Monday, December 19, 2005

Returning to Los Angeles

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Unfortunately, I won't be able to post anything for a little while. I'm returning to Los Angeles and have been rather busy getting prepared, hence my absense from your blogs. Everything should be back into full swing after the holidays, until which time I plan to enjoy Christmas with my family here in England before I say goodbye to them for a while.

I love everything about England. Living abroad for a prolonged period really gives you a completely new perspective on where you grew up. The people here are so down to earth, good humoured, and a lot more fun loving than they realize. They are also cynical and pessimistic as hell... which doesn't necessarily bring out the best in people, but it certainly keeps their feet on the ground. London is vast, brimming with history, as multi-ethnic as anyplace on earth, and as exciting and colorful as any big city. The soccer is great too, which I'll miss very much indeed. It will always be my home.

It's been a difficult period in my life. I left my job and returned to focus on writing, and all I really have to show for it are these protracted political rambles below. Sometimes things don't work out the way you hoped they would, and maybe I'm not cut out to be a writer, which remains my dream. When it comes to life generally, in spite of the many thoughts and feelings that weigh me down, I'm still not sure what I really want to say. Maybe being back in the US again will give me a chance to get involved in something appropriate.

It'll be nice to see my doggy again, be forced to smoke outside bars and restaurants (ughh), eat decent Mexican food, and enjoy the sparkling lights downtown while driving on the freeway. Also it'll be nice to have to tip every single human being that ever serves me anything...(what's up with that?) and better still: Lost, West Wing, ER, Apprentice, Survivor... yey! I'm so tired of downloading episodes via limewire and slowing down my internet connection.

Anyways, I doubt anything will change on this blog, although I've noticed since getting my powerbook back that this design doesn't work so great on Mac's.

I hope you all have a great Christmas, eat lots of food, get rat-arsed drunk, while enjoying the company of those you love. I hope also you get to give and receive some great prezzies. I'm off to see how I can avoid travelling Air France which appears to be the best flight available for me. The french can fly planes right? I wonder what kind of food they serve on a long haul flight...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fighting Poverty

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In response to my previous post, "Is Greed Good?" discussing the social benefits of free, unrestrained enterprise many people made very pertinent points about the contrasting reality of those that "immorally" get left behind. I've been thinking about it a great deal... I can't deny that a free market society doesn't equate automatically to a perfect meritocracy. I can't deny that the American dream isn't an ideal ubiquitously accessible to every child regardless of race or creed. I can't deny that in the real world, there are real people living in isolated communities, segregated frequently along racial lines, riddled with poverty, crime, unemployment, and inadequate access to basic services.

I have a policy suggestion. I'm no expert, so forgive me the basic impracticalities of my argument. There just has to be a better way to deal with the chronic difficulties that blight equality of opportunity in free market societies. Difficulties that, in my opinion, are unethical to ignore under the banner of convenient abstractions like "personal responsibility" and "welfare dependence."

I believe in individuals. A flourishing society is built bottom up, and not top down, like "supply side" theorists aggressively proclaim to be an absolute truth. When you empower an individual with an education, self-esteem, opportunity, freedom, and role models he/she can aspire to follow, you create an engine for economic growth and social progress that is unsurpassed. That is what makes the United States the most vibrant, diverse, thriving, and dynamic nation on the face of the planet.

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A friend of mine works for a company that is involved with trying to regenerate local government housing in the UK. Here in Britain we face different manifestations of the same societal symptoms: huge tenement, council owned housing estates isolating fractured communities that are descending into violence, poverty, and crime. I grew up on one such estate in London, although to be fair, our problems were comparatively tame compared to the drug dealing, gun crime, vandalism, and violent street muggings that some people have to deal with on a daily basis. After I left in 1995 things seemed to get a little worse.

My friend's company facilitates a scheme called "Resident Participation." Local government decentralizes the maintenance of its housing to resident committees (Co-Ops), who receive a large portion of the area's allocated budget, plus get extensive training, and have to meet a basic criteria: A majority of residents must vote to approve the scheme and a significant percentage must participate on a regular basis.

The results are extraordinary:
Resident committees employ their own staff to clean up their condom and needle ridden stairways.
They employ repairmen to be on hand 24/7 to fix broken plumbing or heating problems that afflict elderly pensioners in the winter.
They pay for a Concierge to control access to their estate.
They install CCTV cameras to move drug dealing or gang violence elsewhere.
They evict violent residents
They set up youth centers and play grounds to pre-occupy their children.
They develop IT training schemes to help some of their unemployed residents acquire basic skills to apply for decent jobs.

Click for an official and comprehensive review of the scheme
What resident participation shows is that the only people that can effectively confront systemic social problems are the individuals involved who understand the situation intimately. They know what its like for their kids to journey elevators stained with urine and empty beer cans. They know the unruly minority that terrorizes the law-abiding majority. They know the reasons why their teenagers turn to vandalism and gang violence, and they know exactly what kind of alternatives might lead them in a different direction. When you give individuals the responsibility, power and togetherness to improve their quality of life, suddenly you'll find they're prouder, more responsible, more capable, and invested with a personal incentive in what's at stake.... it's quite a stark contrast to an unelected bureaucrat or a local government official.

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I don't think the lesson from this scheme is specific to government housing, I think the reasoning behind its success is far more fundamental.

When John Edwards talked of "Two America's" there was a reason why he resonated. If we want individuals to take personal responsibility... and I know many people on both the left and right are angered by the ways that they think the poorest fail in this regard... we have to recognize that government has the opportunity to endow upon individuals the power to make a difference in their lives. Even if that difference is small, even it just amounts to a cleaner street, or a scheme for local kids... It means and promises more for the future that it was enacted directly by those who stand to personally benefit. And, it isn't just another socialistic government program... with Resident Participation the co-ops disconnected themselves from local government allowing them to raise money privately and transfer their housing stock to private investors, giving them much more flexibility to make further improvements. Clean, crime free streets means that house prices go up, it means that the area attracts shops, businesses, and jobs... it means that self esteem is raised, and kids have role models that aren't criminals to aspire to. But, what it really comes down to is that individuals have ownership of their community. They bear the responsibility and they have the knowledge and power to make a difference.

I'm not an expert, and I'm not saying a scheme like this can cure poverty. I just believe in progress for the sake of progress. When was the last time you heard a Senator talk about fighting poverty? Worse - when was the last time you heard a Democratic Senator talk about fighting poverty? Like I said in my previous post, free markets, and a liberalized economy doesn't mean we need to do nothing but hope enough scraps fall down from the most successful earners so that everyone who struggles can survive. Lifting people up helps stimulate the economy, too. Helping the long term unemployed get back into work helps stimulate the economy. Like I said... when you empower an individual with an education, self-esteem, opportunity, freedom, and role models he/she can aspire to follow, you create an engine for economic growth and social progress that is unsurpassed. In an age of "value" politics, it would be nice to see some politicians getting back to that old fashioned value of helping those less fortunate to help themselves. It seems like a Christian value under a considerably greater threat than the celebration of Christmas.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Is Greed Good?

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Gordon Gekko: "The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms, greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA."

Those words were written satirically by Oliver Stone in “Wall Street,” his damning portrait of the 1980's and I don't doubt the validity of his parody. Even those on the right recognize that consumerism as a cultural force in society assails our most basic communal ideals; our traditions, our standards, and our societal bonds between each other.

When I walk into a shoe store and gravitate towards a Nike trainer is it because I intrinsically need that shoe or the specific elements of its design? Or maybe, is it because my predisposition towards Nike, and my recognition of its consistent brand elements, fuel a desire that has been cleverly manufactured via an emotive and long standing marketing campaign?

Isn't that true of a great deal of what we consume? As somebody who has worked in PR and marketing I recognize that everything from candle stores, to fast food, to popular music isn't simply driven by our natural proclivities as consumers. The dirty secret of Capitalism is not that it impoverishes huge sways of the population, but that the fabric of our societal needs and desires are cleverly coordinated by the "manufacturing of demand."

And yet, while I look around the areas where I grew up and see an entirely different world than the one I knew as a child... devoid of active local communities and thriving small businesses, I still recognize the inherent truth of this quote from Churchill:

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"The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery."

