have already put into action many of the steps now recommended by the commission.” But that is not the unanimous position of the bipartisan commission. Chapter 13 of the report begins, "As presently configured, the national security institutions of the U.S. government are still the institutions constructed to win the Cold War.” (Presidential Radio Address, 9/11 Report)

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Ken Lay's influence in the Bush administration continues to undermine America's energy policy

Why you’re right:

1.Lay’s appointees control the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  In exchange for Kenneth Lay’s fundraising work during the 2000 campaign, President Bush made “Kenny Boy,” then-chairman of Enron, a member of the Energy Department transition team.  Lay submitted a list of his preferred candidates for appointment to the five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and two of them, Pat Wood and Nora Brownell, were named to commissioners.  The Wood-Brownell block was enough to uphold the legality of California’s long-term energy purchasing contracts, which were extorted from the state at the height of the market manipulation crisis in January 2001.  California is still seeking relief.(Washington Post, Sacramento Business Journal)

2.Lay cleared the way for his pick to become FERC chair.  Pat Wood became the chair of the commission after Clinton appointee Curt Hebert resigned.  Hebert stated that he had “received several phone calls from Lay asking him to support proposals that would have granted Enron greater access to interstate power grids in exchange for Lay's continued support of his chairmanship.” (Smart Money)

3.Dick Cheney’s national energy policy reads like Lay’s wish list.  Lay met four times with members of the administration’s energy task force, including once with Vice President Cheney himself.  Lay handed Cheney a memo containing policy recommendations, and investigation by Rep. Henry Waxman later revealed that Cheney’s final policy incorporates “all or significant portions of Enron’s recommendations” in seven of its eight policy areas.  The full story behind Lay’s influence is still unknown because of the Supreme Court’s recent decision not to order all documents released.  What is known is that the administration has failed to distance itself from the original policy.  (ABC, Committee on Government Reform, MSNBC)

Why they’re wrong:

1. Speaking for the Vice President, Mary Matalin claimed that the majority of Lay’s policy recommendations for energy policy had been rejected.  This, however, is patently false.  Examination of the public documents reveals that the final policy lifts concepts and even phrases directly from Lay’s memo.  (Committee on Government Reform)

2.During the Enron scandal and his recent indictment, the administration has attempted to distance itself from Lay.  Scott McClellan mentioned that Lay had “supported Democrats and Republicans alike, including the president.”  However, nearly 70% of Lay’s political spending had gone to Republicans, including more than $500,000 to Bush campaigns over the years.  (LA Times)

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The Bush administration's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research should be repealed

Why you're right:

1. The restrictions impede the discovery of new treatments or cures for severely debilitating diseases. Stem Cell research has great potential to uncover breakthrough treatments for ailments such as Alzheimer's disease, spinal injuries, Parkinson's and diabetes. President Bush has prohibited federal funding for stem cell lines created after August 2001. As a result federally funded researchers do not have access to newer lines that "show more potential to be developed into cures." Even the Bush administration has recently conceded "from a purely scientific perspective more cell lines may well speed some areas of human embryonic stem cell research." (Washington Post)

2. Restricting federal funding limits the ability for federal oversight. Due to the federal restrictions much stem cell research goes on in the private sector where it is far harder to control legitimately unethical or sloppy practices. Dr. Leon Kass, the chairman of President Bush's bioethics counsel, acknowledged "to keep the federal government out of certain activities...[may mean] that worse practices are allowed to proceed without oversight or regulation in the private sector." (New York Times)

Why they're wrong:

1. Adult stems cells are not an effective substitute. According to the NIH, Adult stem cells are often present only in minute quantities, are difficult to isolate and purify, and their numbers may decrease with age." Further while embryonic stem cells "have truly amazing abilities to self-renew and to form many different cell types, even complex tissues...the full potential of adult stem cells is uncertain, and, in fact, there is evidence to suggest they may be more limited." (NIH)

2. Hundreds of thousands of embryonic cells are destroyed anyway. An embryonic stem cell is not an embryo or a baby but a cluster of about 150 cells called "blastocysts." Fertility clinics already distroy about 400,000 existing blastocysts each year which could be used for research. (San Diego Union Tribune)

Monday, July 26, 2004

There are too many people in prison in America

Why you're right:

