Is it possible that the Bush administration is applying its Florida recount strategy to the U.N.’s inspection of Iraq’s weapons? Just as they delayed the recount until it was too late, they are delaying the inspection or finding fault with the inspection plans–delaying until the administration comes up with enough intelligence to justify a preemptive strike.
We haven’t run a convention-al abuse item in quite awhile, but a veteran reader, aware of my fondness for examples of the chicanery involved in taking tax deductions for fun-in-the-sun excursions, has sent me the brochure for the meeting of the Torts, Insurance, and Corporate Law Section of the New York State Bar Association, to be held Nov. 7-10 at the Disney Yacht and Beach Club Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The morning sessions do have some relation to the practice of law. I was particularly struck by the 8:30 a.m. Saturday session on “Ethical Issues Facing the Trial Attorney,” which I’m sure will be crowded with trial lawyers whose deep concern for moral issues has long been one of their more conspicuous characteristics. In the afternoon and evening, any pretense of serious purpose is abandoned. Disney’s Magnolia Golf Course is the venue for the afternoon activity. Then come cocktail parties, dinners, and Cirque du Soleil performances. Also included is a two-day Park-Hopper pass offering admission to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
William Phillips, the longtime editor of Partisan Review who died recently, was known to have had a running feud with his coeditor Philip Rahv. Of Rahv, who was not noted for his modesty, Phillips once said that there would be no use in having him undergo psychoanalysis: “Most of us under analysis, break down and admit our shortcomings; Philip would break down and confess he was a great man.”
The for-profit WellPoint Health Network, Inc., is proposing to take over CareFirst, a nonprofit Washington healthcare provider. WellPoint devotes 25 percent of its income to administrative expense and profit, while CareFirst devotes only 12 percent of its income to administration. So CareFirst is clearly a better deal for the patient, isn’t it? Of course. Then why is CareFirst interested in the deal? It may have something to do with the $78 million in severance payments its executives are being offered by WellPoint.
Taki, Pat Buchanan’s partner in the new magazine, The American Conservative, would not ordinarily qualify as one of Pat’s heroes. Buchanan is famous for his dedication to family values. Taki has been quoted as saying, “Womanizing is a matter of honor. The more the better.” And Pat’s immigration policy is famously harsh on those of dubious character who want to enter this country. In 1984, Taki was arrested at British customs with 23 grams of cocaine in his possession. But why be picky? After all, Taki–whose last name, Theodoracopulos, makes clear why he prefers to be known by the first–is a millionaire, who in Buchanan’s words “has been extremely generous in support of the magazine.”
When Buchanan was asked if Taki isn’t the kind of immigrant he’d keep out of the country, Buchanan replied, according to The Washington Post’s Peter Carlson: “I don’t think he came across the Rio Grande.”
Actually, I’m not without sympathy for Pat’s new venture. Speaking of Iraq, he asks, “Where are the conservatives who are against the war? Kristol, Podhoretz, Will, and Bennett, they’re all hot for war and can’t wait to get started.”
For a long time there was, among American conservatives, an honorable tradition of skepticism regarding military adventures on foreign shores. But the movement’s anti-Communism made it increasingly support deployment of American power abroad, and it became more and more an automatic advocate of militarism.
Speaking of conservative militarism, if we call Karl Rove general, what title should we give Paul Wolfowitz? How about field marshal? It should reflect the fact that he is much more truly dedicated than Rove to the war on Iraq. There’s reason to suspect that Rove’s commitment will begin to diminish the day after the November election.
Rove is “out to destroy Ron Kirk, the popular, politically moderate and business-friendly Democratic mayor of Dallas,” who is running for the U.S. Senate against Republican John Cronyn. When Kirk observed that it would not be the children of the wealthy who would fight Bush’s war, Rove orchestrated an attack that forced Kirk to apologize. He should never have apologized. All he had said was, “I wonder how excited they’d be if I get to the United States Senate and put forth a resolution that says the next time we go to war, the first 500,000 kids have to come from families who earn $1 million or more?” For almost 30 years, the Monthly has advocated drafting the rich. The service avoidance of the affluent is one of the great scandals of American life.
