Thursday, June 28, 2007
Justice Kennedy was born in 1936 in Sacramento, California. He graduated from Harvard Law School 1961. A life long Republican, he was nominated by President Reagan in 1987 after Robert Bork was found to be too conservative. Kennedy was confirmed unanimously and has since shown a mix of conservative and libertarian philosophies while on the Supreme Court. He is known for being strong on gay rights, but has joined with the court favoring capital punishment, limiting abortion rights, and invalidating affirmative action programs.
Recently, Kennedy has drawn considerable attention from the left for siding with the four more conservative Justices (Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito) as the key vote in 5-4 decisions. But he has also infuriated the right for his left-leaning votes over the years. Most notably he affirmed the precedent set by Roe v Wade in the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood vs Casey. In 2003 James Dobson, director of the evangelical Focus on the Family, once called Kennedy "the most dangerous man in America."
In light of Kennedy's recent rulings many on the left would now make the same claim. Kennedy recently cast the deciding vote against the so-called "partial birth abortion" procedure, voted against a death row inmate seeking appeal, voted against a free speech issue involving a high school student, and voted in-favor of allowing more corporate money into campaign finance. Today, in another 5 to 4 vote, Kennedy came down against school plans for greater racial diversity.
Altogether Kennedy has joined the conservative side of the court more times than not including the famous Bush v Gore case of 2000, and on affirmative action rulings, and limiting congressional power. He has also sided with the liberal Justices on numerous civil rights cases including Lawrence v Texas which struck down the criminal prohibition of "homosexual sodomy" in Texas, Roper v Simons which made it illegal to impose capital punishment on minors, Gonzalez v Oregon which limited the government's ability to interfere with a state's decision for assisted suicide, and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld which blocked the governments use of military tribunals for detainees.
Kennedy is probably most notorious for citing international law in his decisions, a practice that gives many liberals hope considering most Democratic countries have more progressive liberties than the United States. For example, Kennedy used international law when reaching his decision in the Lawrence case and wrote, "Authoritative in all countries that were members of the Council of Europe the decision is at odds with the premise in Bowers [a previous Supreme Court precedent] that the claim put forward was insubstantial to our Western civilization."
But a penchant for international citation may be cold comfort to many progressives who understand fully that Kennedy was nominated by a conservative president and has largely played according to predictions, joining the right-wing of the court in a substantial number of cases. His power has been enhanced even more since the 2004 elections and the re-tooling of the Court. As the all-important sing vote he is to the right of where Justice O'Connor once stood.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
For millions, the Presidency of George W. Bush has proven to be something of a watershed. Just as the Beatles once inspired kids to pick up and learn guitar, Bush's tenure has mobilized millions of conservatives and liberals to action. His incredible failures are themselves an example of how important the Presidency is, but so too are his successes. While his legacy will be under conjecture for years to come, the New Yorker's Jeffrey Tobin points out out one area that is secure: the conservative consolidation of the Supreme Court.
In its first full session with both Bush appointees, Justices Roberts and Alito, on the bench, the Court has moved swiftly to rule in-favor of conservative ideals far and wide. Tobin gives examples of decisions against employment discrimination victims, death-row criminals applying for appeal, and, most notoriously, the court's ban on the so-called "partial birth abortion" procedure.
Monday, just days after the Tobin article, the court issued three key rulings. One scored on the side of big business in campaign finance, one ruled against a student's right to free speech in school, and another shielded the President's faith based initiative program from challenges through the court.
As Tobin's notes, the key issue is that all of these rulings were the five to four. The power of the court has clearly shifted to the right in what USA Today called the "revamped conservative majority" flexing its muscle. It is not hard to imagine more than a few of these decisions going the other way had former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor been the swing vote instead of the more conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy. And thus Bush, who has produced almost nothing but madness for six years, has quietly consolidated conservative power on the bench of the United States Supreme Court.
That is our winner-take-all system in a nutshell. The same decayed mind who has given us the war in Iraq, the Department of Homeland Security, terror alerts, corruption, and confusion, gets to nominate two Supreme Court Justices who will serve for the next 20 to 30 years. The same guy who has the approval of 25% of Americans is able to turn the tide of control on the Supreme Court from middle to right, paving the way for, as Tobin outlines, a further expansion of executive power, limited racial preferences, faster executions, more religion into the public sphere, and the reversal of Roe v Wade.
Even now I can sense the liberal idealism beginning to impede on the Democratic party. The frustration among the "base" is rising. The war has not been stopped and congressional approval ratings have plummeted. The idea of a third party candidate seems more and more enticing. Meanwhile the Republicans are playing a more patient, more disciplined game, one that has recently resulted in what must seem like a fulfilled prophecy. Fueled by fear and suspicion they closed ranks, prayed, and took the slow gains over time. Although many of them have turned against Bush now, he has delivered for them a huge, subtle victory, perhaps where it matters most, and its effects may even outlast the terror spawn of operation Iraqi Freedom.
Today, in another 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court rejected school diversity plans that take into account students' race. The decision is expected to further restrict how public schools maintain racial diversity.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Could the juxtaposition be any more evident?
About the stem cell bill, Bush said yesterday, "If this legislation became law, it would compel American taxpayers for the first time in our history to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos. I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line."
Supporters of the veto seem to care little that the embryos that Bush ceremoniously "saved" are slated to be discarded anyway. Instead the hopes of millions of Americans, and the potential for scientific advancement, wastes away on a paper thin federal budget. Not that there's any money to spare in the budget anyway, with $90 being asked to enhance our nuclear arsenal.
The perpetually heated and contentious stem cell issue is mainly fueled by ignorance, which is exactly why it somehow finds its way onto voting ballots come election time where wide-eyed, sheep-like voters can weigh in on the issue. The rhetoric is heated, it boils down to a simple matter of life and death. With such a clear moral and ethical objective, and a divine mandate, why is it not reprehensible for potential life to be created and remain frozen in IVF clinics? Why is it not abhorrent for that potential life to be discarded and destroyed?
Those who find Bush's veto comforting are deluding themselves. There is not even a debate in anything other than the partisan sense of the term. The veto has not saved any lives. The stem cells in question will be discarded. Therefore the only thing that has been stopped are potential cures for fatal and debilitating diseases. Where's the moral or ethical ground in that?
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Those who demand that a cartoon image of George Bush be embraced to the exclusion of all else -- that all one can say about him is that he embraced and brilliantly executed an Evil Corporatist Plot to enrich himself because he is Evil and that his evangelical furor is just an act -- are themselves exhibiting the precise mentality that drives the Bush movement.
I've always wondered how Bush could be chastised for painting the world in black and white shades, and using such rhetoric to bolster his political support, but those on the left are free to use the exact same tactic against Bush. Thought Alarm has been a personal exercise in dealing with this Bush administration, and its crippling effect on the country, but I hope I have never succumbed to painting him simply as "evil." Foolish, clumsy, unimaginative, maybe. But even these are just symptoms of Bush's persona. But motivated by evil? That's too easy.
I have learned, as others have, that there is a certain duality in things. I have found it interesting that the same core belief, an "us verses them" mentality, drives religious fanatics across faiths. The motivation of a Muslim fanatic is really no different from that which motivates a fanatical Christian. I have also learned that the far right paints reality in black and white, and the far left does as well. Extremism also seems to breed more terror, which breeds more extremism.
Consider the situation in Palestine. Israel has the most powerful military in the region, the backing of the most powerful country in the world, the political will (and international apathy) to use its overwhelming power to contain and control the Palestinians by launching military strikes, raids, building walls, and practicing a policy of apartheid. Has any of this curbed Palestinian zeal? Or has it driven many Palestinians to seek more extreme measures? If Israel, after sixty years, has not been able to break the will of the Palestinian people with top down military force, what makes us think we can do the same in Iraq?
The truth is it is simply easier, politically expedient, to paint and act in black and white ways. This is why Palestinians have turned to more and more extremist ideologies. Twenty years ago the official Palestinian position was a two state solution. Today we have Hamas. Not surprisingly the blame has gone to a lack of top down control in Gaza which opened the door for a Hamas takeover. But this completely ignores the fact that Gaza and the West Bank are separated by a country which has shown almost no interest in the Palestinian government being able to have any control, to say nothing of the ineffectual nature of extreme tactics to curb extremeism.
When Jimmy Carter attempted to bring this fruitless cycle into the light, in his now infamous book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, he was absolutely deionized, and the main points of his book were drowned out by those happy to keep the world in black and white tones. I am sympathetic to both Israel and the Palestinians. Neither are simply "good" or "evil" but are acting out of a complex set of motivations, most of which are an attempt to somehow gain lasting peace. But many find it unsettling to think that, perhaps, the two sides are motivated by the same goals, using what they perceive as the most expedient means available.
I recall a magazine cover from before the 2004 election pondering the question of Bush's divisiveness. People either love him or they hate him, but why? Now I think I know. The president, unfortunately, has become as disconcerting to most Americans as terrorism. As such, he too is presented only in extremes. In an unsettling reality he is, simply, "evil." An anomaly. A strange and atypical product. To admit, perhaps, that someone like Bush is not completely extreme, or motivated by evil, or greed, but rather a complex creation is to say that he might be closer to "normal" than we'd like to admit. If Bush is anything but completely abnormal, what does that say about our reality? But remember, this same extremist, this "evil" man, is the one we sought protection from after 9/11, and re-elected in 2004. What does that say about us?
Far too many of us find superficial comfort in re-painting the world in "binary" terms of: one side or another. This not only includes those who feel America can justify any action in the name of national security, or who view anything outside of Western Civilization as strange and disconcerting. It includes anyone willing to settle for simplistic answers. "Understanding the world requires nothing more than figuring out who is on what side," Greenwald writes. "That explains everything. There are no complexities, nuances or shades to any of it." That temptation lies at the heart of the Bush legacy, but finds supporters on both sides.
Glenn Greenwald's book A Tragic Legacy goes on sale June 26.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Manichean: adj - Of or relating to Manichaeism; dualistic.
Manichaeism: n - The syncretic, dualistic religious philosophy taught by the Persian prophet Manes, combining elements of Zoroastrian, Christian, and Gnostic thought and opposed by the imperial Roman government, Neo-Platonist philosophers, and orthodox Christians.
"This Manichean mentality not only drives George W. Bush personally, but it also consumes our political discourse almost entirely."
Thanks to this Glenn Greenwald article on Salon.
It's always dicey when one petitions for a convicted felon to be pardoned by the president. One does not simply go about such a thing lightly. There are many factors to consider. How does someone like Kristol, who represents the party of family values and ethics, also take the side of someone who perjured himself, obstructed justice, and made false statements during an investigation?
Typically the spin-control involves pointing out a similar grievance from the opposite party. For example, when Mark Foley was found to be courting under-age congressional page boys and House Speaker Dennis Hastert knew about it all along, the Republicans immediately recalled the Gary Studds scandal in-which the Democratic congressman had sex with a 17 year-old page. That scandal had its day in court 25 years ago and invokes little contemporary outrage.
Still, Kristol tries a similar move in his attempt to save Scooter.
"Of course, Sandy Berger, national security adviser to Bill Clinton, hid original documents on his person, took them out of the National Archives, destroyed them, and lied to investigators. One might think of this as 'creating a problem.' But Berger got no prison time and a fine one-fifth that imposed on Libby."
You know you're hurting when your first line of defense is "hey, they do it too." It's also pathetic to see such a high-powered Republican mouth-piece once again dragging out the bogyman Clinton administration. No one cares about Bill Clinton anymore, and who can even tell you who Sandy Berger was (National Security Advisor) except these neoconservatives? Clinton is gone. Propping him up as a straw man only to beat him down was at its climax ten years ago. The world has moved on, neoconservatives have not, which is why, perhaps, they seem so completely lost these days.
Kristol goes on to say that "Libby's sentence--to say nothing of the original prosecution--is unfair and vindictive." This echoes a very popular conservative line of thinking, one that strikes a deep vein of paranoia and fearfulness.
Erik on the blog Redstate echoes the vibe when he says, "To me, Scooter Libby was the victim of a partisan witch hunt. He, at most, got his timeline mixed up when he went before the grand jury and was inconsistent with his prior statements to the FBI. To Mr. Lindorff, it was intentional."
A witch-hunt? A political circus perpetuated by an over zealous attorney and an activist judge and probably, carefully concealed communists? Maybe they're right. Maybe Libby has been made an unfair example, the sacrificial lamb for a sinful administration. He did his duty and took the fall. He got pinched for his more powerful brethren. A patriot, maybe the man deserves not jail time, but a pardon.
I dearly hope the president succumbs to this line of "reasoning." A pardon of Libby would be such an obnoxious display of loyalty over values that whatever is left of the paper-thin, self-righteous atmosphere around the president will be blown away by a public outrage with the power of corona discharge. And why not? What brought this presidency down was a level of arrogance that bordered on blindness. This was an administration, and a political party, which sought to consolidate its power and run itself like the mafia. Except the mafia actually gets things done rather than masquerade around.
And so, I predict there will be no pardon for Libby. Forget all the logic that says this president, with his hobbled administration, abysmal approval ratings, and crippled foreign and domestic policy cannot afford the political capital to pardon Libby. There is another reason: a complete vacuum of leadership at the White House. To pardon Libby would require a certain amount of courage in the face of overwhelming odds. I have never seen this president play it that way. When the going gets tough he sticks every time. This is George W. Bush, the leader who rubber-stamped for a Republican congress; the guy who has propped up bloated and inept government institutions; the man who could not even fire Donald Rumsfeld before the 2006 elections. He is a self-serving, unimaginative heir. His time will now be spent salvaging a mangled legacy with missile defense or immigration reform and Libby can go to jail as the tip of the vast and corrupt White House iceberg.
Friday, June 15, 2007
For a real world example of this trick go read Normon Podhoretz's new article at Commentary Magazine in which he shows how Iran's president Ahmadinejad is an ambitious leader and an aggressive threat to Western Civilization, not unlike a former fascist dictator who broke international law while arming his country for war. Will diplomacy work with such a foe? Was Neville Chamberlain successful at Munich? Consider this reduction from the article:
"But since, to say it again, Ahmadinejad is a revolutionary with unlimited aims and not a statesman with whom we can “do business,” all this negotiating has had the same result as Munich had with Hitler. That is, it has bought the Iranians more time in which they have moved closer and closer to developing nuclear weapons."
Hitler has found himself en vogue these days as the argument fodder of choice. He is thrown into the mix like a burning coal smoldering even a hint of logic. Even the left cannot resit putting him to use. The steam of articles comparing Bush and co. to Hitler and the fascists has grown from a trickle to a torrent over the least few years. Their illustrations of abuse of power are so impassioned one would have to be blind to not see this country's slide into totalitarianism.
But the Hitler comparison is so versicle that the right uses the same trick, usually pointing out how some group or leader--be it terrorism, or Kim Jung Il, or Saddam Hussein--closely resembles fascism, while the liberals represent the Neville Chamberlain persona of capitulation and cowardice. This move has been used so often the grooves are worn into the beltway.
Consider this quote by George W. Bush days after 9/11: "These terrorists...we have seen their kind before. They're the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way to where it ends in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies."
Or Donald Rumsfeld August 29, 2006: "I recount that history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism. Today -- another enemy, a different kind of enemy -- has made clear its intentions with attacks in places like New York and Washington, D.C., Bali, London, Madrid, Moscow and so many other places. But some seem not to have learned history's lessons."
Or Bush again on September 25, 2006: As veterans, you have seen this kind of enemy before. They are successors to fascists, to Nazis, to communists and other totalitarians of the 20th century. And history shows what the outcome will be."
And so Podhoretz's plea to bomb Iran is nothing new. It can hardly even be considered original. It simply follows an established practice that to really drive your political argument home you simply have to achieve Goodwin's Law faster and more often than the other guy. Read almost any Charles Krauthammer or Bill Kristol column and see how they all attempt to out-do each other in slinging the Hitler analogies.
Comparisons to Hitler are generally considered bad form in an argument. In the early days of on-line chat group discussions the first person to mention Hitler was declared the loser and the thread ended. But look where we are at today--deadly serious articles advocating the bombing of Iran because that country resembles Nazi Germany. Right then and there a referee should step in, throw a yellow flag, and have the writer ejected. But instead these writers are well paid and influential. Our discourse is now nothing more than a cheap trick--a reductio ad Hitlerum.
Harvard psychologist and philosopher William James once described two types of spiritual health. The healthy minded have a particularly positive outlook on life while those people having a sick soul see the evil in all things. What about those who look out into the ever-changing world and see shades of Hitler in all things? Our threat, terrorism, is as unique from fascism as communism was. If an impassioned political argument must be made can we at least employ a few other terrible 20th century dictators? Pinochet? Amin? You know, Just to keep the whole genre from getting stale.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Fugue - n - A pathological amnesiac condition during which one is apparently conscious of one's actions but has no recollection of them after returning to a normal state. This condition, usually resulting from severe mental stress, may persist for as long as several months.
Bush's foreign policy has descended into a fugue state.
Thanks to Sidney Blumenthal's latest article on Salon.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
The bill was formed in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings where Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people before taking his own life. Cho was ordered to undergo mental health treatment and should have been barred from buying the weapons he used in the slayings. However Virginia never forwarded that information to the NICBC.
If the bill moves through congress and the president signs it will be the first gun control measure since the assault weapons ban was passed in 1994, which the president recently let expire.
The NRA is reportidly on-board with the measure because it does not add any extra preventions from owning a gun, only to enhance the current system of checks. Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president, agreed – provided lawmakers do not try to attach a lot of other gun control amendments to it.
"If this bill is kept in its present form, I predict it will pass the House and Senate and be signed into law" by President George W. Bush, LaPierre said. "But if they turn it into a gun-control wish list, we will withdraw our support," LaPierre said, adding he believes such a sweeping measure would be rejected.
The only dissenting vote came from Ron Paul, Republican from Texas, who described the bills as "a flagrantly unconstitutional expansion of restriction on the exercise of the right to bear arms.''
Monday, June 11, 2007
Her political star began to rise in 1989 when she served President Bush (41) as director of Soviet and Eastern European Affairs. In 1991 she returned to Stanford. Rice also became the head to Chevron's committee on public policy until 2001 when she resigned to become George W. Bush's National Security Advisor.
She did such a fine job at Chevron that the company named an oil tanker after her. It has since been renamed. During the 2000 Presidential campaign Rice took a leave of absence to become George W. Bush's foreign policy advisor. Her brilliance manifested itself when Bush could not remember names various foreign leaders during a key television interview. None the less, the bond between Rice and Bush grew strong and after Bush was installed as president Condi, as she was now known, became his National Security Advisor.
It bears noting the connections made in order for Dr. Rice to become National Secutiy Advisor. For one, she had to have the opportunity to serve Bush Sr. and from there connections were made to the oil industry and from there it was back to help his son George W. because, in her words, "I like him and he should be president." Her judgment has been under-fire ever since.
Condi, whose expertise remained in the now defunct Soviet Union, and bi-polar world of the Cold War, acquitted herself immediately as Bush's top national security advisor by complimenting the administration's curiosity over Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
Many long days were spent exploring questions such as: What is he doing over there, anyway? I know he's up to something, but what? Who wants take out?
Booked solid, Condi simply had no time to pay any attention warnings that terrorism and Al Quada was the single greatest national security threat facing the incoming administration. Repeated warnings from Sandy Berger and chief counter terrorism advisor Richard Clarke found their way to an over-stuffed circular file.
After the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001, Condi's stock rose even higher and she was drawn even further into Bush's inner cabal of close advisors. There she dutifully stoked post 9/11 fear and paranoia to get America into Iraq before we faced, as she put it, a "smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud."
Subsequent intelligence and foreign policy failures only served to bolster Dr. Rice's position as a political and academic superstar. She replaced Colin Powell as Secretary of State in 2004 where she has remained, lofty but largely innocuous.
Every once in a while Dr. Rice makes a trip to Israel to do a little glad handing and talk about the need for peace. Recently she was seen mentioning something about Bush's new missile defense program in Eastern Europe. Russian President Vladimir Putin said a few things and Rice offered a biting rejoinder. Ah, that's something familiar. It's almost like the Cold War all over again.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Could this be the opening of the seventh seal? Science, in a twist of messianic proportions, curing blindness? What's more, researchers say the cure is found in stem cell manipulation. This advancement is not being made in the United States, which has forfeited its lead in stem cell research during the Bush administration, but in Britain where the research is embraced and fully funded. I note this with more than a twinge of schadenfreude since this same religious stumbling block may provide the miracle cure.
When Jesus began his ministry he quoted a prophecy from Isaiah, “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind.” And thus, restoring sight became a hallmark of his ministry. When John the Baptist checked into Jesus' legitimacy, Jesus steered him back to that prophecy from Isaiah. Whether he performed the miracles himself or enthusiastic followers invented the stories, there is no missing the point: having mastery over the physical realm was to be evidence of Jesus’ divinity.
What then are we to think if science begins to pull-off the same feat?
Jesus' healing the blind also served as a metaphor for bringing all people into the light through truth, a calling Christianity has long since discarded. Christians stumble through a complex world more befuddled and confused than ever before. Any hope of clarity has been replaced with aggravation. This has always been the source of tension between science and religion. One is attempting to explain a confusing and complex world in a quest for truth. The other, time and again, tries to keep those truths from coming to the surface. Whether it is the idea of a heliocentric solar system or evolution, the battle of principles continues even today.
For religion, the crux of the entire stem cell debate is that embryos are alive, and using them for science is akin to murder. Meanwhile frozen embryos are destroyed if they are not used in IVF clinics with no outcry from Christians about this venerable holocaust, no political wrangling, no weeping or gnashing of teeth. What explains such a blatant double standard? Rather than defending God and absolute truth what is far more likely is that these people are fighting against unsettling change. Knowledge in-flux is of little comfort to people who rely on immutable truths.
Ironically, these Christians have become the new Pharisees, stuck, and frustrated, while someone else tries to open peoples eyes, figuratively, and now, literally. All along the biggest enemy to religion has never been science, but religion's death-grip on the status quo. Many of the earliest scientists were believers if not members of the church. And why not? If you believe in a creator then how can all truth not also be God’s truth? But their new ideas were seen as a threat and so the realm of truth was vacated, and re-filled with science.
Was God diminished when the sun was placed at the center of the solar system? Was He diminished by the theory of gravity? Or do such incredible discoveries give further evidence to His immeasurable complexity? What would he think of people who are fighting to stifle miracles so powerful they were once used to prove the presence of divinity? Who, in their right mind, is not moved at the idea that those suffering from blindness might one day be able to see? Is there more to life than clinging to the known? Isn't God about the unknown and the hopelessly possible?