1. For many non-violent crimes, treatment is more effective than incarceration. A study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) found that every dollar spent on drug treatment outside of prison for drug law violators yields $8.87 in benefits in the form of reduced crime and regained productivity. Drug treatment in prison yielded less than $3 in benefits for every dollar spent. In jail, drug treatment is available to just 1 in 10 prisoners that need it. (Justice Policy Institute, Atlantic Monthly)

2. The prison population is a drain on state and federal budgets. In 2002, taxpayers shelled out $40 billion to keep one out of every 143 people in jail. It costs $20,000 a year to keep someone in jail. It costs $100,000 to construct each cell. This spending is perpetuated at the urging of private industry, which views the costs "not as a burden on American taxpayers but as a lucrative market."(CBS News, Atlantic Monthly)

3. Growth in the U.S. prison population is not related to an increase in crime. Last year the prison population topped 2 million, an all-time record. The prison population has steadily increased for years "at a time when the crime rate nationwide has been relatively stable." The increase is the result of strict sentencing guidelines – implemented in the 1990s – that have subjected many non-violent offenders to lengthy jail terms. (New York Times)

Why they're wrong:

1. Incarceration rates are frequently justified by the necessity to be "tough on crime." But the objective is not to be macho, it's to be effective. For many non-violent crimes – especially drug crimes – it is far more effective to provide treatment instead of jail time.

2. Prison is not an effective deterrent for future crime. More than two thirds of those who spend time in prison end up going back. This is due partly to the fact that even non-violent offenders are forced to adopt violent and aggressive behavior to survive prison life. (The Nation)

Friday, July 23, 2004

The situation in the Sudan is a genocide.

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: a) Killing members of the group; b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.  (UN Genocide Convention, 1948)

Why you’re right:

1.  The violence is ethnic in nature.  The Janjaweed militias responsible for the beating, rape, and killing are Arab, while the villagers they attack are largely members of black African tribes.  According to The New York Times, “An ethnic dimension to the attacks is undeniable.”   (NY Times)

2.  The violence is widespread.  At least 30,000 people have been killed, 130,000 forced to flee across the border to Chad, and more than a million internally displaced, according to the resolution to call it genocide that unanimously passed the House yesterday.  The entire pre-conflict population of Darfur was 6.5 million.  The UN definition specifies that genocide is not only the direct murder of members of the group, but also the deliberate creation of conditions that will lead to physical destruction.  Widespread displacement, given dangerous conditions in refugee camps, qualifies as such an action.  (SA, USAID

3.  According to the UN definition, the systematic rape of black women is also genocidal.  Rape causes “serious bodily and mental harm” to its victims, of which there have been many during the present violence.  According to an investigation by the Washington Post, the rapes are perceived as “systematic campaign to humiliate the women, their husbands and fathers, and to weaken tribal ethnic lines. In Sudan, as in many Arab cultures, a child's ethnicity is attached to the ethnicity of the father.”  In one village, over 400 women reported having been raped by the Janjaweed.  (Washington Post)  
 
Why they’re wrong:


Those who hesitate to label the violence genocide point out that the ethnic lines of the conflict cannot be so cleanly drawn.  There are some Arab groups who have not participated in the violence and some who have been victims, but such complication is always part of war and genocide.  As the Times points out, the United States retroactively labeled the violence in Rwanda genocide, despite the fact that some Hutus were among the victims of the Hutu government’s violent policies, policies aimed at eliminating the Tutsi population.  Hitler’s genocide, the tragedy for which the label was created, killed disabled and gay Germans as well as Jews and Gypsies.  Genocide, then, is an act directed at one ethnic, national, racial, or religious group that may, and usually does, spawn violence towards others.  These complications, however, cannot reasonably be used to argue against the classification of a conflict as genocide.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Bush administration treats science as a political tool

Why you’re right:
 
1.  It manipulates science to please industry.  For this administration, corporate needs trump empirical evidence about the environment.  Early drafts of the 2003 comprehensive report on the state of the environment referenced studies on the recently accelerated rate of temperature increase and its human causes, but White House officials demanded that these references be removed and replaced with information about a skeptical study partially financed by the American Petroleum Institute.  Despite an EPA study showing that 8% of women of childbearing age have blood mercury levels that would produce health consequences for offspring, the administration advocates a policy that would slow down the timetable for the reduction of mercury emissions from coal power plants.  The Office of Management and Budget has proposed a rule that would disqualify most scientists who receive any government funding from serving as peer reviewers while allowing those funded by industry.  The rule would allow industry much greater influence in the formation of regulations, and officials from the Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton administrations have registered their objections. (MSNBC, NY Times, Washington Post)
 
