DAWN - Opinion; March 24, 2003

Published March 24, 2003

Risks of the Bush doctrine

By Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty

PRESIDENT George W. Bush has elected to defy the UN and the bulk of international opinion by his decision to go to war against Iraq. This is a momentous decision, one that may transform the global order and even plunge the world into an era of instability and violence if the concept of collective management as represented by the United Nations system collapses, and force alone rules.

As has been well recognized, the basic trend of the Bush foreign policy ever since he moved into the White House has been unilateralist. The launching of the concept of national missile defence, accompanied by the scrapping of the ABM Treaty, left no doubt that this president was determined to raise the established level of US hegemony to new heights. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, provided the additional justification for asserting the unrivalled US military and technological superiority, which took the form of the Bush doctrine of pre-emption during 2002.

President Bush had identified Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as the “axis of evil” in his State of the Union address in January 2002, and gone on to claim the right of pre-emption against states or individuals seen to pose a threat to the security of the US or its allies or that could resort to terrorism. The doctrine, as elaborated in a series of statements, set out several objectives. These include removal of governments repugnant to the US, use of pre-emption against “rogue” regimes supporting terrorists or possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), as so determined by the US, and taking unilateral action where support or participation of allies is not forthcoming.

Other components of the US approach that have been spelled out on various occasions are the right to use nuclear weapons for deterrence against several countries, including Russia and China, and the open declaration that no country will be allowed to challenge the US power in the foreseeable future.

The war against Iraq is the practical demonstration of the Bush doctrine in action. Ever since George Bush voiced concern about the threat from WMDs supposedly held by Iraq, the UN Security Council was involved in efforts to disarm Iraq. Following its Resolution 1441, that was passed unanimously in November 2002, the UN weapons inspection system was revived.

With the US already massing its forces in the Gulf, Iraq was prevailed upon to allow the UN inspectors it had expelled in 1998 to return and give them free and unhindered access to all installations, defence and civilian facilities, including even presidential palaces, to ascertain whether or not Iraq was manufacturing or holding weapons of mass destruction. Two senior UN appointed experts, Dr Hans Blix, a former head of IAEA, and Mohammad ElBaradei, the current head, were sent to oversee these inspections and report back to the UN.

In several reports to the Security Council, these two senior representatives of the UN, expressed satisfaction with the cooperation extended by Iraq, and also informed the Security Council that no WMDs had been found nor had any evidence of programmes to manufacture nuclear, chemical or biological weapons been detected. When US Secretary of State Powell conveyed intelligence reports about alleged Iraqi clandestine plans or stockpiles of WMDs, those reports were checked on the ground, and no proof was found. The two top inspectors also expressed the view that if doubts existed about whether Iraq had destroyed all WMDs or stocks of chemical and biological weapons, the UN inspectors could check and confirm, and ensure all stocks of these lethal weapons had in fact been etc.

The US resolve to go beyond disarming Iraq makes it plain that the real aim is to topple the Saddam Hussein government and put a government of its own choice in power. The much touted decision to re-establish democracy in Iraq and later in other countries of the region is seen by many western commentators as a means to justify prolonged occupation of Iraq which has huge reserves of oil, and maintain a strong military presence in a region where popular sentiments are hostile to the US because of its patronage of Israel.

The Bush doctrine centres on the US right to bring about regime change wherever it chooses to do so. The claim that as a result of democratization power would be exercised by representatives of the people in various countries lacks credibility, since the US objective is to set up client regimes, who would do America’s bidding.

In most Gulf sheikhdoms, Washington is likely to encounter intense hostility from the younger generation that it would end up bolstering the hereditary rulers, most of whom are already strong allies of America and the West anyway. Thus the goal of introducing democracy in the Arab and Muslim countries cannot realistically be achieved — not in environment of anger and turmoils which the war is bound to trigger.