I recognize that the rapid progress we have made over the past few decades is primarily fueled by enterprise, or, for lack of a better word, greed. The rise in standards of living, cures and treatments for disease, and an individualized world where we retain more, and not less autonomy to determine our own destiny... is a direct result of the freedom's we acquire from a liberalized economy. We increasingly have the autonomy to make our own decisions about our careers, about whether we attend college, and about when we get married and have children. We have earned the internal fortitude to determine our own faith, lifestyle, and political inclination in a way that transcends the traditional social constructs of the past.

I know now that even though I'm 26 I can still effectively be anything that I want to be. I can come up with a business plan tomorrow and search out investment... I can go back to school and gain qualifications to pursue a myriad of occupations. This wasn't the case for my parents or their parents.

From a philosophical perspective, if we recognize that happiness is an individual endeavor that we undertake for ourselves and not a utopian ideal that government provides... we recognize that freedom and opportunity is absolutely essential to our ability to realize our dreams... freedom and opportunity that isn't as manifestly abundant in other nations with alternative modes of governance.

Just consider these three benefits of free enterprise that we take for granted:

1) GDP per capita in the United States is considerably higher than most other nations especially when you take into account the cost of living (PPP). Planned economies that are heavily taxed, regulated, and that subsidize their industries have stagnant growth, higher unemployment, and a relatively poor standard of living.

2) Technological and medical advancements have transformed our lives. Within seconds you can surf online and connect to somebody on the other side of the world. Within hours you can be cured from diseases that 50 years ago would have killed you within days.

3) The interdendence of the global economy promotes peace and freedom. Most nations now depend so heavily on the respective economic successes of their neighbours. Just look at Russia and China or check out this story from Dubai about the way commercialism promotes freedom.

I'm certainly not arguing that free markets equate to a perfect meritocracy, and I believe that government should be involved in rectifying the inequalities and inadequacies of the market. But, in my opinion that involvment should serve to protect our primary and most effective force for progress and prosperity: free, unrestrained enterprise. The benefits for us all far exceed any alternative method of governance, or as Bill Clinton adeptly said, "the era of big government is over." As always, let me know your thoughts :).

An interesting aside which I will explore further in a future column is whether a liberalized economy endowing us with greater self-determination is consistent with the rigid brand of Conservatism that seeks to constrain our natural progress as individuals, freely determining our own value systems, religious affiliations, and expressing our sexuality in ways that are not consistent with our traditions. Perhaps via the force of progress that Republicans stimulate with their economic theories, they create the instability and fear of uncontrollable change that makes some of their aggressive social values that try to constrain progress so appealing.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Palestine and the "War on Terror"

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I just watched a documentary where a journalist embedded with Hamas toured the Israel/Palestine borders with militants and their political figureheads. It painted a stark, terrifying picture of a brutal conflict that is spiraling further and further out of control.

One of the highlights was meeting an individual patrol militant, a young man in his early twenties who spoke emotively about the murder of members of his family:

Each and every night he kisses his mother goodbye because he might never see her again, a rather large, smiling woman who sheds a tear as she clutches her son tightly... and then, carrying his machine gun he ventures out onto a patrol carrying missiles and bombs. He loves his gun... with his gun he has protected civilian Palestinians, and helped "liberate" them in the Gaza Strip.

At one stage on the patrol, within a mile of the Israel border, three members of the Palestinian Authority emerge trying to discern whether the militants intend to launch missiles into Israel. Assured that it is a purely defensive mission, they leave laughing happily amongst each other. The Palestinian Authority members are outmanned, out gunned, and have absolutely no authority whatsoever. Neither do they have a political constituency.

The parallels between Hamas and the support the IRA retained in N.Ireland is profound. Election after election is being delayed by the Palestinian Authority because Hamas representatives are projected to win. Hamas is the only effective security force for Palestinian citizens… it provides social work, healthcare, and financial assistance for victims of Israeli bombing campaigns and other forms of persecution. Just like Catholics in N. Ireland had no other place to turn than the protection of the IRA, Palestinian civilians feel exactly the same way. At one point in the documentary a released Hamas prisoner returns to his town, greeted by thousands of celebrating men, women, and children.

The role of Hamas in Palestine is fundamentally informed, not by Islamofascism, or the hatred of the United States, but by their violent conflict with Israel, in which both sides bear some responsibility. The root cause of the terrorist threat we face in the west is not the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and it would be naive to reach that conclusion, but the catalyst, and political fuel for Islamic terrorism begins and ends in Palestine. That's where the infrastructure and political ideology justifying violence and homicide spreads from. The problem for peace and progress is that the leaders of Hamas are cynically capitalizing on the weakness of the Palestinian Authority. Why are we not funding this legitimate government properly? Why are we not providing them with everything they need to assert their authority?

N.Ireland proves that deep seated hatred informed by decades of conflict is irresolvable. Paisley and Adams detest each other as much today as they did in early 90's or 80's. But, via the political process, and the commitments to ceasefires and the laying down of arms, the circumstances that future generations will be born into will be different... a child in 2020 will not grow up with bombs and persecution. The deep seated hurt on both sides can only be healed within that context by future generations.

You cannot defeat Hamas. You cannot kill every Hamas terrorist. The more you kill, the more innocent people get hurt, and in the long run the more terrorists you create. You have to establish a functioning political process and show people that their grievances can be far more effectively expressed and resolved without the need to resort to violence. But, for this to be effective we have to think beyond moral absolutes, sacrifice absolute justice, and give people reason and security to lay down their arms.

Because, in this picture below, it is the weaponry and commitment to violence ... not the expression of faith… that we are at war with.

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The Road to the Whitehouse

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Comments: McCain has a considerable lead amongst registered Republicans in the polls, but George Allen has all the momentum, and it's hard for me to believe that McCain will be able to overcome the difficulties he encountered in 2000. Wesley Clark and Joe Biden just fall short on the Dem side. I'm not sure whether Clark will run with Hillary Clinton in the race, considering he will be hoping for a cabinet post if she wins, and it's hard to envision, at this stage, Biden being anything other than what Dick Gephardt was to the 2004 race: a passionate, aggressive voice, without any real substantial appeal.

The point of this post is that I'm interested in what you think. Republican and Democrat, please vote in the poll and let me know your thoughts on the potential candidates in my comments section :).

Who do you want to win the 2008 Presidential Election?
Free polls from
C-Span videos:
Hillary Clinton, Mark Warner, George Allen, Evan Bayh, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Russ Feingold, Newt Gingrich.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

The "Misunderestimation" of Post War Iraq

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President Franklin D. Roosevelt: "I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen 200 limping, exhausted men come out of line—the survivors of a regiment of 1,000 that went forward 48 hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war."

On March 20th, 2003, American missiles hit Baghdad signaling the start of the Iraq war. Since then we have all seen 2100 US forces and 100 UK forces killed. We have seen 15,000 US troops injured, maimed, and in some cases seriously and permanently disfigured. The estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths range from between 20,000 and 30,000.

Whether you supported or were against the Iraq War, on many levels you should hate what it entails. Beyond the sentimentality of victory and the fear of defeat... beyond the idealism of our quest to install a system of democracy... beyond our hope that the resulting ripples of freedom and liberty might spread throughout the region... the reality of what we have lost demands an earnest and honest appraisal of what we have truly earned.

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By any assessment, the operation to topple Saddam from power was one of the most expedient and bloodless military actions in the history of human warfare. Precision bombing and a massive ground troop invasion exposed the Republican Guard and Saddam's precarious grip on power. The expected WMD onslaught was nowhere to be seen. But, what now seems clear is that beneath the veil of the Pentagon's devastating and effective invasion strategy was a pitifully naive assessment of what the reconstruction of Iraq would actually entail:

From the Financial Times: "Undersecretary of Defense, Douglas Feith led a group in the Pentagon who all along felt that this was going to be not just a cakewalk, it was going to be 60–90 days, a flip-over and hand-off, a lateral or whatever to . . . the Iraqi National Congress. The Department of Defense could then wash its hands of the whole affair and depart quickly, smoothly and swiftly. And there would be a democratic Iraq that was amenable to our wishes and desires left in its wake. And that’s all there was to it."

From Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell: "Here's what the plan was: The plan devised principally in Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith's office, and I have to believe, if Rumsfeld is the controller, the leader he says he is, that he was fully cognizant of this, and I don't think he would have been cognizant of it without the blessings of the vice president either. The plan was to put Jay Garner, General Jay Garner, in his organization, called ORHA, on the ground in Iraq for maybe 90 to 120 days, install Ahmed Chalabi and his INC colleagues, or some other look-alike, in control, and then leave, withdrawing most of the major military force in the process, if not all of it, in a very short period of time. This is ineptitude and incompetence of the first order."