2.  It tampers with science to please social conservatives.  In October 2002, the CDC replaced a fact sheet on the efficacy of condoms in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS with one intended to raise doubts about condoms.  When one CDC official questioned the revision, she was told “changes were directed by Bush administration officials at the Department of Health and Human Services.”  In May of this year, the FDA refused to approve the sale of emergency contraception over the counter, despite receiving the opposite recommendation from its own scientific advisory panel, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine.  Further, the administration has turned its back on effective comprehensive sexuality education, supported by the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association.  It justifies its use of abstinence-only education using quasi-scientific measures.  (Union of Concerned Scientists, Slate, UCS(2)
  
3.  It has alienated the scientific community.  Calling the lack of scientific integrity in the Bush administration unprecedented, more than 4600 scientists, including 48 Nobel laureates and 62 National Medal of Science recipients, have signed onto a statement of complaint.  They criticize the administration for “placing people who are professionally unqualified or who have clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees; by disbanding existing advisory committees; by censoring and suppressing reports by the government’s own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice.”  Even White House science advisor John Marburger acknowledged the breadth and importance of scientists who signed the statement. (UCS, CNN)
 
Why they’re wrong:

Conservatives are fond of claiming that they employ “sound science” in their decisions, as if the science produced and endorsed by the scientific community is fundamentally flawed or biased.  The alternative that they provide is not, however, a more rigorous or even an alternative scientific method.  Instead, they replace scientific objectivity with a concept of truth driven by loyalty to industry, on the one hand, and puritanical religious ideology, on the other.  This shift is dangerous not only because of its implications for policymaking, but also because the consensus around science as truth is one of the few that America holds in common.  Removing science as the basis for regulatory policy threatens to permanently undermine the faith of Americans in the actions of the executive branch.


Monday, July 19, 2004

The Bush administration should release the $34 million being withheld from UNFPA

Why you’re right:
 
1.  The money would save lives.  The United Nations Family Planning Agency estimates that the $34 million could have prevented 4,700 maternal deaths and over 77,000 infant and child deaths.  This estimate does not include deaths due to HIV/AIDS, the transmission of which is also decreased by UNFPA programming (UNFPA)   
 
2.  The money would reduce recourse to abortion.  UNFPA further estimates that the funding would prevent 2 million unintended pregnancies, 800,000 of which would terminate in induced abortion.   (UNFPA)   
 
3.  Only $3.5 million of the $300 million UNFPA budget is spent in China.  The administration claims that the funds are being withheld because the UNFPA indirectly funds government programs in China that coerce women into abortion.  However, even if UNFPA shut down its China program completely as a result of this decision, poor women around the world are still being denied more than $30 million in much needed assistance.  (Inter Press Service)
 
Why they’re wrong:
 
The administration’s assertion about the UNFPA’s involvement in coercive abortion has been repeatedly disproven.  In 2002, a team Secretary of State Colin Powell dispatched to China to investigate recommended that the funds be released because they discovered “no evidence that the UNFPA has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.”  A 2003 State Department report found that in the 32 Chinese counties where UNFPA programs operated, improved education, economic development, and reproductive health services enabled the elimination of target and quota systems for limiting births.  The report states, “Subsequently, 800 other counties also removed the target and quota system and tried to replicate the UNFPA project by emphasizing quality of care and informed choice of birth control methods.”  By the U.S. government’s own evidence the UNFPA has done no harm in China and much good.  The decision to withhold funding, then, is a naked pander to Bush’s socially conservative base.  (Boston Globe)

Friday, July 16, 2004

Media consolidation is bad for democracy

Why you’re right:
 
1.  It denies citizens access to a diversity of opinion.  When one company owns radio and television stations and newspapers in the same market, the same editorial viewpoint guides all these media.  Especially troubling is the fact that most people remain unaware that the content of their various news sources is ultimately controlled by the same group of executives.  As the utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill argued, it is through competition between freely circulating ideas that society makes progress towards truth.  (Senator Olympia Snowe’s Office)
 
