Adrian Wilson can't make a lobbying trip to Albany anytime soon: The New York State Department of Corrections does not escort its prisoners to the state capital for teach-ins. But his story--typical of the 22,000 nonviolent drug offenders in New York's cellblocks on any given day--could serve as the centerpiece of the campaign now under way for the long-overdue repeal of the notoriously punitive Rockefeller drug laws. In 1983 Wilson, an African-American, then 29, was arrested for drug possession--his first offense--and prosecutors offered him a plea bargain that would have required him to undergo electroshock treatments and eight months' incarceration. Wilson chose instead to exercise his constitutional right to a trial. Convicted of possessing four ounces of cocaine, instead of eight months he faced a mandatory prison term of fifteen years to life.
No single moment in the history of US criminal justice matches the destructive impact of the New York legislature's 1973 session. That was when Governor Nelson Rockefeller set the tone for a national wave of prison-packing schemes with the drug laws that bear his name. As Wilson's case illustrates, the Rockefeller drug laws combined two regressive criminal justice policies into a new and potent brew: They prescribe imprisonment rather than treatment for drug offenders, and they establish mandatory minimum sentences and give the power to decide sentences to the prosecutors, who choose charges, rather than to the judges hearing cases.
The outcome, repeated thousands of times daily around the country: Nonviolent drug offenders like Wilson get punished not in proportion to any presumed threat to society but for daring to inconvenience prosecutors with a trial. With built-in incentives for police and prosecutors to concentrate on low-level users and with racial discrimination an inevitability, the Rockefeller drug laws are the ancestor of just about every regressive criminal justice policy since enacted--three-strikes laws, federal sentencing guidelines and zero-tolerance police sweeps.
With the cost for imprisoning Rockefeller drug offenders topping $710 million per year, Governor George Pataki has at last proposed a package of reforms reducing minimum drug sentences and expanding treatment. Assembly Democrats--many of whom have dodged the issue for years until Pataki opened the door--have upped the ante, proposing more sweeping discretion for judges and more money for drug treatment. The Correctional Association of New York and a broad array of activist, religious and legal-reform groups have launched a Drop the Rock campaign (kicked off with a March 1 forum in Manhattan co-sponsored by the Nation Institute), which on March 27 will bring thousands to Albany for a day of teach-ins and citizen lobbying. Only a handful of district attorneys, worried about losing their sentencing leverage in plea bargains, are holding out for the Rockefeller status quo.
So the question is not whether New York will reform but if reform will go far enough. Pataki's plan would not give judges any more discretion for Class B felonies, the most commonly charged drug offenses in New York, and would actually increase some minimum sentences. Pataki would allow prosecutors to handpick the offenders tracked into treatment--a certain recipe for abuse and another usurpation of the proper authority of judges. Perhaps most important, Pataki has so far come nowhere near proposing a budget for drug treatment commensurate with the need. Drug-law reform without a commitment to drug treatment is a half-measure, similar to the 1980s deinstitutionalization of psychiatric patients with no system of community mental healthcare in place.
New York, which for years styled itself as a pioneer in criminal justice policy, is now playing catch-up to states like California, whose voters last November overwhelmingly approved a treatment-over-prison referendum for first- and second-time offenders, or Colorado and Nevada, which have passed medical-marijuana measures. But the Rockefeller laws are the founding charter of the failed war on drugs, and their repeal would turn state reform tremors into an American earthquake. In immediate impact on the lives of the poor and people of color, and as a long-term shift in national priorities, there will be no more important campaign this year. It's time to Drop the Rock.
We are pleased to announce that Maria Margaronis and D.D. Guttenplan, who have been contributing editors to the magazine since 1998, will serve as our London bureau. Margaronis, a former Nation associate literary editor, was a senior editor of the Village Voice Literary Supplement and taught for five years at the New School for Social Research. Guttenplan, a former senior editor at the Village Voice and staff writer at New York Newsday, is the author of The Holocaust on Trial, an account of the David Irving-Deborah Lipstadt libel case, to be published in May by Norton.
