Archive for May 18th, 2009
Just back from my first visit. Lots of very fresh produce, organically grown, at good prices. I’m delighted. Now to cook my enormous artichoke and some baby potatoes. :)
Ali Frick of ThinkProgress reports:
Today, ThinkProgress’s Matthew Yglesias (who is celebrating his birthday today) wrote a column for the Daily Beast arguing that the right wing’s sideshow on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) only furthers the case for a full investigation into torture. When host Norah O’Donnell asked him about Newt Gingrich’s call for Pelosi’s resignation, Yglesias reminded her who was ultimately responsible for Bush’s torture policy:
YGLESIAS: You know, Newt Gingrich knows a lot about saying stupid things and being forced out of the job as Speaker. … But one way or the other — I mean, I wasn’t in the room, you weren’t in the room, Newt Gingrich wasn’t in the room. None of us know exactly what happened there. But whatever it is Nancy Pelosi knew about, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, John Yoo, Jay Bybee, they knew more. And ultimately, when we have a thorough investigation of what happened, the bulk of the blame has to lie with the architects of the policy, not with a member of the opposition party.
O’Donnell insisted, “There’s not going to be an investigation,” in part because — according to O’Donnell — Pelosi doesn’t want one. In fact, Pelosi repeated her calls for a full accounting for Bush’s torture policies as recently as Thursday: “Until a Truth Commission comes into being, I encourage the appropriate committees of the House to conduct vigorous oversight of these issues.”
Via John Cole of Balloon Juice, this post by Radley Balko:
In 1992, a Phoenix man named Ray Krone was convicted of murdering a cocktail waitress named Kim Ancona. The crime was brutal. Ancona had been sexually assaulted, stabbed multiple times, and bitten on her breast and neck. Krone was indicted after a local dentist named John Piakis, who had received all of five days of forensic training, told police and prosecutors that Krone’s crooked teeth created the marks on Ancona’s body.
At trial, a more experienced bite-mark analyst from Las Vegas named Ray Rawson confirmed Piakis’ findings: The bite marks on Ancona’s neck could only have come from Krone. Rawson included a 39-page report with his testimony. It must have been convincing, because the jury convicted Krone despite no other physical evidence linking him to the crime. He was sentenced to death.
In 1995, Krone was given a new trial after an appeals court threw out his conviction over an unrelated legal technicality. Rawson testified again. And Krone was convicted again. After the second trial, however, the judge refused to sentence Krone to death, writing, "The court is left with a residual or lingering doubt about the clear identity of the killer."
The judge’s misgivings proved prescient. Over the strenuous objections of prosecutors, who maintained that Rawson’s testimony was in itself sufficient to affirm Krone’s conviction, Krone’s attorney Christopher Plourd succeeded in getting a court to force the state to turn over biological evidence from the crime for DNA testing. The testing proved Krone was innocent. It also provided a match to Kenneth Phillips, a man who arguably should have been a suspect from the start. Phillips lived less than a mile from the crime scene, was already on probation for assaulting a female neighbor, and was arrested three weeks after Ancona’s murder for sexually assaulting a seven-year-old girl. Several witnesses had described a man fitting Phillips’ height, weight, and complexion to police near the crime scene the night of the murder.
After 10 years in prison, including two spent on death row, Ray Krone was exonerated and released from prison in 2002.
But Krone’s lawyer wasn’t quite finished.
The investigation into disgraced financier Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme is taking a new turn, as the Securities and Exchange Commission begins investigating whether some of Madoff’s biggest “victims” actually were in on the scam, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Some of the victims apparently were able to state the size of the annual returns they wanted from Madoff. Their accounts soon would reflect those returns, some of which regularly reached as high as 100 percent. The Journal cites people familiar with the investigation as its source.
That’s not quite the way investing works for most of us, which is why the SEC must be interested.
Here are some of the victims — who may not be victims after all — according to The Journal:
Jeffry Picower and Stanley Chais, two philanthropists who invested heavily with Mr. Madoff, and Carl Shapiro, one of the money manager’s oldest friends, are among at least eight Madoff investors and associates being scrutinized by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan.
Lots of people have wondered how Madoff got away with his scheme for so long. If these allegations are true, it gives a clearer picture of how it happened. And, if proven, it also means that Madoff wasn’t the only criminal behind the scheme.
Over at TWI’s sister site, The Michigan Messenger, Todd Heywood caught up with House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), who had some surprising things to say about the potential nomination of Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D-Mich.) to the Supreme Court.
U.S. Rep. John Conyers told a gathering of progressive activists gathered at the Cobo Convention Center on Saturday that he has withdrawn his support for Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Obama.
“[Obama] had no doubt she would make a good Supreme Court justice and I don’t either. But I am not supporting somebody who is — especially when she is waiting to be considered as a possible nominee for the highest court in the land — she can write a letter telling us some U.S. attorney has done a good job when everyone in the state knows that he hasn’t,” Conyers said in an interview with Michigan Messenger following his address at Cobo.
And just who is this failed federal prosecutor?
The attorney is question is a current U.S. attorney, but Conyers could not recall his name. Calls to members of the congressman’s staff to clarify which of Michigan’s two U.S. attorneys Conyers was referring to were not immediately returned.
Sounds like a pretty solid case against Granholm.
The markup session for the landmark Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill is underway in the House Energy and Commerce Committee (live webcast from C-SPAN). And it’s sure to be one hell of a show.
Ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas), who promised to wage “sneaky,” “crafty” “guerrilla warfare” on the legislation, just delivered his opening statement. He said of the bill, “We know the cost is significant; we know the environmental benefit is practically nonexistent.”
And so he’s offering a Republican substitute bill, which he said “wouldn’t wreck the economy, would have some economic benefits and wouldn’t do any environmental harm.” If that language seems less than aggressive in combating global climate change, that’s because it is. Says Joe Romm, “You can’t really call it an alternative climate bill, since it doesn’t stop US greenhouse gas emissions from rising and the words “climate change” and “global warming” hardly appear in it at all — except to strip any authority from the EPA to address the problem.”
Barton also pledged to introduce a number of amendments to improve the legislation. In fact, he’s got 450 amendments up his sleeve, and I’ll give you a sense of their general thrust. Numbers 10 to 148 take this form:
- #30: “Suspends the act should more than 1,000 jobs in Indiana be lost due to the implementation of this Act.”
- #31: “Suspends the act should more than 2,000 jobs in Indiana be lost due to the implementation of this Act.”
- #32: “Suspends the act should more than 5,000 jobs in Indiana be lost due to the implementation of this Act.”
- #33: “Suspends the act should more than 10,000 jobs in Indiana be lost due to the implementation of this Act.”
- #34: “Suspends the act should more than 50,000 jobs in Indiana be lost due to the implementation of this Act.”
Swap in the names of 19 other states (no idea why the remaining 30 are excluded), and you get the general idea. You also start to understand Barton’s remark to Politico last week: “This is not going to be one of those gentlemanly, pro forma markups. We’re prepared for it to take weeks or months.”
OK, maybe it won’t be THAT fun to watch. Fortunately, TWI will provide updates and save you the trouble. Stay tuned.
Be sure to read the entire post. It begins:
Based on its transcript — here at the Washington Post site, oddly not yet in any obvious place at WhiteHouse.gov — Barack Obama’s Notre Dame commencement speech was another extraordinary performance. "Extraordinary" meaning that it was like his speech last year in Philadelphia about race relations, his speech last month in Prague about nuclear weapons, and, only slightly less impressive, his speech last month at Georgetown University laying out his long term economic plan. Or, on a small scale, his answer in Strasbourg about "American exceptionalism."
What made these presentations extraordinary was not any single phrase or sentence, nor any paragraph-long flight of fine language. Indeed, I can hardly remember any phrase or sentence from any speech Obama has ever given. (Phrases or sentences are to be distinguished from campaign slogans, like "Yes we can" or "not ‘red states’ or ‘blue states’ but the United States of America.") Instead the power of those speeches comes from the quality of their thought — from the ideas and truths the speaker is trying to grapple with.
In the case of the race speech, the different burdens and resentments Americans of all background held, and why we had to face and work through them. In the nuclear speech, the dangers that remained long after the Cold War had ended, and America’s special opportunity and responsibility to find a solution. In the Notre Dame speech, the difficulty of resolving, in an open democracy, differences of moral certainty that are fiercely held on all sides. And so on.
This kind of eloquence is different from what I think of as rhetorical prettiness — words and phrases that catch your notice as you hear them, and that often can be quoted, remembered, and referred to long afterwards. "Ask not…" from John F. Kennedy. "Blood, toil, tears, and sweat" from Winston Churchill. "Only thing we have to fear is fear itself" from FDR. "I have a dream," from Martin Luther King. Or, to show that memorable language does not necessarily mean elevated thought, "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!" from the early George C. Wallace.
At rare moments in history, language that goes beyond prettiness to beauty is matched with original, serious, difficult thought to produce the political oratory equivalent of Shakespeare. By acclamation Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address is the paramount American achievement of this sort: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right…"
The reason to distinguish eloquence of thought from prettiness of expression is that the former tells you something important about the speaker, while the latter may or may not do so. Hired assistants can add a fancy phrase, much as gag writers can supply a joke. Not even his greatest admirers considered George W. Bush naturally expressive, but in his most impressive moment, soon after the 9/11 attacks, he delivered a speech full of artful writerly phrases, e.g.: "Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done." Good for him, and good for his staff.
Rhetorical polish, that is, can be a staff-enhanced virtue. The eloquence that comes from original thought is much harder to hire, or to fake. This is the sort of eloquence we’ve seen from Obama often enough to begin to expect.
The passages that struck me from this speech were the same ones Andrew Sullivan just highlighted: …
James Fallows has had it up to here with the boiled-frog analogy. (Putting the frog in cold water and gradually turning up the heat—a tired trope indeed.) His suggestion:
The kitty-litter box analogy, as so brilliantly laid out by Don Rose in the Chicago Daily Observer a few months ago. You have cats in your house; you think everything is great; then visitors walk in through the door, reel back in horror, and say, “What is that godawful smell?” And I say this as a lover of cats. Or as Rose put it, in a column about the colorful ex-governor Rod Blagojevich:
Out of towners often ask me how it is that folks in Chicago and Illinois put up with all the hanky and panky that goes on in our political snakepits.
I tell them about my cat litter box.
Currently I have two cats—once I had nine. In any case, I used to think I kept their potty clean and odor free. Then, every so often someone would come to the door, sniff the air and whisper in confidence, “I think your cat box needs changing.”
They were right, of course. They came from cat-free environments and could sense a drop of urine at 30 paces, while I had grown so desensitized to the aroma that my schnozz would tell me I was romping through a fresh pine forest.
So it is with the denizens of our city and state.
And so it should be with us all. As recently as a few hours ago, I was impressed by Obama’s use of language. And now….
Ryan Powers reports at ThinkProgress:
A newly-disclosed 2005 memo, authored by then-State Department counselor Philip Zelikow, then-Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, and then-Deputy Assistant Secretary for Detainee Affairs Matthew Waxman, gave President Bush “clear and unequivocal advice encouraging a detainee interrogation system that followed humane practices that adhered to US and international law.” The memo was authored as the Bush administration was seeking a “fresh approach” handling terror detainee and just weeks after the OLC issued its second round of torture memos.
In the memo, the three Bush administration officials argue that the President should appoint a “special board” to “review general U.S. government detainee policy and operations” and “evaluate issues of effectiveness and intelligence value.”
While that review was taking place, the authors recommended that U.S. forces treat detainees in the so-called war on terror as if they were “civilian detainees under the law of war.” “This is the system generally being used by our forces in Iraq. Adopting this interim approach allows us to handle the detainees on a well understood basis that gives our forces clear, unambiguous guidelines for conduct,” they wrote, adding:
WE ARE NOT SAYING THAT THESE DETAINEES ARE, NECESSARILY ENTITLED TO THIS STATUS. TO BE CLEAR: WE ARE GIVING THEM A TEMPORARY STATUS THEY DO NOT DESERVE. BUT WE ARE NOT DOING THIS FOR THEM. WE ARE DOING IT FOR US.
Their approach would have harmonized detainee treatment procedures in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Jane Mayer explained in The Dark Side that the differing guidelines for detainee treatment in the three different theaters had, in part, lead to the abuses at Abu Ghraib.
As the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman explained in his account of the Cheney vice presidency, Angler, the memo was a “top-to-bottom assault on the Cheney-Addington legal model. Its authors proposed to seek legislation, acknowledge secret prisons, give the worst of the terrorists Geneva rights, and bring them back within the full jurisdiction of American courts.” But the memo’s arguments were not well received. As Gellman writes, after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice showed the memo to an “intrigued” President Bush, it was shown to other high-level administration officials:
England, Rumsfeld’s deputy, brought the paper to his boss…Rumsfeld reacted coldly. He had not authorized this. … Rumsfeld directed that all copies be withdrawn from circulation and shredded. (p. 349)
National Security Adviser Steve Hadley canceled a discussion of the document upon hearing about its contents from Cheney’s office. Zelikow explained his goal in writing the memo last week in testimony before the Senate Judiciary committee saying that he wanted to “effectively prohibit ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading’ treatment of detainees.”
Good short review of the top three headsets. In California, you must have a hands-free way to use a cellphone. The Wife’s Prius has Bluetooth and phone controls built in, but my 1996 Nissan doesn’t, so I have to use a headset.
A friend just reminded me: when was the last time you saw onionskin paper?
That is, if we decide to enforce the law. Excellent article by the redoubtable Marcy Wheeler in Salon, which begins:
On April 16, the Obama administration released four memos that were used to authorize torture in interrogations during the Bush administration. When President Obama released the memos, he said, "It is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution."
Yet 13 key people in the Bush administration cannot claim they relied on the memos from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. Some of the 13 manipulated the federal bureaucracy and the legal process to "preauthorize" torture in the days after 9/11. Others helped implement torture, and still others helped write the memos that provided the Bush administration with a legal fig leaf after torture had already begun.
The Torture 13 exploited the federal bureaucracy to establish a torture regime in two ways. First, they based the enhanced interrogation techniques on techniques used in the U.S. military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program. The program — which subjects volunteers from the armed services to simulated hostile capture situations — trains servicemen and -women to withstand coercion well enough to avoid making false confessions if captured. Two retired SERE psychologists contracted with the government to "reverse-engineer" these techniques to use in detainee interrogations.
The Torture 13 also abused the legal review process in the Department of Justice in order to provide permission for torture. The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) played a crucial role. OLC provides interpretations on how laws apply to the executive branch. On issues where the law is unclear, like national security, OLC opinions can set the boundary for "legal" activity for executive branch employees. As Jack Goldsmith, OLC head from 2003 to 2004, explains it, "One consequence of [OLC's] power to interpret the law is the power to bestow on government officials what is effectively an advance pardon for actions taken at the edges of vague criminal statutes." OLC has the power, Goldsmith continues, to dispense "get-out-of-jail-free cards." The Torture 13 exploited this power by collaborating on a series of OLC opinions that repeatedly gave U.S. officials such a "get-out-of-jail-free card" for torturing.
Between 9/11 and the end of 2002, the Torture 13 decided to torture, then reverse-engineered the techniques, and then crafted the legal cover. Here’s who they are and what they did: …
Excellent news in this NY Times story by John Broder:
The Obama administration will issue new national requirements for the emissions and mileage of cars and light trucks in an effort to end a long-running conflict among the states, the federal government and auto manufacturers, industry officials said Monday.
President Obama will announce as early as Tuesday that he will combine California’s tough new auto-emissions rules with the existing corporate average fuel economy standard to create a single new national standard, the officials said. As a result, cars and light trucks sold in the United States will be roughly 30 percent cleaner and more fuel-efficient by 2016.
The White House would not divulge details, but environmental advocates and industry officials briefed on the program said that the president would grant California’s longstanding request that its tailpipe emissions standards be imposed nationally. That request was denied by the Bush administration but has been under review by top Obama administration officials since January.
But Mr. Obama is planning to go further, putting in place new mileage requirements to be administered by the Department of Transportation that would match the stringency of the California program.
Under the new standard, the national fleet mileage rule for cars would be roughly 42 miles a gallon in 2016. Light trucks would have to meet a fleet average of slightly more than 26.2 miles a gallon by 2016.
“This is a very big deal,” said Daniel Becker of the Safe Climate Campaign, a group that has pushed for tougher mileage and emissions standards with the goal of curbing the heat-trapping gases that have been linked to global warming. “This is the single biggest step the American government has ever taken to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.”
Industry officials spoke on condition of anonymity about the program because they said they did not want to comment publicly in advance of the White House announcement.
The current standards are 27.5 miles a gallon for cars and about 24 miles a gallon for trucks. The new mileage and emissions rules will gradually tighten, beginning with 2011 models, until they reach the 2016 standards.
The auto industry is not expected to challenge the rule, which provides two things they have long asked for: certainty on a timetable and a single national standard…
I’ve commented on the liberal use of –cides (pesticides, herbicides, fungicides) by industrial farming. Now look what they’ve done. Julia Scott in Salon:
Gene Brandi will always rue the summer of 2007. That’s when the California beekeeper rented half his honeybees, or 1,000 hives, to a watermelon farmer in the San Joaquin Valley at pollination time. The following winter, 50 percent of Brandi’s bees were dead. "They pretty much disappeared," says Brandi, who’s been keeping bees for 35 years.
Since the advent in 2006 of colony collapse disorder, the mysterious ailment that continues to decimate hives across the country, Brandi has grown accustomed to seeing up to 40 percent of his bees vanish each year, simply leave the hive in search of food and never come back. But this was different. Instead of losing bees from all his colonies, Brandi watched the ones that skipped watermelon duty continue to thrive.
Brandi discovered the watermelon farmer had irrigated his plants with imidacloprid, the world’s best-selling insecticide created by Bayer CropScience Inc., one of the world’s leading producers of pesticides and genetically modified vegetable seeds, with annual sales of $8.6 billion. Blended with water and applied to the soil, imidacloprid creates a moist mixture the bees likely drank from on a hot day.
Stories like Brandi’s have become so common that the National Honeybee Advisory Board, which represents the two biggest beekeeper associations in the U.S., recently asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban the product. "We believe imidacloprid kills bees — specifically, that it causes bee colonies to collapse," says Clint Walker, co-chairman of the board.
Beekeepers have singled out imidacloprid and its chemical cousin clothianidin, also produced by Bayer CropScience, as a cause of bee die-offs around the world for over a decade. More recently, the same products have been blamed by American beekeepers, who claim the product is a cause of colony collapse disorder, which has cost many commercial U.S. beekeepers at least a third of their bees since 2006, and threatens the reliability of the world’s food supply.
Scientists have started to turn their attention to both products, which are …
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney, defending the invasion of Iraq, asserted in 2004 that detainees interrogated at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp had revealed that Iraq had trained al Qaida operatives in chemical and biological warfare, an assertion that wasn’t true.
Cheney’s 2004 comments to the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News were largely overlooked at the time. However, they appear to substantiate recent reports that interrogators at Guantanamo and other prison camps were ordered to find evidence of alleged cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein — despite CIA reports that there were only sporadic, insignificant contacts between the militant Islamic group and the secular Iraqi dictatorship.
The head of the Criminal Investigation Task Force at Guantanamo from 2002-2005 confirmed to McClatchy that in late 2002 and early 2003, intelligence officials were tasked to find, among other things, Iraq-al Qaida ties, which were a central pillar of the Bush administration’s case for its March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
"I’m aware of the fact that in late 2002, early 2003, that (the alleged al Qaida-Iraq link) was an interest on the intelligence side," said retired Army Lt. Col. Brittain Mallow, a former military criminal investigator. "That was something they were tasked to look at."
He said he was unaware of the origins of the directive, but a former senior U.S. intelligence official has told McClatchy that Cheney’s and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s offices were demanding that information in 2002 and 2003. The official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter, requested anonymity.
During the same period, …
Why? Because they do not support Democratic values but in fact are indistinguishable from Republicans—Sen. Blanche Lincoln, for example. Phil Mattingly and Bart Jansen point out the shenanigans of these pseudo-Democrats in the Congressional Quarterly:
When Harry Reid has trouble getting a bill through the Senate, Republicans are usually the main obstacle. But not last week.
Legislation (HR 627) that would limit credit card interest rate hikes and place other new restrictions on the industry languished through a week of quorum calls as Democrats lined up dozens of amendments that threatened to upend a compromise — or at least considerably slow progress — on a bill that supporters want signed into law before the end of the month.
Despite an overwhelming vote in favor of new industry regulations in the House, broad public support and the rallying cry of President Obama, Senate Democratic leaders struggled to get colleagues to either withdraw proposed changes, offer them for up-or-down votes or negotiate agreements on the language. The sum of a week’s work: roll call votes on five amendments.
Majority Leader Reid, D-Nev., decided to schedule a cloture vote for Tuesday to limit debate on a substitute amendment that would replace the contents of the House bill with the Senate’s earlier compromise language. If 60 senators agree, the move strips away amendments that aren’t germane to the bill, which would greatly reduce the number pending.
It was a role reversal for Democrats, who are more used to trying to overcome GOP amendments and stalling tactics.
Congressional leaders want swift action on the bill, both because it won’t take effect until nine months after it becomes law and because they are trying to complete the supplemental appropriations bill (HR 2346) and a bill to combat financial fraud (S 386) before the Memorial Day recess.
While senators pushing for changes say they are trying to strengthen and broaden the bill, Banking Chairman Christopher J. Dodd , D-Conn., saw things differently.
“We run the risk of losing this bill,” an exasperated Dodd said May 14. “I wouldn’t have said that a day or so ago, but we are getting precariously close to that outcome, pushing this off until next week.” …
The brouhaha over what Pelosi knew and when is a sideshow, and if she’s smart she’ll demand an investigation of the entire torture program and who knew what when. In the meantime, Jeff Stein makes a good point in Congressional Quarterly:
One thing you can say about Nancy Pelosi : She’s slow to anger.
Put aside the Speaker’s stumbling over what the CIA told her and when about “harsh interrogation techniques.”
Let’s say she read about the CIA’s simulated drowning of al Qaeda suspects — two of them 266 times alone — in The Washington Post.
What did she do then? Did she call up George Tenet, CIA director until Porter Goss replaced him in 2004, and howl? Did she ream out Goss?
Did she call either up and say, “Listen, you SOB, you lied to me”?
As far as I can tell, she did nothing.
Well, not completely nothing. She let Rep. Jane Harman , top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, write a letter to the CIA, without the added throw-weight of her own signature.
And, as her beleaguered spokesman Brendan Daly says, “What she did was to lead Democrats to take control of Congress so we could pass a law banning torture, which we did,” although President Bush vetoed it.
Talk about a delayed fuse — seven years if you believe CIA and Republican claims that Pelosi and other wired Democrats were first briefed on details of the agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” in September 2002.
Pelosi’s awkward parsing last week of what she knew and when she knew it came in for well-deserved ridicule by Jon Stewart, who likened the Speaker’s emotional response to CIA subterfuge — they certainly didn’t tell her that they had water-boarded two al Qaeda captives 266 times alone — to a “‘Don’t Cancel Chuck’ petition.”
Then again, back in those worrisome, post-9/11 days, maybe Hill Democrats now howling about torture did, as one former senior CIA officer told The Washington Post’s Paul Kane, “question whether we were doing enough.”
But that makes sense only if …
Very interesting profile by Charles Homans of Henry Waxman in Washington Monthly:
It’s a drizzly spring evening on Capitol Hill, and an Indiana congressman has placed himself in an unenviable spot: between Representative Henry A. Waxman and the tobacco industry.
At issue tonight on the floor of the House of Representatives is a piece of legislation that Waxman, a Democrat from California, has been pursuing, Ahab-like, for a decade and a half: a bill that would place cigarettes under the regulatory authority of the Food and Drug Administration. Waxman’s opponent, Republican Steve Buyer, is on the floor pressing for a more industry-friendly alternative: the creation of a new agency called the Tobacco Harm Reduction Center, which would encourage smokers to begin quitting by moving from cigarettes to, say, smokeless tobacco. "You see," Buyer explains, "it is not the nicotine that is killing people—it’s the smoke! It’s the smoke! It’s the smoke that’s killing people." Someone coughs in the back of the room. Buyer doesn’t miss a beat. "I heard somebody coughing," he says. "It’s the smoke! I’m telling you."
Waxman, a former smoker himself, is unfazed. He has been fighting the tobacco wars since Buyer was in law school. His bill is the end point of years of machinations aimed at battering the tobacco industry’s credibility and clout, piece by piece. It was Waxman who, in 1994, hauled seven tobacco-company CEOs before his subcommittee to testify that they did not believe nicotine to be addictive. (Their company scientists, who testified later, said otherwise.) And it was Waxman and his investigators who extracted damning internal documents, one after another, from R. J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, showing that cigarette manufacturers had knowingly concealed the hazards of what they were selling, documents that set the stage for the multibillion-dollar judgments the companies were forced to pay out a decade ago.