2.  It removes an important check on government power.  The founding fathers specifically included freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights, acknowledging the centrality of an independent media to a healthy democracy.  As James Madison wrote, “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”  A vibrant, independent fourth estate holds economic and political elites accountable to the people.  When a very small number of those elites control most of the dissemination of opinion, journalism is defanged.  (Federal Communications Law Journal)
 
3.  It disproportionately benefits the right wing.  In the words of former FCC chairman Reed Hundt, “Let's just say that the [Bush] administration does not think that the big winners in the media consolidation game will be either the New York Times or the Washington Post.”  Since 1995, when the FCC relaxed rules on radio station ownership, Clear Channel Communications has grown to encompass 1200 stations reaching 180 million people.  In the buildup to the Iraq war, Clear Channel used this influence to hold pro-war rallies and to punish the Dixie Chicks for their “unpatriotic” questions about the war’s legitimacy.  Of course, were consolidation to result in the suppression of right wing opinion, it would still represent a danger to democracy. (Salon)
 
Why they’re wrong:

The Federal Communications Commission, like all regulatory bodies of the federal government, ought to keep our capitalist system functioning healthily by ensuring competition.  Because of the special relationship between media and democracy, though, the importance of the FCC’s role is not solely economic.  Despite claims that consolidated media still represent diverse points of view – witness Rupert Murdoch’s assertion that Fox gives equal airtime to liberal commentators—consolidation removes the external pressure that drives them to do so.  Media conglomerates can feature many opinions if they so desire, but as long as they can opt not to, the marketplace of ideas is imperiled. 


Thursday, July 15, 2004

Congress should prevent the Bush administration from changing the overtime rules

Why you're right:

1. The revisions would cause an estimated six million people to lose overtime benefits. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the new Labor Department regulations reclassify jobs and create newly exempted fields, causing millions to lose benefits. Among those no longer able to receive overtime would be "130,000 chefs and cooks, 160,000 financial service workers and 117,000 teachers and computer programmers." (EPI, Washington Post)

2. The revisions would make it easy for an employer to avoid paying overtime to any worker. Employers can block everyone making $23,660 per year or more from overtime pay by attaching to their job description a vague, undefined term such as "team leader." For those making under the threshold, the Department of Labor recommended reducing workers’ base salary to offset the extra compensation from overtime pay. (Courier Worker)

3. The revisions would create confusion. The Labor Department has characterized the new revisions as an effort to simplify the regulations. But the new rules are more than 500 pages long. No one can predict "which workers earning between $23,660 and $100,000 would still qualify for overtime pay." (New York Times)

Why they're wrong:

1. The overtime revisions don't meet the administration's stated goals. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao insists that "our intent is always to strengthen overtime protections." Entirely eliminating overtime pay for six million workers doesn't get the job done. (New York Times)

2. The real goal of the revision – consistent with conservative market orthodoxy – is to remove any restrictions on employers to set their own wages. But there is no empirical evidence this is necessary or desirable. With the existing overtime rules in place, corporate profits are at an all-time high, while real wages for workers are stagnant. (Bloomberg)

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The Bush administration should not allow states to permit road-building in protected national forests

Why you're right:

1. It would pollute drinking water. Roadless areas in national forests are responsible for producing clean drinking water for millions of Americans. Protected areas of national forests serve as source areas for drinking water in 39 states. Erosion and landslides from roads can send "tons of silt and unwanted nutrients into forest streams." (Republicans for Environmental Protection)

2. It would be a huge taxpayer subsidy to the timber industry. A primary reason to build roads in forests is "to facilitate commercial logging." National forests already contain "over 380,000 miles of roads and 60,000 miles unmapped logging roads, enough to circle the globe 17 times." Taxpayers are have already "provided more than $116 million in direct subsidies to the timber industry for construction of logging roads at a cost of nearly $15,000 per mile." There is an existing $8.4 billion backlog of road maintenance. Removing the roadless rule "will only increase taxpayer subsidies to the timber industry and the price taxpayers must pay for long-term road maintenance." (Heritage Forests Campaign, Taxpayers for Common Sense)