The war has barely got started, and naturally, voices of opposition in the countries participating in it have been muted by the need to demonstrate unity in support of their fighting forces. However, the long-term effects of the Bush doctrine in action being forecast are not positive by any means. A victory, given the overwhelming military power of the US, cannot be in doubt. Iraq’s fighting capabilities have been downgraded continuously since 1991, and Saddam Hussein’s style of government has not helped either.

Still, there is almost universal sympathy for the hapless people of Iraq, who have been under the regions of sanctions for 12 years, as a result of which the majority of the people are malnourished, with half a million children having died for lack of proper food and medicine. What has happened in Palestine, under the policies of brutal suppression of Ariel Sharon, can only be seen and understood in terms of an Israeli verson of the doctrine unilateralism.

Objective and impartial US analysts and newspapers like the New York Times, have been focusing on the immediate and long-term implications of the Bush doctrine. Nobody in the world questions the right of the US to ensure that the kind of terrorist outrage that it suffered on September 11, 2001, does not occur again. That is why there was unanimous support for Resolution 1441, which sought to disarm Iraq.

The UN route to achieving that goal appeared to be proceeding smoothly, and all that was needed was a few more weeks of work by the UN inspectors. After assuring the UN that war would be the last resort to defang Iraq, the US has suddenly scuttled the peaceful disarmament of Iraq, and invaded that country in contemptuous disregard of the world opinion, international law and morality.

One recalls the popularity and esteem enjoyed by the US after the Second World War, when it helped defeat fascism, or even 1991 when it acted to end Saddam Hussein’s unprovoked invasion and occupation of Kuwait. The regrettable thing is that the present action in Iraq departs fundamentally from the policies and actions that won America worldwide acclaim and support in the past.

The outcome of the war against Iraq is not at all in doubt, but its aftermath already looks ominously bleak from the point of view of peace and stability in the Middle East. The UN has been sidelined and made to appear toothless at a time its writ should have been enforced, especially in the light of its success in disarming Iraq peacefully. Certain other countries, such as India and Israel, were already showing scant regard for the world body, whose resolutions on Kashmir and Palestine they have been ignoring. There are fears that if it continues to be sidelined, certain other countries might feel tempted invoke their own versions of the doctrine of pre-emption to settle scores with other countries with whom too they have some disputes to resolve. The UN might then meet the same fate as the League of Nations.

Other consequences of the Bush doctrine in practice are a division in the Atlantic community, deep differences with major EU countries, and the creation of hostility and insecurity in the Islamic world. The adoption of a unilateralist foreign policy has damaged the image of the US, as a country stands for justice, equity, freedom and internationalism. Last but not the least, there are likely to be serious economic consequences for the US itself.

Leading analysts have pointed out that the US runs an annual deficit of over $ 400 billion in trade. This is met by an inflow of funds from abroad. Washington may lose this balancing inflow if it continue to pursue the unilateralist doctrine in the domain of external relations. The results could be catastrophic for the US economy. This has been cited as a major reason for maintaining a multilateralist approach in foreign policy.

Even after the start of the attacks on Iraq, many major powers such as Russia, France, Germany and China which opposed military action to disarm Iraq are calling for a swift end to hostilities and voicing fears of a humanitarian disaster. The majority of the Islamic and Arab countries to have called for concerted action to stop the war.

Similar views have been expressed by Pakistan, which feels that the weakening of the UN and the economic consequences are too high a price to pay for a war that could have been avoided. Even as the hostilities proceed, and a regime change in Baghdad is effected, the negative consequences of the Bush doctrine need to be reconsidered, and a more national and thoughtful approach to international relations adopted.

Karachi’s mass transit system

By Anwer Mooraj

MANY of the citizens of this sprawling metropolis, who can’t afford to commute by any other means of travel than the minibus, or its larger and more intimidating relative, must have wondered every time they read about a carbon-monoxide sprouting bus spread-eagling some poor pedestrian trying to cross the road, why no attempt had ever been made by the city fathers to introduce a swifter, cheaper and more convenient mode of travel, like a metro or a well-integrated surface railway.

