Sunday, March 13, 2005

Robert Byrd

A Cry for Freedom in the U.S. Senate
By Senator Robert Byrd
t r u t h o u t | Statement

Thursday 10 March 2005

Senator Byrd delivered the following remarks in the Senate, urging his colleagues to back away from the so-called "nuclear option" that would stifle debate first on judicial nominees, and then, perhaps, on all legislation.
"Freedom is a fragile thing and never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again." - Ronald Reagan

I rise today to discuss freedom. Not the grandiose world-wide "freedom talk" one hears so much of. No. Not far-flung foreign policy goals. Rather my concern today is preserving our freedoms right in our own backyard here at home. Freedom, like a good garden, needs constant tending. One must watch for the worms in the wood. As Wendell Phillips, the abolitionist, orator, and columnist once said, "Eternal Vigilance is the price of liberty." One must pay the price if one wants the blessing.

In a culture where sports metaphors are more common public parlance than historical analogies, our unique form of government, carefully restraining powers while protecting rights, presents a special challenge to maintain. The "winning is everything" philosophy so beloved by Americans may, without careful balance, obscure the goal of justice for all that must be the aim of a representative democracy. Demeaning minority views, characterizing opposition as obstructionist, these are first steps down the dark alley of subjugating rights.

Majorities can prevail by numerical force; they do not need protection from minorities. Yet, some would have us believe that minority voices threaten the larger public good in the case of presidential judicial appointments. The opposite is true. It is minorities who are most in jeopardy without fairness from the Federal bench. The persecuted, the disadvantaged, the poor, the downtrodden - - these are the very citizens who need the strong protection of an unbiased legal system. Appointees to the Federal Bench should be scrutinized for traces of ideological rigidity, or allegiance to political movements which could cloud impartial judgment. I, for one, do not favor activist judges of any stripe. I do not think that the proper role for a judge is to make new law from the bench, and my own preference is usually for strict Constitutionalists. "Conservative" judges can hold activist views just as can "liberal" judges. Such labels tell us very little. What we should strive for on the Federal bench is blind justice, that is justice absent a political agenda.

Judicial appointments must never be a "sure thing" for the bench, simply because they please the majority party, whether that majority is Democratic or Republican. Federal judges enjoy life tenure, making decisions of huge importance to the lives and livelihoods of our citizens. They are accountable to no one and no President can fire them. It is ridiculous to suggest that mere superiority of numbers in the Senate should, alone, guarantee confirmation. Such a claim reduces the Constitutional advice and consent function of the Senate to a pro forma rubber stamping of presidential judicial appointments, whenever the President's party controls the Senate. We are talking about a separate branch of the Federal government here which wields tremendous power. There is no God-given right to a seat on the Federal bench. Should a minority have only the recourse of delay to defeat a judicial candidate of concern, that minority is well within its rights to filibuster. In fact, they would be derelict in their duty if they did not. There is no shortage of candidates for the Federal bench. Another name can always be offered. Our aim should be to select excellent judges acceptable across a wide spectrum of political views.

There was a time in this country when men and women of opposite political parties could reason together to achieve such goals. There was a time when the concerns of honorable men and women serving in this Senate received the respect of fellow members of the Senate, even though they were in the minority. Now, I am very sorry to observe, the Senate and the country are so polarized and politicized that nearly all dissent is discarded as obstructionist and politically motivated. Get out of the way is the cry. Few take the time to consider other views. If 41 members of the Senate have objections to any judicial candidate, perhaps those objections should be heeded. Perhaps that nominee should not serve. Perhaps the minority is right.

Senate service often reminds me of a game of "red rover." We line up like two opposing camps and run as hard as we can at each other to score points. The talk show mavens keep the fires fanned, and through the din honest discourse is nearly impossible. I worry about a country whose major political pastime is not finding compromise, but seeking conflict. The people are not well-served. The courage to speak out about one's convictions is in scarcer and scarcer supply. Where are the 21st century's profiles in courage? President John F. Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize winning book, Profiles in Courage, lionized public servants who did not fear to stand alone, like Senator George Norris of Nebraska.