3. It threatens the economies of Western states. Over 97% of roadless national forests are in 12 Western states. The environmental quality of the West underlies a quality of life that "contributes to robust economic growth by attracting productive families, firms and investments." There are "considerable economic benefits – recreation, high water quality, wildlife habitat...that public lands provide when they are undeveloped." Removing the protections of the roadless rule "would undermine one of the cornerstones of economic strength throughout the West." (Letter from Economists to President Bush)

Why they're wrong:

The administration claims that they are not eliminating the roadless rule but merely leaving the decision about how to handle the issue up to the states. But state governors do not have the expertise to make these decisions. This is why Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal calls the plan an "unfunded mandate... It means the state will have to develop significant expertise in forest planning that we don't really have." Its not about empowering states. Its about letting the logging, mining and energy industries take advantage of state governments. (The Wilderness Society)

A better idea:

Email the USDA at statepetitionroadless@fs.fed.us and tell them why we need to preserve the roadless rule.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The assault weapons ban should be renewed

Why you’re right:

1. An overwhelming majority of Americans support the ban. The 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey revealed that 71% of people in households without guns support the ban, as do 64% of those in households with guns. Even in households with at least one NRA member, 46% of respondents supported the ban. (The Washington Times)

2. The prohibited guns are designed specifically for killing people. The law mentions 19 semiautomatic weapons by name, none of which can be construed to have any sporting purpose. As the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has written, “Assault weapons were designed for rapid fire, close quarter shooting at human beings. That is why they were put together the way they were. You will not find these guns in a duck blind or at the Olympics. They are mass produced mayhem.” (Brady Campaign)

3. The ban has been effective. Since the implementation of the law in 1994, ATF found that the proportion of gun crime traced to the banned weapons has fallen by two-thirds. The Department of Justice study mandated by the law controlled for other variables related to the drop in violent crime and concluded that murder rates dropped nearly 7% below what they were projected to be without the ban. (Senator Feinstein’s Office, Department of Justice)

Why they’re wrong:

Assault weapons are lethal tools for crime. They have been used in some of the most horrible crimes in recent history, including the Branch-Davidian standoff at Waco and the Stockton schoolyard massacre. Prohibiting these guns does not infringe on hunting rights or rights to self-defense—it only prevents criminals from accessing the best equipment for committing mass murder. The gun lobby’s refusal to conform to the obvious social consensus that banning tools for slaughter is a good idea shows that it places narrow special interests completely above the safety of the American people.

Monday, July 12, 2004

The Senate Intelligence Committee report does not absolve the White House of responsibility for hyping intelligence about Iraq

Why you're right:

1. The report tells only half the story. It purposely avoids any serious evaluation of White House efforts to pressure the CIA. The report ignores "the ways intelligence was used, misused, misinterpreted or ignored by administration policymakers in deciding to go to war and in making the case to the American people that war with Iraq was necessary." Republicans on the committee insisted that a thorough investigation of the White House's role be relegated to a second report – to be released after the election. (Washington Post)

2. When the CIA did get it right, the White House ignored it. According to the report, the CIA repeatedly warned the administration that there was no "established formal relationship" between al-Qaeda and Iraq but that hasn’t stopped Bush and Cheney from continuing to make that claim. In October 2002, George Tenet personally warned National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice that the president shouldn't claim that Iraq attempted to obtain uranium from Africa because "the evidence was weak." But that didn't stop the president from making that charge in his State of the Union address just three months later. (Intelligence Committee Report, Fox News, 2003 State of the Union)

3. White House rhetoric started before the most serious CIA distortions. Much of the Intelligence Committee's report focused on the inaccuracies of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate. That report was issued more than a year after Bush and other top-level administration officials were publicly declaring the dangers posed by Iraq's supposed WMD stockpiles. (Talking Points Memo)

Why they're wrong:

The president, not the CIA, made the decision to go to war. And the president is ultimately responsible for that decision. The fact that intelligence can be flawed only further illustrates the problems with Bush's doctrine of pre-emption – which allows for the possibility of a full-scale invasion based almost exclusively on intelligence reports.

