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Editorials May 26

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Anything goes This is how far the moral standards of Washington have slipped: Even war profiteering is condoned. Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives moved to expand the criminal code to cover “war profiteering and fraud relating to military action, relief and reconstruction efforts in Iraq.” They cited a report that $212 million was paid to Kuwaiti and Turkish subcontractors for fuel that Pentagon auditors concluded was exorbitantly priced. Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney’s old outfit that is sucking up huge sums from the invasion and occupation of Iraq, passed these overpayments on to the American taxpayer. The legislation was defeated, 198-227. Three of Arkansas’s representatives — Berry, Ross and Snyder — voted against war profiteering; the fourth, Boozman, found it inoffensive. Live and let steal is his motto. The endorsement of war profiteering may be a natural outgrowth of last year’s presidential campaign, when slackers and draft-dodgers openly mocked a decorated war hero, John Kerry, and got by with it. We never thought we’d see that in this country either. How did America reach a point where behavior that once was universally condemned is now tolerated, if not applauded? A gradual process, probably — a little permissiveness here, a little more there — but surely a large step downward was the Supreme Court’s theft of the 2000 presidential election. There’d been nothing to compare with that in the nation’s past, though if George Bush gets all his judicial nominees confirmed, there’s apt to be something to compare with it in the future, frightening thought. On the subject of judicial nominees, Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor was one of 14 senators — seven from each party — who cut a deal that apparently will avert, at least temporarily, a breakdown of Senate operations over those same nominees. Democrats, including Pryor, agreed to allow final confirmation votes on three appeals court nominees they’d long blocked with filibusters, and made no commitment not to filibuster other nominees, The Republicans agreed not to try to abolish the filibuster as long as the Democrats don’t overdo it. Deciding what constitutes overuse will be the tricky part — so tricky that this agreement probably won’t hold up for long. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has shown that he’s not a man to settle for less than all he can get. If he thinks he can crush the Democrats, he’ll crush, and agreements be damned. Pryor deserves some credit for trying to keep the Senate in business, but compromise is not always for the best. In this case, resisting with every weapon at one’s disposal the confirmation of judges like Priscilla Owen, a corporate cat’s-paw, recipient of campaign contributions from Halliburton and Enron among others, might be for the best. Mark Pryor’s father was a longtime Senate mediator too, but many thought his defense of Bill Clinton against Republican extremists was his finest hour.

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