As Congress prepares to debate the USA PATRIOT Act and the future of the Supreme Court, a new report documents the erosion of the judiciary's power to protect Constitutional liberties since September 11. "Courting Danger: How the War on Terror Has Sapped the Power of our Courts to Protect our Constitutional Liberties" was released 7/11/05 by the Justice at Stake Campaign (justiceatstake.org), a nonpartisan national partnership of more than 40 organizations working to keep courts fair, impartial and independent.
"Courting Danger" shows how 10 sections of the PATRIOT Act, along with other recent policies, have granted the federal government more powers to investigate and incarcerate without meaningful review from a judge. Several provisions of the PATRIOT are set to expire this year unless they are reauthorized by Congress. "In some cases, our judges' gavels have been replaced with rubber stamps," said Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice at Stake. "In many cases, the government can now skip the courthouse altogether."
In addition to analyzing the PATRIOT Act, the report:
Reviews its sequel, "Patriot II," which the Justice Department initially disavowed but parts of which have reappeared in current proposals. In June a Senate panel approved a bill, S. 1266, parts of which would extend the reach of the government even further than Patriot II.
Shows how, since September 11, courts have been losing their powers to guarantee refugees and immigrants procedures that are fair and treatment that is decent.
Shows how America's courts, since September 11 and for more than two centuries, have routinely given the President and Congress considerable deference during times of war.
Provides context by showing how for more than a decade, an increasingly aggressive band of lawmakers and special interest groups have been working to weaken the power of our courts and the legitimacy of our judges.
The report also provides information on more than 20 government agencies and organizations on all sides of the debate over how to balance liberty and security in post 9/11 America. For copies of the report see justiceatstake.org or call 202-588-9700.
THUNE PAL'S BANKRUPTCY HOOKS BANK FOR $28M: Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., may have some explaining to do over his role in getting a bank where he was a director to lend a friend millions of dollars while Thune's friend was under investigation by the Iowa attorney general. Dan Nelson Automotive, with dealerships in Iowa and South Dakota, declared bankruptcy on June 21 with $6.4 mln in assets and nearly $30 mln in debt, including $28 mln owed to Metabank, based in Storm Lake, Iowa. Cleancutkid.com, a South Dakota-based blog with Democratic ties, noted that the dealership obtained financing from Metabank through late September 2004. Nelson Automotive and its attorneys have indicated to the press that they were aware of the Iowa AG probe as early as September 2004. Thune was on the bank's audit committee in 2004 until after he was elected to the Senate in November. The Iowa attorney general in January sued Nelson, saying his dealerships charged more than the cars were worth at interest rates of 25%. Dan Nelson, who owns 75% of Nelson Automotive, managed Thune's first run for Congress in 1996 and he contributed $9,000 to Thune's campaigns over the years. FEC reports show Thune in 2004 paid Dan Nelson Automotive nearly $90,000 for vehicles and office space, Cleancutkid.com noted.
USDA OK'S BIOPHARM RICE: The US Department of Agriculture has quietly approved controversial proposals by genetic engineering firm Ventria Biosciences to grow rice containing human genes on 270 acres in North Carolina and Missouri. The rice is engineered to produce pharmaceutical compounds with unresolved toxicity and allergenic risks and have not yet received approval from the Food and Drug Administration. "With this approval, USDA has signaled that it thinks it's okay to grow drug-producing crops near food crops of the same type, despite the threat of contamination," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist at Center for Food Safety. "There have already been numerous examples of contamination of food crops by biotech crops, including pharmaceutical crops. Over time, such contamination of our food is virtually inevitable under the conditions allowed by USDA." Anheuser-Busch, the nation's largest brewer, had indicated that it would refuse to buy any rice from southeastern Missouri's hundreds of rice growers if biopharm rice was planted there. USDA dismissed the concerns of rice purchasers as "non-scientific" and beyond its legal purview. "If USDA is not gong to protect the US food industry, who will?" asked Dr. Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists. See www.environmentalcommons.org.
