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Friday, February 11, 2005

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Calling All Democrats

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Calling All Democrats: "OP-ED COLUMNIST
Calling All Democrats

Published: February 10, 2005

In the past week, I've received several e-mail notes from Democrats about the Iraq elections, or heard comments from various Democratic lawmakers - always along the following lines: "Remember, Vietnam also had an election, and you recall how that ended." Or, "O.K., the election was nice, but none of it was worth $100 billion or 10,000 killed and wounded." Or, "You know, we've actually created more terrorists in Iraq - election or not."

I think there is much to criticize about how the war in Iraq has been conducted, and the outcome is still uncertain. But those who suggest that the Iraqi election is just beanbag, and that all we are doing is making the war on terrorism worse as a result of Iraq, are speaking nonsense.

Here's the truth: There is no single action we could undertake anywhere in the world to reduce the threat of terrorism that would have a bigger impact today than a decent outcome in Iraq. It is that important. And precisely because it is so important, it should not be left to Donald Rumsfeld.

Democrats need to start thinking seriously about Iraq - the way Joe Biden, Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton have. If France - the mother of all blue states - can do it, so, too, can the Democrats. Otherwise, they will be absenting themselves from the most important foreign policy issue of our day.

Here are four things Democrats should be excited about:

What Iraq is now embarking on is the first attempt - ever - by the citizens of a multiethnic, multireligious Arab state to draw up their own social contract, their own constitution, for how they should share power and resources, protect minority rights and balance mosque and state. I have no idea whether they will succeed. Much will depend on whether the Shiites want to be a wise and inclusive majority and whether the Sunnis want to be a smart and collaborative minority.

There will be a lot of trial and error in the months ahead. But this is a hugely important horizontal dialogue because if Iraqis can't forge a social contract, it would suggest that no other Arab country can - since virtually all of them are similar mixtures of tribes, ethnicities and religions. That would mean that they can be ruled only by iron-fisted kings or dictators, with all the negatives that flow from that.

But - but - if Iraqis succeed in forging a social contract in the hardest place of all, it means that democracy is actually possible anywhere in the Arab world.

Democrats do not favor using military force against Iran's nuclear program or to compel regime change there. That is probably wise. But they don't really have a diplomatic option. I've got one: Iraq. Iraq is our Iran policy.

If we can help produce a representative government in Iraq - based on free and fair elections and with a Shiite leadership that accepts minority rights and limits on clerical involvement in politics - it will exert great pressure on the ayatollah-dictators running Iran. In Iran's sham "Islamic democracy," only the mullahs decide who can run. Over time, Iranian Shiites will demand to know why they can't have the same freedoms as their Iraqi cousins right next door. That will drive change in Iran. Just be patient.

The war on terrorism is a war of ideas. The greatest restraint on human behavior is not a police officer or a fence - it's a community and a culture. Palestinian suicide bombing has stopped not because of the Israeli fence or because Palestinians are no longer "desperate." It has stopped because the Palestinians had an election, and a majority voted to get behind a diplomatic approach. They told the violent minority that suicide bombing - for now - is shameful.

What Arabs and Muslims say about their terrorists is the only thing that will protect us in the long run. It takes a village, and the Iraqi election was the Iraqi village telling the violent minority that what it is doing is shameful. The fascist minority in Iraq is virulent, and some jihadists will stop at nothing. But the way you begin to drain the swamps of terrorism is when you create a democratic context for those with good ideas to denounce those with bad ones.

Egypt and Syrian-occupied Lebanon both have elections this year. Watch how the progressives and those demanding representative government are empowered in their struggle against the one-man rulers in Egypt and Syria - if the Iraqi experiment succeeds.

We have paid a huge price in Iraq. I want to get out as soon as we can. But trying to finish the job there, as long as we have real partners, is really important - and any party that says otherwise will become unimportant.

The New York Times > Washington > Senate Approves Measure to Curb Big Class Actions

The New York Times > Washington > Senate Approves Measure to Curb Big Class Actions

February 11, 2005
Senate Approves Measure to Curb Big Class Actions

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 - Handing President Bush a significant victory, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a measure on Thursday that would sharply limit the ability of people to file class-action lawsuits against companies.

The measure, adopted 72 to 26, now heads to the House of Representatives, where Republican leaders say it will be approved next week and sent to the White House for Mr. Bush's signature.

The measure would prohibit state courts from hearing many kinds of cases they now consider, transferring them to federal courts. Experts say many cases will wind up not being brought because federal judges have been constrained by a series of legal precedents from considering large class actions that involve varying laws of different states.

The legislation also makes it more difficult for class-action lawsuits to be settled by payments of coupons for goods and services instead of cash by the defendants, a practice that has been heavily criticized by Democrats and Republicans.

The measure does not affect pending cases.

Mr. Bush issued a statement praising the vote, his first legislative victory of his second term.

"Our country depends on a fair legal system that protects people who have been harmed without encouraging junk lawsuits that undermine confidence in our courts while hurting our economy, costing jobs and threatening small businesses," the president said. "The class-action bill is a strong step forward in our efforts to reform the litigation system and keep America the best place in the world to do business."

The legislation has long been promoted by large and small businesses, particularly manufacturers and insurance companies, and failed by a single vote in the Senate in 2003. It could have an especially significant effect on cases involving accusations of defective products, like drugs and cars; plaintiffs in such cases have had success in bringing large class actions in state courts. Automakers and drug makers have worked for years with manufacturers and insurers to press Congress to adopt the bill.

The business groups have asserted that the legislation is necessary to curtail frivolous litigation that benefits lawyers more than plaintiffs. They have said it is important to eliminate the unfair practice of lawyers' shopping for state courts that were more favorable to plaintiffs.

"This is a modest bill which will help reform a class-action regime that many times serves no one but the lawyers who bring these class-action lawsuits," said Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who was the chief sponsor of the measure and who introduced a version of it eight years ago. "Out-of-control frivolous filings are a real drag on the economy. Many a good business is being hurt by these frivolous claims."

But the measure has been attacked by civil rights organizations, labor groups, consumer organizations, many state prosecutors and environmental groups, who say it would sharply curtail important cases and provide new protections for unscrupulous companies. Many federal and state judges and state lawmakers have also criticized the bill, saying it would strip states of an important role in judging such contests and could add a considerable number of cases to already burdened federal dockets.

"This bill is one of the most unfair, anticonsumer proposals to come before the Senate in years," said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader. "It slams the courthouse doors on a wide range of injured plaintiffs. It turns federalism upside down by preventing state courts from hearing state law claims. And it limits corporate accountability at a time of rampant corporate scandals."

In the vote on Thursday, 18 Democrats joined 53 Republicans and the lone Senate independent, James M. Jeffords of Vermont, in supporting the measure. Democrats cast all 26 dissenting votes. Two Republicans, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and John Sununu of New Hampshire, did not vote.

Republicans say they hope the vote will provide momentum for two other major bills overhauling the tort law system, one on asbestos litigation, the other on curbs on medical malpractice lawsuits. Critics of these bills say that part of the effort by the White House is to attack trial lawyers, a vital financial base of support for the Democratic Party. They have also said that like Social Security and the war in Iraq, tort law problems have been exaggerated by the Bush administration, and that proposed solutions go much further than necessary.

The legislation approved by the Senate would prohibit state courts from hearing most of the kinds of class actions that have most troubled corporate America - those in which the class consists of many consumers or employees from around the nation who assert significant injuries of one sort or another. It precludes state courts from considering cases involving claims of more than $5 million and having a member of the class living in a state different from the defendant's.

Critics of the legislation say that since the Supreme Court and several appeals courts have imposed limits on the ability of federal district judges to consider cases involving the varying laws of multiple states, the legislation will deter the filing of meritorious lawsuits.

Some experts in civil procedure and class actions said they believed that the fight would now move to federal courts and that some federal judges might become more receptive to hearing such claims now that they know that their dismissal would mean that no one else would hear them.

"The assumption of business interests was that federal courts will continue to dismiss them blindly, ignorant of the fact that there is nowhere else for these cases to go," said Samuel Issacharoff, an expert on civil procedure at Columbia Law School who is the main author of a coming treatise on different kinds of cases involving many parties, including class actions, for the American Law Institute, an influential organization of lawyers, academics and judges. "I think more highly of federal courts," Mr. Issacharoff said, "that they will realize that they stand between justice and the breach."

Stephen B. Burbank, an expert on class actions and civil procedure at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, also expects federal judges to try to find ways to hear the cases.

"Don't underestimate the ability of federal judges to find ways around this if they can," Professor Burbank said.

But he said lower federal courts would remain constrained by the precedents set by the Supreme Court and appeals courts that sharply limit their ability to hear cases involving the differing laws of multiple states.

Professor Burbank, who recently completed a study on the sharp decline in the trials of all civil cases, said he feared that one impact of the legislation would be a further reduction in such cases, particularly since federal judges must give priority to criminal cases and already have heavy dockets. Class-action lawsuits rarely make it to trial but require considerable time because judges are called upon by lawyers from both sides to rule on a variety of pretrial motions.

Prof. Arthur R. Miller of Harvard Law School, a longtime critic of the legislation who in previous years worked with organizations that tried to soften the measure, said that the legislation could lead to the balkanization of class-action litigation by encouraging plaintiffs' lawyers to file smaller suits in different courts, rather than a single large nationwide action.

"This will clearly have a dampening effect on class actions," Professor Miller said. "But accomplished law firms will figure out how to work with it."

He also said that the vague language of the new legislation was certain to spawn a significant amount of new litigation over the law's terms.

"This is not neat and crisp like the Ten Commandments," he said.

Lawyers at several firms specializing in class actions said they had not begun to think about what legal maneuvers were possible to get their highly profitable class actions heard. One lawyer at a prominent class-action firm said that part of the reason plaintiffs' lawyers had not prepared a strategy yet was that many lawyers had expected the legislation to take longer to adopt as Senate and House members wrangled over terms.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | N Korea suspends nuclear talks

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | N Korea suspends nuclear talks

N Korea suspends nuclear talks
North Korea will stay away from talks on its nuclear programme for an "indefinite period", according to the nation's foreign ministry.

Pyongyang said there was no point in the talks since the US had termed North Korea an "outpost of tyranny".

The North also repeated a claim to have built nuclear weapons for self-defence.

But US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the communist state would only deepen its international isolation if it pulled out of the talks.

"The world has given them a way out and we hope they will take that way out," she said at a news conference with European Union leaders.

Washington and Pyongyang have been locked in a diplomatic standoff since October 2002, when the US accused North Korea of operating an illegal uranium programme.

Since then three rounds of talks have been held - including China, Japan, Russia and South Korea - but little progress has been made.

The North Korean foreign ministry's statement, which was reported by state news agency KCNA, said: "We have wanted the six-party talks but we are compelled to suspend our participation... for an indefinite period".

There is no justification for us to participate in the six-party talks again, given that the Bush administration termed [us] an 'outpost of tyranny'
North Korean statement

It added that Pyongyang had "manufactured nukes for self-defence" and would take "a measure to bolster its nuclear weapons arsenal" in order to "protect its ideology, system, freedom and democracy".

This is North Korea's most explicit public assertion that it possesses nuclear weapons. Senior members of the regime have privately spoken about its nuclear capability on several occasions in the past.

US and other intelligence agencies believe the North could already have built a small number of weapons, variously estimated at between two and ten.

US 'antagonism'

North Korea's anger appears to be directed at several keynote speeches made by US President George Bush and other senior members of his administration as they started their new terms in office.

"The second-term Bush administration's intention to antagonise the DPRK (North Korea) and isolate and stifle it at any cost has become quite clear," the statement said, citing the president's inaugural address and his State of the Union speech.

Condoleezza Rice's description of the isolated nation as an "outpost of tyranny" was also singled out for criticism.

19 Jan: Condoleezza Rice refers to North as an "outpost of tyranny"
20 Jan: No mention in George Bush's inauguration speech, though US goal was to "end tyranny in our world"
2 Feb: Mr Bush's State of the Union address says US working with governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon nuclear ambitions

"There is no justification for us to participate in the six-party talks again, given that the Bush administration termed the DPRK, a dialogue partner, an 'outpost of tyranny'," the statement said.

Some observers had hoped that Mr Bush's State of the Union speech would actually increase the chance of the stalled nuclear talks going ahead, because the president refrained from direct criticism of North Korea.

In a past speech, in 2002, he famously described Iraq, Iran and North Korea as part of an "axis of evil".

In Thursday's statement, Pyongyang also had strong words to say about Japan, which it described as "persistently pursuing its hostile policy toward the DPRK, toeing the US line".

It accused Tokyo of trying to prevent normalised relations by making false claims over the "abduction issue" - an ongoing row about missing Japanese nationals which North Korea admits to having kidnapped in the 1970s and 80s.

Pyongyang claims the issue has now been "settled".

Just hours before North Korea's statement was released, John Bolton, the US undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that Washington believed Pyongyang was still continuing to produce nuclear weapons.

"To whatever extent the North Koreans are proceeding with their programme, and we believe they are, the absence of progress in six-party talks means they are making further progress toward their increased capability," Mr Bolton told reporters during a visit to Tokyo.

"Time is not on our side," he added.
Story from BBC NEWS: