Thursday, December 22, 2005

It's time to impeach

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated...

I am no fan of the current president. He is a dimwit of the worst sort, refusing to acknowledge that there is reasoned disagreement over most of his policies. He has reduced the entire world to the dramatic complexity of an old movie Western- there are good guys, and they wear white; and the good guys do whatever it takes to stop the bad guys.

This dichotomy is simple enough to understand. Do whatever it takes- the ends justify the means. This is why the President could order- without apparent remorse or apprehension- the NSA to spy on American citizens, and intercept their presumably private communications. All without judicial or legislative oversight.

Of course, the ends do not justify the means. Some things are simply wrong, no matter how "necessary" they may appear. That is the essence of American constitutionalism- the Constitution doesn't grant rights to the people as much as it demarcates the outer limits where the government cannot go.

What separated us from our enemies throughout history- from the Revolution, through the Nazis and the Soviets, to al-Qaeda- is that we are free. Free to choose for ourselves a life, free to pursue wealth and opportunity, free from intrusion by the government itself. The enemies of freedom- past and present- all believe that people cannot be trusted.

That is not the American way. Our system of government, with its separation of powers, and checks and balances, guaranteed that no one figure would ever be able to turn the might of the government against the people themselves.

Until today.

The President unleashed a secret police on American citizens with the stroke of a pen. In so doing, he committed a crime. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, by its very terms, only permits this sort of thing against foreign powers and persons- not Americans. Even when used against foreigners the administration must get a warrant, and history shows that the warrants have been liberally granted. The President's lame justification barely holds water. Domestic spying violates everything that Americans hold dear- that we a free people, able to choose our own destinies, and that ours is a nation of laws- not men.

The President's disregard for the rule of law and his utter hubris in office demonstrate that he is not fit to serve. It's time to remove him from office. I know that Cheney will be no better, but that is not the point. Bush cannot be trusted, and if given half the chance would install himself into the White House permanently, like a tinhorn dictator Generalissimo-for-life. He is not a royal sovereign, but simply a citizen, elected to serve at our pleasure- and we are displeased.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The infrequent blogger returns... for now.

As you will notice, I have only been writing sporadically for a number of months. I regret to say that have been experiencing a number of health problems of late, as well as a death in the family- all of which knocked the wind out of me. I miss writing about politics and society regularly, and I will try to keep this up, but I make no promises.

Manufacturing Dissent Leo Durocher's sagest advice to his Brooklyn nine was "Hit 'em where they ain't." Misdirection is a basic tactic in many adverserial settings- warfare, the courtroom, and politics, to name a few. So with pressure mounting against the administration (and its minions in Congress) over such trifles as the war and domestic spying, the Republicans have fired back with the War Against Christmas.

This is a manufactured controversy, nothing more than a blatant attempt to distract public attention from the real issues facing this nation, and from the Administration's dunderheaded efforts to confront them. It's appalling and offensive, really, to create a diversion like this. It also demonstrates how completely out of touch the GOP is with the new realities of life in America.

I grew up in a East Windsor, New Jersey- a town of about 25,000 people, about 40% of whom are not Christian- we had many, many Jews, as well as numerous Asian faiths represented. We didn't say "Merry Christmas" to one another because there was a better than average chance that the person you were saying it to didn't celebrate Christmas.

America is becoming more and more like my hometown. Religious diversity is an unqualified good. Currently being mired in what is basically a religious war, understanding and respect for others is the first step to peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.

Intelligent Design Intelligently Repudiated If you haven't heard by now, a federal judge in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ruled (NOTE: link is a 139 page PDF) that teaching so-called "Intelligent Design" theory violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. To which I say, Amen.

What really irks me about the resurgence of creationism (of which I.D. is, no doubt, just a gussied up version of), is the way that a small minority of Christians have coopted the term "christian" itself. These Christians, in the proper noun sense, limit the definition only to people who witness to biblical inerrancy and have a "personal relationship" (whatever that means) with Jesus- thus excluding most christians, in the common noun, small-c sense, like Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, etc.

Christendom as a whole is hardly in universal agreement over anything. Within several major denominations- even within individual churches- there is constant discourse over gay rights, abortion, the death penalty, and creationism. Among big-C Christians, there is no discourse- nor can there be discourse- because the answers are already given to you, and who are you, mere mortal, to question the giver of those answers?

Fundamentalism is a childlike mythos. Its pretension of certitude is a comfort to people who are unwilling or unable to admit that this is a world of uncertainty. To these people, the answers are always simple, and it boggles their minds that anyone could even question them. Abortion? Murder. Gays? Abominations. Evolution? A lie. Hurricanes? God's vengeance against a sinful city.
But to the rest of us, we see a world in which nothing is certain. The answers are never easy, and the questions are enormous. Progress means that we try to answer those questions, even if the answer is as troublesome as the question itself.

And that is what terrifies big-C Christians (or the fundamentalists of any stripe, really)- they want their sentences to end with periods, not question marks.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

It's been a rough few weeks...

I was on vacation in Palm Springs, I was coping with a death in the family (my dad), and I was dealing with some personal medical issues (as I write this, I am in bed with my good cat by my feet and an ice pack on my man parts- you don't want to know). I wonder if I've missed anything....

So Harriet Miers got shaq-fu'd by the far right. The Administration really miscalculated here- in their strong desire to avoid a major showdown, they sent up an unknown quantity with immense personal loyalty to the President. The activists in the party, however, wanted the very showdown the WH sought to avoid. The far right wants someone who will not mince words, who will take firm positions, who will state what he believes and force the other side to make a move (i.e. filibuster).

I think they got their man. Samuel Alito, AKA "Scalito," is an avowed conservative with impeccable credentials. Yale Law School, Third Circuit, US Attorney, Solicitor General's office- no question that he has the background. I worry about his judicial philosophy, however. He wrote an opinion upholding Pennsylvania's repressive and bizaare abortion law- which opinion was overturned by the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The President introduced him as someone who would not "legislate from the bench," and would "strictly interpret" the Constitution.

However, I have read a number of his opinions this morning. He has overturned murder convictions, upheld free speech and free press rights, and generally seems to get things right. Is this an instance in which a mid-level appellate judge is simply following precedent with which I agree, or is it a sign that terms like "conservative" and "liberal" are too imprecise to be meaningful when it comes to the judiciary?

The bottom line is that I don't know. I remember that I thought Justice Souter was going to be a yes-man for G.H.W. Bush- I could not have been more wrong. Souter was described as a judicial conservative during his tenure on the New Hampshire Supreme Court, and indeed he was. Remember, however, what judicial conservatism means- respect for precedent, and respect for the legislature. New Hampshire is known to be a somewhat right leaning state (by New England standards at least). Respect for a right leaning legislature, and respect for precedent equals a general distaste for broad policy making from the bench.

Once elevated to SCOTUS, however, Justice Souter remained a judicial conservative, but with considerably more lefty precedent before him. Certainly, Justice Souter is not afraid to overturn legislation or to overrule precedent- he is just reluctant to do so. I cannot recall him writing a major, world turning opinion. That is not his style; and that is the essence of judicial conservatism.

"Strict constructionism" is a buzzword, an imprecise description for a number of judicial theories that do not mean the same thing, and that do not always coem to the same conclusions Scalia's originalism, Thomas' naturalism, and Black's literalism both fall under the rubric of strict contructionism, but sometimes arrive at differing results.

What will Judge Alito do on the big bench? I don't know. Will he rewrite the rules to suit his whim, or will he do so only when it is necessary? Whatever he is, I doubt that he will simply be a yes man. He has too many years on the bench behind him, and too much respect for the Court to do that. I know that he will be confirmed, and I am slowly beginning to think that he should be confirmed- despite my reservations.

TOLD YA SO- So it's official: 2005 is now the worst Atlantic hurricane season on record. We have run out of names-resorting to the use of Greek letters- and we have a month to go before it ends. As I wrote after Katrina, it is more than a coincidence that hurricane activity has been on the rise in the past ten to fifteen years. Global warning is real and it is dangerous. Cities have been destroyed and lives are in real danger. It has crossed the threshold from environmental concern to national security concern. The administration constantly sides with business over people, with profits over security. And the profits are immense.

Leadership is the ability to foresee circumstances and adapt, it is the ability to get your people on board before there is even a board to jump on, and it is the ability to do what is right- even if it is unpopular.

By those standards, we have no leadership.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I guess American style democracy has taken root in Iraq...

Lookls like they might have cheated. It's too soon to tell, but I recall that Hussein won by a similar landslide.

Let freedom reign...

Monday, October 10, 2005

A book you must read-

First, let me welcome readers of Samantha Burns. For those who don't know, she's a Canadian libertarian who supprts the war and hates PETA, only one of which I agree with her on. If nothing else, it might help my pitiful Technorati numbers.

So I'm reading a book about the election of 1800, and it is called, fittingly enough, Adams vs. Jefferson. One of the things that strikes me is the way in which America keeps revisiting the basic issue that has never been fully resolved- are we an elitist society, or an egalitarian society?

In the 1790s, the issue played out as one of democracy vs. republicanism- what level of direct involvement for the people? To a Federalist, the commoners were uneducated and passionate. To a Republican (i.e. Jeffersonian), the Federalists were bent on installing themselves in a quasi-monarchy to rule over their (perceived) inferiors.

It's come up time and again in different forms- industrialists vs. labor, "eggheads" vs. practical thinkers. Underlying all this is a tone of "they think they know what's best for us/themselves." What never changes is that there will always be some form of populism, and some form of elitism. We are in the midst of one such phase right now- what Pat Buchanan called the culture wars. In New York and Los Angeles, rich, educated elites are trying to alter radically the way we live! Or conversely, those people in Kansas and Oklahoma are fighting the future, trying to impose a backward, mythological worldview on us!

It's a false dichotomy, of course, because both sides are right. Each side does want to impose its worldview on the other, because each side thinks it's right. That's why we stand for election, that's why seek to govern- because each candidate, in his/her heart of hearts, thinks that his/her way is the correct way.

What gets really interesting in this particularly bizarre political climate, is that Bush stands with the populists, despite his status as scion of a major political family. Even though Jefferson would have denounced him as an undeserving, aristocratic, puppet of the wealthy and connected, the American people generally associate him as one of their own. In the 2004 election, a pollster asked people to name the consumer brands they associated with the candidates. Kerry was associated by both his supporters and detractors with Starbucks, Heineken, and BMW- upscale, hip brands (or snobby, self-important brands if you didn't like him). Bush, on the other hand, was assoicated with Dunkin' Donuts, Bud Light, and Ford- brands with solid, Average Joe qualities.

Which gets me back to the central question- do we want an Average Joe, or the best and brighest? We go back and forth between the two, and the goalposts are always moving. When Thomas Frank asked What's The Matter With Kansas? he really missed the point- Kansas has always been a populist state. What constitutes populism changes- once it was free land and labor movements, now it's being pro-gun and anti-abortion.

It will be something else fifty years from now, but it will still be with us.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Pot... Kettle... Hey! You're both black!

Mr. DeLay, the former House Republican majority leader who is a friend of Mr. Abramoff, relinquished his post last week after he was indicted in Texas in connection with political fund-raising. He has described the charges as the fruit of an investigation unleashed by an unscrupulous, publicity-happy prosecutor.

Unsrupulous? Publicity happy? Sounds like Tom DeLay to me. The only real difference between DeLay and a common criminal is that most common criminals aren't taken seriously when they deny the charges against them.

More on Miers

Let me begin with an apology- it was unfair for me to diss SMU law like that. Not fair, and I do regret it. It was written out of frustration and bewilderment at a nomination that is very undeserved, though not for her alma mater. Moving on...

Salon ran a big piece today, pointing out that Harriet Miers comes to the Court with significant experience representing corporate interests. Although she has had vitually no exposure to the issues that social conservatives care about most deeply, she has an established track record representing big business, particularly defending against consumer class actions. Her specialty- defeating class certification. Since the Republicans have generally sided with big business and and against consumers this could explain everything.

Salon notes "Bush's Miers pick... points to an intriguing tension within the Republican Party, between its ideology-driven right-wing base and its constituency of conservative business leaders, who are eager to develop stem-cell technology, and hire and promote talented employees, whether they be gay, lesbian or straight. Some observers say the Miers nomination follows a pattern Bush established back when he was governor of Texas, picking judges that reward corporate-friendly supporters and special interests."

This is not too different from what I said in my first post here. "Fiscal Conservatives- socially liberal, anti-wasteful spending, and well-educated- are on the way out. The Republicans are increasingly the party of hand-wringing moralists and evangelical Christians. The [White Working Class] fits very well into the newRepublican paradigm. Fiscal Conservatives do not, and they are ripe for the picking."

The gnawing right-wing dissatisfaction with Harriet Miers' ascension shows that what the nutball wing of the GOP wants more than anything else is to get their way on their terms. It is not enough that Miers belongs to a right-of-Falwell church, or that she will predicatbly vote their way- they wanted someone who was openly and avowedly a religious conservative, someone who cut their teeth defending Operation Rescue for all their trespassing citations, someone who will not only allow prayer in school, but will also allow it to be involuntary.

What they wanted was a showdown on judicial philosophy. What they got was a yes-person. It's the Steve Spurrier school of thought- don't just win, when you can win by 50 and embarass the other side.

This is another example of the GOP managing to frame the debate in such a way that the left gets put on the defensive. It is now a given to most people that Republican judges "strictly construe" the Constitution, while Democratic judges "legislate from the bench." What most conservatives don't realize is that many of the rights they take for granted- like the right to raise one's children as they see fit, or to marry the person of your choice- were judicially recognized. Legislatures are often wrong, no matter how popular their decisions might be.

Of course, conservatives just as frequently "legislate from the bench," just on different issues- how else can one explain 10th or 11th Amendment jurisprudence. The difference, of course, is that those amendments deal with things in a more or less procedural way- it's not that you aren't entitled to relief, Mr. Plaintiff, it's just that you can't come by it this way. The Court has expanded those Amendments far beyond their textual or logical limits. But since babies don't die as a result, no one cares.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Harriet Who?

I couldn't really object to John Roberts. He's an experienced intellectual, comfortable with complex Constitutional issues, and qualified out the wazoo. At the end of the day, Roberts was an accomplished lawyer and a knowledgeable judge, if a little scant on published opinions.

Harriet Miers is none of those. She is a political hack and a longtime friend of George's. A product not of Harvard or Yale (which in itself is not a problem- I have thought for some time that the Court was a little too Ivy League centric), but of Southern Methodist- apparently the second best law school in Texas (actually- both SMU and Baylor are tied for number 52 nationally). SMU is considered a little left of center by Texas standards- which makes it predictably right of common sense for the rest of the country.

Like they say in Texas, dance with the one what brung ya. So he gave us a nominee with no published scholarship, no judicial experience, and apparently no exposure to Constitutional, criminal, or civil rights law. We can expect, however, that she will toe the line- like everyone else who was promoted from within. This was one of my reasons for not opposing Roberts- he wasn't a Bush man.

The President passed over many more qualified people to promote from within, which his is usual modus operandi. Not even conservatives are pleased by this nomination- many conservatives wanted a credentialed conservative intellectual (as if!). What we got is someone who will be predictably, reliably radical.

From Harold Meyerson-

But the conservative intellectuals have misread their president and misread their country. Four and a half years into the presidency of George W. Bush, how could they still entertain the idea that the president takes merit, much less intellectual seriousness, seriously? The one in-house White House intellectual, John DiIulio, ran screaming from the premises after a few months on the job. Bush has long since banished all those, such as Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who accurately predicted the price of taking over Iraq. Yet Donald Rumsfeld -- with Bush, the author of the Iraqi disaster -- remains, as do scores of lesser lights whose sole virtue has been a dogged loyalty to Bush and his blunders. Loyalty and familiarity count for more with this president than brilliance (or even competence) and conviction.

The need for an intellectual nominee is apparent when one considers that the real goal of the right is to restrict many of our basic rights. Most Americans now consider reproductive freedom and privacy to be fundamental rights. Simply overturning Roe with the same shoddy reasoning that Justice Blackmun employed to write the opinion leaves the newly right leaning Court open the same attacks that the right has used- it's a political opinion, placing personal views above the law. As Justice Scalia terms it, it would be "results oriented jurisprudence."

Of course, the President has said over and over that he wants results. Fear not, Mr. Presaident, your actions have had results.