Republicans like to dismiss such ideas as “class warfare.” But when the rich are screwing the rest of us by not serving, why shouldn’t we speak up? And when 52 percent of the Bush tax reduction goes to people of incomes averaging $1.5 million annually, why shouldn’t the rest of us say that it is unfair and it is wrong? If that’s class warfare, I’m all for it. And Ron Kirk, you should be, too.
I mentioned my fear that the administration, in its zeal for war, might try to cook intelligence to suit its taste. Among my reasons for fearing this is the CIA’s footdragging in providing the Senate Intelligence Committee the National Intelligence Estimates on Iraq that the committee requested long ago. One has to suspect that the CIA’s reports were not sufficiently supportive of the hawks and that they are being doctored to make them more satisfactory. When a moderate senator like Florida’s Bob Graham, the chairman of the committee, uses a word like “obstructionism” to describe the CIA’s behavior, you better take it seriously.
Remember back in August a front-page story in The New York Times reported that “Rumsfeld moves to strengthen his grip on military intelligence”? This re-minds me of when the Defense Int-elligence Agency was supplying what this magazine cal-led “intelligence to please” to the Vietnam hawks in the Johnson and Nix-on administrations.
South Carolina federal courts are proposing to strike a blow a-gainst the secret settlement agreements criticized recently in this column. They have tentatively adopted a rule that means companies will no longer get away with concealing product defects and the Catholic Church won’t be able to hide its child- abusers. It has amazed me how the press has been complicit in these concealments by reporting that the settlement terms were “sealed” without questioning why the public should have been denied information that might be necessary for its protection. This time, however, one paper helped inspire the federal court reform. The State of Columbia, S.C., writes Adam Liptak of The New York Times, spurred the interest of the judges “by publishing a series of articles on secret settlements by doctors repeatedly accused of medical malpractice.” This, of course, was one of the most despicable consequences of secrecy–patients not being able to find out if their physician had killed others with his incompetence.
Speaking of an uncritical press, that $200 million in loans that the Redskins are financing for their owners that I questioned in our last issue has now been reported by The Washington Post, which joins The Washington Times in failing to ask why the money is not being used to reduce ticket prices or to acquire better players. The Post has reported that the Redskins’ player payroll, which once was huge, now ranks in the NFL’s lower half. So why doesn’t the Post think to ask why that money isn’t be-ing used for players, if not for the fans?
As one who is always being gul-led by food producers who claim that I can have my cake and eat it, too–I hate to tell you how many low-fat cookies I consumed, until I looked at the calorie count–I know I’m the mark for a new Frito-Lay product: “broccoli potato chips.”
Since 9/11 there has been an understandable tendency to glorify policemen and firemen and to minimize their shortcomings. That’s why I welcomed Washington City Paper‘s “Insider’s Guide to Real Policing.” The tone is evident from the first sentence: “It’s a job that connects all your favorite pastimes–sitting around, eating, bullying, writing incomplete sentences.”
The article is full of tips on how to be one of the 90 percent who avoid real policing: Be one of the cops who arrive late, after the eager ones have actually dealt with the crime. “Circle the block or collar a jaywalker” so you don’t get there too soon. By arriving late you can “set out orange cones, light flares, and shoo away nosy old ladies” and seem a busy participant at the scene of the crime. You don’t even have to do anything if you master the technique of standing around with hands on hips and looking like you’re thinking about doing something.
Washington, like most cities, has a chain of convenience stores called 7-Eleven. “At any given point,” observes City Paper’s Jason Cherkis, “you will find a group of blue hanging out at a ‘Sev’ somewhere in the city.” My own observation is that at any given mo-ment you will find D.C. cops hanging out at practically every 7-Eleven in the city.
“Riding around in your cruiser with the windows rolled down and the AC cranked” is another observation from which I would partially dissent. I often see cruisers with their windows rolled up and two cops inside so engrossed in conversation with one another that they are unlikely to see a crime being committed or hear the terrified screams of the victim.
We mentioned the obstacle that sealed settlements pose to patients seeking information about doctors’ pasts. Another roadblock has been the failure of state medical societies and licensing boards to inform consumers about malpractice records. One state might publish information about disciplinary actions taken by that state, but not by others. Thus, Virginia’s Web site shows Dr. Robert Michael Altman, a Fairfax psychiatrist, as having had his license restored after losing it for having had sex with patients and being hospitalized twice for “severe mental disorder.” But, The Washington Post’s Sandra Boodman reports, the Virginia site does not note that Maryland has denied Altman’s request to reinstate the license he held there.
The federal government does have a National Practitioners Data Bank that lists disciplinary and malpractice information from every state. That information, however, is only available to hospitals. The self-protectors of the medical profession made sure that the public can’t get a peek.
At last, a St. George appears to be doing something about this dreadful state of affairs. Ralph Nader’s longtime associate Dr. Sidney Wolfe, who heads the Public Citizen Health Research Group, has established a Web site, www.questionabledoctors.org, which combines malpractice records from 27 states, including Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Wolfe hopes to have all states included by the end of the year.
Come to think of it, we can’t give that field marshal title to Paul Wolfowitz. What would be left for Richard Perle? Perle is the chairman of the Defense Policy Board, which meets privately with Donald Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and other Pentagon biggies to make sure their already hawkish views are reinforced by the subtle and not-so-subtle threats–e.g., the one to Bush cited here last month–that are Perle’s specialty. Perle even straightens out foreign leaders who stray from his true path. He recently told a German newspaper that Gerhard Schroeder “should retire” because his reservations about joining in the war against Iraq have “severely damaged” German-American relations.
My hometown paper, the Charleston Gazette, recently looked at how much time pupils are spending on school buses in West Virginia’s rural counties. The Gazette found that more than two-thirds of elementary school children spend more than the legal limit of 30 minutes each way every day. One-third of the high school students spend more than an hour each way every day, their young lungs inhaling diesel fumes all the way. Many of the long trips are the result of small schools having been consolidated into big ones. But, as the Gazette reported a while back (see Tilting, March 2002), the smaller schools were doing a better job of educating their kids. So how is the problem to be solved? West Virginia is clearly a poor state. Now you understand why we need federal aid for schools.
Here’s another thing the Redskins could do with the money they’re using to finance loans to the team’s owners. Get rid of those Smirnoff Ice ads. The background for press conferences held by the team’s coaches and players traditionally was the team’s logo. Now the logo alternates with ads for Smirnoff. This is nothing more than a way of brainwashing kids– who, after all, are a large part of the audiences for these conferences– with the brand name of a famous vodka maker.
I know The Weekly Standard will accuse me of class warfare for pointing this out, but did you know that if, according to The New York Times, a GE executive uses the company’s jet to fly from New York to Paris, the cost to the company will be $14,700, but the cost to the executive will only be the $456 he will owe in additional income tax?
Class actions can be a good way to compensate a large number of people who have been similarly victimized by the same defendant. Unfortunately, some lawyers–the fellows who didn’t get up for that 8:30 a.m. ethics session–have figured out how to enrich themselves at the expense of the victims. They will sue the corporate defendant in the name of thousands of victims, and then make sweetheart settlements under which they receive huge fees, but the victims get only pennies.
A recent class action against Ameritech produced an attorneys’ bill of $971,000. What did the individual customers get? “The settlement would have given aggrieved consumers one month’s free use of Ameritech’s speed-dialing service,” reports The Washington Post’s Caroline Mayer, who adds, “Consumers would have had to pay for subsequent use of the speed-dialing service unless they called to cancel.”