Augmenting our editorial board is Tony Kushner, already a contributor to our pages and author of one of the quintessential Broadway plays of the nineties, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. This two-part epic won about every major theatrical award, including two Tonys and a Pulitzer Prize.
Joining our masthead as a contributing editor is Robert Dreyfuss, who has written frequently for this journal and for Rolling Stone, Mother Jones and The American Prospect, with particular emphasis on campaign finance, lobbying and money in politics.
This is not about profits and patents; it's about poverty and a devastating disease." That statement did not come from AIDS activists struggling to provide sub-Saharan Africa's 25 million HIV-positive people with access to life-extending medications. It came from the executive vice president of Bristol-Myers Squibb, which recently announced it would slash prices on its two AIDS drugs and forgo patents on one of them. A week earlier, Merck & Co. said it would lower prices on its two AIDS drugs not just in Africa but, pending review, in other heavily affected countries as well.
What's going on is not a change of heart on the part of "Big Pharma"--which John le Carré describes in this issue as a group of "multibillion-dollar multinational corporations that view the exploitation of the world's sick and dying as a sacred duty to their shareholders." Far from being a humanitarian action, the price reductions represent an attempt to preserve patent rights by diffusing international pressure for generic manufacturing. Revealingly, neither BMS nor Merck has withdrawn from a suit against the South African government brought by thirty-nine pharmaceuticals seeking to prohibit importation of generic drugs, which they claim would violate their patents.
The Indian generic manufacturer Cipla announced in February that it would sell the entire AIDS triple-therapy combination at $350 per person, per year, and other generic manufacturers, in Thailand and Brazil, currently offer AIDS drugs at a fraction of multinational prices. By comparison, the Wall Street Journal reported that a combination of AIDS drugs from BMS and Merck would cost between $865 and $965 per person, per year. If those prices were multiplied by the number of AIDS patients in, say, Zimbabwe, a relatively prosperous country by African standards, the total would come to about 20 percent of its GDP. And that sum doesn't include the investments in healthcare infrastructure needed to distribute and monitor the drugs' use.
But even if poor African countries could somehow find the money to pay the high patent-protected prices of the drug giants (the $26.6 billion a year it would cost to provide all Africa with AIDS drugs is no more than about a third of what Bush's tax plan would give to America's wealthiest 1 percent), that would not be the end of their problems. Rather, such a course would lock them into exclusive trade agreements with multinationals and put them at the continual mercy of Western foreign aid budgets. As new treatments are developed, Africa would have to negotiate new price reductions, country by country, company by company.
If the solutions lie with generic manufacturing (not just for AIDS medications but for a slew of vital drugs for malaria and other ills), then circumventing existing international patent regulations is a necessity. The trial in South Africa over compulsory licensing is one crucial test of the viability of this option. Another potential plan would be for the National Institutes of Health to give patents owned by the US government on publicly funded AIDS drugs to the World Health Organization, thereby licensing it to oversee generic manufacturing. Why not, in fact, let governments underwrite the entire cost of drug research--rather than, as now, underwriting substantial amounts of the research, which drug companies then exploit--and do away with patents altogether?
Whatever the recourse, and despite the well-publicized gestures by multinational pharmaceutical companies, the solutions to Africa's AIDS epidemic lie in sustainable competitive drug production, not momentary self-interested charity.
'FREELANCE' DOESN'T MEAN FOR FREE
The case of Tasini v. New York Times, which the Supreme Court will hear soon, turns on technical language in copyright law, but it has raised a larger issue between historians and freelance writers, whose work might be said to be the raw material of history. The freelancers, led by Jonathan Tasini, president of the National Writers Union, challenge the Times's and other newspapers' claim that they have the right to post articles on databases like Lexis-Nexis without compensation to the writers. The writers argue that they should be cut a share of the revenue generated by this recycling of their work. The publishers and databases say that Internet or CD-ROM compilations of newspaper articles are simply an extension of the original publication, as permitted by copyright law. If the writers win, the publishers fear they'll be vulnerable to lawsuits by ink-stained wretches and so will be forced to excise freelance articles from their databases. That specter haunts the historians, who bemoan the loss of this material from the historical record. We respect the historians' farseeing dedication to historical truth, but we also believe writers deserve compensation in the here and now. As George Bernard Shaw told Sam Goldwyn, who made an unsatisfactory offer for the screen rights to his plays: "The trouble, Mr. Goldwyn, is that you are only interested in art, and I am only interested in money."