In a post 9/11 world, it is astonishing to think that there was virtually no recognition of the political consequences of a United States occupation in the Middle East. They did not think that there would be a prolonged, sophisticated insurgency. They did not think that the Iraqi population would broadly resent US forces, in turn facilitating and strengthening militants interested in undermining the path to Democracy. When, in the lead up to war, General Shinseki stated that several hundred thousand troops would be required to guarantee stability in Iraq Paul Wolfowitz branded him "wildly off the mark." Such was the Administration's fervent belief in the power of freedom that they dogmatically construed US forces would be greeted as liberators. Upon that flawed premise they took everything else for granted.

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On September 19th, 2003, US Chief Administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer enacted Order 39 which announced that 200 Iraqi state companies would be privatized and that foreign firms could retain 100% ownership of Iraqi banks, mines and factories. It also allowed these firms to move 100% of their profits outside of Iraq.

By any measure of free market reforms these are some of the most instantaneously dramatic in the history of the civilized world. At a time when the stability of a divided nation emerging chaotically from the violent order of a brutal dictator was most prescient, and upon that stability rested the lives of US soldiers, UK soldiers, and innocent Iraqi civilians... a dramatic restructuring of Iraqi society was undertaken.

Even putting all altruistic notions to one side... even if all the Administration cared about was US corporations reaping billions and billions of dollars, how could they not have recognized that the security of Iraq was an essential prerequisite to its ability to function, let alone prosper?

The result of these reforms was a devastating 70% level of unemployment sparked by public sector layoffs and an Iraqi labor force in disarray, transitioning to an entirely new set of alien circumstances in which nothing, not even their most basic necessities, were guaranteed. In addition, Iraq's borders were suddenly opened for trade, putting even more pressure on the way in which Iraqi's had previously attempted to make money, acquire goods, and feed their families. In an effort to win hearts and minds, is it really the most sensible course of action to undertake reforms that make 70% of the population unemployed?

Contrary to popular belief, Iraq is not Afghanistan, it is a comparatively developed society. Do you think an unemployed factory worker would have wanted his nation's industries privatized to companies who can take all of the profits they reap elsewhere? Do we restructure Iraqi society on his behalf because we know better? Is that the democracy we seek? Will the government that is elected in December retain the power to kick out US companies, re-nationalize its industries, or invite investment from nations that the US has shut out like France and Germany? If not, what kind of credibility do we think that a picture like this...

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...sends to an unemployed Iraqi flirting with the insurgency, or a citizen in Iran, or Syria, from whom with admiring eyes democracy is supposed to spread.

The point is not whether these reforms work, the point is isolating exactly what our mandate in post war Iraq is. John Murtha accurately identified that US forces have become the primary focus of the insurgency. While insurgents seek to blow up civilians, and undermine the Democratic process, it all serves their primary political purpose of attacking their enemy - their "Imperial occupiers, masquerading as liberators." And while this pretense may be nothing more than clever political posturing, it still underpins their ability to flourish and strengthen with the wider support of the Iraqi people.

A secret poll undertaken for the British Ministry of Defense showed that 65 per cent of Iraqi citizens support attacks against Allied Forces and fewer than one per cent think Allied involvement is helping to improve security in their country. Just like the I.R.A. in N. Ireland, or Basque separatists in Spain, or Hamas in Palestine, perceived political oppression facilitates the notion of a political war... and unadulterated fascists like Zarqawi can emerge as freedom fighters and heroes to millions in Iraq and across the Arab world.

When we condone torture, when we laud democracy but reshape Iraqi society ourselves, when we put too few troops on the ground, and disband Iraq's only security infrastructure, the Republican National Guard... when we appoint an incompetent, politically inappropriate Chief Administrator, Jay Garner, and then need to replace him after only two months (Brown as head of FEMA and Miers as the most qualified SCOTUS nominee aren't isolated mistakes)... when we've planned to attack civilian journalists working for Al Jazeera in an indiscriminate bombing campaign... when we do these things we arm the insurgency with its most potent weapon... the widely held perception of US imperialism, and the abdication of our greatest strength... the nobility of our cause.

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Considering all the money that we have spent, and all the money that has been invested, it is difficult to comprehend that the conditions in Iraq were considered worse than under Saddam in a detailed survey conducted by the United Nations. When stability and security are at a premium, and our war against the insurgency is a battle for the hearts and minds of individual Iraqi's, I cannot believe the accessibility to basic provisions like water and electricity are still at such low levels (chart above).

We currently have a U.S. Administration that has no concept of accountability. Troubles at home or abroad are invariably a political calculation from which they must emerge... not troubles for individual Americans, or Iraqi's for which they must atone. They've decimated tax receipts with ineffectual tax cuts while allowing spending to grow at a faster pace than under any President since Lyndon Johnson. The deficit is out of control and the national debt is currently at 8 trillion dollars while still growing. The Administration has neither the stern, unwavering inclination to address this, nor a sincere concern for its after effects: The national debt will compromise future generations ability to pay back their loans and mortgages, it will hinder their ability to pay for social security or to weather the cost of another war or a disaster like Katrina... or even, god forbid, another terrorist attack.

And, yet the White House barely seems to possess the understanding, let alone the requisite backbone to adjust its course and correct its calamitous, singular and simplistic domestic agenda.

But, it is in Iraq, via military and civilian casualties, and vacuous preparation and planning failures that its incompetence has been most costly. The prosaic sentiments of President Bush and his "strategy for victory," and the notion that troop morale is harmed by public scrutiny, neither levels with the American people, nor demonstrates the capacity to meet this exacerbated challenge.

Alleged "lies" about WMD's remain conspiratorial speculation. Personally, I forgive George Bush's motives for emphasizing the worst case scenario in the build up to war. I still continue to believe Saddam Hussein had sophisticated weapons programs, and would never, under any circumstances, have fully co-operated with U.N. Inspectors. I also don't think you can call this an illegal war, and not say the same about the war in Kosovo undertaken by President Clinton when Russia performed the exact same obstructionist role on the UN security council as France, refusing, under any circumstances to sanction military action.

But, the decision to remove Saddam required a comprehensive plan to win the peace. In my opinion it is this Administration's incompetence, and not their malicious intent, and certainly not the scrutiny of the Main Stream Media or Democrats in Congress, that has really put the armed forces of the United States in harms way, in addition to thousands of UK forces too, deserving of mention that they rarely receive. Unfortunately, for the next three years, unless there are sizemic electoral shifts in the 2006 mid-terms next November I don't forsee things significantly changing. For now we must place our faith in the Iraqi people, and the power of Democracy as an ideal. Beyond the sluggish training of Iraqi forces that seems to be the extent of the Administration's post war reconstruction policy in Iraq.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Anniversary of John F. Kennedy's Assassination

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John Murtha's recent comments on the Iraq war, and his subsequent emergence as a sincere and earnest voice adeptly diagnosing the costs of our military misjudgments has reminded me how far behind we have fallen from the prestige and self-sacrifice of past generations. Where politicians in the 1950's had invariably met the greatest challenge, fighting in real wars, fighting against fascism and totalitarianism, risking their lives and limbs and sons and daughters for the future of the nation... by contrast our small minded, self-serving political representatives today can't sacrifice a tax cut or a pork barrel project to not leave our children in trillions of dollars of debt.

Where John Murtha's generation was consumed by war, our generation is consumed by rhetorical warfare, too busy branding each other extreme in the constant hope of retaining power or regaining it, to be invested in the truth, or humble enough to recognize mistakes like the post war planning, or lack of it, in Iraq.

John F. Kennedy was the man who brought the world back from the brink of self-destruction a year before he was assassinated. When all of his advisors called for the invasion of Cuba, after Soviet missiles were discovered hidden there via Satellite photographs, Kennedy reached out to Soviet Premier Khrushchev and found a different solution, publicly agreeing never to invade Cuba while secretly agreeing to remove ballistic missiles from Turkey within a six month time frame. As a result, the missiles were removed from Cuba by the Soviet Union and a war that would have resulted in a ground battle for Berlin, possibly escalating into nuclear exchanges throughout the world was prevented.