In this case the lawyers didn’t get away with it. Attorneys general from five states, as well as the Federal Trade Commission, objected. The trial judge said the settlement “smacks of a court-sponsored promotion gimmick.”
The FTC is planning to challenge more “coupon” settlements like this one, under which the consumer usually only gets a small service that is dependent on his buying a more expensive one.
There’s still another racket the FTC is trying to stop. It is where class-action lawyers piggyback on suits already brought by the FTC and try to charge for work that has actually been done by the staff of the FTC. In one case where the FTC had won $16 million for a company’s customers, class-action attorneys got another $8 million. Then they tried to base their fee on the entire $24 million. After the FTC protested, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson gave the lawyers a fee based on the $8 million only. All of this sounds like the FTC is on the right track. But I have to confess I fear Republican excess in the woodpile. Republicans have an unfortunate tendency to expand this kind of effort to include not only the bad class actions, but the good ones, too.
This item is dedicated to students of the culture of bureaucracy. On Aug. 23, 2001, the FBI field office in New York sought approval from its Washington headquarters for an investigation of Khalid Almihdhar after there had been several months of disturbing reports about his activities. The lawyers at headquarters turned down the request. On 9/11, when an agent in the New York office found Almihdhar’s name on the manifests of one of the crashed planes, according to The Washington Post, “he yelled angrily: ‘This is the same Almihdhar we’ve been talking about for three months!’” His supervisor, trying to reassure him, answered, “We did everything by the book.”
Fannie Mae is one of the nicer places to work around Washington. Since it enjoys government backing for its securities, it’s pretty much a risk-free enterprise. Its employees, however, enjoy the job security of the civil service without the accompanying limitations on earnings. Their salaries and perks are generous, the work rarely onerous. If, for example, you have a colleague you don’t like or don’t want to talk to, there is a company-supplied “coach” who will act as intermediary between you and the guy you don’t like, so that any unpleasant encounter can be avoided.
If this sounds absurd, know that it is only slightly more so than the widespread tendency in Washington for one bureaucratic unit in an organization to defer to another in order to avoid rocking the boat. Why else did the FBI’s counterterrorism people defer to their law unit and deny the requests from Minneapolis and New York that might have prevented 9/11?
Another place to keep close watch on the Republicans is the SEC. Chairman Harvey Pitt, who had been said to favor John H. Biggs, chairman and CEO of TIAA-CREF, as head of the new accounting oversight board, was reported by The Washington Postas we went to press to have “told Biggs he may not support him for the job.” Biggs, who is widely considered to have been an outstanding leader of the teacher-retirement fund, has been a bit too critical of the accounting industry for Pitt and his industry pals. They are now said to favor Donald Kirk, who has been described by a former colleague as “very loyal to the profession and maybe a little reluctant to meet the profession head on.”
The GAO has discovered that four of the top 100 federal contractors are incorporated in tax-haven countries. Why should Uncle Sam give his business to companies that evade his taxes? Tyco International, Accenture, and Foster Wheeler each got roughly $200 million in federal contracts in 2001. McDermott International got a whopping $1.8 billion. Based in Panama, it gets away with a lot of nose-thumbing at the IRS. And it will probably continue to do so. Its Washington representative is Daddy Bush’s pal, Brent Scowcroft.
The Washington Postdevoted one sentence on an inside page to Ted Kennedy’s address at Johns Hopkins University’s Advanced International School questioning George Bush’s rush to war. The Post completely failed to cover the Senate Armed Forces hearing in which retired army and marine corps generals made cautionary statements about the war, and during which Kennedy also expressed his concern. All this was in Michael Getler’s ombudsman column on the Post’s Oct. 6 editorial page. Incredibly, a Post front page story that same day headlined “9/11 Changed Equation For Democrats, 1991’s Doves Now Back War” failed to mention the Kennedy stand, even though he had been one of the 1991 doves.