TRAINING COSTS SEND CARMAKER NORTH: Toyota will build a new SUV factory that will employ 1,300 workers in Canada because Ontario offers a better-educated workforce than states in the southeastern US, the Canadian Press reported 7/8/05. Gerry Fedchun, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, said Nissan and Honda have encountered difficulties getting new plants up to full production in recent years in Mississippi and Alabama due to an untrained &emdash; and often illiterate &emdash; workforce. In Alabama, trainers had to use "pictorials" to teach some illiterate workers how to use high-tech plant equipment. "The educational level and the skill level of the people down there is so much lower than it is in Ontario," Fedchun said. In addition to lower training costs, Canadian workers are also $4 to $5 cheaper to employ partly thanks to the taxpayer-funded health-care system in Canada, said federal Industry Minister David Emmerson.
ENVIROS, LIBS BOYCOTT EXXON MOBIL: A coalition of environmental and liberal lobbying groups is calling for a boycott of Exxon Mobil products to protest the company's challenges to warnings about global warming and its support for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The boycott is part of a public relations campaign to brand Exxon Mobil, the country's biggest oil company, as an "outlaw," say the groups, which include the US Public Interest Group, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists and MoveOn.org Political Action. Carl Pope, the Sierra Club's executive director, said the campaign aimed either to get Exxon Mobil to change or "to encourage other oil companies" to improve their environmental stewardship, the International Herald Tribune reported 7/12/05. "The other oil companies have aspirations" for environmental performance, he said. See www.exxposeexxon.com.
On the other hand, Jeff Cohen is urging progressives to buy Citgo gas to protest George W. Bush's foreign policy. "Of the top oil-producing countries in the world, only one is a democracy with a president who was elected on a platform of using his nation's oil revenue to benefit the poor," Cohen wrote in May. "The country is Venezuela. The president is Hugo Chavez. Call him 'the Anti-Bush.' Citgo is a US refining and marketing firm that is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company. Money you pay to Citgo goes primarily to Venezuela &emdash; not Saudi Arabia or the Middle East. ... By buying your gasoline at Citgo, you are contributing to the billions of dollars that Venezuela's democratic government is using to provide health care, literacy and education, and subsidized food for the majority of Venezuelans." Cohen also noted that the Bush administration supported an attempted coup in 2002 that sought to overthrow Chavez.
INSURERS CAUSE MED MALPRACTICE 'CRISIS': Medical malpractice insurers in recent years have reaped a windfall in premiums that have far outstripped claim payouts, consumer groups reported 7/7/05, according to the Kansas City Star. The report, written by former Missouri Insurance Commissioner Jay Angoff, contends that the amount of premiums collected by 15 major medical malpractice insurers has more than doubled over the past 5 years. At the same time, the companies' claim payouts have remained essentially flat. Malpractice insurers as a group raised their net premiums between 2000 and 2004 by 120.2%, to about $4.2 bln, even though their net claim payments rose by only 5.7%, to about $1.4 bln. As a result, the amount of claim payments made as a percentage of premiums dropped from 69.9% in 2000 to 33.6% in 2004.
PHONE COMPANIES' MAN IN CONGRESS: Phone and cable companies are alarmed that cities might offer low-cost broadband access to their residents. Rather than offer low-cost broadband access on their own, phone company lobbyists went to state legislatures to ban municipalities from offering Internet access [see "Communities fight monopolists for 'Net," 5/15/05 TPP]. But going to every state capitol apparently got to be tedious, so the telecoms got US Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, in May to file HR 2726, the "Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act," which would enact a federal ban on towns providing Internet access where telecoms already provide a "substantially similar service." The Texas Observer noted that Sessions is a former executive at SBC Communications, formerly Southwestern Bell. His wife, Juanita, is a vice president for billing at SBC, the National Journal reported. The Sessions' children, aged 11 and 15, also own stocks in SBC, Bell South, AT&T, AT&T Wireless and Qwest.
CONGRESS TARGETS SMALL BUSINESSES: Almost one in five Americans who filed for personal bankruptcy protection in recent years had operated small businesses within two years of filing for bankruptcy, the Kauffman Foundation reported, according to the New York Times 7/7/05. But because many of them incorrectly filled out paperwork and because of a computer software oversight, the government mistakenly counted them as individuals, not businesses. This glitch means "the entire public rationale that we were fed about the credit card industry-written Bankruptcy Bill is all but debunked," David Sirota noted at workingforchange.com 7/7/05. Sponsors of the bankruptcy bill said it was needed to crack down on lazy deadbeats, even though the data showed that most people were forced to file for bankruptcy because of high medical bills, death in the family, job loss, or divorce. Sirota wrote: "We finally see the real truth that most consumer groups warned about: Congress passed legislation to enrich its big-time credit card donors at the expense of everyone else. The only silver lining is that Democrats who courageously voted against the bankruptcy bill now have a chance to use their vote to make inroads with the small business community. The more our side exposes the GOP for their anti-small-business agenda, the better."