Friday, July 09, 2004

The United States should not amend its constitution to prohibit gay marriage

Why you’re right:

1. There has never been an amendment legalizing discrimination. The constitution has been amended only seventeen times since the original Bill of Rights. These seventeen amendments have abolished slavery, established equal protection for people of all races, and granted women the right to vote. The constitution is amended infrequently because, by short-circuiting the judiciary’s ability to protect minority rights, they have a serious, and usually permanent, impact on the democratic process. Imagine if there had been a parallel interracial marriage amendment in the 50s—Loving v. Virginia could never have happened. (Human Rights Campaign)

2. The amendment would codify religious discrimination. Since an increasing number of religious denominations empower their clergy to perform same-sex marriages, an amendment would unfairly discriminate against these groups. On divisive issues, the constitution should not endorse one set of religious values over another. Over two dozen religious denominations and groups have signed on to a letter to members of Congress protesting the measure (Americans United for Separation of Church and State)

3. The amendment could be interpreted to prohibit civil unions. The amendment says that no state or federal law may mandate that “marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.” This imprecise wording opens the way for future judges to call civil unions unconstitutional. (The Washington Post)

Why they’re wrong:

1. Even if the amendment does allow for civil union, that is an insufficient compromise. While international law requires governments to recognize marriages performed abroad, civil unions are subject to no such protection. Further, as long as civil union is regulated by different statutes than marriage, the policy is discriminatory. Requirements for entrance into civil union can differ drastically from those for marriage and may include a mandated demonstration of shared finances or level of commitment. Even if civil unions afforded people all of the rights of marriage—which they don’t—insisting on a distinct term for gay unions stigmatizes them as less worthy. Separate but equal is never truly equal. (Human Rights Watch)

2. President Bush is wrong to state that there is an “overwhelming consensus” against gay marriage in this country. The latest polls show that only around half of the country supports the amendment. One poll found that 43% of 18-29 year olds support full same-sex marriage equality. Young people should not be forced to inherit a constitution that excludes that possibility. (The Whitehouse, Polling Report)

A better idea:

Laws regarding gay marriage, like all issues for which there is no clear social consensus, should be allowed to evolve and change to reflect Americans' desires.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The White House is politicizing the "war on terror"

Why you're right:

1. White House officials encouraged the Pakistani government to capture high-ranking members of al-Qaeda during the Democratic convention in July. According to a well-sourced article by The New Republic, a White House aide told a Pakistani general last spring "'it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT [high value target] were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July' – the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston." Another intelligence official explained "'no timetable[s]' were discussed in 2002 or 2003--but the November election is apparently bringing a new deadline pressure to the hunt." (The New Republic)

2. The White House has timed political events to coincide with dates that evoke memories of 9/11. In March, the president paired the ground-breaking ceremony of the 9/11 memorial with a fundraiser that raised $1.6 million for his re-election campaign. He has also pushed back the Republican political convention to lead up to the 3-year anniversary of 9/11. (The Journal News, New York Times)

3. The president has sold photos of himself on 9/11 to raise money for his re-election campaign. In May 2002, the National Republican Congressional Committee offered pictures of Bush on 9/11 talking on the telephone aboard Air Force One. The photo was available only "to donors who contribute at least $150 and attend a fund-raising dinner with Bush and the first lady next month." (CNN)

Why they're wrong:

1. The New Republic article is not a baseless conspiracy theory. It is triple-sourced and coauthored by two respected journalists and a correspondent on the ground in Pakistan.(New Republic)

2. The timing of the campaign and political fundraisers is not "coincidental." The New York Times reported that scheduling the GOP convention back-to-back with the 9/11 anniversary "complete[s] the framework for a general election campaign that is being built around national security and Mr. Bush's role in combating terrorism." (New York Times)

3. The use of the photos is not harmless. It is a slap in the face to the families of the victims of 9/11. The value of the photo to campaign contributors is derived – at least in part – from the thousands of people who lost their lives on the day the photo was shot.

A better idea:

When issues of national security are at stake, decisions should not be made in order to gain a political advantage.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Churches should not endorse candidates for office.

