George W. Bush on Feb. 22 urged the Senate to break a Democratic filibuster of Republican activist Miguel Estrada, who is up for a lifetime appointment to the D.C. federal Court of Appeals. Bush claimed that Estrada's approval as the first Hispanic American to serve on the D.C. appeals court "would break through a barrier that has stood for too long." But Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, noted that the barrier has stood in part because Republicans blocked four Latinos who were nominated for federal judgeships by former President Bill Clinton. The Hispanic Caucus interviewed Estrada in June but opposed him after he declined to discuss the role of courts in civil rights laws. Senate Democrats also complained that Estrada was evasive during Senate hearings last year, when his nomination was rejected on a party-line vote when the Democrats ruled the chamber.
The national media reported that Estrada has left little paper trail about his political affiliations and judicial reviews, but mediawhoresonline.com noted that Estrada played a key role in the Republican legal strategy in the 2000 election crisis that led to the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore. Estrada also may have conspired with Kenneth Starr's Office of Independent Counsel and the Paula Jones legal team to lay the perjury trap that led to the partisan impeachment of Bill Clinton. "The evidence shows a pattern of partisan zealotry and right-wing connections on Estrada's part," mediawhoresonline.com reported. The son of a prosperous family from Honduras, Estrada was a partner in Ted "Arkansas Project" Olson's D.C. law firm, Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher, which was known as the "rescue squad" for huge corporations hit with adverse consumer liability and public tort judgments. But its biggest rescue operation was conducted in Florida in 2000 on behalf of George W. Bush. Olson was the chief lawyer for the Bush campaign during the 2000 election dispute, arguing its case before the Supreme Court with Estrada devising strategy for Bush v. Gore. Estrada's key role as a partisan legal strong-puller and sharpshooter was explained more than a year ago by Susan Beck in The American Lawyer. But that report was largely buried until mediawhoresonline.com brought it back up.
Josh Marshall of talkingpointsmemo.com wonders if Estrada committed perjury last fall when, asked his views on abortion, he said he has never been in a position -- as a judge would be -- of having to sit down, review an actual case with an open mind, read all the relevant cases, and so forth. "Now that's implausible on its face. But it turns out also to be almost certainly untrue," Marshall said. In fall 1988 Estrada was a clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy when the Supreme Court agreed to take up the Webster case that anti-abortion forces hoped would overturn Roe. As Kennedy's clerk, Estrada "almost certainly" had to review that and another anti-abortion case which was up for review. Democrats might have asked Estrada about his apparent "discrepancy," after Bush renominated him in January, except that Judiciary Committee Chair Orrin Hatch pushed his nomination out of committee on a party-line vote without a new hearing.
TRADE TALKS CONTINUE. The second round of negotiations for a Central American Free Trade Agreement were set to take place Feb. 24-28 in Cincinnati. The negotiations are expected to continue throughout 2003, but fair trade advocates say it's not too soon to contact your representative and senators through the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 to demand increased civil society participation and transparency in the CAFTA negotiations, as well as the principles of fair trade on economic, social and environmental issues. See www.cispes.org/cafta or call 212-465-8115. In other trade news, a World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Japan in February failed to make progress on liberalization of agricultural trade. And the US deficit in international trade in goods and services widened to a record $44.24 billion in December, the Commerce Department reported. The mounting trade gap comes as the Bush administration seeks free-trade deals with more than 40 countries, most of them in Latin America. Critics say these deals will boost more imports while doing little to strengthen US manufacturing, which continues to move to cheaper locales like China. Global Exchange, the San Francisco-based human rights group, is finalizing dates for a "Lessons from NAFTA" Tri-National Speaking Tour, with at least 25 separate events in Mexico, the US and Canada from early April through mid-May to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Those interested in hosting an event on the tour can contact David Edeli at Global Exchange, (415) 575-5553 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOMEBODY WAS LYING. We applaud efforts by liberal interest groups to produce liberal talk shows on radio but we wonder about the frequent references to Jim Hightower's supposed failure to gain an audience when he was on the ABC Radio Network in 1994-95. As it happens, we were organizing The Progressive Populist in the summer of 1995, just about the time Hightower was criticizing the pending Disney takeover of ABC. When we contacted ABC about the possibility of buying ads on the Hightower show, the sales rep told us that Hightower was holding respectable numbers in a difficult weekend time slot. A few weeks later Disney got control of ABC and abruptly yanked Hightower off the air, claiming he had low numbers. Seems like either the ad rep was lying or the Disney PR department was lying -- maybe both -- but now it's become "conventional wisdom" that liberals can't succeed on talk radio.
FLA. COURT: OK FOR FOX TV TO LIE: Accepting a defense rejected by three other Florida state judges on at least six separate motions, a Florida appeals court has reversed the $425,000 jury verdict in favor of journalist Jane Akre, who claimed she was pressured by Fox TV management and lawyers to air what she knew and documented to be false information. In a six-page written decision released February 14, the court ruled the journalist never stated a valid whistle-blower claim because it is technically not against any law, rule or regulation to deliberately lie or distort the news on a television broadcast. In the lawsuit filed in 1998, Akre claimed she was wrongfully terminated for threatening to blow the whistle to the FCC over a deceptive story on bovine growth hormone in milk. See www.foxbghsuit.com.
DUCT TAPE DONORS. It's probably just a coincidence, but 46% of the duct tape sold in the US is manufactured by one company. And the founder of that company, Jack Kahl, gave more than $100,000 to the Republican National Committee and other GOP committees in the 2000 election cycle, according to the Washington Post's Al Kamen. John Kahl, who became CEO of Henkel Consumer Adhesives of Avon, Ohio, after his father stepped down shortly after the election, said the plant has "gone to a 24/7 operation, which is about a 40% increase" over this time last year, Kahl said. The company had more than $300 million in sales in 2001. And Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge keeps pushing the product.
REALITY CHECK. Former President Bill Clinton, speaking on the University of Texas campus Feb. 12, gave the college crowd a reality check when, in response to a question, he said if Bush gets one or two choices for the Supreme Court, depending on who he's replacing, they could see the Roe decision guaranteeing a woman's right to an abortion overturned. "You shouldn't pretend that these elections don't have consequences," he said, adding that it should be no surprise that the Republican-dominated Congress would slip riders into the budget bill that roll back environmental safeguards and other progressive legislation, as was done recently. "That's what they were hired to do. We're going to have to live with that," he said. "If people under 30 voted at the same rate as people over 55 we would have a different Congress [but] if you don't like it you have to show up and be counted."
The ex-president, who waived his normal $100,000 speaking fee for the lecture, generally spoke of the need to build peace through diplomacy but he also ridiculed Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy while domestic spending is cut. "We can't meet these commitments and keep giving tax cuts to people in my income level," Clinton said. "I believe that huge tax cut we passed in 2001 was the worst mistake this country has made in years. ... We passed that tax cut before we knew what our income was, what our expenditures were, what our emergencies were. You'd go broke if you ran a business like that, -- and not surprisingly, we're broke."
Clinton, who raised taxes to balance the budget in 1993 amid Republicans' predictions of doom, said it was unbelievable that Bush wants to make it harder for a family of four making $33,000 a year to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit while pushing more tax cuts for the wealthy. "What's my sacrifice? I have to open the envelope with my tax cut. It's bad ethics, bad economics and that's bad for the country."
GOP PHONE JAMMING SCANDAL. Josh Marshall of The Hill (thehill.com) has been following the scandal involving a Republican consulting firm that reportedly arranged to jam phone lines of Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts last election day in New Hampshire, New Jersey and perhaps other states. "A few days after the (NH) phone-jamming story broke, PoliticsNJ.com ran a story suggesting that [GOP Marketplace President Allen] Raymond might also be the unnamed consultant at the center of another phone-banking scandal last year in New Jersey ... And there's more. Raymond is ... also the Executive Director of a big-time GOP pressure group: the Republican Leadership Council (RLC) [whose] board includes Sens. Bennett, Nighthorse Campbell, Collins, Domenici, Kyl, Murkowski, Snowe and Specter, and Reps. Dreier, Greenwood, Foley, Franks, Johnson, Pryce, Quinn, and Upton ... The day before the election, the RLC paid GOP Marketplace $28,983.62 for 'phone bank' work. Did that twenty-nine grand buy legitimate phone bank work? Or the sort of services Raymond was providing in N.H.? And who else did Raymond's outfit work for last fall? ... Back in N.H., party chair Kathy Sullivan wants answers. 'I want to find out who paid for it, who authorized it, and who knew about it.'"