BUSH SNUBS SUBWAY SECURITY: While the Bush administration pours hundreds of billions of dollars into Iraq and the military, Nathan Newman noted at NathanNewman.org 7/7/05 that vulnerable infrastructure such as the New York City subway is underfunded. *New York* magazine recently reported taht money for basic maintenance has been drying up. "For the past four years, the funds for keeping the subway in what is quaintly called a 'state of good repair' has been 29% lower than the MTA's own needs assessments, according to an analysis by the Regional Plan Association." Staff has been cut at many booths, which means fewer eyes to spot potential trouble. "A serious anti-terror strategy woud be pouring money into the NYC subway as a likely top target of terrorism. But Bush doesn't because that wouldn't involve handing fat defense contracts to his corporate friends, but instead would employ union workers at decent wages. So security is sacrificed to Bush's political priorities. ..."
CAFTA LIMPS TO HOUSE: The Senate on June 30 narrowly approved the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Passage was no surprise in the traditionally pro-free-trade Senate, but the 54-45 margin encouraged supporters of "fair trade" alternatives. The pact goes to the House, where Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, said a majority of House members oppose CAFTA while another sizeable bloc of GOP House members remains uncommitted. "The Bush administration, having failed at selling CAFTA on its merits, is trying to make 'deals' to buy votes, she said. "However, wariness about constituents' lingering anger over damaging US trade policies and the past record of deals-for-trade-votes not being fulfilled has made this ugly process less effective.
Pacts like CAFTA are no longer just about tariffs and quotas, but rather dictate what land use, food safety, drug patent, procurement, environmental, energy and other service policies signatory nations must implement," Wallach said. "Since the effects of NAFTA began to confirm the fears of citizens across the nation who fought against its passage over a decade ago, these activists and the communities they have educated and organized have made their concerns clear to elected officials, and will continue to do so ..." See www.tradewatch.org or call 202-454-5103.
FARM AID RETURNS TO ROOTS FOR 2OTH: Farm Aid will mark its 20th anniversary by returning to Illinois. Farm Aid 2005, presented by Silk Soymilk, will urge Americans to choose food from family farms, with a week of food and music events in Chicago to showcase the city's efforts to promote family farm products. Farm Aid's 20th anniversary all-star fundraising concert Sept. 18 at the Tweeter Center in Tinley Park, Ill., features Farm Aid founder Willie Nelson, co-founder John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Dave Matthews and other top artists to be announced later. Tickets go on sale July 30 at 10 a.m. CDT and are available at all Ticketmaster outlets, the Tweeter Center box office, by phone at 312-559-1212 or online at www.tweetercenter.com/chicago. For more about Farm Aid see www.farmaid.org.
SEEK PENSIONS TO DROP COKE, WAL-MART STOCKS: A coalition of activists in Massachusetts is asking the nation's largest pension fund, TIAA-CREF &emdash; with $300 billion in assets, mainly for educators &emdash; to divest its stock in Wal-Mart and Coke "for the greater good." The "Make TIAA-CREF Ethical" (MTCE) Coalition charges that a pension fund which prides itself on being responsive to shareholders and a "concerned investor" with regard to social responsibility, has no business investing in ethically-challenged companies like Wal-Mart and Coke. Wal-Mart has been internationally criticized for its exploitation of sweatshop labor in Third World countries, its harmful environmental and land use practices in the US, its abusive labor practices with its own workforce and its war against small-town quality of life. The Coca-Cola Company has come under increasing fire for its human rights and environmental abuses overseas and for marketing nutritionally deficient products to children in the US. "Exploiting children's health for profit is not a social choice," said Josh Golin from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Al Norman of Sprawl-Busters said Wal-Mart has no place in a socially responsible investment portfolio. He also predicted that Wal-Mart stock will continue to take a hammering for its socially unacceptable behavior across the US, Mexico and other nations &emdash; and thus is a bad investment for the pension fund anyway. See www.commercialexploitation.com.