UPDATE: WE'LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS
Doug Ireland writes: Paris became the first national capital to choose an openly gay candidate for mayor, in the second round of municipal voting on March 18 (see Frédéric Martel, "Retour du Socialisme?" March 19). Socialist Bertrand Delanoë led the "plural left" coalition to a resounding victory, giving the left a sizable governing majority on the municipal council (which actually elects the mayor), carrying two-thirds of the city's arrondissements against a divided right (although the two conservative tickets' scores, if combined, would have given the right a majority of votes cast). About half of the 10,000-plus crowd that celebrated Delanoë's victory in front of the Hotel de Ville were gay. Lyons, France's second city, also fell to the left for the first time since 1957. But where the right was united, it won: Forty cities and towns with incumbent left governments passed to the conservatives. All this spells trouble for Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in next year's presidential and legislative elections. Biggest winner: the Greens, who scored heavily everywhere in the first round of voting, becoming the second-largest force in the left coalition.
PREGNANT WOMEN'S RIGHTS
The Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a South Carolina public hospital's policy of requiring women in a prenatal care program to take drug tests (see Rachel Roth, "Policing Pregnancy," October 16, 2000). If the women (mostly poor and African-American) tested positive, they were threatened with arrest unless they entered a treatment program. Some thirty women landed in jail. Writing for the 6-to-3 majority, Justice John Paul Stevens ruled that the policy was an unconstitutional search and seizure. It's no secret that the fetal-rights groups inspired the policy. The Supreme Court's decision affirms the proposition that pregnant women do have rights--even if they are poor and black.
Rx FOR THE DRUG COMPANIES
Nation Associates are taking action against Big Pharma (see John le Carré, page 11) by bombarding the CEOs of multinational drug companies with protest letters, signing Internet petitions and supporting legislation to stop sanctions on countries that import or produce generic versions of patented drugs. To find out more about Nation Associates, e-mail email@example.com
"Ishall never be able to forget," writes Christopher Hitchens of the poems of the slain Wilfred Owen, "the way in which these verses utterly turned over all the furniture of my mind; inverting every conception of order and patriotism and tradition on which I had been brought up." With Owen's war poems in mind, Hitchens observes that the dead soldier "has conclusively outlived all the jingo versifiers, blood-bolted Liberal politicians, garlanded generals and other supposed legislators of the period. He is the most powerful single rebuttal of Auden's mild and sane claim that 'Poetry makes nothing happen.'" Thus does our "Minority Report" columnist introduce the subject of his collected meditations on writers in the public sphere, Unacknowledged Legislation. Rather than setting out to treat overtly political scribes, Hitchens focuses on writers as they encounter public life. He disputes the Stendhalian view of politics in the novel "as a pistol shot in the middle of a concert" or "a stone tied to the neck of literature." While conceding that the directly politicized writer is someone we have come to distrust and the surreptitiously politicized one "is no great improvement" (he offers as example Tom Wolfe), Hitchens contends that when the parties of state agree on a matter, it is the individual pen that creates "the moral space for a true argument"--whether Paine, Douglass and Howells, or Mailer, Lowell and Vidal. This is the extended argument of his own that Hitchens advances over a span of thirty-five essays and reviews, culled from the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, Dissent, Vanity Fair, Harper's, the New York Review of Books, The Nation and elsewhere. We are treated to both insight and anecdote as Hitchens attempts to tease out the Platonic forms, as it were, of Wilde and Orwell and Raymond Williams and Vidal and Rushdie and Bellow and Kipling and Eliot, Isaiah Berlin, Allan Bloom, Martha Nussbaum and Norman Podhoretz, O'Brian (Patrick), O'Brien (Conor Cruise) and others. Along the way he parses the line that "divides pseudo-objectivity from propaganda," tells us how Whittaker Chambers fired the young Bellow as the future Nobelist began working for Time, bemoans the lack of a "Blake or Camus or Koestler to synthesize justice and reason with outrage" and holds up Wilde in firebrand fashion to "encourage us to think that the bores and the bullies and the literal minds need not always win. May he induce us to rise from our semi-recumbent postures."
The corporate class is flying high in Washington. With George W. Bush--CEO style and all--in the White House and the Republicans controlling Congress, the business community has been exploiting its enhanced clout. Workplace safety rules, ten years in the making and designed to prevent a million or so injuries a year, were scrapped in a few hours of Congressional action. A signal was sent: We Are Business. Hear Us Roar. At the same time, House Republicans rammed through the central provision of Bush's tax cut for the rich. And in another early action, the House approved a bankruptcy bill that favors creditors, among them MBNA America Bank, one of the largest issuers of credit cards and--coincidence? ha!--one of the largest corporate donors to Bush and the GOP in the election. But surely the most egregious display of corporate power was Bush's decision to reverse a campaign pledge to seek reductions in the carbon dioxide emissions of the nation's power plants after the coal and oil industries objected. Congressman Henry Waxman rightly called the move a "breathtaking betrayal" of Bush's promise to fight global warming.
All this activity has emboldened corporate lobbyists to plan other assaults. They want to rewrite privacy rules regarding medical records, beat back environmental and land-use regulations, open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, limit corporate liability for dangerous products, deep-six the federal lawsuit against the tobacco industry and undo the Clinton ban on road-building in 60 million acres of national forest. And don't forget tax breaks. Bush told the K Streeters who eyed the Bush tax package for special-interest tax breaks to keep their mitts off. But there's a tacit deal in the air. If the corporate crowd helps Bush win his tax cut this year, next year he'll help them get theirs.
None of this is a surprise. Bush and the Republicans are merely following the law of supply and demand: Donors supply campaign money, then they demand. Bush set records in terms of pocketing corporate donations, and Congressional Republicans--particularly those in the House under the leadership of majority whip Tom DeLay--have perfected the pay-to-play, in which they hit up the business community for campaign cash and then allow its representatives to participate in drafting legislation.
Which brings us to campaign finance reform. The Senate is poised to consider the McCain-Feingold bill, a modest initiative that would ban federal soft-money contributions and at least inconvenience the high rollers. Yet some Democrats are skittish, realizing that their party has become as dependent on soft money as the GOP. And labor is nervous about a provision that would limit issue ads. Regardless of the outcome of this debate, we need extensive reform going beyond McCain-Feingold, along with a fight-back on the GOP initiatives. Opposition to those initiatives does exist, including a coalition of 500 organizations working to combat the Bush tax cut. That, plus a spirited grassroots effort, could stop the Bush agenda while pushing progressive alternatives.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE UPDATE
As the Senate geared up for a debate on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill (McFein for short), which bans soft money, Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli was again grumbling about how the bill is flawed because it doesn't close down the issue-ad loophole. He's essentially right, but that's no reason to vote against McFein, which does close another big loophole. If McFein passes, some soft money might be diverted to issue ads, but some would not, its sponsors believe. Sparking more valid concerns is a provision in the bill that bars corporations and unions from spending money on issue ads within sixty days of an election. That worries labor because the plan does nothing to curb individual spending on such ads. There are plenty of wealthy people with pro-corporate axes to grind. So even if corporate funding of issue ads is banned, the pro-business message will flood out in ads paid for by well-heeled individuals. Labor has few individual supporters with such deep pockets. The unions also oppose raising the $1,000 cap on hard money. Campaign reform groups are wobbling on this one, with some risking a compromise that would index hard-money limits to inflation. But any increase in the hard-money limit makes it easier for wealthy special interests to buy influence and access and does nothing to open up the system to ordinary Americans.
EXTRA! GORE WINS FLORIDA! HELLO?
The Palm Beach Post's recount of undervotes--hanging, dimpled, pinhole chads--gave Al Gore 784 additional votes in Palm Beach County. If the same recount method were followed statewide, Gore would win overwhelmingly. The butterfly ballots, on which confused voters marked both Gore and Pat Buchanan, cost Gore some 6,600 votes, the Post estimated; another 2,908 voted for Gore and Socialist David McReynolds.
RUN JEB RUN
There has been speculation recently that Jeb Bush may not run in 2002 because of "family concerns." We hope he stays the course. It would be democracy's loss if he didn't give African-Americans and other Floridians a chance to register a protest against the electoral shenanigans last fall.
YOU CAN ALWAYS TELL A HARVARD MAN...
Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, named as Harvard's new president, is on record as saying that Africa is "under-polluted." This phrase, Jon Wiener reminds us, appeared in a 1991 memo Summers wrote while he was chief economist for the World Bank. In it he recommended that the bank encourage "more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs" (less developed countries). He went on to give three reasons: (1) The cost of sickness caused by pollution--in terms of lost wages--is lower in the LDCs, since their average wages are so low, (2) LDCs are "under-polluted" by industry and (3) demand for a clean environment for health and aesthetic reasons is small in countries with high mortality rates. After the memo became public, Brazil's secretary of the environment wrote Summers, "Your reasoning is perfectly logical but totally insane."
BUSHISM OF THE WEEK
In a talk to Treasury Department workers: "The way I like to put it is this: There's no bigger issue for the President to remind the moms and dads of America, if you happen to have a child,
be fortunate to have a child."
THE CREDITORS' BALL
The bankruptcy bill passed by the House denies bankruptcy protection to small borrowers who get in over their heads. The bill contains a special provision exempting American partners in Lloyd's of London from having to pay their share of the insurer's added costs from payouts on recent disasters. The bill also protects wealthy deadbeats' real estate holdings in Florida, Texas and other states that local laws have made into bankruptcy havens. Those laws allow the wealthiest debtors to convert their hidden assets into lavish homes, immune from seizure.
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
Another of Bush's conflict-of-interest Cabinet members can join Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, the man from Alcoa, and the boys from Big Oil. Say hi to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, who served on the board of directors of Northwest Airlines. Nothing to do with the untimely sixty-day cooling-off period Bush slapped on the mechanics' union at Northwest.
There were so many brilliant entries to our Name the President Contest that our judges were hard pressed to choose the winning five. (Up to the February 19 deadline the count was over 750, and they're still trickling in, from people who say they know they've missed the deadline but still want to vent their frustrations over the election.) So we decided to turn over the final decision to our readers. The judges have narrowed the field to eight. Vote for your favorite title among those listed on the official absentee ballot displayed on this page (no write-ins, overvotes or dangling chads, please). Address mail entries c/o Name the President Contest. You may vote on our website as well--www.thenation.com. The deadline is April 2. Authors of the five entries with the highest number of votes will win a Nation T-shirt bearing the face of George W. Neuman (disgruntled losers will be able to purchase them from this magazine).
Given the skepticism about judges these days after the way the Supreme Court handed the election to Bush, we decided that the final decision should rest with the people. We pledge that the votes will be counted according to uniform standards and equal protection by a crew of honest, idealistic Nation interns.
Our effort to devise a suitable terminology that encapsulates the illegitimacy of the current White House tenant for readers who could not bear to utter the words "President Bush" prompted brief second thoughts when the Miami Herald announced that its recount of Florida overvotes in four counties showed Bush the winner. But other counts suggest otherwise, and a statewide recount by a newspaper consortium is still under way. We may never know for sure, but we believe Gore would have taken Florida in a fair and properly run election [see David Corn, "The Florida Fog," March 19].
So the contest must go on. Also, we admit to an ulterior motive: posing a cheeky challenge to the mainstream punditry, politicos and politicized lawyers who rolled over when the five Justices on the Supreme Court anointed George Herbert Walker Bush's son President of the United States. The vociferous objection of many Americans to this selection process was evident in the outpouring of responses to our contest, and they deserve to be preserved for the historical record.
Because of the volume of entries, we can print only a sampler of them here, but it should give an idea of their high quality and perhaps provide some irreverent laughter as well. These entries may also be regarded as responses to a sociological survey that reveals what one passionately politicized slice of the American populace thinks about the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Many of the entries clustered around certain themes. In one category that emerged, readers focused on the concept of illegitimacy and borrowed from the precedents of royalty. Thus, Pretender (a lot of Big Chill-generation types suggested The Great Pretender), Pretendant, Usurper, Dauphin and the like.
The royalty motif was popular because of the dynastic aspects of Bush I and Bush II. Most suggestions in this grouping played on George II or George III. The latter takes account of our only other George--Washington--but also harks back to mad George III of Revolutionary War times (one reader said, Now that we have a George III, we should have a revolution). And then there were George the Lesser and Poppyseed.
For some, Bush's II's first name conjured up the popular children's book character Curious George. Variations included Spurious George, Dubious George and Clueless George. And from the realm of rock and roll: Boy George.
Also popular were titles granting Bush only residential rather than full presidential status, e.g., Resident (variants: pResident, pWesident), Occupant (so we may refer to the current Administration as "the Occupation"), Squatter and White Housekeeper.
The Supreme Court's intervention inspired a raft of names: (Supreme) Precedent, Supreme Highness, Our Supreme President, Supreme Chosen One, President Designate, President-Select, Presumptive President, Court-Appointed President. A popular variant was President-with-an-asterisk* (*appointed by the Supreme Court). One entrant suggested Cheney be called Little George's Court-Appointed Guardian.
But more cynical readers ignored even the slightest pretense of legality. To them Bush is Commander or Commandeer(er) and Thief, Cheater of the Free World, President Putsch and El Presidente (a Banana Republican, of course).
The cutoff of the Florida recount tally reminded some readers of the Southern epithet Count No Count or President No Count. Not to mention His Floridancy and Florident.
To some he'll always be Dubya; others spun off variations on that moniker: George Dubious Bush, Dubious Dubya and Dubya-C. Dubya's wayward way with pronunciation spawned His Illegititude and George the Unifactor, among others. His intellectual shortcomings inspired His Dimness, Presidunce, Oaf of Office, Bush Lite, Dim Son.
Then there were the readers who made acronym puns on the term POTUS, such as BOGUS POTUS and PSEUDOPOTUS. (Also, PUS--President of the United States.)
Reflecting the erudition of Nation readers, there was a slew of Latin terms, viz., President Pro Forma, Pro Tem, De Facto and Per Curiam. Not to mention the elegant In Loco Presidentis.
Thanks, readers, for your suggestions. Now, vote for your favorite by April 2. Watch this space for the winning names.
We learned a few things from Dan Burton's hearings into the Clinton pardons. We learned that Bill Clinton's pardon of billionaire expatriate Marc Rich was no last-minute rush job. According to testimony by White House aides and lawyers, Rich's pardon application was the subject of multiple White House meetings over a span of weeks, with White House lawyers opposing clemency for Rich every step of the way. Clinton, always his own worst enemy, alone assented to the lobbying efforts of Rich lawyer and former White House counsel Jack Quinn.
We also learned that Burton, while filling a few nights' bandwidth on the scandal-dependent cable news channels, would evade every attempt to place the pardon controversy in perspective, rejecting repeated requests by Democrats to call witnesses and solicit evidence on pardons past. This is not to make excuses for Bill Clinton, but Burton's refusal to examine past abuses of the presidential pardon starkly reveals an inquiry called merely to humiliate and punish a political enemy and those who worked for him, rather than to explore policy questions.
If Congress were serious, these hearings would necessarily address pardons by Clinton's predecessors, starting with Bush the First. Poppy Bush's pardons of Caspar Weinberger and other Iran/contra felons have been widely discussed but still deserve closer scrutiny: Not only did Weinberger & Co. break federal laws, abuse high office and deceive Congress; their pardons gave every appearance of protecting Bush himself from investigation. Then there is Armand Hammer, who in 1989 gave $100,000 to the Republican Party and another $100,000 to the Bush-Quayle Inaugural Committee just weeks before Bush pardoned him for illegal campaign contributions. And now comes Time.com's special report on Bush's last-minute pardon of Edwin Cox Jr. for bank fraud after James Baker wrote a note to the White House counsel, with a copy to Bush, describing Cox's father as "a longtime supporter of the President's." The elder Cox later pledged at least $100,000 to the Bush presidential library. CNN followed up with a report that the Cox family was a substantial contributor to the Bush family's campaigns and the GOP, including $31,500 to George W. Bush's gubernatorial and presidential campaigns.
The point is that Clinton's pardons of Rich et al. are scarcely unique outrages. Clinton exercised his unreviewable pardon power in ways that reveal much about his character but provide no hint of illegality. So what is the purpose of further hearings, beyond retribution? Surely not some constitutional amendment aimed at curtailing presidential pardons, which despite the abuses by both Clinton and his predecessors remain the only tool for a courageous executive to correct a serious injustice (a category for which a few of Clinton's pardons qualify).
The Clinton pardon fiasco does raise some important issues. Quinn invented a giant loophole in the law barring revolving-door influence-peddling in order to lobby his former boss. And cash for clemency remains an outrage whether it's about Marc Rich or Armand Hammer. But such pardons are scandalous in the same way that Congressional legislation friendly to corporate donors is scandalous. The pardon flap matters primarily because it further erodes public confidence that anything in our constitutional democracy can survive the polluting power of big-money donations.
Future Marc Rich-type pardons can be cured only by radical campaign finance reform--a far cry from the partisan dart-throwing on display in Dan Burton's hearing room.
It's grimly appropriate that the legislative weapon Senate Republicans (joined by six anti-labor Democrats) used to kill OSHA's ergonomics regulations--the Congressional Review Act (CRA)--is a holdover from Newt Gingrich's Contract on America. Passed in 1996, the CRA is a ten-megaton regulations-buster that enables Congress to obliterate a federal rule by a majority vote with minimal hearings and debate. Once voted down under CRA, a new rule on the same subject needs authorization by an act of Congress. (Labor Secretary Elaine Chao promised to consider new rules, providing cover for wavering legislators, while Ted Kennedy's call for further discussions was spurned by GOP senators, nostrils flaring at the scent of total victory.) The attack on OSHA's rule, which orders employers to eliminate ergonomic hazards after an employee is diagnosed with a workplace-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD)--like back injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive strain injury, tendonitis--was a top priority of business lobbying groups. In the truncated debate GOP senators recited a parade of horribles (the regulation would cost astronomical sums to implement, was not backed by scientific opinion, did not deal with a real problem) and cast the rules as another Clinton eleventh-hour regulation (actually the standard was first proposed by Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole in 1990 and issued last year after nine weeks of public hearings and testimony by hundreds of witnesses). The Bureau of Labor Statistics says every year more than 600,000 workers suffer serious job-related MSDs. The AFL-CIO reports women suffer 64 percent of repetitive motion injuries, even though they are 46 percent of the work force and 33 percent of all employees who are hurt on the job. The GOP House leadership immediately rammed the bill through to give George W. Bush a famous victory. Since W. took office, labor has been dealt a series of blows for its support of Al Gore. Bush has issued executive orders hurting union political activities and revoking a rule requiring union contractors on federal projects. Congress's OSHA standard repeal, however, is surely the most painful defeat--literally--to real workers.
BUSHISM OF THE WEEK
Speaking in Omaha on February 28, during his tour to tout his tax plan: We "understand how unfair the death penalty is, er...the death tax."
ON THE WEB: firstname.lastname@example.org
President Bush's determination to give the superrich an eternal tax shelter by repealing the estate levy has revealed contradictions in the nonprofit sector and confusion about what it values and where it stands. Read Mark Rosenman's web-exclusive "Charity for All" at www.thenation.com.
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
Among the revelations attending the Robert Philip Hanssen spy flap was that the FBI does not administer lie detector tests to veteran agents. One worry, apparently, is that electronic prying might elicit embarrassing personal data. We suggest that what's the practice at the FBI, guardians of the nation's internal security, should apply to private-sector polygraphing.