Domestically, John F. Kennedy was the man who transformed civil rights, personally enforcing the 1954 SCOTUS ruling outlawing racial segregation, while proposing the civil rights act that was implemented after he died. He also proposed one of the biggest, and most successful tax cuts in US history, while investing heavily in schools, hospitals, and care for the elderly under the banner of the "New Frontier." One of his first acts as President was to create the Peace Corps to help spread freedom around the world via non-military means.

But, for me what made John F. Kennedy a great President was the eloquence, precision, and timeless, everlasting truth of his words. His Presidency challenged the world to focus upon what we shared when we were at our most divided and fearful:

"For in the final analysis, our most basic common link, is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's futures, and we are all mortal."

So much of what he said is applicable to the world today. To Israel and Palestine, to N. Ireland, to Kashmir and tensions between India and Pakistan, to the growing threat of terrorism around the world and the ever expanding divide between the West and Arab world.... perhaps we should try and always remember this:

"Too many of us think (peace) is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings... World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor, it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement. And history teaches us that enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever."

The World, not just the United States, lost a great leader on November 22nd, 1963, and the Democratic Party lost the man whose spirit will continue on in perpetuity defining what its Presidential hopefuls should aspire to.

R.I.P. J.F.K.


Friday, November 18, 2005

Bush falls off the "Laffer Curve"

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Treasury Secretary John Snow: "Millions of Americans have benefited from these important tax policies either directly through lower taxes or indirectly through new and better jobs and greater economic security for families."

The Laffer Curve is the theory most frequently used to explain how supply side economics benefits government spending. It says that if tax rates rise beyond a certain level they actually discourage economic growth, thereby reducing government revenues. By contrast, as can be seen in Continental Europe, excessive taxation and regulation stagnates economic growth, reduces revenues, undermining government's ability to meet its citizen's needs.

So what is the ideal amount of federal taxation as a percentage of GDP in the US? 25%, 20%, 15%? Under the Bush tax cuts we have gone from 20.09% to 16.3%, a dramatic tax cut. As a result, we were told that government revenues would exponentially grow, just like under Ronald Reagan...

Frequently these days, you will hear Bill O'Reilly say something like this: "President Bush then came in and cut taxes for everyone. And guess what? Federal tax revenues will be more this year (2005) than at any time during the Clinton administration."

This is a completely disingenuous statement. It's like saying economic growth in the 1990's was faster than the 1980's simply because GDP was higher each year. You have to make an adjustment for inflation. Somebody please explain this to O'Reilly if you get the chance.

Inflation adjusted tax receipts during the Clinton Administration and Bush Administration can be seen here:

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The key is not just that government revenue is well below the relative levels that the Clinton Administration had impressively built towards. It's not just that government revenue growth isn't sustained. The key is that in spite of this, in a Republican controlled Congress, Federal Spending continues to grow unabated. In 1992 Russ Perot ran one of the most successful Independent Presidential campaigns in US history on a platform of paying down the national debt. In 1992 the national debt was around $4 trillion. Since Bush came to power the national debt has sky-rocketed from $5.5 trillion to $8 trillion with predictions that the debt will reach $10 trillion by the end of his Presidency.

A five year old can cut taxes, raise spending and get the economy to grow rapidly in spits and spurts. But the risk is inflation, high interest rates, and a recession, all of which loom large over the next three years. The challenge is to create secure, stable, lasting economic growth which guarantees prosperity and opportunity, and also the fiscal integrity of government spending. This economy might grow at 4% in the next quarter and create 500,000 jobs, but in the next employment might be down, and after that we could be facing a recession... things are that unpredictable. In the interim, growing deficits and the national debt compromises everything from our ability to fight wars, guarantee social security, cope with national disasters like Hurricane Katrina, or recover from a terrorist attack.

To respond to Treasury Secretary John Snow, economic security is exactly what families do not have right now.

Related Links:
Tax Policy Center: Historical Federal Receipt and Outlay Summary.
Previous Article: Lyndon Dubya Bush.
Hat Tip: Talking Points Memo.

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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Alito and Anti-Abortion Judicial Activism?

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Update from The Washington Times: Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., wrote that "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion" in a 1985 document obtained by The Washington Times... "I personally believe very strongly" in this legal position, Mr. Alito wrote on his application to become deputy assistant to Attorney General Edwin I. Meese III. The document is among many that the White House will release today from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito voted with the majority on the third circuit court in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey to uphold restrictive abortion related measures passed by the Pennsylvania state legislature... measures that included a 24 hour waiting period and parental consent for minors. But, controversially, he dissented that the majority were wrong to strike down a statute effectively requiring women to obtain consent from their spouses before terminating their pregnancy. In this matter he was the lone dissenting member of the court. The reality for women of this interpretation is expounded upon powerfully here by Kate Michelman in the LA Times.

Alito wrote that forcing a woman to notify and effectively require her husband's consent for an abortion did not constitute an "undue burden," and could be justified as a "legitimate state interest," which is the only basis, set out by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services, by which the state can legislate abortion restrictions. If a law does place an "undue burden" then it can only be justified by a "compelling state interest," which Alito conceded was not justified by Spousal Notification.

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To prove that Spousal notification did not place an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion Alito used Sandra Day O'Connor's written opinions to emphasize how extremely restrictive a law must be, in his opinion, to place an undue burden on a pregnant woman. Read a summary of the quotes he used from O'Connor here. Alito's interpretation of Sandra Day O'Connor's writings was that anything short of the most severe restrictions on abortion was constitutional, which flagrantly undermined the letter and spirit of Roe vs. Wade.

To me this indicates an activist intent to frame the argument and serve an already predetermined conclusion. Originalism, textualism, and literal interpretations of the law are nothing more than a conceit if you apply Samuel Alito's writing in this opinion. Sandra Day O'Connor did not agree with Alito's assessment of her rulings... and if a circuit court judge claims to adhere rigorously to the letter of the law, and the intent of the law..... reading history books like Antonin Scalia to identify the original intent of the founders in the writing of the constitution... then doesn't it matter that he accurately reflects the intent, spirit, and meaning of the rulings that he refers to in his opinions. If you are a circuit court judge, following and CITING a Supreme Court Justice, and you claim to be a rigid textualist, then doesn't it matter that you accurately reflect that Judge's opinion? Sandra Day O’Connor thought that Samuel Alito was dead wrong. Can someone explain to me why this doesn't qualify as judicial activism?

I am convinced it would be just as easy to craft from O'Connor's writings an opposing point of view about what constitutes an undue burden. If I was a Senator on the Judiciary Committee that is exactly what I would do... from the opinions of O'Connor that Alito used I would write a summation of her intent, substantiated by alternative quotes, that by contrast created a lesser "undue burden" standard. I would read it out to Alito in the hearings and ask him to explain how he thinks his claim to strictly interpret the law is manifest in his conclusions about Justice O'Connor's rulings... the implication being that his references were a selective distortion.

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To establish that Spousal notification was a legitimate state interest Alito argued in his opinion that the state has a justified commitment to further a husband's interest in the fetus, citing Skinner vs. Oklahoma.

Skinner vs. Oklahoma was about whether states could sterilize men after they had committed three crimes or more in the 1940's. Now I'm not a lawyer… I never went to law school… and I know absolutely nothing about the law... but how does a man's right to preserve his fertility relate to his rights in an individual pregnancy that he is partly responsible for? Aren’t they two completely separate things? Last time I checked, women having abortions without the expressed consent of their husbands does not leave those men permanently sterile, incapable of ever having children. Please tell me if I'm wrong.

Alito then referenced Michael H. vs. Gerald, to justify a husband's interest in the fetus, which states that a father who is willing to participate in raising his child has fundamental rights in the child's welfare. But, the law as it stood then and stands now does not consider the fetus a child or a human being. Samuel Alito may think that a fetus is a child, but the letter of the law that he proclaims to strictly adhere to disagrees. An abortion is not murder... a fetus is not a child under the law. How exactly is an argument legally justifying a husband's interest in a fetus, or in his wife's pregnancy, by comparing it to his established legal interest in his children not judicial activism?????

Planned Parenthood vs. Casey was not simply a question of minor abortion restrictions. The case went to the Supreme Court and the arguments put forward by Ken Starr, which identically echoed Alito's dissent, did explicitly seek to undermine Roe vs. Wade, and distort Sandra Day O'Connor's undue burden test. So much so that Sandra Day O'Connor, along with four other justices re-affirmed Roe vs. Wade in three parts:

Guaranteeing the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability.
Allowing the State to restrict abortions only after fetal viability and only if the law contains exceptions for pregnancies which endanger the woman’s health.
Recognizing that the State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child.

As a result the Pennsylvania measures were ruled unconstitutional.

I supported John Roberts. George Bush won the 2004 election and earned his right to nominate a Conservative judge. I criticized Democratic minority leader, Harry Reid, for voting against Roberts' confirmation, while praising Senator Feingold for voting for it. But, while my interpretation of Alito's opinion in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey is obviously elementary... it does seem that anything short of putting a gun to a woman's head for the duration of her pregnancy would have failed to meet Alito's undue burden standard. Is this what we want from a Supreme Court Justice? Is such a mistaken interpretation of Sandra Day O'Connor's intentions and rulings not a form of judicial activism considering this?

If Samuel Alito intends to overturn Roe vs. Wade the American people think he shouldn't be confirmed by 53% to 37%. I'm still undecided but maybe the time has come for the Democrats to make a stand.

Related Links:
PP vs. Casey: Alito's dissenting opinion in full.
Previous Article: Implications for Roe vs. Wade.
LA Times: This time it's personal.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

UK Terror Vote: Politics or Principle?

Yesterday Tony Blair suffered his first defeat in the House of Commons since he became Prime Minister in 1997. By a margin of 31 votes MP's voted not to grant the UK police the authority they requested to hold terrorist suspects for 90 days without charge... a measure which Blair had aggressively lobbied for before watching his 66 seat majority dramatically disintegrate with a final vote tally of 322 to 291.

The notion that this heralds doom for the Prime Minister is completely untrue... there is widespread support for this proposal in the wake of the July 7th attacks, Blair's popularity is likely to sharply rise amongst the British electorate for the first time in four years, and MP's voting against the measure have already been publicly decried as treasonous in the tabloid press. The latest You Gov poll says 72% of the British people support the 90 day law.

But the most notable facet of this defeat, at least to me, is that the largest proportion of those who voted against 90 days were members of the Conservative Party, including both aspiring Tory leaders, David Davis and David Cameron, who remain locked in a narrowing leadership election. Current Conservative leader Michael Howard remarked upon it as an illiberal law which threatened to exacerbate malcontent amongst British Muslim’s, potentially creating more terrorism... certainly not the type of argument you'd expect to hear from a right wing party.

While Tony Blair has successfully negated the vile and debilitating tabloid campaigns against the Labour party in the 80's and early 90's by governing as an authoritarian on crime, and a hawk on foreign policy, this step towards a more libertarian brand of Conservatism from the Tory party is something new... indicative of David Cameron's proposed brand of "Compassionate Conservatism." But, is it sincere? If the Conservative Party was in power would they really have taken this position on 28 days instead of 90? Would the self described law and order party have refused the requests of police because they were illiberal? I don't think so. Instead, on an issue that directly affects our ability to fight terrorism in the UK, a political calculation from the right was made to inflict upon Tony Blair his first parliamentary defeat. To me, at least the Labour rebels were voting on a point of principle. The Tories, by comparison, just wanted the opportunity to create a plethora of news headlines like these.

I support the 90 day law. Unlike using torture to interrogate terrorists, currently a big issue in the states, which I incidentally oppose, I don't think this law is an inhuman practice. I don't think we hurt our fundamental values by its implementation. As a stipulation every seven days a suspect is taken back to court to justify his or hers continued detention to a Judge. In all likelihood there would have to be substantial evidence suggesting they were planning to assist with or commit a mass atrocity against innocent people.

Personally, if the police say it takes 90 days to sift through information and computers, while tracking a suspect's connections abroad, and their links to religious institutions that are notoriously insular and difficult to penetrate... if the ability of the police to disrupt terrorist activities will be improved and the streets of London will be safer... I don't see how we can refuse to grant them these powers... at least for a predetermined time period pending review in something like twelve months.

If after that time there was an abundance of egregious incarcerations I could understand a vote like the one that took place yesterday. But, as things stand, I can't help but feel the "principled stand" we saw taken by Labour, Conservative, and Liberal MP's was in fact nothing more than petty party politics in disguise, directed at Tony Blair. To me, considering what's at stake, that's a pretty sad state of affairs.

Related Links:
BBC: Vote disappoints police.
BBC: Howard calls for Blair to resign.
Andrew Sullivan: Blair's case.
Times: Blair suffers wounding loss.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Do Democrats have traction?

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10.50 PST: Kaine brings it home in VA 52% - 46%, which indicates that most of the polls leading up to the election underestimated his margin of victory. Perhaps undecideds broke for Kaine, or Republican turnout fell sharply... although I'm not sure what could have been the cause. Good news also in California, my home away from home, with parental notification for a minor's abortion being voted down (the state shouldn't legislate to safeguard family rights when there are so many abusive familial pressures potentially placed on a child in that predicament), along with all of the Governator's initiatives. I like Arnie and feel bad because I sincerely believe he's trying to bring about change. Voting for Democrats in the state legislature in California is invariably like voting for Jimmy Hoffa.

5.14 PST: We find out tonight if the Democratic Party has gained traction since 2004. Politics might be local, but local politics has exhibited national trends leaning in the direction of the Republican Party for the past three years. Inspite of Doug Forrester's brutal last minute attack advertisements I believe Jon Corzine will win by at least 5 points in New Jersey. The race in Virginia will be a far more insightful indiciator about what is currently possible for Democrats looking ahead to the 2006 midterms.

You can prejudge tonight's result from two perspectives. Democratic candidate, Tim Kaine is against the death penalty, Virginia is a red State, only second to Texas in the number of executions it has carried out, and Jerry Kilgore, former VA Attorney General should be winning comfortably. By the same token, Tim Kaine is riding the coat tails of popular Democratic Governor, Mark Warner, and his impressive platform has negated the political impact of his personal feelings on the Death Penalty. Kaine: "I'm Catholic - I'm against the Death Penalty and I'm against Abortion."

Having watched their debate a couple of weeks ago on C-Span when Kilgore enjoyed a small lead it was obvious that Kaine had the capacity to close the gap, regardless of changing national trends. To me at least (and I am certainly not a typical Virginian voter) Kaine is smiling, warm, direct and authentic, plus perfectly placed in terms of his experience. Kilgore, by contrast, isn't an impressive candidate.

The White House have gambled that their last minute support of Kilgore will be the final boost his campaign required. Either that or internal tracking polls showed a solid Republican swing that allowed the President to tip his hand. Regardless, because of his decision to get involved this race really will be a measure of where the President currently stands with the American electorate. The key question: Will Republican turnout be strong, the consistent factor in all of their recent, closely fought election victories?

Prediction: Corzine 5%, Kaine 1%.

N.B. Nothing is more important right now to the Democratic Party than winning in 2006.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Democrats need to start speaking from their hearts

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In the space of three short months the political landscape has dramatically shifted. The Republican Party and specifically members of the Bush Administration have been fundamentally re-branded as weak, incompetent, corrupt, or divided. And yet, nobody should be in any doubt that this wasn’t achieved as a result of a re-invigorated Democratic voice. This second term slump, punctuated by historically high disapproval ratings for the President and Republican controlled Congress has transpired via the President’s poor leadership during the Katrina crisis, the speculation leading up to the indictment of VP Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby, the failed nomination of Harriet Miers, and the continued post war violence in Iraq. As Democrats we still have a long way to go.

We have to find our voice and do it fast. But, not within the context of the partisan battle in Congress, or critiquing this Administration, or exposing the hypocrisy of Republicans as so many do well online… but within a new context...the context of our values, talking about what we stand for and why this offers hope in the possibility change. Hope that can’t be reduced to a two dimensional Republican smear campaign, or mischaracterized by attacks branding us extreme.

Democrats are fighting with their heads, and doing it well, analyzing, exposing, and contradicting the mistakes of their opponents. But a vote cast in any election is rarely a rational calculation... it isn’t a process of reasoning or logical deduction... It’s something you feel, an instinctive proclivity, a resonance of values… that’s what won elections for Bill Clinton in 1992, and Jimmy Carter in 1976, and a lack of emotional resonance is why Al Gore and John Kerry lost in 2000 and 2004 respectively.

What really unites us as Democrats isn’t our hatred of Republicans... it’s our love of liberty, and belief in social justice. It's our desire for fairness for everyone, and an aspiration for dignity as well as strength in the way that we deal with the rest of the world. What unites us as Democrats isn’t outmoded social models of massive government spending, or 80% levels of taxation for the successful, or passivity in the face of growing threats from abroad. What unites us as Democrats is that we’re not afraid to boldly believe and dream for the betterment of our society and the human race as our most prized principle. Poverty at home or abroad isn’t a necessary fact of life for us, the ills of society are our challenges to confront.

This desire can easily be characterized as unrealistic, and individual responsibility at home or African gov't corruption or UN bureaucracy abroad can easily be proffered as an excuse to justify our inaction… but in spite of what the right says about our unrealistic promises, our goal as Democrats isn't to eradicate poverty or hardship or war singing to John Lennon's "Imagine," smoking dope around the camp fire. It is merely to be better today than we were yesterday… to progress... to be cogniscent, always, that free-markets and the American dream alone don’t equate to ubiquitous opportunity for all miraculously by themselves. As Democrats we believe that the deficiencies of the market, and our failings as people, are our responsibility, and that's what engenders us with meaning, day in and day out, informed by a sense of all of us in this together, not competing with each other like a pack of animals for what scraps fall from on high from the very richest, and most successful.

Yeah, we want a more peaceful world.
Yeah, we want a more just society.
Yeah, we want less discrimination and even more opportunity for everybody, and then, after that, even more opportunity, and even more and even more.
Yeah, we want all of our schools to be wonderful conduits for the growth of our children’s minds... and yeah we want to pay our teachers really well.
Yeah, we don’t think it’s ok that 40 million people don’t have health insurance.
Yeah, we think it's unacceptable that a child born into illness is punished by the failures of his or her parents or the failures of society.
And yeah, just like Roosevelt said during WW2, we hate war. We don’t feel prideful about killing, even when it’s necessary. But we’ll fight harder and longer for our freedom and the freedom of others around the world because what we understand is that freedom isn’t an abstract ideal. We love freedom because we're willing to do something about it, not just grant a tax cut and wait for our economic theory to work miracles. We understand freedom because we recognize it isn’t a blanket that covers fortunate nations in perpetuity, guaranteed by military might… it is the imperfect reality of free individuals, their rights protected by law, working together so all of us can be better.

These are our values. We’re not progressives because we believe in a specific policy. We’re progressives because we don’t settle for the status quo, or conserving the past like the Republican Party. We're progressives because we strive to be better today than we were yesterday.

And while the right argues that our values are flighty and don’t correlate into good governance because we want to spend too much money and threaten the fiscal stability of the nation, by contrast what are they doing with their historic monopoly on power? Massive growth in non-defence discretionary spending not seen since the days that Lyndon Johnson was President... turning a surplus into record deficits... taking the national debt to 7.9 trillion dollars. What exact measure of responsible governance do they apply to our values when they burden our future with debt, and throw the surplus away like another lies just around the corner if only we keep cutting taxes over and over again, no matter the cost of the war on terror, or the Iraq war, or the cost of their irresponsible spending.

Its okay Democrats... it really is. We needn’t run away from what we believe in anymore. We don't have to hide from our ideals or ambitions. Clinton’s legacy is that we prize fiscal discipline, we are credible and taken seriously in the matters of economic governance because we earned that right in the 1990's and the Republican's have driven it home via their incompetence since the turn of 2001.

As 2006 looms, and 2008 after that, we need to start expressing our values to the American people. That's what they're searching for right now as an alternative to this Administration, and the dire mess Republicans have created in Congress. And while we shouldn't go around making unrealistic promises, we shouldn't give up on the notion of promise. Because promise and progress and hope is what defines our party.

Democrats need to start speaking from the heart.

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Monday, October 31, 2005

Bush picks Scalito

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Bush has nominated Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. "Scalito" was a nickname his law clerks gave him because of his similiarity in judicial philosophy to Justice Scalia.

It doesn't look good...

Case History: A dissenting opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 947 F.2d 682 (3d Cir. 1991), arguing that a Pennsylvania that required women seeking abortions to inform their husbands should have been upheld. As Judge Alito reasoned, "[t]he Pennsylvania legislature could have rationally believed that some married women are initially inclined to obtain an abortion without their husbands' knowledge because of perceived problems--such as economic constraints, future plans, or the husbands' previously expressed opposition--that may be obviated by discussion prior to the abortion." Chief Justice Rehnquist's dissent from the Supreme Court's 6-3 decision striking down the spousal notification provision of the law quoted Judge Alito's dissent and expressed support for Judge Alito's reasoning.

Planned Parenthood vs. Casey basically tried to undermine the basic tenets of Roe vs. Wade. In fact, with the help of a last minute reversal of Anthony Kennedy, Roe vs. Wade was re-affirmed in three parts. Information about the case and its implicatons for SCOTUS and Abortion can be found in my post: Does the Miers nomination mean the end of Roe?

I didn't think it was fair to criticize John Roberts on ideological grounds because he represented himself so effectively as being non-ideological, and trustworthy. His qualifications were impressive, and he deserved to be Confirmed by an even wider margin than he was, in my opinion. It is difficult at this stage to discern the response that Samuel Alito warrants, or whether his ideology would constitute the extreme measures outlined by the Gang of 14... this might justify and enable a fillibuster.

Like I said in my previous post, with the Miers withdrawal the triumvirate of rock solid Conservative judges: Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas just became a quartet. Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts is a very intimidating prospect for a considerable amount of time. Only Breyer, you feel, could possibly compete with that intellectual weight from one particular POV. Conservatives should be rightfully ecstatic. Like I repeatedly argued.... suddenly Harriet Miers doesn't seem so bad after all.

I also apologize for my sucky sucky short list, but I hope it helped set the legal landscape and context for this choice.

Listen to Scalito argue in front of the Supreme Court: FCC v. League of Women Voters of California. He argues that Public broadcasting doesn't have a right to editorialize.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Miers nomination: Harriet's Legacy

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I originally posted this photoshop doodle of mine on Friday but took it down because I thought it was an excessively partisan way of expressing my point. Ruminating on it over the weekend, I still feel very strongly about what I was trying to say... This for me is the real legacy of the Harriet Miers debacle:

Bush said this when he announced her nomination:
"I believe that senators of both parties will find that Harriet Miers' talent, experience and judicial philosophy make her a superb choice to safeguard the constitutional liberties and equality of all Americans."

How can the very same people who so effectively campaigned against the Miers nomination now enthusiastically return to wholeheartedly supporting this President? How can you criticize Bush's judgment for concluding that Miers was the best qualified person to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the one hand, and then retain confidence in his judgment in every other aspect of his governance?

Can someone explain that to me, because I don't get it... Is it a good thing that he was forced into ceding to the superior judgment of Conservative columnists and his party base? Is it a good thing that if Bush gets it wrong they can just aggressively articulate the error of his ways and change the course of Administration policy?

If the President sincerely believed in Harriet Miers as a Supreme Court Justice then what does the decision to withdraw her nomination say about his confidence in his own reasoning? A great leader stands up to his base, takes the political hit, and pursues what he/she believes is right, because results, and not politics are what matter in the end... it's one of the reasons that I believe that Tony Blair is a great Prime Minister in the UK.

That's what should give everyone pause for thought, regardless of their political leanings... We have a President who hasn't used a single veto, while non defense discretionary spending has soared, and the national debt has risen to almost eight trillion dollars. We have a President who took no initiative to consider and plan for the broader consequences of regime change in Iraq... who allowed the Republican Guard to be disbanded, dramatic, unhelpful economic reforms to be implemented, and who, after three years has been unable to find alternative solutions and make changes to failing strategies. We have a President who has done nothing to address the changing world, our environment, and future energy needs... at least not with the requisite vigor, and foresight. We have a President who in the midst of a national crisis, Hurricane Katrina, did nothing to exercise leadership, binding the nation together in determination and grief... like Reagan would have... like Giuliani did in NY.

Many of those who criticized Miers said that it wasn't a question of ideology, it was a question of her credentials and qualifications. But, ironically, haven't most of these people turned a blind eye to the President's failings simply because his ideology is so in keeping with theirs?

Isn't that the real legacy of the failed Miers nomination... The poor judgment and inadequacies of this President... that jeapordize the US economy, its safety, its foreign policy, and the integrity of world affairs, only really matter to his supporters when he disagrees with them. And even then, such is the President's lack of belief in his own reasoning, those who pulled the strings to incentivize the Miers withdrawal are confident that if required they can easily assert their influence in the future...

Maybe Bush will prove me wrong and nominate Alberto Gonzales to the Supreme Court... the man that HE always wanted to... but, I seriously doubt it.

Buzz words for Democratic Congressman here, here, here.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Miers Withdraws!

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Charles Krauthammer predicted the exact exit strategy, using Senate requests for Executive Branch records and materials as an irresolvable dispute. Check out his WP column here. It's also perfect political timing. With the announcement of Indictments tomorrow this embarrassing story will be quickly swept out of the headlines.

Now the real fight begins, and President Bush has an opportunity to fire up his base during a period when he will desperately be relying upon their support. The Miers replacement will probably be an explicitly Conservative Judge, with a clear track record delineating a staunch originalist judicial philosophy.

Ironically, considering the recent controversy surrounding the Miers nomination, I believe this is potentially a sad day for the future of the Supreme Court. The triumvirate of rock solid Conservative judges: Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas... in all likelihood just became a quartet.

The Shortlist to replace Miers:

J. Michael Luttig:
Briefly worked in the Whitehouse before serving as a law clerk to Conservative judge, Antonin Scalia. He was appointed to the Fourth Circuit of Appeals by George H.W. Bush in 1991. Frequently mentioned by Conservative pundits as a reliable nomination with a proven track record in originalist judicial philosophy. If Bush wants to satiate his base as a means of re-invigorating his ability to win public arguments, plus improve his public standing, Luttig would be the most obvious pick, and a worst case scenario for Democrats.

Two years ago, he struck down the Violence Against Women Act, writing an opinion that Congress had overstepped its authority in establishing the legislation. Years prior he upheld a ban on partial birth abortion, reversing a lower court ruling, + also allowing Virginia to require parental notification before a teenager could obtain an abortion.

The main controversy surrounding Luttig is the fact that his father was shot and killed in a car jacking, which also involved his mother in the driveway of their Texas home. Defense attorneys have in the past asked him to recuse himself from capital cases because of the personal tragedy he suffered. He is an ardent, long time supporter of the Death Penalty.

"His reputation is one of an extremely smart, hard-line conservative," said Heather Gerken, an assistant professor at Harvard Law School, "even those on the left, who disagree with his politics, really agree that he is very, very smart."

J. Michael Luttig = Scalia mark II, and would create a powerful and intimidating Conservative alliance, alongside Scalia, Thomas, and Roberts that would surely threaten Anthony Kennedy's uncertain position in support of Roe vs. Wade.

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Priscilla Owen:
Nominated to the 5th Circuit, Court of Appeals, where Democrats successfully filibustered her nomination. She would be one of the most divisive and controversial picks, however, if Bush is really looking for a fight, which many Conservative Republicans have called for, then he really need look no further:

Her views on abortion: She supported the elimination and narrowing of buffer zones around reproductive health care clinics in Houston. + In every judicial bypass case that came before the Texas Supreme Court(bypass allows a young woman to obtain an abortion without notifying her parents if she proves her maturity to a judge), Owen voted against granting the young woman that right.

She supports "stricter interpretation" of the state law that Bush signed requiring girls younger than 18 to inform their parents before obtaining an abortion. She has been criticized as being on the "far right wing" of the Texas court, further to the right than Bush's own appointees to that court when he was governor.

The biggest controversy surrounding Owen involves Enron donating $8,600 to her successful 1994 bid for the Texas Supreme Court. Two years later, Owen wrote the majority opinion that reversed a lower court order and reduced Enron's school taxes by $15 million. Since 1993, Enron contributed $134,058 — more than any other corporation — to Owen and other members of the Texas Supreme Court.

Personally, considering the political turmoil currently surrounding the President, even considering the Conservative lust for a great judicial battle, I would be shocked if he nominated Owen. She provides Democrats with criticisms that could be far more resonant publically than those they could level at Luddig or others.

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Edith Brown Clement:
Clement also has a reputation as a Conservative jurist, and a strict constructionist, only with a less controversial track record. In fact her track record is so thin, in terms of opinions, that she could conceivably meet with a less than enthusiastic response from the Republican base if she is nominated by Bush to replace Miers. Many thought that she was very close to being nominated last time out... her nomination would paralell Miers in its ambiguity.

Interesting: According to The Orlando Report, "MSNBC is reporting that Clement has acknowledged that Roe v. Wade is settled law and within the constitutionally protected right to privacy. She apparently stated this at her last confirmation hearing."

Arguably, this is the nomination Bush should have made instead of Miers, applying the same "stealth candidate" criteria. The difference is that now the game has changed, and so has what the White House are looking for. Edith Brown Clement would not provide Conservatives with as extensive a judicial track record as other prospective nominees. I think Laura would like her though...

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Edith Jones:
A Reagan appointee in 1985, Edith Jones is an outspoken Conservative judge, frequently mentioned by Conservative pundits, like Bill Kristol, that have opposed Miers, suggesting her extensive track record is much more in keeping with the campaign promises that Bush made to his supporters. In her opinions, she has questioned the legal reasoning which legalized abortion, advocated streamlining death penalty cases, invalidated a federal ban on possession of machine guns and advocated the toughening bankruptcy laws.

Her most well known case, could be the center of an enormously divisive national debate if she is nominated: In McCorvey vs. Hill, which was a request by the original plaintiff of Roe v. Wade to vacate that finding, Jones joined the Fifth Circuit in rejecting the petition on procedural grounds, but took the unusual step of filing a six-page concurrence to her own opinion. The concurrence credited the evidence presented by McCorvey and sharply criticized the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe, calling it an "exercise of raw judicial power."

She said: "That the court's constitutional decision making leaves our nation in a position of willful blindness to evolving knowledge should trouble any dispassionate observer not only about the abortion decisions, but about a number of other areas in which the court unhesitatingly steps into the realm of social policy under the guise of constitutional adjudication."

The nomination of Edith Jones will put the abortion debate at the front and center of her confirmation hearings, with a fairly clear, outlined position on her part that Roe vs. Wade is untennable and should be overturned. Edith Jones is definately the anti-Harriet Miers.

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Alberto Gonzales
The contrarian point of view is that the nomination Bush would like to have made to SCOTUS is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and that, resenting the right wing sabotage of Harriet Miers, he will take this opportunity to push through his personal preference in spite of his supporters, instead of directly appealing to them. Republican Senators were already extending themselves today suggesting that Gonzales would not be appropriate, for similar reasons that they gave for doubting Miers. It seems sad that in many ways the core of the Republican Party have drifted so far to the right that they cannot support a moderate Conservative like Gonzales, even when he is the President's ideal nominee.

Admitedly his nomination is highly unlikely, but it is not all together impossible. It could form part of a calculation to reach out to the center and political mainstream ahead of the 2006 mid terms, upon which Bush's legislative agenda for his second term rests heavily. The Gonzales nomination, like Colin Powell and Condi Rice before, would be an historic step towards the diversity of the nation being reflected at the highest level of the land... Although, to be fair, this strategy hasn't exactly improved the Republican standing with African American voters.

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Maureen Mahoney:
From my perspective, Mahoney is the best possible nominee that I can expect as a Democrat. She has a great deal in common with John Roberts, serving beside him in the Solicitor General's office, plus clerking for Chief Justice Rehnquist. She is now a leading appellate litigator for the Washington, D.C., firm Latham & Watkins. Her credentials are impeccable.

Mahoney has been referred to as one of the finest oral advocates of SCOTUS... which I have to say sounds kinda kinky to me. She has a reputation as a judicial Conservative, and yet she successfully represented the University of Michigan Law School in 2003 in a case in which the Supreme Court upheld diversity as a rationale for affirmative action. Asked in a 2004 interview with the University of Chicago Magazine why she had taken the case as a staunch Republican, Mahoney said that her personal views weren't relevant but added, "I certainly was very comfortable with Michigan's position."

And yet, she has a solid Conservative track record:

From "Underneath Their Robes":

She was previously nominated for a federal judgeship under Bush I (but President Clinton took office before she could be confirmed).

She is Republican, and she was on the Bush II transition team (and made the maximum contribution allowable under federal law to President Bush's 2000 presidential campaign).

She was reportedly considered by the Bush Administration for the post of Solicitor General, before Ted Olson got the job, and also for a seat on the D.C. Circuit.

She was picked, presumably by the White House Counsel's Office or the DOJ's Office of Legal Policy, to testify on behalf of Judge Roberts at his recent confirmation hearings.

Nina Totenberg has described Mahoney as "a very, very conservative woman Catholic."

I think the subtext of being a "very, very conservative woman Catholic" means that she's pro-life... although, where I'm from being a Conservative Catholic usualy means drinking only four pints of Guiness as opposed to eight at the local pub... but I'm digressing.

Very impressive: Listen to her oral argument in the affirmative action case GRUTTER vs. BOLLINGER.

In conclusion, when assessing the type of Justice Harriet Miers would have been you have to apply a different context in assessing her personal views than that you might typically apply to a politician. On the Supreme Court, asserting dogma, or politics, requires an ideology with the integrity to withstand the scrutiny of intellectual heavyweights like Breyer and Scalia. In ten years time, when the political climate of the nation might be entirely different to today, do you really think that someone like Miers, who has supported Gay rights, affirmative action, social activism, etc... upon her honest, searching introspection would consistently resort to an entrenched Conservative judicial philosophy? A philosophy she has never has never articulated once in her entire career.

Of course she wouldn't have... With Harriet Miers the opportunity existed for another Souter, or Sandra Day O'Connor, hence the Conservative outcry, not from the Republican Party base, but from its most elite thinkers like Kristol, and Krauthammer, and George Will, all too aware of the potential for Miers to not fulfill Conservative expectations on the bench.

Perhaps the Miers nomination was doomed from the beginning, but in my opinion, Democrats could have, and should have done more to ensure her confirmation, making her withdrawal from the process more difficult. Relinquishing their requests for her Presidential records could have been a start. Instead of Miers the best we can now possibly hope for, in my opinion, is a more moderate Conservative coalition between Roberts, Kennedy, and hopefully Mahoney... a die hard originalist quartet of Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and J. Michael Luddig would have disastrous implications for the rights that we believe the constitution guarantees as Democrats.

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Related News Articles:
Pat Buchanan: Miers withdrawal saves Bush.
WP: Conservatives will regret Miers withdrawal.
WP: Focus shifts to next nominee.
NY Times: Why the right was wrong.

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Miers nomination: The implications for Roe?

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As the Miers Senate Confirmation Hearings draw nearer, and political pressure builds on the Administration, very little attention is being paid to the fact that Abortion law as we know it rests precariously in the balance. John Roberts replacing Chief Justice Rehnquist didn't really shift the internal dynamics of the court. The implications for Harriet Miers replacing Sandra Day O'Connor are much more dramatic.

So the looming specter of Roe vs. Wade being overturned becomes increasingly more tangible... thanks in large part to the White House emphasis placed upon Miers' Pro-Life/Evangelical beliefs. And yet, for all the speculation, are we really examining where the Supreme Court currently stands on the issue of Abortion? Are we even considering, with specificity, how things are likely to change?

Answers can be found in the 1992 case, PLANNED PARENTHOOD vs. CASEY.

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Planned Parenthood vs. Casey asked whether the state of Pennsylvania could require women who wanted an abortion to obtain informed consent, wait 24 hours, and, if they were minors, obtain parental consent, without violating their right to abortions. The rights of the state legislature to restrict abortions, and apply a "rational basis" for those restrictions, brought back into question the fundamental principles of the Roe vs. Wade ruling.

Roe vs. Wade was re-affirmed in the case 5-4 in three parts:
1) The right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability.
2) The State may restrict abortions after fetal viability if the law contains exceptions for pregnancies which endanger the woman’s health.
3) The State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child.

What does this all tell us about where we stand today?

Well, two of the four dissenting justices remain on the court: Justice Thomas, and Justice Scalia. Chief Justice Rehnquist stated in the dissenting opinion, joined by Thomas and Scalia: "We believe that Roe was wrongly decided, and that it can and should be overruled consistently with our traditional approach to stare decisis in constitutional cases."

Rehnquist, of course has now been replaced by this guy...

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...who said: "Justices are like Umpires... I will remember it is my job to call balls and strikes, and not to pitch or bat."

The subtext to John Roberts' quote from his Senate Hearings is that he is an Originalist. He believes that the role of a judge is stick to the original text of the US constitution strictly, with as little, if no subjectivity. Originalists believe that nowhere is it specifically stated in the constitution that Abortion is a fundamental right, and that none of the principles that it articulates were ever originally intended to provide that right. Hence it is the responsibility of respective states to legislate on the issue, effectively meaning that Abortion can be criminalized.

Others, like myself, believe that the US Constitution is a "Living and breathing" constitution, growing and evolving through time in our interpretations, embodying principles that bear a different significance upon society as we change via cultural standards, + new technology, etc. For example: What does a right to privacy mean in the age of the internet, and online commerce, and emails, and CCTV potentially on every street corner... How could the founders' original intentions preclude a modern assessment of what the right to privacy really means today, in the modern world?

As I quoted in my previous post, Roe vs Wade relies upon the fourteenth amendment:

ROE vs. WADE, 1/22/73: State criminal abortion laws, like those involved here, that except from criminality only a life-saving procedure on the mother's behalf without regard to the stage of her pregnancy and other interests involved violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects against state action the right to privacy, including a woman's qualified right to terminate her pregnancy.

Nowhere in the fourteenth amendment does it explicitly state that the right to an abortion is guaranteed. It articulates a right to privacy... and it is a judgment call about whether privacy encompasses female productive rights. So, it is safe to conclude from Roberts' originalist judicial philosophy that he will be a passionate advocate of overturning Roe vs. Wade.

So where do the others stand?

By my mind, there are four justices that can reliably be expected to vote against Roe: Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Miers, or her replacement if she steps down or performs badly in her hearings. And there are also four justices, who can reliably be expected to vote to uphold Roe: Souter, Breyer, Stevens, and Ginsberg.

One Justice remains a question mark... the pivotal vote in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey... and that is Justice Anthony Kennedy:

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Now, there's a lot of cause for optimism... Justice Kennedy co-wrote the opinion upholding Roe vs. Wade in Casey vs. Planned Parenthood. He also, more recently, wrote the opinion in a case outlawing the use of Capital Punishment for minors, citing foreign law, which makes it absolutely clear that he is not a die hard originalist like Scalia or Roberts... meaning that he can be swayed by the notion that changing times, and values should be reflected in the interpretation of the principles that the Constitution sets forth.

However there also remains a great deal of uncertainty surrounding him:

"Recently released private court records of Roe vs. Wade architect Justice Harry Blackman tell the story of how close the 1973 landmark came to being overturned in 1992. The records are accompanied by an oral history recorded by Blackmun, and show that Roe's overturn was imminent until Kennedy changed his mind and voted to uphold Roe. Blackmun's commentary reveals that Kennedy, a Catholic, originally voted to support the Pennsylvania abortion restrictions challenged in the case, but changed his vote after vigorous lobbying by Blackmun."

Contrary to common misconception, Sandra Day O'Connor was not the swing vote on Abortion... Justice Kennedy was. Nobody knows what exactly made him change his mind... and nobody can say whether it was a concrete and permanent change of heart, or whether his vote is once again up for grabs. There is some comfort in knowing that Blackmun has been replaced by Breyer, an intellectual heavyweight more than capable of standing up to Scalia, Thomas, and Roberts, who are sure to form an intimidating triumvirate. And, the fact that Kennedy co-authored the opinion re-affirming the three principles of Roe vs. Wade also is cause to be hopeful that Miers or someone worse, replacing Sandra Day O'Connor, won't mean the end of female reproductive rights in the United States as we know them.

All is not lost, perhaps, as I had feared. But, with another nomination to the Court looming (Justice Stevens is 85 and prey to God going strong) the 2008 election takes on even more importance. Hopefully, by that time the Democratic Party will have a leader with the conviction to fight the battle of ideas that we have been forsaking to Conservatives for too long. An Originalist doctrine of the US Constitution is not reflective of modern, mainstream American values, no matter how many times Hannity, Limbaugh, Fred Barnes, et all say so.

Related Links:
Case History: Planned Parenthood V Casey
Oral Arguments: Audio
On the Issues: Anthony Kennedy on Abortion
NPR: Blackmun's Papers
Blackmun: Roe nearly overturned in 1992

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