Why you’re right:

1. It’s not good for democracy. Allowing churches to endorse would open another enormous loophole in our already ailing campaign finance system. Unlike political action committees, churches are non-profit organizations entitled to tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status. If congregations endorsed candidates, then giving to a church would enable a politically motivated donor to effectively support a candidate and claim a tax deduction at the same time. Additionally, if churches became key sites of campaign organizing, the denominational majority in a particular district would become the de facto political majority, creating a dangerous environment for minority rights. (Americans United for Separation of Church and State)

2. It’s not good for religion. The separation of church and state helps to ensure the health of the church as well as the state. Churches serve many functions – spiritual, ethical, and communal – all of which could be corrupted by the intrusion of campaigns. Conservative and liberal religious leaders alike express displeasure at the idea of churches as sites of endorsement, recognizing that pressures to endorse would distract them from their primary duties. And endorsing a particular candidate would disrupt the unity of congregations, which often span the political spectrum in their membership. (NYT, Americans United)

3. Americans don’t want it to happen. A March 2002 survey by the Pew Forum in Religion and Public Life found that 78% of mainline Protestants, 61% of white evangelicals, 58 % of black Protestants, 73% of Catholics and 74% of those who identified themselves as secular did not want clergy to endorse candidates. (Pew)

Why they’re wrong:

When the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign sought to identify “friendly congregations” in Pennsylvania, and when they instructed local organizers to turn over their church directories, no one stepped forward to provide a principled defense of the actions. Instead, House Republican leaders created a back-door provision (since defeated) that would have made it easier to for churches to violate their tax-exempt status by dubbing many violations “unintentional.” The measure, lacking a basis in ethics or reason, was opposed even by the conservative Southern Baptist Convention. (Bush-Cheney Memo, Washington Post)

A better idea:

Churches that want to become more politically active ought to engage in the many kinds of organizing allowed them under their tax-exempt status, including sponsoring debates among candidates, providing forums in which congregants can discuss political issues, and conducting voter registration drives. Campaigns should organize communities through political action committees that do not have the privilege of tax-exempt status.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Large class action law suits should not be limited to federal courts

Why you're right:

1. Federal Courts are already overcrowded. If state courts can no longer be a venue for class action law suits all plaintiffs will be forced to file in federal courts. There are already 34,067 cases that have been languishing in federal courts for over three years. (Federal Court Management Statistics)

2. Attorney's fees are lower in state court. The primary rational for limiting plaintiff's ability to file class action law suits is that they produce excessive fees for lawyers. A comprehensive study of class action suits from 1993-2002 found that attorney's fees are higher in federal court than in state court. (Journal of Empirical Legal Studies)

3. It would endanger consumers. Corporate defendants get procedural advantages in federal court. For example, corporations are much more likely to successfully challenge the certification of a class – a necessary step before class action litigation can move forward – in federal court than state court. As a result corporations will have less incentive to ensure that consumers aren't injured when using their products. (Public Citizen)

Why they're wrong:

Proponents of the class action legislation before Congress say that it is necessary to prevent "frivolous lawsuits." But there are already mechanisms, in state and federal courts, for judges to quickly dismiss non-meritorious cases. The law, by definition, targets cases where plaintiffs are injured and are entitled to recovery. It is not designed to streamline the judicial system but part of a broader agenda to insulate corporations from liability when they are responsible for injuries.

Monday, July 05, 2004

The United States should not amend its constitution to prohibit flag desecration

Why you’re right:

1. It would undermine the bedrock principles of free speech. The point of the First Amendment is to protect speech that is unpopular. If we chip away at free speech protections so they only apply to uncontroversial expression the First Amendment will be meaningless. (PFAW)

2. Constitutional amendment should expand rights, not restrict them. Since 1791 – apart from the failed experiment with prohibition – constitutional amendments have expanded rights. We should not set the dangerous precedent of using constitutional amendments to erode core constitutional rights. (PFAW)

3. It would be nearly impossible to enforce. An amendment prohibiting desecration would led to a series of nearly intractable legal question that would only be resolved through lengthy and costly litigation. Would a computer generated image of a burning flag violate the law? A videotape? A flag with 49 stars? (PFAW)

Why they’re wrong:

1. A flag desecration amendment would not honor veterans. People who fought for the United States were not fighting for “a way of life.” Passing an amendment prohibiting flag desecration would make America “less free and more like the former Soviet Union, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, or Afghanistan under the Taliban.” (Lawrence Korb)

2. A flag desecration amendment would increase the number of time flags are burned. Since 1990, there have been around five public flag burnings a year. Passing a flag burning amendment would undoubtedly lead to more flag burnings as people seek to protest the law. People who actually want to see as few flags as possible burned should oppose the amendment. (PFAW)

A better idea:

