Sunday, January 29, 2006

We Don't Negotiate With Terrorists...

except when we do:

yes, another Bush flip flop. The running total (wildly incomplete, it's just my own nonexhaustive list):

(1) we don't negotiate with terrorists--but we will negotiate with Sunni insurgents
(2) hearings on secret spying (first against, now for)
(3) McCain anti-torture legislation (first against, then for, then possibly against again after trying to reserve right to deviate from legislation)
(4) talking about secret spying program (first said he couldn't talk about it at all because it is classified, then acknowledged it was going on and said it would continue)
(5) all judicial nominees deserve an up or down vote...except Harriet Myers, who was withdrawn when opposed by the radical right
(5) Department of Homeland Security (first opposed, then supported)
(6) reduction of specific pollutant emissions (supported during 2000 campaign, then opposed)

Saturday, January 28, 2006

I'm sure you'll be as surprised as I was to read this article, describing the Bush administration's failure to keep its promises to the people in New Orleans and elsewhere who were hit by Hurricane Katrina:

(also linked to at The Huffington Post: -- "Broken Promises")

I seem to remember Bush making a statement about how he was going to address the underlying problem of poverty that was exposed by the hurricane. I'm guessing he's going to roll out his plan for doing just that in his State of the Union speech, if not sooner. Most likely he'll pay for it by rolling back the tax cuts for high income Americans. Don't hold your breath though.

Democracy in the Middle East (?)

Did anyone notice that the United States pumped two million dollars into Palestine in an (unsuccessful) attempt to influence election results there? Here's a link to an article that mentions this (in a throwaway line near the end of the piece): Here's the quote I'm talking about:

"That Hamas' victory was a serious blow to the Bush administration hopes, however, was made clear by reports this week that Washington had spent more than two million dollars on dozens of small projects in recent months to bolster Fatah's image in the constituencies in which Hamas had done well in last year's municipal polls. " (emphasis added).

What would the Bush administration say if, for instance, China spent millions of dollars trying to influence a US election by helping the Democrats? I seem to remember quite an uproar several years ago, during the Clinton years, when Republicans suggested just that. But apparently it is ok for the US to choose sides in elections in the Middle East and inject money into the process in an attempt to help our preferred party. Wonder if that will help our image in the Arab and Muslim world?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Could Bush Ever Be Impeached? (Long shot of course, but...)

The headline I wanted to use is "White House Bracing for Impeachment", but I didn't want to give anyone a heart attack. That comes from a story in a conservative publication--a sister publication to the Republican party organ known as the Washington Times.

Here's a link:

Saw this at the Huffington Post

wow. We're a long way away, but this at least gives a glimmer of hope.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Missing the Point About Bin Laden

Chris Matthews has been getting a lot of criticism for comparing Bin Laden's statements in his recently released tape with Michael Moore, and rightly so. This is part of a pattern. Republicans and their supporters in the media have spent the past four years comparing Democrats and liberals with terrorists. In the 2002 election, Democrat Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran and triple amputee, saw his face morphed into Osama Bin Laden's in attack ads. (Cleland lost his Georgia senate seat to Saxby Chambliss, who avoided service in Vietnam based on knee problems, or something of the sort). During the 2004 campaign, Dick Cheney suggested that voting for Kerry was a vote for Bin Laden. Recently, Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity, and the rest of the foaming at the mouth gang of reactionary pit bulls have spent a lot of time and energy comparing the Bin Laden tape with Democratic statements about the war in Iraq.

These geniuses are missing the big picture. Hell, they're missing the enormous picture, they're missing the picture on the jumbotron at the Super Bowl. It doesn't matter whether Bin Laden makes statements critical of the war in Iraq. What matters is that Bin Laden helped orchestrate the attacks on 9/11, as well as other attacks. What matters is that he still wants to launch attacks against the US and elsewhere. What matters is that we haven't caught him. What matters is that we diverted resources away from hunting for him and his followers and opened a new front in Iraq, where no terrorists had previously been operating.

Bin Laden could release a tape tomorrow saying he endorses Bush's Medicare reforms. He could publish an op-ed eulogizing the late Gene McCarthy. Who cares? Here's the difference between liberals and Bin Laden. Bin Laden is a murderer and wants to continue murdering. It doesn't matter what liberals (or anyone) say. Bin Laden will continue in this vein until we catch him (which Bush promised to do more than four years ago).

Bin Laden is a fanatic, a zealot, a murderer. One thing no one calls him is stupid. It is quite possible he intended his tape to have exactly the effect it has had; that is, being used to divide Americans. If that is the case, then Matthews, Hannity, and others are playing Bin Laden's game. That doesn't mean they are terrorists or have anything in common with Bin Laden. It just means they should use their critical thinking faculties and stop trying to divide Americans.

One of the most infuriating comments made by those who have compared Bin Laden with Democrats came from Tucker Carlson on MSNBC. He said the threats Bin Laden made against the US in his latest tape were just "background noise". Nothing to pay attention to--Bin Laden makes threats like this all the time, Carlson says. Huh? Yes, Bin Laden has made threats before, and has, horribly, carried them out. I hope our government doesn't see Bin Laden's threats as background noise. The only background noise I hear is the sound of talking heads mindlessly comparing nonviolent critics of the war in Iraq with murdering terrorists.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A Few Good Men, Revisited: Bush as Jack Nicholson

Remember the movie A Few Good Men? In the climactic scene, Tom Cruise's defense attorney goads a confession out of Jack Nicholson's tough guy Marine commander. In a line that has become a staple of pop culture, Nicholson warns Cruise he "can't handle the truth" about what he, Nicholson, as commander of the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, has to do to protect Americans. When Cruise demands the truth, Nicholson admits that he authorized a "Code Red" hazing that resulted in murder.

President Bush recently had his own A Few Good Men moment when he admitted authorizing illegal warrantless surveillance of Americans, in violation of federal law and the Constitution. Like Nicholson's Marine commander, Bush claims that he had to break the law in order to protect us. Unlike Nicholson, there have been no tangible consequences for Bush.

The Bush administration consistently keeps Americans in the dark. Like Nicholson's character, they claim to know best how to protect us and would prefer we simply keep our mouths shut, opening them only to thank our protectors for the blanket of security they provide. This is not democracy. Democracy demands an informed citizenry, engaged in and aware of important decisions. The Bush administration's approach treats us like cosseted children.

In the movie, Nicholson is portrayed as a power mad authority figure, someone who goes too far and has to be reined in by the legal system. It is no excuse for him to explain that he was only acting to protect Americans and that we live in a dangerous world that requires armed men to guard its borders. Immediately after Nicholson makes his confession, he is advised of his Miranda rights and taken into custody.

In real life, at least so far, Bush has successfully used the same excuses to justify his decision to set aside the law. Like Nicholson, he tells us we live in a dangerous world and that he is only acting to protect us. Bush reminds us that there are people who wish to do the United States harm and suggests that unless he has unlimited power to act against terrorists, or those he thinks are terrorists, Americans will die.

This is no way to govern a democracy. Scaring Americans into surrendering their freedom is shameful, to say the least. It didn't work for Nicholson in A Few Good Men and it shouldn't work for Bush now. Unfortunately, we don't have a Tom Cruise to expose Bush to the nation. Bush's Nicholson moment happened without any dashing protagonist to egg him on or stoke an audience's outrage. Now that Bush has made his stunning admission, we all need a few good men, and women, to, as Cruise did on screen, call a spade a spade. In this country, no one is above the law. Violations of law are not excused by the fact that we live in a dangerous world. Those who provide our security do not earn the right to demand grateful silence from the nation. It's time for someone to read Bush his Miranda rights, at least symbolically.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Another Bush Flip-Flop

Forgive my bitterness, but I have decided to track Bush flip flops. Hypocrisy bugs me.

The latest: Bush opposed Senate hearings into his illegal warrantless spying program--until he changed his mind and said hearings will be "good for democracy", as USA Today reports:

Bush voters may have to stop congratulating themselves for opposing that notorious flipflopper Jon Kerry.

This is far from an exhaustive list, but here's the running flipflop total:

(1) hearings on secret spying (first against, now for)
(2) McCain anti-torture legislation (first against, then for, then possibly against again after trying to reserve right to deviate from legislation)
(3) talking about secret spying program (first said he couldn't talk about it at all because it is classified, then acknowledged it was going on and said it would continue)
(4) Department of Homeland Security (first opposed, then supported)
(5) reduction of specific pollutant emissions (supported during 2000 campaign, then opposed)

Secret Spying May Have Started Before 9/11

Here's the link:

Just a gut feeling, but I think this story will keep getting bigger, especially if we ever find out who was spied on.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Deja Vu at the Judiciary Committee

After the first day of the Alito hearing, headlines proclaimed that Judge Alito "pledges to do what the law requires."

Huh? Is this supposed to contrast with those judges who swear to do the opposite of what the law requires? Seems like an extremely bland platitude, meaning absolutely nothing.

In fact, this is a carefully chosen political statement, a piece of rhetoric torn from the Republican playbook. Alito's statement is indeed meant to suggest that there are judges who do not follow the law. In the Bizarro world that is Republican dogma, such judges are known as "liberal activists".

Who are these devil may care, black robed commies? The rhetoric does not get into specifics. For years, the vague spectre of the liberal activist judge is invoked whenever Republicans talk about the courts, and especially when a nomination is pending.

The "logic" works as follows. "Conservative" judges follow the law precisely as as it is written. They do nothing more than apply clear legal principles to the cases that come before them. Those wacky liberals make it up as they go along, infusing their decisions with a dash of social engineering, a smidgen of political correctness and a dollop of paternalistic activism.

The script works great. Everyone knows it by heart. It is so much a part of Americans politics that Americans know exactly what Alito means when he promises to "do what the law requires."
The reality is that Alito's pledge is based on a false dichotomy. Who are these liberal pinko judges out to wreck America? We never hear them mentioned by name. We almost never hear specific decisions mentioned as examples of activist judging.

Real judging and real law are not as simple as the Republicans would have us believe. If their premise were correct and judging was simply a matter of applying clear, objective principles, then there would be no need for human Supreme Court justices. Cases could be decided by computers.

In fact, the law does not work that way. Different judges reach different decisions, not because one side is following the law while the other is legislating from the bench, but because many legal questions--especially the hard cases that reach the Supreme Court--do not lend themselves to clear, unassailable conclusions. Real law and real judging depend on deciding the meaning of ambiguous statutory terms and opaque constitutional phrasing. There may not be one objective result when a case comes before the Supreme Court involving, say, gender discrimination by the government. Analyzing such a case depends on poring over past decisions and applying tricky judge-made principles that are used to apply the lofty promise of "equal protection" under the 14th Amendment to real world problems never dreamed of by the framers.

Members of the judiciary committee should pull open the curtain that cloaks the judicial process in mystery. They can do this by asking Judge Alito simple questions. Are you a strict constructionist? How does a strict constructionist differ from an activist--and be specific? Can you give us examples of activist decisions? Can you tell us how a strict constructionist would interpret ambiguous constitutional language such as is found, for example, in the Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth amendments?

The reality behind the rhetoric is that the law is not a simple matter of applying clear principles to cases. Legal answers, especially to questions before the Supreme Court, are often complicated and ambiguous. The fact that different judges decide hard cases differently does not mean one side has a lock on absolute truth while the other is making things up as it goes along.

All nominees who appear before the Judiciary Committee can promise to follow the law; there is nothing unique in Judge Alito's statement. The real question is how they will decide hard cases. Let's dump the rhetoric, look at Judge Alito's past decisions, and ask him to explain his decisionmaking process in those past decisions. If he is outside the mainstream, he should be rejected, whether he solemnly pledges to "do what the law requires" or not.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A False Choice

The Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program raises a lot of questions. Who was spied on? Why? How will this constitutional crisis resolve itself? Will Congress force the President to obey federal law, or will the President realize he can violate the law with impunity?

Apart from these concrete, legally rooted, questions, more philosophical questions also come to mind. Can American concepts of liberty survive an unending, vaguely defined "war on terror"? How much are we willing to surrender for security? Some leading Republicans, notably Senators Trent Lott and John Cornyn, claim that liberty doesn't matter if we are dead. Therefore, they argue, the administration should do whatever is necessary to protect Americans, and worry about constitutional rights later.

There are several problems with this position. I will focus on one: Lott and Cornyn are making an incorrect assumption. They assume that we can make a deal to insure our physical safety. Give the President your freedom, they say, and he will protect you.

The reality is that there can be no such guarantee. The choice between security and liberty is a false one, because we cannot "choose" security, as if we were selecting a candidate on a ballot. Unfortunately, no one can guarantee there will be no more attacks on American soil. No matter how many phones we tap, no matter how many prisoners we torture, no matter how many constitutional amendments we suspend, we can never 100% insure the safety of the American people. Against the backdrop of this grim reality, men like Lott and Cornyn are willing to sell their freedom quite cheaply.

The President and his defenders are simply unwilling to speak frankly to Americans. In this, I believe they are severely underestimating Americans. This nation made it through revolution, civil war, world wars, and a cold war that threatened the possibility of nuclear annihilation. In the past, Americans did not to surrender to fear. When asked by their government to sacrifice, Americans have responded.

This administration has asked little, if anything, of Americans, other than those in the armed services. What would happen if President Bush leveled with us? What if he said, "Look, there are no guarantees in life. There are accidents, there are acts of god, and, tragically, there are terrorists attacks. We can choose to take refuge, figuratively and literally, allowing fear to rule our lives. Or we can say: the United States is still the United States. We will go on with our lives. Our government will take necessary actions to respond to the possibility of attacks, but it will always follow the law. This country has withstood far worse than this. Bin Laden and Al Qaeda do not have the power to alter our democracy, to narrow our liberties, to rewrite our Constitution. Only we can do that. And we will never do that. This is America, and it will always be America."

We have a vacuum of leadership. There is no George Washington to rally the troops, no FDR telling us to reject fear. Instead, we have a President who exploits fear and uncertainty for political advantage. We have "leaders" in Congress like Senators Lott and Cornyn who would turn us into frightened children, seeking security as if we were buying protection from a schoolyard bully. We can do a lot better than this. Our elected officials are underestimating us.

It is unfortunately true that security cannot be guaranteed. But liberty and our constitutional democracy can be guaranteed, if those in power have the courage to come out of their psychological bunkers and defend our Constitution.