From 1806 to 1917, there was no ability to invoke cloture in the Senate. But, in 1917 a cloture rule passed after a filibuster by twelve determined Senators who opposed U.S. intervention in World War I. That debate began when President Wilson asked Congress for the authority to arm U.S. merchant ships against Germany. The House of Representatives passed Wilson's bill - the "Armed Ship" bill - by a vote of 403 to 13. But a handful of determined United States Senators who opposed U.S. intervention in World War I, including Republican George W. Norris of Nebraska, launched a filibuster with far-reaching consequences. George Norris' filibuster killed President Wilson's bill, though Wilson resurrected its contents by Executive Order shortly after the filibuster ended.

Nebraskans and in fact, the entire nation, were consumed with rage at George Norris because of public disclosures that Germany had promised Mexico several U.S. states if Mexico would align itself with Germany in war against the United States.

The New York Times called Norris and others, "perverse and disloyal obstructionists," and editorialized that, "the odium of treasonable purpose will rest upon their names forevermore." The Hartford Courant called them, "political tramps." The New York Sun called them "a group of moral perverts." The Providence Journal called their action "little short of treason," and the Portland Free Press said they should be "driven from public life."

Senator George W. Norris, this Nebraskan from the heart of America, suffered merciless abuse, vicious invective, and public scorn, tarred by public sentiment, savaged by a strident press in the grip of a public filled with hate of Germany at the start of World War I. Yet, he was and is an American hero.

George Norris was "fearful of the broad grant of authority" that President Wilson sought to go to war, and "resentful of the manner in which that authority was being ‘steam rolled' through the Congress." How history repeats itself.

In Senator Norris' words:

I will not . . . even at the behest of a unanimous constituency, violate my oath of office by voting in favor of a proposition that means the surrender by Congress of its sole right to declare war. . . I am, however, so firmly convinced of the righteousness of my course that I believe if the intelligence and patriotic citizenship of the country can only have an opportunity to hear both sides of the question, all the money in Christendom and all the political machinery that wealth can congregate will not be able to defeat the principle of government for which our forefathers fought.
When George Norris went home to explain why he had filibustered in the face of universal criticism, he sought an open meeting in Lincoln, Nebraska. "I had expected an unfriendly audience," Norris wrote. "And," he said, "it was with some fear that I stepped forward. When I stepped out on the stage, there was a deathlike silence," he said.

Senator Norris began, President Kennedy tells us, by stating simply: "I have come home to tell you the truth."

After more than an hour, the crowd in Lincoln, Nebraska, Kennedy wrote, roared its approval.

Many have written extensively - and with legitimate fear - of what could happen if men without the courage of their convictions simply sat back and let themselves be swept away by a powerful majority, including George Orwell writing of the horrors of power run rampant, of a world run by "thought police," who seek to control not just information, but the speech and thoughts of every individual citizen. In 1984, Orwell recorded what life would be like under the thumb of Big Brother, with no autonomy of thought or speech. George Orwell's fictional warning against Big Brother should encourage us all to ponder, cherish, and protect our precious freedom to think and speak freely. And the means to that end is protecting the right to dissent. Orwell said of liberty, "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." That right will be in jeopardy if a misguided attempt to eliminate the filibuster succeeds.

Robert Caro, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his renowned book about Lyndon Johnson, made Orwell's point in a letter to the Senate Rules Committee in June 2003. "Many times in America's history, the right of extended debate has been used to defend causes with which I profoundly disagree. . ." "Nonetheless," he said, "great care should be taken in placing new restrictions on that right. Senators who are considering doing so should understand that they will be taking a step that has significant implications for the balance of powers created under the Constitution, and also for another very fundamental concern in a democracy: the balance between majority and minority rights."

Caro stressed that the Framers gave the Senate strong protections from transient public passions or executive pressure, and that the Constitutional Convention kept the Senate small, so that it would have, in Madison's words, less propensity "to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be secluded by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions." Madison believed that, ". . . there are more instances of the abridgement of freedoms of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." Madison was right.