What many people don’t know is that there was such a proposal in 1972 to introduce an underground railway system through the inner city from Merewether Tower to Jehangir Road. Nobody knows for sure what happened to the proposal which probably is gathering dust in a bureaucratic cupboard. But these days, when discussions of a possible underground railway crop up, (after all, haven’t Kolkata and Delhi taken the plunge), the people at the helm of affairs will come up with the usual excuses: the scheme is too expensive, the transport mafia will not allow it, and where will the money come from?

In case the subject does crop up in the Sindh assembly in the near future, the MPAs would be advised to speak to Chief Engineer Mohsin Rizvi who will tell them that contrary to popular belief, Karachi does not have a water table problem, and the construction of a metro wouldn’t be all that expensive if the cut-and-fill option was adopted instead of boring a tunnel.

The Karachi Circular Railway, which ten years ago nobody wanted to touch with a barge pole, and which had, for all practical purposes, been almost forgotten, is once again in the news. But this time, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to the involvement and persistence of the Chinese.

On March 18 the Sindh government, exhausted after spending endless hours debating an issue which is as old as the country itself — admissions fraudulently obtained in medical colleges — finally came up with something which will be of considerable interest to the citizens of Karachi. The formation of a committee which, with the assistance of the Chinese National Machinery Export and Import Company, will work on, and finally present, a report to the chief minister for the revival of the Karachi Circular Railway. What puts a new complexion on the issue is the fact that the governor and the chief minister appear to be on the same side, unlike the experience of past governments.

If the KCR project is finally going to see the light of day, and there is evidence to suggest that things appear to be heading in that direction, it is not at all clear what is going to happen to the other big project that was supposed to tackle the problems of the city commuter — Karachi Master Plan 2000, for which the Nazim of Karachi had recently invited tenders from three bidders. This ambitious programme, initiated by World Bank consultants, envisaged six elevated corridors similar to the ones in Manila and Bangkok which would resemble the vertebrae of a pachyderm.

Corridor One, which was to be erected on a priority basis, was to stretch from Sohrab Goth to Merewether Tower, a distance of 17 kilometers. And a supplementary 13-kilometer long elevated corridor was to extend to Karimabad. All this looks very impressive on paper. But the question that critics had to ask was: where was the need to start something new when you’ve already got something which, in the words of the British Tommy, only needs a little spit and polish?

There are basically four objections that town planners like Arif Hasan, environmentalists and other concerned citizens, have raised to the setting up of this ambitious project — financial, functional, environmental and aesthetic. To start with, there is the cost — estimated at 668 million dollars, to be repaid over a period of 30 years, which is enough to put anybody off. This would mean that a trip would cost the commuter on average Rs 40 — hardly a price that the common man can afford.

Then there is the purely functional problem of duplication. What is the sense of investing so much money when three of the proposed elevated corridors would be running parallel to the route of the circular railway? Cynics would treat this as a stupid question because the history of this country is replete with examples of abandoned and unfinished projects, and newspaper columnists have, during the last forty years, identified examples of wanton waste, often executed with considerable panache.

The environmentalists object to the scheme because they believe it will cause large pockets of congestion at focal points as has happened in Manila and Bangkok. These people believe that what is really required is a suburban railway system, and not an inner-city system. The areas which need to be connected are Korangi, Landhi, Baldia, Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi Port, the fish harbour, SITE, the central business district of Saddar and I.I. Chundrigar Road and Pipri. All these areas are linked to the circular railway. According to figures published in 1987, 68 per cent of the commuters come from Nazimabad, Baldia, Korangi , Landhi and Gulistan-e-Jauhar.

And finally, there are those who believe that the elevated corridors would block from view some of the those magnificent red sandstone buildings, monuments of imperial splendour, that through heritage legislation have managed to survive the onslaught of the builders of highrises, who have unleashed an orgy of construction that has turned some parts of the city into monstrous concrete jungles. Some of the historical buildings that would be blotted from view are Merewether Tower, Khaliqdina Hall, Denso Hall, the city courts, the KMC building, Mama Parsi School and D.J. Sindh College.

The government of Sindh had recently appointed a local engineering firm with considerable experience in designing the infrastructure of communication projects, to prepare a viable plan for the revitalization of the circular railway. This firm arrived at the inescapable conclusion, shared by many NGOs and concerned citizens, that a mass transit system for Karachi can be built around the circular railway and its subsequent expansion along the city’s major growth corridors.

Four convincing arguments were advanced by this firm for this conclusion. According to the Karachi Master Plan Studies of 1987, 45 per cent of all employment in Karachi is concentrated in SITE., the Landhi-Korangi industrial areas, the port, the central business area and Saddar. The KCR line and the main Karachi railway line pass through all these areas, with the exception of Saddar. However, the walking distance from Saddar to the closest point on the circular railway would be from five to twenty minutes. The main line also brings the Steel Mill and its residential environs into the ambit of approach.

The circular railway intersects all the major arteries which carry commuters into the city. These include Mauripur Road, and the thoroughfares named after Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan, M.A. Jinnah, Dr Ziauddin Ahmed, Haji Abdullah Haroon, Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman, Shaheed-e-Millat, Rashid Minhas, Allama Rashid Turabi and Noor Jehan. It intersects also the roads named after Karachi University, Korangi, Mangopir, Hub River, the central avenue in SITE and the superhighway, The majority of these intersections have flyovers or bridges spanning over them. If stations could be erected under these flyovers it would be possible to establish an effective road-and-rail link which would effectively connect the whole of Karachi to the rail system.

Karachi’s suburbs, where most of the city’s commuters reside, lie beyond the circular railway and are served by the Baldia, Orangi, North Karachi and Korangi corridors. Fortunately, these corridors are wide enough, and there is nothing to stop the railway from being extended to these districts in phases.

The development of the railway corridor will help take much of the traffic load off the congested roads with their alarmingly high levels of pollution. As the train system will operate on electricity it will be environment-friendly, comfortable and hassle-free. It must be borne in mind, however, that if full benefit is to be derived from the circular railway it will have to be part of a larger Karachi transport plan, so that it can be effectively linked to a broader inner and intra-city road transport system. Bombay set the trend in the subcontinent fifty years ago It is time people started to think seriously about doing something similar in Karachi.

Email: a-mooraj@cyber.net.pk

What is Bush up to?

By Asad Siddiqui

THE scale and spread of the anti-war demonstrations were breathtaking. Millions took to the streets protesting against the prospect of a war being orchestrated assiduously and systematically by Bush and his aide-de-camp Tony Blair.

Dissent against the war in the US was muted, being generally believed as unpatriotic. The Americans are conditioned principally by the electronic media to accepting that their president and government are always right. The TV news programmes in the US are in fact doing PR work for the government. In Europe, on the other hand, because of the tradition of parliamentary debate there is disagreement with government policies, and governments are usually responsive to public opinion.

Strangely enough, Tony Blair is adhering slavishly to the Bush doctrine despite the opposition not only from the British public but also from a large section of his own Labour Party members in parliament. It is uncharacteristic for Labour prime ministers in Britain to so vehemently support and encourage their US counterparts on a contentious issue such as pre-emptive war on a defenceless nation.

Thatcher had a special relationship with Reagan, and always believed that the foreign policy objectives of the two countries were inseparable. But even she had not thrown in her lot quite so completely with the Americans. Blair was not in thrall to Clinton to this extent. So what is driving Blair to recklessly and blatantly align himself with Bush, when it is quite possible that Bush may not be in the White House two years hence while Blair may continue as prime minister beyond then?

Is the war in Iraq then being fought for oil, as is generally believed, and as proclaimed by so many of the protesters who participated in anti-war rallies? Not so, asserts Munir Attaullah, an international businessman, in a London daily (“War on Iraq has got nothing to do with oil”). According to his projections, control of Iraqi oil will yield “a $10 billion one-off bonanza plus annual profits of around seven billion dollars” to US corporations. “But is it worth an investment of some $200 billion (which is what many estimate the war will cost)?” he asks rhetorically. In an administration dominated by businessmen such cost-benefit analysis would figure prominently.

The hawks in Bush’s administration — Wolfowitz, Cheney, Perle — talked of the war as a possible means of reshaping the Middle East by bringing democracy to the region. Turkey and Israel are the only two countries in the region with anything recognisable as democracy. Most of the other countries are monarchies. Some are ruled by dictators belonging to religious or ethnic minorities. Saudi Arabia and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan are the only two major countries in the world that ae named after the royal families. In Saudi Arabia the royal family is in effect the owner of the country. In Iran no one can contest elections unless given clearance by the mullahs.

So what sort of democracy is the US contemplating? If it is universal adult suffrage, the US risks radical, Islamist, anti-American forces coming to the fore, reflecting the growing resentment and disaffection among a progressively younger and poorer electorate. This is the last thing the US wants, and one it is determined to prevent at all costs. A radical Islamist government elected in Algeria a few years ago was never allowed to assume office by the military under pressure from the US.

Why Iraq? In addition to its central location in the middle of the richest oil-producing region in the world, Iraq controls the water that is vital to the future development of the entire Middle East. The Tigris and the Euphrates provide a flow of water essential to the nations of the Arabian peninsula and south-west Asia. Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, even Israel, Yemen, Oman and Iran all are in need of what these mighty rivers supply. Over the longer term, water is even more important to the region than oil.

In a way all this ties in. Iraq’s unexplored regions are thought to have as much oil as its existing proven oil reserves. This would then make Iraq the country with the largest proven oil reserves, in due course overtaking Saudi Arabia. So any country with so much oil, and water to boot, would become the undisputed leader in the region. Obviously the US would not like Iraq to attain such a status, not only for the sake of the oil-producing countries of the region but also for Israel. So the war is to decimate Iraq. So by eliminating potential threats to the regional supremacy of Israel such as Saddam, and at the same time extending economic and military assistance, the US can make Israel the strongest nation in the region and thus ensure Israeli hegemony over, and its control of, the Middle East.

Medical errors

Jesica Santillan, a sunny 17-year-old who died Feb. 22 after undergoing a botched heart-lung transplant at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., is only one of several patients who recently made the news after medical professionals failed to take the most basic precaution of making sure the organ donor and the recipient had compatible blood types.

Last week, the parents of Jeanella Aranda, a 1-year-old who died in a Dallas hospital last August, filed a lawsuit detailing how a series of surgical errors, including transplanting a liver with the wrong blood type, allegedly led to their daughter’s death.

Medical errors prove fatal to as many as 98,000 patients in U.S. hospitals each year, according to a 1999 federal study. Communication failures of the sort that doomed Jesica and Jeanella are all too common in medicine. As Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy, the new director of the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, puts it, “There’s more double-checking and systematic avoidance of mistakes at Starbucks than at most health-care institutions.”

Public reporting and analysis are the first step in figuring out how to reduce medical errors. Last week, the House of Representatives voted 418 to 6 to create a system for doctors and hospitals to voluntarily and in confidence report errors to a federal clearinghouse that would analyze the reports and distill lessons for health workers.

The measure, HR 663, is weak. The Senate, which considers it next, should beef up its funding, make the error reporting closer to mandatory and get rid of restrictions that would make it harder than it is now for patients to get information on medical errors from hospitals.