US: ATTORNEYS MUST SNITCH ON CLIENTS. The USA PATRIOT Act requires real estate lawyers to check a federal database before a sale is closed to determine whether either seller or buyer is on a "terrorist list" compiled by the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, according to a title insurance company in Richmond, Va. "And here's the kicker," said Eric Muller of the University of North Carolina Law School, who also runs isthatlegal.blogspot.com, "If seller or buyer is on the list, then the lawyer must (a) report the fact to the federal government, (b) delay the closing, and (c) not tell the client(s) that the lawyer has done (a) and (b)." He said the reach of the USA PATRIOT Act is "an extraordinary foray into what has always been understood to be a core matter of state and local concern -- transactions in real property," in addition to tampering with the attorney-client relationship in a fundamental way. "Not only does the law create an obligation for lawyers to rat on their own clients, it also creates an obligation for lawyers to conceal things from their own clients."
FACTORY FARMS EYE GIVEAWAY. The 2002 Farm Bill gave a huge boost to funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), but opened the door for huge sums of money to go to the largest animal feeding operations to construct waste facilities that could actually degrade, rather than improve, environmental quality. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) issued a proposed implementation rule that lacks the strong language that prevents EQIP from becoming a giveaway to the largest and most damaging operations, according to Scotty Johnson of Rural Updates. See www.familyfarmer.org or phone 520-623-9653 ext. 3 for more information. Comments are due March 12.
'ECOLOGICAL TERRORISM' BILL IN TEXAS. A Texas legislator has introduced a bill to make it a crime of "ecological terrorism" to photograph or protest farm animals, agricultural activities, logging, mining and other forms of resource extraction. State Rep. Ray Allen (R-Grand Prairie) introduced H.B. 433, which would designate as "animal rights or ecological terrorists" any "two or more persons organized for the purpose of supporting any politically motivated activity intended to obstruct or deter any person from participating in an activity involving animals or an activity involving natural resources." In addition to activities that are already unlawful, like vandalism, this bill would brand as "ecological terrorism" the photographing or videotaping of operations "with intent to defame," as well as peaceful protests or boycotts that could be construed as "obstructing the use of an animal or a natural resource owned by the individual." See familyfarmer.org.
GOP THREATS HALTED GAO'S VP SUIT? Threats by Republicans to cut the General Accounting Office (GAO) budget influenced its decision to abandon a lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney, the political newspaper The Hill reported Feb. 21, citing sources who said Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Appropriations Committee chairman, met with GAO Comptroller General David Walker earlier this year and "unambiguously" pressured him to drop the suit or face cuts in his $440 million budget. Walker denied Stevens threatened to cut funding for the investigative agency. However, he confirmed that several lawmakers have threatened in the past year to cut agency funding if it persisted with the controversial lawsuit against Cheney, who refused to disclose records of a White House energy task force that he had headed. Walker said the budget threat helped tip his Feb. 7 decision to halt litigation. That decision has raised concerns that Congress' all-purpose auditor has sacrificed its traditional role as an independent arm of Congress.
MORE ANTI-TERROR DEMONSTRATORS SENTENCED. A federal judge sentenced 21 more human rights advocates to prison for protesting terrorist training of Central and South American soldiers at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly known as School of the Americas). They join 25 previously-sentenced defendants in federal prison for terms up to six months and up to $2,000 in fines, while 14 others received up to one year probation and up to $2,500 in fines in trials in Columbus, Ga., Feb. 10-12 (see "Anti-terror protests send 25 more to prison," 3/1/03 TPP). It was the second week of trials for the group of 96 who peacefully crossed onto Fort Benning, Ga., the site of the school, during a demonstration of over 10,000 protesting the school last Nov. 17. See School of the Americas Watch (soaw.org).