The loss of freedom will not come as a thunderclap. Rather, if it goes, it will slip silently away from us, little by little, like so many grains of sand sliding softly through an hour glass. The curbing of speech in the Senate on judicial nominations will most certainly evolve to an eventual elimination of the right of extended debate. And that will spur intimidation and the steady withering of dissent. An eagerness to win - win elections, win every judicial nomination, overpower enemies, real or imagined, with brute force - holds the poison seeds of destruction of free speech and decimation of minority rights. The ultimate perpetrator of tyranny in this world is the urge by the powerful to prevail at any cost. A free forum where the minority can rise to loudly call a halt to the ambitions of an over zealous majority must be maintained. We must never surrender that forum, the United States Senate, to the tyranny of any majority.'

This House is a sanctuary; a citadel of law, of order, and of liberty; and it is here - it is here, in this exalted refuge; here, if anywhere, will resistance be made to the storms of political phrensy and the silent arts of corruption; and if the Constitution be destined ever to perish by the sacrilegious hands of the demagogue or the usurper, which God avert, its expiring agonies will be witnessed on this floor. - Aaron Burr, March 2, 1805

The so called nuclear option, if successful, will begin the slow and agonizing death spiral of freedom and speech and dissent and it will be witnessed on this Floor.


Middle Class? What Middle Class?

Mr. Bush's Stealthy Tax Increase
The New York Times | Editorial

Sunday 13 March 2005

President Bush is presiding over a big middle-class tax hike.

As recently as 2000, only about one million taxpayers owed the alternative minimum tax, created by a provision in the federal tax code that is supposed to prevent multimillionaires from using loopholes to avoid paying their fair share. But by the time Americans file their 2005 taxes, some 3 million taxpayers will owe the alternative tax and by 2010, nearly 30 million taxpayers will be hit - among them, a staggering 94 percent of married filers who have children and make $75,000 to $100,000.

Big families in high-tax states - New York, New Jersey, California and Massachusetts - will bear the heaviest burden, largely because the alternative tax increasingly disallows write-offs for dependents, state income taxes and local property taxes. On average, by 2010, people who make under $100,000 and owe the alternative tax will pay an additional $1,321 in federal income taxes, while alternative tax payers who make between $100,000 and $200,000 will owe an additional $2,592.

Meanwhile, and most outrageous, only 35 percent of taxpayers who earn $1 million or more will owe the alternative tax.

Why does the alternative tax increasingly afflict middle-rung taxpayers for whom it was never intended, while largely ignoring the highest-end taxpayers it is meant for?

First, the alternative tax is not adjusted for inflation, so over time, more and more middle-income taxpayers find themselves owing it.

Second, and crucially important, is the interplay of the alternative tax and Mr. Bush's first-term tax cuts. When the tax cuts were enacted, no long-term corresponding changes were made to the alternative tax system - even though the administration was well aware that was a recipe for disaster. Not only will many families that thought they were in for lower income taxes wind up feeling shortchanged, some will find that the Bush tax cuts have done nothing at all to cut their taxes.

Here's why: The alternative tax applies to people whose income tax bills are low relative to their income. So as tax cuts reduce the liability on a filer's Form 1040, the alternative tax kicks in. In effect, it claws back all or part of the supposed savings from the Bush tax cuts. By 2010, the Bush tax cuts alone will cause an additional 17 million taxpayers to owe the alternative tax. By 2014, assuming the Bush tax cuts are made permanent, 40 million taxpayers will owe the alternative tax, nearly half of whom would never have faced it but for the tax cuts.

Meanwhile, the people who should be paying the alternative tax do not. Mr. Bush's administration, more than any other, has bestowed tax breaks on wealthy investors in the form of superlow rates on capital gains and dividends. But the alternative tax system - which regards deductions for property taxes or state income taxes as a kind of tax shelter - does not recognize this preferential treatment of investment income. That is a huge loophole. The alternative tax, whose very purpose is to prevent excessive sheltering, ignores the biggest tax breaks of all: special, low rates on capital gains and dividends that allow investors to avoid paying tens of billions of dollars in taxes every year.