To show respect for veterans, Congress should oppose the Bush administration’s proposed cuts for veterans benefits – including a five-fold increase in out-of-pocket costs for veterans seeking medical treatment. (Lawrence Korb)

Friday, July 02, 2004

Democratic senators should not confirm Bush's extreme judicial nominees

Why you’re right:

1. The Senate is instructed by the Constitution to provide “advice and consent.” This clause, intended as a compromise between those who wanted Congress to nominate judges and those who wanted the Executive to do so, creates a meaningful role for the Senate in the process. If it is unacceptable for the Senate to block any nominees, then the clause is emptied of meaning. Conservatives in particular claim to be guided by the doctrine of strict construction, which stresses the literal meaning of each word in the Constitution, unless, of course, those words are “advice and consent.” (Slate)

2. Some of these nominees are FAR out of the mainstream. Although Bush supporters spin this as a battle about abortion, the issues at stake are much broader than just reproductive rights. Charles W. Pickering, who received a recess appointment after his nomination was successfully blocked, was reversed no less than a dozen times by the circuit court on opinions that violate “well-settled principles of law,” many in the areas of civil and constitutional rights. In law school, he wrote an article explaining how Mississippi could strengthen its ban on interracial marriage. James Leon Holmes, whose district court nomination is no longer being blocked, has written, “The wife is to subordinate herself to her husband.” (PFAW , The New Yorker)

3. Republicans thought blocking nominees was just fine under Clinton. Over the course of President Clinton’s two terms, the Senate blocked 63 judicial nominees, or 20% of all nominees. In comparison, just 3 Bush nominees, 2.3% of the total, have met this completely constitutional fate. (Sen. Leahy’s Office)

Why they’re wrong:

Republicans holler bloody murder on this issue, going so far as to call Democrats anti-Catholic for blocking the nomination of anti-choice Catholic William S. Pryor. But providing substantive advice and consent was perfectly acceptable to them when Clinton’s nominees were before the Senate. One of the strengths of our government is that we have a structurally independent legislature that doesn’t act merely as a rubber-stamp for the executive. It would be dangerous to our democracy if the slim Republican majority in the Senate were allowed to erase that independence in terms of judicial nominees.

A better idea:

No matter which party controls the White House, the President should appoint judges based on proven juridical expertise, not commitment to an ideological agenda.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The United States should not repeal the estate tax

Why you're right:

1. Repealing the estate tax would significantly increase the national debt. Between 2014 and 2023 repealing the estate tax would add $820 billion to the national debt. This would come at a time “when the baby boomers will be retiring in large numbers and Social Security and Medicare costs will be rising substantially.” (CBPP)

2. Repealing the estate tax would only benefit the very rich. In 2001, when the estate tax exemption was $675,000, only 2 percent of all people who died paid any tax at all. Most estate tax is paid by those with estates valued at over $5 million. By 2009, when the estate tax exemption rises to $3.5 million, only .5 percent of all people will pay any tax. (CBPP)

3. Repealing the estate tax would reduce charitable giving. Very wealthy individuals make large charitable contributions to reduce their estate tax. A Brookings study showed that if there would have been no estate tax in 2001, charitable giving would have been reduced by $10 billion dollars. That is equivalent to the total grants doled out by the 110 largest foundations in the United States. (CBPP)

Why they're wrong:

1. Opponents of the estate tax argue is unfair because it is double taxation. They believe the value of the estate has been taxed once as income and should not be taxed again. But people with modest incomes have most of their incomes subject to double taxation through sales and excise taxes. Their incomes are taxed once when they earn it and again when they spend it. Essentially, opponents of the death tax are arguing that the rich should be privileged to protect most of their income from double taxation. Further, without the estate tax, the appreciation of an estate – which many times accounts for much of its value -would never be taxed.

2. Opponents of the estate tax argue that it cripples family farms. First, family owned businesses and farms account for a very small fraction (6 out of every 10,0000) of all estates. Family farms also already receive tax advantages that allows them to reduce, eliminate, or defer tax liability. (CBPP)

A better idea:

Rather than eliminating the estate tax, simply raise the estate tax exemption level for family-owned farms and business to $4 million. A treasury department analysis found that would exempt almost all family-owned farms subject to the estate tax. (CBPP)

Special thanks to WA reader David, who did most of the legwork on this post