- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Hayden hearings

I agree with Linda Chavez that the selection of Gen. Michael Hayden to head the CIA is a good political move (“Savvy selection,” Commentary, Saturday). In fact, I believe it will be viewed as a political masterstroke, as the confirmation hearings offer ample opportunity for the members of the left to paint themselves as anti-military foes of national security in the run-up to the 2006 elections.

Imagine the spectacle as Gen. Hayden sits behind his table in his dress blue uniform and calmly responds to inquisitors who loathe all things military. The thought of the despised CIA under the control of a military officer should goad them to new heights of rhetorical excess. The problems for the attackers will be that the military as a profession currently is very highly respected (far above journalists and politicians), so attacking that institution involves a certain amount of peril.

Sure to further inflame Democratic outrage is that Gen. Hayden was in charge of the National Security Agency during the warrantless wiretapping program. Though the Democratstooksignificant political advantage from the initial charges of “domestic spying,” in large part because of their willing accomplices in the media, once the public came to understand and support the program, the outrage quickly subsided, as did the vocal Democratic posturing.

But will all those Democrats who silenced their opposition to NSA wiretaps when it became politically expedient be able to hold back when one of the program’s architects is offered a promotion? The contrary signs already are there. The press already has started the attack with the “revelation” that the NSA uses phone company records to look for terrorists. Gen. Hayden is always mentioned in connection with the wiretapping, and many already have questioned whether we need a military officer in charge of a civilian intelligence agency.

Rather than taking a nonconfrontational approach to his congressional questioners, Gen. Hayden should take strong stands, especially in defending the warrantless surveillance. This is a debate that needs to be held, and publicly, so that we can establish once and for all how we will fight this war on terrorism and who will be on which side. Short, assertive sound bites will get media airtime, and the people will rally around a forceful and active defense, something the administration needs. Democratic counterarguments will only further establish the Democratic Party as the party of the “Terrorist Bill of Rights.”

If we thought the Democrats of the Judiciary Committee made themselves look bad in the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., just wait for the Hayden hearings. Though the Alito hearings made them look mean-spirited and hypocritical, the Hayden hearings will paint them as anti-military and remind Americans of what they always have known: that the Democrats are weak on national security.

The knee-jerk reaction is to look at all the initial bipartisan opposition to Gen. Hayden and surmise that the president has had another Harriet Miers moment, but once the Democrats have immolated themselves in the hearings, we may hear the accusations that this was all another Karl Rove dirty trick.

PETER LOCKE

Ashburn, Va.

Malpractice lawsuits

New research published in the May 11 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine establishes that almost every medical malpractice suit filed in the United States has a meritorious basis and rejects claims that the civil justice system is inundated with frivolous lawsuits.

This study, conducted by the independent and highly respected Harvard School of Public Health, shows that efforts to implement a one-size-fits-all cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases simply is unnecessary and merely a ploy by the insurance industry to pad profit margins. If anything, the research establishes that the system is advantageous to big insurance companies and biased against injured patients.

Those who read “Many medical suits lack merit” (Business, May 11) may be a bit confused by the account of the study. The reporter said 40 percent of all malpractice claims are without merit, which is in no way substantiated by the study. The reporter, apparently, combined the 3 percent of claims that didn’t involve injury with the 37 percent in which an injury occurred but no negligence was found. A claim isn’t automatically illegitimate just because a court finds no evidence of negligence — a lawsuit often is the only avenue available to determine the facts.

Consider: A patient enters a hospital relatively healthy but leaves a paraplegic. A lawsuit filed to uncover the facts certainly is legitimate and not “groundless,” as the reporter said. There’s a world of difference between the two, as other journalistic reports properly noted.

The Harvard study found that most malpractice cases are meritorious, with 97 percent involving injury. Furthermore, 80 percent of the claims involving physical injuries resulted in major disability or death.

In fact, the study noted that the incidence of patients being seriously injured as a result of medical negligence but not receiving compensation is a far larger problem than cases where substantial monetary damages are awarded. It also maintains that the civil justice system does a good job of uncovering trivial claims and having them dismissed.

The research supports the wisdom displayed by the U.S. Senate this week when it rejected an attempt to apply a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases.

This study disproves once and for all claims made by large insurance companies that the civil justice system is overrun with frivolous litigation. The attacks by the insurance industry represent a ploy to further enrich itself at the public’s expense.

KEN SUGGS

President

Association of Trial Lawyers

of America

Washington

Venezuela’s oil industry

I regret that your recent editorial “Chavez targets oil companies,” (April 27) was long on rhetoric and short on facts.

Negotiations with private oil companies doing business in Venezuela have led to the termination of contracts that were illegal under Venezuelan law and to subsequent agreements of 16 of the 18 companies to enter into new joint operating ventures in full conformity with Venezuelan law. These new agreements are not “contract violations” and certainly not “nationalizations [that] will discourage foreign investment in the future” as your editorial wrongly claims.

Foreign investment will continue to have a significant role in the development of the Venezuelan oil industry. Although there may have been a common drop in production during contract negotiations, the oil companies will be increasing output now that the new “mixed companies” are in place.

A significant fact that the article failed to mention is that overall drilling activity in Venezuela is also increasing. The Oil Daily, the highly respected trade journal of the oil industry, reported, the day after your editorial appeared, that “Venezuela is experiencing an increase in drilling activity despite the government’s recent moves to take more control of private operations.”

The Oil Daily’s article noted that both Schlumberger and Baker Hughes, two of the largest oil service companies in the world, have recently reported greater investments in the Venezuelan oil industry and have announced that more investment is being projected. Indeed, Ensco is set to move an offshore rig from the Gulf of Mexico to a field operated by ConocoPhillips off the coast of Venezuela this month, and Royal Dutch Shell will resume drilling in one of its fields in July. Significantly, this same article quotes ConocoPhillips’ Chief Executive Officer James Mulva saying: “We continue to operate very well in Venezuela,” contradicting the “noncommittal” sentiment of “large oil companies” that your editorial claims.

Venezuela welcomes foreign investment. As true with any country, including the United States, such foreign investment must be simply undertaken in conformity with our laws, which permit both the investor to obtain a fair and equitable return and our country to responsibly manage our natural resources to the benefit of our economy and our people.

FADI KABBOUL

Minister Counselor for

Petroleum Affairs

Embassy of the Bolivarian

Republic of Venezuela

Washington

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