Ever since the first round of Bush tax cuts were enacted, Congress has passed temporary relief measures to keep most middle-income taxpayers from owing the alternative tax, but the problem is becoming too big, too fast, for stopgaps to keep working. Mr. Bush, for his part, says that he wants to shield the middle class from the alternative tax and that his tax reform commission will recommend a solution when it makes its report in July.

But Mr. Bush needs the alternative tax - he relies on its projected revenue to mask the debilitating cost of making his tax cuts permanent. Congressional estimates say that extending them permanently will cost $281 billion in 2014. But that estimate assumes that nothing will be done to prevent the alternative tax from further burdening the middle class. If the middle class is fully protected, the cost of extending the tax cuts will mushroom to $356 billion - 27 percent higher than the official estimate. The federal budget deficit would explode.

The obvious answer is to restore the alternative tax to its true antisheltering purpose, by making inflation adjustments that will exempt the middle class once and for all and by fully taxing capital gains and dividends under the alternative system. But Congress and the administration are currently heading in precisely the wrong direction. The Bush tax breaks for investment income are scheduled to expire in 2008, but both the president and Congressional leaders are calling for extending them, at least through 2010, while proposing no corresponding long-term change in the alternative tax.

Bush administration officials and their antitax allies seem to believe that if taxpayers become angry enough at having to pay the alternative tax, they will throw their support behind any tax reform plan the administration puts forth. That is fomenting a crisis in order to appear to solve it. Is it too much to ask not to put the country through that kind of cynical exercise yet again?

© Copyright 2005 by

Another Bush Inside Job....on LNG

March 8, 2005

Another Profiteering Scheme
Neil Bush and Crest Investments

Neil Bush, has a $60,000-a-year employment contract with a top adviser to a Washington-based consulting firm set up to help companies secure contracts in Iraq, according to the Nov 11, 2004 Financial Times.

Neil disclosed this employment during a divorce deposition on March 3, 2003. He testified that he was co-chairman of the Houston-based, Crest Investment Corporation, which invests in energy and other ventures, and said he received $15,000 every three months for a average 3 or 4 hours of work a week doing "miscellaneous consulting services." "Such as?" his ex-wife's Attorney asked, "Such as answering phone calls when Jamal Daniel, the other co-chairman, called and asked for advice," Neil answered.

Crest's co-chairman, Daniel, sits on the advisory board of New Bridge Strategies, a firm set up in March 2003, just in time to cash in on the Iraq reconstruction contracts, by a group of businessmen with close ties to the Bush family, and both Bush administrations. The firm's chairman is Joe Allbaugh, who was W's campaign director in the 2000, and who was appointed Director of FEMA once Bush took office.

In addition to paying him for "consulting" work, Crest has provided funding for Neil's educational software company Ignite! In fact, Daniel sometimes introduces himself as a founding backer of the company, and has persuaded the families of prominent leaders in the Middle East to invest in Ignite, according to the Dec 11, 2003 Financial Times.

Overall, Crest goes to great lengths to show Neil how much it values his membership on the team. For instance, when Neil got remarried in 2004, Daniel held a wedding reception at his home, and Crest arranged a 5-year rent-free cottage for Neil and his new bride in Kennebunkport, Maine, so they could spend time near Mom & Pop Bush whenever they wanted to.

Another Jackpot - Thanks To Brother W

As usual, during his deposition, Neil forgot to mention a few facts about his earnings potential with Crest. First of all, he didn't mention that he attached his signature to letters soliciting business for New Bridge in obtaining contracts in Iraq, and two, that he attached his name as a reference for an extremely lucrative proposal submitted by Crest to obtain a lease on a parcel of property located on the island of Quintana, Texas, that will result in payments of at least $2 million a year to Crest.

When W took office in 2001, he vowed to make it easier for companies to build coastline facilities to store liquefied natural gas (LNG), a cooled and condensed form of natural gas, shipped in from countries around the world.

That promise sent US companies scrambling to secure coastline property on which to build the LNG processing facilities. One company looking to enter the market was Crest. Although the firm had no experience whatsoever in LNG processing, it had a very influential asset, a co-chairman by the name of Neil Bush

One property of specific interest was Quintana Island, located in the Texas gulf, because it was accessible to cargo ships. The right to grant a lease to the land belonged to the Brazos River Harbor Navigation District.

If it could gain approval, the Crest LNG facility would be the first such facility in Texas, and only one of a few in the entire country.

The Harbor Commission was so enthralled with a proposal from Crest, that it offered the company an all-exclusive lease without soliciting for any other bids. The proposal was approved even though ExxonMobil owned the right to a first refusal on that part of the island, under a 1998 agreement, and even though the Commission knew that another company, Cheniere Energy, was interested in building a nearly identical facility on the exact same parcel of land.

When asked why the commission chose to grant the initial deal to Crest, Phyllis Saathoff, managing director of the Commission, said, "We worked it out and could accommodate [the Crest proposal], so we did," according to the LA Times on Oct 29, 2004.

To this day, Neil's connection to the firm is not widely known. However, Saathoff said that when Crest approached the commission with the project, it provided Neil's name as a reference.

How Did Crest Pull It Off?

The chronology of events that led to the Commission's approval of the Crest proposal is contained in court documents from a lawsuit filed against Crest, by Cheniere Energy, a firm with experience in LNG processing.

In 2000, Crest and Cheniere began discussing the possibility of a joint venture to build an LNG facility. After W's election, negotiations picked up speed and Cheniere provided a detailed, "confidential" briefing on its plans to Crest, according to court records.

In early 2001, Cheniere submitted an initial proposal for the project to the Commission. However, without telling Cheniere, Crest went forward and submitted a similar proposal to the Commission, according to court records.

The commission set a date of March 22, 2001, to meet with Cheniere officials about the firm's proposal, but the meeting was abruptly canceled. The very next day, on March 23, 2001, the Commission held an emergency session and met with Crest representatives, and granted the company, with no experience in LNG processing, an exclusive, 3-year lease option on the island property.

Cheniere then filed the lawsuit against Crest. But the two companies ended up settling out of court by becoming partners on the project. After other partners were added, the Freeport LNG consortium was created.

Crest To Handle Political Permits

An internal Freeport memo specified that Cheniere would be responsible for operational aspects of the project, and to no one's surprise I'm sure, Neil's company, Crest, was designated to "handle the political permitting side."

Crest has supported W in his campaigns and some of the firm's representatives have key Washington connections. According to harbor commission memos, Daniel is friends with Energy Secretary, Spencer Abraham, and Crest executive, Dee Osborne, was a guest of Commerce Secretary, Don Evans, on a 2002 US trade mission to Chile and Peru, the Times reported.

In addition to Neil's obvious inside track with W, Crest was able to garner other political support for the project's approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), was one of 4 members of Congress who signed a letter in support of approving the project, and Daniel's buddy, Spencer Abraham, also lent the backing of his office at the Department of Energy.

On Dec 12, 2002, the Commission approved the terms of a 30-year lease. However, Texas law required that it solicit for bids on any lease extending beyond 10 years. The Commission claimed it advertised for proposals in late December, 2002, but said no other bids were submitted.

The Crest-Quintana project was one of the first to benefit from the Bush administration's changes in regulations that streamlined federal permitting, relaxed financial reviews and made it easier to comply with safety standards.

Although the changes in the regulations were made after Freeport filed its initial application, the changes were applied retroactively to the project. In June, 2002, the FERC approved the project and gave the company a 5-year completion date. The final version of the lease was signed on March 28, 2003.

An important fact that Neil forgot to mention in his deposition is that once the plant goes into operation, Crest is guaranteed payments of at least $2 million a year from the partnership. However, unless Neil decides to dump his new wife, which might require his participation in another deposition, we will likely never know how much of the $2 million ends up in the Bush trough each year.

James Smith, director of Public Citizen-Texas, a watchdog group focused on energy issues, described the Crest profiteering scheme correctly when he told the LA Times on Oct 29, 2004, that the deal appeared to be "another classic example of Bush family cronyism paying off."

Evelyn Pringle is a columnist for Independent Media TV and an investigative journalist focused on exposing government corruption. Email: