Don't Say He (Rep. Waxman) Didn't Tell You So...

Legislators who take their jobs seriously and represent the interests of their constituents and our society at large are few and far between. Rep. Henry Waxman is one of the few.

To illustrate, consider the recent announcement by the Justice Department regarding the tobacco industry lawsuit brought by the government. The government was on the verge of a tremendous victory on behalf of the public as the industry was about to be forced to disgorge illicit profits arrived at through fraudulent practices causing undue death, misery, and a huge bill to taxpayers in the form of healthcare costs.

The Justice Department abruptly slammed on the brakes and drastically reduced the demand for damages from $130 billion to $10 billion for a stop-smoking program. As the country was feeling the whiplash effect of the decision, Rep. Waxman was back at work, arguing against the change in amount and demanding answers from the Administration.

Perhaps he wasn't quite as surprised as the rest of us. A quick visit to his website shows that he has been tireless in his efforts at making the tobacco companies compensate the country for what they have inflicted upon our citizenry. For a review of his efforts simply visit his site and review 32 separate citations of specific concerns and/or actions regarding the tobacco industry.

Some stand out for their prescience in light of what has just happened. The first dates back to a letter sent by Rep. Waxman in 2001. In this particular letter, he raises concerns about the Administration's special dispensations given to the tobacco industry. The outline of the letter sent to the Administration reads:

Thursday, August 02, 2001
Administration Seeks to Weaken Global Tobacco Accord

Rep. Waxman wrote a letter to President Bush protesting the actions of the U.S. delegation at the most recent negotiating session of the international Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The letter, which is based on previously unreleased minutes of the meetings, reveals how the United States has tried to weaken or eliminate key provisions of the treaty related to tobacco labeling, advertising, exports, and other issues.

*Many documents and letters are in pdf format. Readers can download a free "Adobe Reader" on the left hand side of this page.

The second prescient document emanating from Rep. Waxman's office appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine (March 21, 2002 edition) and in it he stated unequivocally:

"We know more about the harm of tobacco consumption and effective ways to reduce this harm than about perhaps any other major cause of human suffering. That knowledge -- not political influence or campaign contributions -- should guide U.S. actions in these crucial public health negotiations."

The latter is listed under "Administration Holding Weak Positions on Tobacco Treaty" on his website and deals with the "deficiencies in U.S. negotiating positions on the global tobacco treaty, including weak positions on tobacco taxes, advertising and promotion, labeling, trade, and passive smoking restrictions." The article is not available online but, suffice it to say, the synopsis is sufficient to show that 3 years ago, alarm bells were going off about how this Administration and its Justice Department were veering off the path of concerns for the health, safety, and welfare of the public and were replacing that responsibility with the health, safety, and welfare of tobacco company pocketbooks.

Nonetheless, still seeking common ground, Rep. Waxman tried again to reach out to the Administration when Alberto Gonzales replaced John Ashcroft as Attorney General. Early this year, on February 22, Rep. Waxman and Rep. Meehan wrote to Alberto Gonzalez to, according to the description of the letter on the website, "express their support for the Justice Department's aggressive pursuit of the landmark case against the tobacco industry." No doubt this was done so that the new Attorney General would realize that this was an important issue and was still being monitored.

It's worth noting that Rep. Waxman went this extra mile despite evidence that the Administration could not care less about the public-at-large on a wide variety of issues and has consistently sided with well-funded special interest campaign contributors. The inexplicable reduction of the amount sought as compensation by the government should convince even the most ardent Administration supporters who do not have a vested interest in tobacco industry stock that the Administration's talk does not match its actions.

Those still unconvinced need only remember that the Administration's reduction in the damages sought is a tax on the public-whether the individual is a smoker or not. After all, every dollar that the tobacco companies don't have to pay is another dollar out of taxpayers pockets in the form of healthcare and other societal costs associated with smoking.

Finally, if there is any doubt left as to who really runs the government and to whose benefit it is currently operating consider the report on the lawsuit from the the LA Times Business Section, June 8, 2005, under the headline,"U.S. Eases Demands on Tobacco Companies" which reads, in pertinent part, that:

A person familiar with the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the change was "forced on the tobacco team by higher-level, politically appointed officials of the Justice Department," including Associate Atty. Gen. Robert McCallum, who oversees the civil division.

Before his appointment in the Justice Department in 2001, McCallum had been a partner at Alston & Bird, an Atlanta-based firm that has done trademark and patent work for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. In 2002, McCallum signed a friend-of-the-court brief by the administration urging the Supreme Court not to consider an appeal by the government of Canada to reinstate a cigarette smuggling case against R.J. Reynolds that had been dismissed. The department's ethics office had cleared McCallum to take part in that case.

In response to the Administration's actions, Rep.'s Waxman and Meehan immediately called for an independant investigation by the Inspector General's office to get to the botttom of how the decision to reduce the demand was arrived at.

The letter is on Rep. Waxman's site for public view. It is dated Wednesday, June 08, 2005 and the outline reads:

IG Asked to Investigate DOJ Tobacco Reversal

Reps. Waxman and Meehan asked the Justice Department Inspector General to investigate whether improper political interference contributed to the Department's surprise decision to slash its request in the litigation against the tobacco industry.

One is tempted to applaud Rep. Waxman. Perhaps a more productive approach would be to support, through letters, e-mails, etc., Rep. Waxman and Rep. Meehan, as well as Sen. Kennedy and others who are moving quickly to stop this outrage before it comes to fruition.

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