Saturday, October 29, 2005

It's Hard Times at the White House

This has not been the best of weeks for the Bush Administration. In fact, it could be argued that this has been the worst week the White House has experienced in a grueling year of setbacks.

Firstly, the fighting in Iraq is going badly and demonstrators all over the country just observed a gruesome benchmark, the 2,000th casualty of that conflict. The vast majority of Americans no longer support the military effort in Iraq. Furthermore, in poll after poll, they express no confidence in Bush’s handling of the war. Indeed, Bush is still experiencing his worst approval ratings, which now seem to be in a free fall.

And FEMAs dismal handling of various domestic disasters has pushed approval ratings even lower. As has the discovery of how many truly unqualified political appointees now hold high-ranking positions in the government. To Bush, cronyism always trumps actual competence.

And Bush’s latest pick for the Supreme Court only highlighted this. Harriet Miers just withdrew her name under pressure from Bush’s base, to whom he usually caters. Principled conservatives were enraged that the President picked somebody based more on personal friendship than qualifications.

Other Republicans are also in trouble. Tom DeLay and his Texas colleagues have been indicted on charges of money laundering and making illegal donations to Texas campaigns. DeLay’s friend and ally, Jack Abramoff, a well-heeled Washington lobbyist, is facing corruption charges for his work on behalf of an Indian tribe and gambling interests. And even Bill Frist, the Senate Majority Leader, is under a cloud of suspicion pertaining to the timing of when he sold stock in his family’s business and whether he had inside information that caused him to sell it when he did.

And now on top of all these other troubles, Vice President Cheney’s top aide has been indicted for lying to prosecutors, the FBI and the grand jury about whether he outed the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson.

As the indictment makes clear, because of Libby’s alleged lies, the cover up of the actual release of this information was successful. Because he lied, prosecutors can’t discover whether Libby or anybody else in the Administration was responsible for releasing Mrs. Wilson’s identity.

So, although he might be found guilty of perjury, we’ll never know whether Libby also violated federal law and released the identity of a covert CIA agent. Also, we may never know whether Karl Rove, Dick Cheney or anybody else also was responsible for this act.

However, whoever did make this information public was not only guilty of breaking federal law. They also violated the public’s trust. These all are people with the very highest top-secret security clearances. They broke all kinds of vows just to retaliate against a political foe.

In addition, they not only risked the life of a CIA agent, compromised her cover and ruined her career (quite a bit actually), but they also risked the lives of any covert contacts who might have aided her. To my mind, they are guilty, at least morally, of high treason.

Mark Twain once observed that patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel. And unfortunately, this White House and the Republican Party have had more than their fair share of genuine scoundrels in places of trust and responsibility. So, if it’s a tough week for the White House, it’s an even harder one for those who entrusted this Administration to do the right thing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Winter of Their Discontent

If politics breeds strange bedfellows, then Supreme Court nominations - or at least one specific nomination - seems to be breeding the stangest alliance between liberals and conservatives yet. Both sides hate the nomination of Harriet Miers for pretty much the same reason: nobody knows her views on the important and controversial issues of abortion, homosexual rights, and women's rights. Both sides view her as a stealth candidate and nobody trusts George Bush's judgment anymore.

In the wake of the scandal over cronyism, neither the President's opponents nor his allies trust his choices to be qualified for the positions to which they are nominated. Michael Brown was only the most egregious example of Bush's propensity to pick his pals based more on their loyalty to him than on their competence for their jobs.

Certainly that could be said about Ms. Miers. It's not that people question her basic good intentions or even her intelligence or competence as an attorney. However, she has no judicial experience. And worse than that, she has no experience practicing constitutional law.

A nominee could get by with limited experience on the bench, as John Roberts just did. However, it's more damaging when none of that candidate's practice, even as a lawyer, has been in constitutional law. Chief Justice Roberts, while only serving as a judge for a few years, had an extensive career dealing with constitutional questions, both as part of the Reagan inner circle and in private practice, where he, at least, argued cases before the Supreme Court. It didn't hurt, either, that he once served as Chief Justice William Rehnquist's law clerk.

On the other hand, Harriet Miers was the first woman head of the Texas Bar and she practiced corporate law. Her only qualification for this nomination seems to be her loyalty to the Bush Administration. She just has not had the exposure to constitutional law to qualify to become a Supreme Court judge. This is, after all, a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.

But the worst thing about this nomination is that the Bush Administration is attempting to persuade its conservative base to embrace this nominee by making the argument that Miers would vote the way they like because of her membership in an Evangelical Christian church. They are using a wink and a nod to reassure their base that she is "one of them."

And most serious conservatives, both within and outside the Evangelical wing of the conservative movement, hate that tactic.

They recognize that basing a nomination on the candidate's personal religion rather than known conservative credentials is a horrible tactic. For years they've argued that a nominee's religion or personal views should be irrelevant. All that should matter is the nominee's judicial philosophy. Serious conservatives are looking for judges who embrace their judicial philosophy of strict constructionism, which means attempting to interpret the Constitution narrowly and by what they believe would be the original intent of the its founders.

Conservatives believe that the right to abortion should not be decided by the courts but by state legislatures. For this reason, they feel that in Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court overstepped its authority. That is the official reason they want to to see Roe overturned. Ok, so in truth, most of them just happen to be pro-life too. But it's the judicial philosophy that they state as their official reason for opposing Roe v Wade, not their personal religious or moral views.

Likewise, much of the affirmative action and other civil rights decisions that came from more liberal courts are opposed by these strict constructionists because they oppose activist courts. They believe those decisions should be made by state legislatures not the federal courts.

These conservatives want the debate. They don't want a stealth candidate who will vote their way without understanding the larger philosophical issues. Like their liberal counterparts, many of these people hold sincere ideals and adhere to an ideology which they want to persuade others to embrace. They believe that their movement will grow stronger if they can have a public discussion, and even a public battle, that airs their ideas to the largest number of voters.

Many of the non-Evangelical conservatives, such as Kate O'Beirne, from the National Review, despite their own pro-life credentials, actually don't want to see litmus tests for the court and think that nominating a candidate based on his or her personal religious views is wildly inappropriate. At least, that's what O'Beirne said last Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press.

Indeed, if a Muslim were nominated and promised that all his decisions would be influenced by the Koran and Shari'a law, most Americans would realize that there is a problem here. Likewise, if an Orthodox Jew were nominated and swore that his allegiance to Torah would be the basis of all his judgments, non-Jews would understandably be concerned.

It is just as worrisome, in a pluralistic society, to reassure people that because HarrietMiers is a devout Christian, she is qualified to sit on the Supreme Court because she will vote their way. That's not what most conservatives want precisely because they realize how quickly such logic could blow up in their faces.

They believe that a strict constructionist, with a good grasp of consitutional law, who would hold to a narrow interpretation of the Constitution, would be sufficient to move their aims forward, including possibly overturning Roe v Wade. They want the same outcome as Miers might want. But they want a judge who can carefully defend it in a well worded opinion based on secular law not religion.

And although I disagree with the conservatives' strict constructionist views, I respect that they are at least willing to make their arguments to a broad swath of Americans based on secular law rather than on religious tradition.

Of course, both secular conservatives and Evangelicals also fear that because they don't know Miers and she has no paper trail of judicial views, she will turn out to be like Justice David Souter.

Justice Souter was nominated by George HW Bush on the recommendation of his Chief of Staff, John Sunnunu, a former governor of New Hampshire who had impeccable conservative credentials. Souter was an unknown entity, but based on Sunnunu's approval, conservatives embraced him. Souter turned out to be one of the most moderate members of the Supreme Court, often voting with the liberals. Conservatives still haven't forgiven Bush I or Sunnunu for that pick.

And they are very afraid that Harriet Myers will turn out to be a "David Souter in drag," as one Evangelical so delicately put it.

Right now, after years of working on behalf of conservative politicians, and when they finally have the ability to get a truly conservative Supreme Court nominee on the bench, instead, the foot soldiers and true believers of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, are being asked to be content with a nominee with no credentials in constitutional law and no known adherence to strict constructionism. Rather than a nominee they can embrace with heads held high, they are being asked to accept a wink and a nod that Harriet Miers will be a good crony who will vote their way on the bench. The sad thing is that after all this time, Bush and Rove just don't get it at all. Real conservatives want the discussion and the debate about their ideals because they still want their movement to go forward in the public square. They don't want a cheap and hollow political victory. They are not hacks.

And they will spend a very cold winter in their season of discontent and betrayal.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Naming Demons

There's a theory in some ancient religions that if you knew the name of a deity or a demon, you could control it and get it to do your will. And, in the case of a demon, you could exorcise it. That same theory was the basis of psychoanalysis. If you could name your personal demons - or in popular psychoanalytical language, if you could recognize the root causes of your neuroses - you could overcome them.

In politics, there is a new demon that is threatening democracy, freedom of thought, and the freedom to buy the books that you want to read. It's time to name this very dangerous demon and start exposing it.

There is no greater danger to America's freedoms right now than the Christian Right. They have been emboldened by the Bush Administration. Because they now believe that one of their own is in power and that they are directly responsible for his victory, the gloves have come off.

From the growing scandal of Evangelicals' coercion of minority students at the Air Force Academy in Colorado to their constant attempts to censor books, this is a dangerous group that is growing bolder by the minute.

Here's an article from lawyer and practicing Wiccan, Phyllis Currott. It was originally posted on Witchvox (The Witch's Voice). And it describes the plight of authors who write about minority religions and whose books are losing shelf space in mainstream bookstores.

To a certain extent, this an economic issue. If a book does not sell, Barnes and Noble, Borders, and other major chains will stop carrying it. And Currott admits this. There's not much of an argument you can make to a business person about their choice of which merchandise to carry as long as that decision is based on market factors. After all, a bookstore, like any shop, is in business to make a profit. And if something genuinely isn't selling, a store owner has got to clear the shelf space for something that his customers will buy.

But a lot of times, businesses are just caving in to the pressure of a very determined and vocal minority and removing items from their shelves that might sell well if given the chance. This is not a business decision. This is buckling under pressure and submitting to mob rule. And that has no place in America.

The thing is, today it's Wiccan books that are being attacked and that are being removed from bookshelves. Whose minority religion book will it be tomorrow? Will it be the Koran? The Torah? Will it be books about Buddhism? And what else will be banned. Most of these Christianist religious fanatics also hate The Catcher In the Rye, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Huckleberry Finn to name just a few beloved classics that they have tried to ban from libraries, schools and bookstores.

So in the future, will Barnes and Noble have as much - or as little - literary selection as your local Wal-Mart?

In honor of National Banned Book Month, which just passed, please think about these things. And I'll have more to say in future posts about the religio-political movement that is behind this new and dangerous phenomenon. It's called Dominionism. And it even has many conservative Christians scared.

And you should be scared silly too. I know I am. I'm scared enough to exorcise that demon from American influence through the ballot box and by letting shopkeepers, advertisers, and the media know how I feel about them when they cave into pressure and deny me my right to buy, read and watch what I like.

Care to join me?

Friday, October 07, 2005

Site Update

I know I've been away for a long time. And I've been busy, had a few personal traumas that I don't really want to discuss because - well - they're personal. Even if I am anonymous, there are some things I'll keep to myself. Also, I don't want to relive these events. There is a time for healing and moving on.

I don't want that to sound more dramatic than it is. None of this is major tragedy, just the accumulated frustrations and disappointments that happen to us all. The facts and small change of life with all it's occasional problems.

On a less personal note, I've made one change to the blog. Now, readers must register to post comments and they also must go through something called word verification to do so.

I hated putting up a wall that makes it inconvenient to post comments because I really do welcome input from readers. But I've been getting far too much blog spam. It's sad that a few bad - and greedy - apples have to spoil a freewheeling medium that should operate like a virtual townhall free for all. But the truth is that I don't have any advertising and I make no money from this blog.

The word amateur comes from the Latin root "amor" which means love. And I am an amateur in many senses, including the sense that I do it for love, not money on this site.

And I certainly don't want those I don't even know exploiting my blog by pushing products and services about which I know nothing. To me, it's not enough to say "buyer beware." I feel a responsibility to do all that I can to protect the integrity of my site and to make sure any readers I have are not misled. So, if you see any comments urging you to link to other sites that advertise lawyer's services or any other products, please know that they are not approved by me and I'm doing all that I can to get rid of the random spam that these folks are generating.

So buyer please be very aware.