Bush Overloads Civil Rights Panel with GOP Members

Original Publication Date: 
Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Through the sleight-of-hand of an apparently party- switching appointee, the Bush administration in December 2004 dodged the legal requirement to have no more than four members of one political party on the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

The bipartisan agency, which operates under the executive branch, is charged with investigating and reporting on violations and illegal practices in regard to civil rights, particularly voting violations.

The eight-member commission lost an Independent and a Democrat late last year, both of whom George W. Bush replaced with Republicans, creating what would have been a five-member GOP majority in violation of § 701.10 of the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Evidence suggests that on the same day Bush made the Republican appointments, Abigail Thernstrom, who had been appointed to the board as a Republican in 2001, changed her party affiliation to Independent in an attempt to skirt federal regulations.


Federal Regulations Governing the USCCR

From 45 CFR 701:
Authority: 42 U.S.C. 1975, 1975a, 1975b.
Source: 67 FR 70482, Nov. 22, 2002, unless otherwise noted.

§ 701.10 Membership of the Commission.
(a) The Commission is composed of eight members (or “Commissioners”), not more than four of whom may be of the same political party. The President shall appoint four members, the President pro tempore of the Senate shall appoint two, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall appoint two.

(b) The Chairperson and Vice Chairperson of the Commission are designated by the President with the concurrence of a majority of the Commissioners. The Vice Chairperson acts as Chairperson in the absence or disability of the Chairperson or in the event of a vacancy in that office.

(c) No vacancy in the Commission affects its powers and any vacancy is filled in the same manner and is subject to the same limitations with respect to party affiliations as previous appointments.

(d) Five members of the Commission constitute a quorum.

The Manchurian Veterans

Original Publication Date: 
Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Stories of American service members returning from the Middle East wars with physical and emotional scars have focused national attention on the plight of the country's combat veterans.  But still overlooked are G.I.s who suffered severe damage from service to their country as human test experiments.  The tale of the uniformed guinea pigs who participated in America's Cold War mind control program is, perhaps, one of the most disturbing chapters in the history of the country that became the world's "sole superpower."

The Mind Control Gap

LaboratoryThe United States Army established its chemical experimentation facility at the Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland in 1917. But it wasn't until 1954 that Edgewood became a temporary duty station for G.I.s who volunteered to participate in Project MK-ULTRA and more than 150 other projects involved in the Central Intelligence Agency's mind control program.

In the early 1950s, reports of Chinese and Russian brainwashing techniques used on U.S. prisoners of war during the Korean Conflict had reached American intelligence operatives. In 1953, eager to close the perceived gap in mind control capabilities during the heart of the "red scare" era, then CIA director Allen Dulles launched a mind control program of his own.

To head the project, Dulles named Doctor Sidney Gottlieb, a shadowy figure whose personality reflected the bizarre and horrifying nature of the mind control program itself.

The Sorcerer

Born in 1918, Sidney Gottlieb was a clubfoot and a stutterer who earned a PhD in chemistry from the Chicago Institute of Technology. He became chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's experimental interrogation programs in 1953.

By some accounts, Gottlieb often took LSD, locking himself in his office and taking extensive notes of his psychedelic experiences. Gottlieb is also alleged to have been behind plots to disable or assassinate foreign heads of state, including Fidel Castro, by covertly exposing them to deadly or psychoactive drugs.

Corporate Responsibility: The Case of Big Tobacco - Part IV

Original Publication Date: 
Monday, October 2, 2006

Only through Law . . .

The next day, it was that same juror 1’s turn to play the heavy, though he brought a civility to the role that my act had lacked.  Finally, though, when he realized he was getting nowhere, he pulled out copies of a letter he had written to the judge and passed them around:

Your Honor:

As a juror on this John’s Manville Asbestos Trust vs. Tobacco Companies case, I would like to lodge a complaint against certain jurors who “misled” the court (including both plaintiff and defense councils) by lying in their statements that they could render a fair and Impartial” verdict and that they could follow the “Rules and or Charges” as set by Your Honor.

These jurors are uncooperative in that:

Corporate Responsibility: The Case of Big Tobacco - Part II

Original Publication Date: 
Monday, October 2, 2006

Experts, RICO, Semantics

"Peer review" became a mantra for both sides as they extolled the expertise of their witnesses. Both sides seemed besotted with the achievements of their witnesses and the esteem they were held in by their colleagues. Everybody who testified for either side was an insider of some sort. There were no loners, no one working against the main currents of their professions. Outside of Hanson's "Behavioralism," no unpopular or minority opinions were going to be part of the case on either side.

Even Hanson had impeccable credentials within his primary field. He was criticized only because he stepped outside of it, crossing boundaries from Economics to Psychology. Even the plaintiff's legal team seemed unsure of what to do with Hanson's ideas. They let him run through them quickly, and did not provide the back-up that could have made his testimony stronger. Had they thought to pair him with a Psychologist/Statistician, for example, they could have strengthened his testimony. They never even allowed him to fully explain the tenets of his new "Behavioralist" school of thought, perhaps feeling it was, after all, too untested. The defense tried to make him look foolish, just another Don Quixote tilting at windmills. In general, they succeeded, even though they never really attacked the core of what he was saying.

The value that the lawyers placed on the actions and opinions of experts was most readily apparent in the direct and cross-examination of Jeffrey Harris, a physician and an MIT professor with a Ph. D. in Economics.

Harris wanted to show that the tobacco companies, by obscuring the scientific epidemiological evidence linking tobacco to disease, had directly affected the quit rates of smokers. To do this, he examined the quit rates of a group of insulators (who worked with asbestos) studied by Dr. Irving Selikoff of New York's Mount Sinai Hospital starting in 1962. It was Selikoff who, in 1967, first established the link in lung disease between asbestos and tobacco. According to Selikoff, an asbestos worker who smoked had a 90-times higher chance of getting lung cancer than did someone who neither smoked nor worked with asbestos. This rate, he showed, is much, much higher, too, than that for someone who only either smokes or works with asbestos solely.

Corporate Responsibility: The Case of Big Tobacco - Part I

Original Publication Date: 
Monday, October 2, 2006

A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers

"Maybe it was wrong, maybe it was too much, but it was not a fraud." David Bernick, dapper and compact, paused and looked at the jury, gauging us with penetrating dark eyes for perhaps the last time. After seven weeks of testimonies, he was summing up, talking once more about the public relations campaigns waged over the years by American tobacco companies: Beginning with their 1954 "Frank Statement" pledging to make public health their highest priority, Bernick said, the tobacco companies had tried to "push back on political pressure, regulatory pressure." They had claimed they would conduct research on tobacco and disease, yet were soon doing little more than denying a material link between smoking and disease.

Had this constituted fraud? Had this industry, perhaps the most vilified in American history, criminally led people to smoke more and longer, adding to the suffering of millions? Bernick, representing Brown & Williamson and leading the team of tobacco-industry lawyers, had coordinated the difficult task of convincing us that they had not.

A wiry, black-haired man, Bernick, from the Chicago law firm of Kirkland & Ellis, had been leading big tobacco's defense from the edge of his chair.His client, with the other tobacco companies, was being sued by the Johns Manville Trust, the group responsible for asbestos-related disease contracted by Manville workers now that the company had gone bankrupt. Bernick, probably the best lawyer I can ever hope to see in action, was trying to make sure that even a vilified tobacco industry got the best representation possible -- and a fair trial.

Corporate Responsibility: The Case of Big Tobacco

On September 25, 2006, Federal Judge Jack Weinstein of the Eastern District of New York ruled that a class-action suit against the major tobacco companies can go forward. The suit, brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) act, will argue that the tobacco industry conspired to keep smokers ignorant of the fact that there is no difference in disease rates for "light" or "low tar" cigarettes and regular cigarettes. And that constitutes fraud.

The ruling is a relief to me ... and not because I'm an ex-smoker who was conned into choosing "light" brands, but because I sat on a jury in a tobacco case before the same judge (and with the same lead defense attorney) not quite six years ago.

We ended up as a hung jury. Though I did not believe that the tobacco companies could have been held liable in that particular case, I did feel that we had seen signs of malfeasance. This case may address them.

The case before us, brought by the Manville Trust, alleged that the tobacco companies had conspired to keep information away from smokers that would have lead them to quit.

The Trust, which tries to cover the expenses of disease caused by asbestos at Manville plants, claimed that the synergy between tobacco and asbestos raised the amount of disease, and that the tobacco companies should have to pay for part of that -- if they broke the law by hiding information. If they committed fraud.

Part V: FDR's Enduring Legacy

Original Publication Date: 
Friday, September 1, 2006

FDR with FalaThe Free Market money crowd has tried to set itself up as the ultimate historical judge of FDR's policies impact on the country suggesting that: "it didn't work you know, was all incompetent." The silence, perhaps, comes from the continuing legacy the McCarthy witch-hunt. But, who really were the "reds"? All too often they were people who had been supporters of FDR during the 1930s and the war. Which beds were they under? Democratic ones, of course.

Witch-hunts are a traditional method of cutting off the transmission of ideas and interfering with the succession of generations. It was not so different than what the radical right did to the Democrats with the continuous, more than 8 years' worth, sliming of Bill Clinton and what it has continued to do since 9/11, with their fear mongering, slanders, innuendoes and half-truths. They are truly the vicious children and grand-children of the union of Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohen.

A summary assessment begins by distinguishing between the institutional political legacy of FDR and his personal legacy.

To reassess the first, one could highlight FDR's leadership, which won the war against Hitler's fascism. Compare FDR's leadership between Dec 7th1941 and May 8th1945 with Bush's between September 11thth 2001 and September 11thth 2006. Who mobilized 18 million into the Armed forces, became a beacon for democracy, produced a world wide alliance, and kept the home economy going and growing, by drawing on unused capacity, like the women who went to work, while their men went to fight?

Who took the country from circumstances (not unlike those that the challengers of Joe Louis found themselves in, flat out and almost flat-lined) to become the power which fought and won a world war in the brief 12 years from 1933-1945? The von Mises Society -- bitter opponents of FDR and his New Deal policies? The Heritage Foundation? If either of these organizations' financial and economic orthodoxies had been pursued, that 12-year transformation from the bottom to world leadership would not have occurred.

Part IV: The First 100 Days

Original Publication Date: 
Friday, September 1, 2006

Between March 8th and June 16th 1933 fifteen legislative proposals were passed into law. Never before had Executive and Legislative branches, co-operated to make such a profound impact on the country in such a short period of time. Private interests were subordinated to public policy, and the federal government took on the mission of doing what no other interest could do on its own.1 The role of government was transformed.

This unprecedented period earned a name, The First Hundred Days and eventually became a standard to which modern presidents are (unfavorably) compared. At a certain point the name began to shape the process; it became A Program, as if it had been that at the beginning, it had designers, as if those responsible had planned each step at the beginning. The appended timeline chronicles the process day by day. It is not complete, by any means, but provides a good idea of what happened. Seeing events laid out in order makes the sequence seem predictable or even inevitable. Dont be fooled.

The New Deal that emerged in these 100 days was a result of the powerful, chaotic forces at work in the country, of FDR's vision for prosperity and progress, and a fair amount of guesswork. It was not at all a carefully planned process. The way FDR thought about the process comes out clearly in his twice-weekly press conferences. This one from March 15th 1933 is exemplary.

"There are two other matters that I would very much like to get started while the Congress is hereboth of them constructive. The first is a definite effort to put people to work. And the way I would put it is this: Like all very big projects, it is in a sense experimental, therefore we do not want to launch it on too big a scale until we know how practical it is. Probably I will send up a message. I can't tell you the exact date, but tomorrow if everything goes well.

Part III: FDR's Brain Trust

Original Publication Date: 
Friday, September 1, 2006

On November 10 th 1932, two days after FDR won his first presidential election, Adolf Berle, one of the members of the outfit known as the FDR "Brain Trust," sat down to outline his view of what FDR’s legislative agenda should be. Berle was best able to demonstrate the depth of the crisis in which the country found itself by drawing up a series of stark ‘either/or’ alternatives for the president-elect and his cabinet.

He put together three of them. First, there would either be economic recovery or there would be a revolution. Second, there would either be social reform of a restored economy or attempted political stabilization in a disintegrating one. Third, either the "recovery" Hoover claimed was in progress woud arrive, or FDR would have to clean up the mess.

"It must be remembered," Berle wrote, "that by March 4th next we may have anything on our hands from a recovery to a revolution. The chance is about even either way." 1 If there wasn’t a recovery, would there be a revolution, if the economy was not recovering how could there be social reform or political stabilization?

Berle had joined Roosevelt’s election campaign back in March of 1932. At that time Samuel I. Rosenman, FDR’s counsel, proposed that FDR pull together a group that could provide him with policy analyses and speeches. High-energy brain power, capable of turning around big projects quickly, was Rosenman’s prescription.2 Rosenman was a New York State Supreme Court Justice, who had served with Roosevelt since the early 1920’s, and would until after the President’s death, when he continued to help organize the Nuremberg prosecutions of leading Nazis,


Original Publication Date: 
Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Editors' Note: On the first year anniversary of Katrina, Louisiana resident and writer, Polydactyl reflects on her in-the-moment journals and diaries to remind us of what it was like in the eye of the storm.

about the author: Polydactyl dons her blogger's hat in Central Louisiana between shifts as a wife, mom, cat-herder and computer healer.