That the bill exists at all is due to another piece of legislation that would cap pain-and-suffering damages for medical errors at $250,000, a fraction of what it ought to be to balance fairness to doctors with justice for victims of error. The medical error legislation was billed as a protection to patients in return. It might eventually reduce medical errors but would offer nothing to patients who suffer now from such mistakes. It also would not help weed out the most error-prone doctors. The measure goes to the Senate, where Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a heart surgeon, ought to do better by his profession.

Everyone agrees that what doctors include in their reports to the new patient safety organizations should be kept confidential. HR 663, however, would shield not just the doctor’s report of an error but other error-related hospital documents that, in some states, may now be disclosed. Only 30 percent of patients harmed by a medical error were told of the problem by the professional responsible for the mistake, according to a national survey published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine. If the government slashes doctors’ liability, Frist should help right the balance for patients. — Los Angeles Times

Towards a stronger, not weaker UN

By Javed Jabbar

AS an unjust war unleashes destruction on Iraq, a United Nations battered and bypassed by its physical host and its largest financial contributor may begin to look like the Red Cross — or the Red Crescent — of global diplomacy.

When the UN Security Council met on March 19 to discuss the potential humanitarian role that the world body could play in war and post-war conditions, it appeared as if the global forum expressly created for conflict avoidance and conflict resolution has now become an ambulance service of stretcher-bearers. Though it is tempting to apprehend that the corpse being carried away may well soon be that of the UN itself, reality fortunately suggests otherwise.

While individuals are certainly dispensable, the UN as an institution is surely not so. However bad a body blow it has suffered in March 2003 by the savage attacks on it, both above and below the belt by Bush and Blair, the political dimension of the UN can only get better from now onwards, not worse, because there is no further depth left to sink to.

Already, for several decades, the UN’s political credibility had been damaged in a sustained and substantive way by the amnesia applied to the Security Council resolutions on Kashmir and Palestine. Yet, before writing its epitaph, we need to remember that the forum remains the only place where the whole comity of nations can meet as ostensible equals in the General Assembly, and as realistic unequals in the veto-based Security Council.

As democracy increasingly comes to be accepted as a world-wide norm, its concomitant of dialogue requires that there be available a mechanism to facilitate verbal exchanges, however innocuous or ceremonial the talk-shop becomes through the inability to enforce political justice. This minimal function of dialogue facilitation alone ensures the future existence of the UN.

But building its political power and creating credibility for its pronouncements and actions will derive strength from at least four factors.

First: notwithstanding failures as old as Kashmir and Palestine, the UN has demonstrated the capacity for consensus on political approaches to conflict resolution in cases as varied as Namibia, Cambodia and East Timor. These success stories provide an adequate basis to go forward in search of the elusive capacity to act decisively and fairly even when the vital interests, or strongly held views of the veto powers, are involved.

Second: nations have become more interdependent than at any previous stage in history. With a singular and integrated financial system, however informal in some respects this may be, the fundamental economic interests of every nation are now deeply enmeshed with other nations in the same region and on the same planet. The multilateralism spawned by the UN concept after World War II will obligate all to work closer with each other in the years ahead, not further away from each other. In the future, the inequities of the WTO, the Bretton Woods institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank and of stagnant or increased disparities of wealth will compel collective reaction.

Third: in the non-political realm of development, and cooperation for progress, the UN has refined the heritage of international practices and principles from the past. It has initiated comprehensive and unprecedented new frameworks for world-wide participation through instruments as varied as the Law of the Sea Treaty to the Convention on the Rights of Children, through institutions as useful as the World Health Organization to the International Telecommunications Union.

The growth of these multilateral networks over the past five decades has created an infrastructure of internationalism that will support the continuity of the organization and compensate for the stark failures in the political duties of the UN.

Fourth: and perhaps most important from a political perspective, the Iraq crisis produced the first powerful challenge to US unilateralism on the diplomatic battlefield of the Security Council. The three dissenting veto powers — Russia, China and France — and the people of the world, as they did through their “million marches” will strive their utmost to sustain the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, even just as tactical talking shops, if only to use the forum to expose the isolation, the hypocrisies and the arrogance of those who threaten new and unjust wars in the future.

With regard to the 35 nations allegedly comprising the “coalition of the willing” which the US and UK claim are supporting the war on Iraq, the contrived list resembles more “a coalition of the coerced” than of the willing, with troops committed by barely a handful.

When the UN becomes a forum as it did in March 2003 where two intimidatory veto powers were unable to force far smaller and weaker countries on the Security Council to support a second resolution, the place became a historic landmark in the struggle against hegemony. Thus, the challenge for the reconstruction of the UN becomes an imperative, even more significant than the challenge of the reconstruction of Iraq after Saddam.

For all these reasons and more, there are positive prospects for the evolution of the United Nations in the 21st century into the sole global political forum with enhanced ability to deal consensually and function effectively in conflicts, despite the ominous asymmetry of American military power, a phenomenon that requires separate analysis.

The writer is senior vice-president of the Millat Party and a former Senator and federal minister.

Law on soft money

When Congress passed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, it instructed the courts to “expedite” constitutional challenges “to the greatest possible extent.” The need for quick action is simple: If the Supreme Court waits until next term to decide the case, rules for raising and spending money will remain in doubt well into the 2004 presidential election cycle.

The three-judge court now hearing the case seemed to understand this. During oral arguments on Dec. 4, Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson asked both parties when the judges would need to act for the Supreme Court to consider the matter this term. Counsel for both sides agreed that it would be “very helpful” if the court could rule by early February. But the court has yet to rule. Yes, the case is complex. But the judges need to rule so that the real action — Supreme Court consideration — can begin.

While the judges have been pondering, a study offers a timely reminder of why the law is needed in the first place. The law has two complementary aims, both at issue before the special court that is reviewing it: to stop the tide of soft money donations to political parties (nearly a half-billion dollars in 2002) and to reduce the influence of outside groups that in recent years have spent millions of their own to influence elections. In their analysis of the 2002 elections, “The Last Hurrah,” political scientists David B. Magleby and J. Quin Monson offer an on-the-ground look at how candidates in competitive races have been elbowed aside by these outside forces, and how the gusher of money translates into a relentless barrage of television ads, glossy fliers and computerized phone calls. In 10 of the 25 competitive races they studied, parties and interest groups spent more than the candidates themselves. In the hard-fought South Dakota Senate race, overall spending by candidates and outside forces exceeded $24 million — or $70.50 per voter.

In one Pennsylvania House race, which featured a post-redistricting face-off between two incumbents (Republican George W. Gekas and Democrat Tim Holden, the eventual victor), the candidates were outspent by 2 to 1. The House Republican campaign committee dispatched a self-described “magic man” to work on Mr. Gekas’ behalf from spring 2002 on; despite rules against spending the party’s soft money in coordination with the candidate, the GOP worker, Jerry Morgan, was based in Mr. Gekas’ campaign office and had dinner every night with his campaign manager and two other workers from the Gekas campaign. “When asked whether they talked about the campaign over dinner, Morgan literally winked at us and said that they never mentioned the campaign because that would be coordination,” the study reports.

Outside groups also poured millions into the 2002 elections in the name of “issue advocacy” advertising that looked for all intents and purposes like regular campaign advertising but — because it didn’t specifically call on viewers to vote for or against a particular candidate — wasn’t covered by the usual campaign finance rules. A new and innocuous-sounding group called United Seniors Association spent nearly $7 million on television advertising on behalf of Republicans in the races studied — $2 million in the Gekas-Holden contest alone.

The group, whose ads complimented Republicans for passing a prescription drug bill favored by the pharmaceutical industry, is funded by — guess who — the pharmaceutical industry. But voters watching their ads would have no way of knowing that. The new campaign finance law would go a long way toward fixing this broken system. The court should take judicial notice of this report — and then get its ruling out the door.— Washington Post



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