Monday, October 31, 2005

Alito Vs. Roberts

Bush nominated Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court today. No surprise here, in the wake of the Harriet Miers withdrawal Bush was pushed to nominate a well known solid pro-life conservative to the bench. Alito was narrowly passed on by Bush before initially nominating John Roberts to replace Sandra Day O’Connor as an Associate Justice. However, there is every indication Alito is just as qualified and conservative as Roberts. The liberals are going to have an extremely difficult case to make in opposition to his nomination. Painting Alito as an extremist similar to Scalia is the strongest argument that can be made for rejecting the Alito nomination. However, unlike Scalia, Alito has a reputation of examining the law on a case by case basis as opposed to having an over-arching position from which to base an opinion. Those who disagree with his apparent ideology will have to reconcile that opposition with the previous support by Senate liberals when first confirmed as an Appellate Judge in 1990, including Senator Ted Kennedy who now has taken the opposite position. However, one could argue that Alito’s judicial philosophy is now better defined and concrete than prior to 1990 when he had been a prosecutor and a lawyer.

Nonetheless, ideological opposition is not enough to justify a disqualification to the U.S. Supreme Court. Unless the liberals are successful in portraying Alito as someone who has an agenda to “make” law from the bench or has some extreme viewpoints, Alito’s confirmation is assured with a solid majority in the Senate likely to support the nominee. I also support Alito, primarily because it is unrealistic to expect a more moderate nominee if Alito’s nomination were to be rejected by the Senate. Also, I do agree with a moderate conservative argument on abortion that argues it should be left up to the states. By denationalizing abortion, a critical wedge issue commonly used by Republicans in national elections to portray themselves as the party of morality would be removed. Instead abortion would become a local and state issue that should have little effect on a national level. Of course assuming that a conservative majority in the U.S. Supreme Court guarantees a virtual overturn of Roe v. Wade would be foolish. One cannot underestimate the importance of established precedence in Supreme Court cases, making it unlikely an abortion case challenging the current law would be successful. The conservative activists’ demand for a qualified nominee who is both a strict constructionist and who exercises judicial restraint, which means they must respect precedent, is ironic. In this respect, Alito is very similar to Roberts, who is portrayed as somewhat of a moderate by liberals who supported his nomination, because he had a reputation of respecting established judicial precedence, which includes Roe v. Wade.

Now some liberals in Congress are wining about the lack of consultation Bush had with them on this choice, as he did with Roberts. After staying out of the Miers fight, preferring to leave the conservatives to create division within their own ranks, there was little incentive for the president to re-consult with Democrats over someone who probably came up in previous discussions regarding the first Supreme Court nomination. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe Alito would have been recommended or supported by Democrats in the Senate, a fact that Bush is well aware of. Besides, Democrats had the opportunity to voice more support for Miers in the face of much conservative opposition, but instead opted to stand by for the withdrawal of a potentially moderate nominee. They failed to take advantage of the legitimate charges of cronyism and lack of qualifications, but also failed to realize a replacement nomination would likely appease the very same right-wing conservatives who were concerned about Miers ability to stand up to pro-choice judicial “activism.” If Miers had been more publicly vocal over the years on a pro-life agenda, charges of cronyism and the her lack of qualifications would have been ignored by most conservatives, and instead used by both strong moderate and liberal opposition, perhaps causing a Senate rejection, and subsequently pressuring the president to nominate a true moderate. In essence, the Miers nomination was an ingenious ploy to temporarily temper liberal opposition and to eventually ensure a solid conservative replacement for the moderate Sandra Day O’Connor.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Iraq War on Trial

Okay, so we finally have an indictment, is it over? Not even close. I find it fascinating that the 5 counts Libby was charged with by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald all stem directly from the investigation itself, rather than the allegations of an intent to expose the identity of a CIA operative and compromise national security. There are so many other questions that have yet to be answered, and perhaps never will. For this reason, I don't think this will become a significant scandal like Watergate, or Lewinksy-gate was.

The main question I have is who are columnist Robert Novak's sources, and why hasn't there been more discussion of his direct involvement in this case? We have heard so much about Matt Cooper, Judith Miller, Tim Scooter Libby, and Karl Rove, yet precious little about Novak. Why is it that this man has managed to escape the level of scrutiny the others involved have endured the last 2 years? In the indictment papers released by Fitzgerald of Libby, Novak is mentioned as having 2 sources both described as a "senior white house official" and one with the conspicuous label "Official A." There is much speculation already that "Official A" is actually Karl Rove, but that does not mean he is guilty of a particular crime, although it remains to be seen if Fitzgerald will also indict Rove. However, it seems unlikely anymore indictments are pending despite Fitzgerald’s claim that the investigation is not over. Perhaps the Libby trial will prove to be more forthcoming in revealing the facts surrounding this extremely complex case.

In any event, it is impossible to talk about the CIA leak investigation without getting into a discussion about the justification for the War in Iraq. Libby, Cheney, Rove, and others in the Administration were outspoken about their support of the statements made by the president in his State of the Union Address prior to the Iraq invasion which claimed Saddam had attempted to purchase uranium yellowcake from Niger. The Bush Administration later expressed regret for using the infamous 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union Address only after it had been determined to be from a highly dubious source, an assertion previously made by Wilson after his investigative trip to Niger. If the White House had simply criticized Joe Wilson directly about his editorial piece on his finding in Niger, instead of going about it in such an indirect fashion by exposing the identity of his wife, this whole mess could have been avoided. Instead, they felt they needed to undermine his credibility, because Wilson had made a claim that his trip to Niger was approved by the Vice President's office, as is standard procedure. Eventually, Novak prints an article that asserts that Wilson was sent to Niger in part because of his wife's recommendation at the CIA, not the Vice President's office, as Wilson had understandably claimed.

The bottom line is the Administration could have simply corrected Wilson by pointing out that the Vice President's office did not recommend his trip to Niger, and that the CIA was solely responsible for the recommendation. There was no reason to mention that Wilson had a wife who worked in the CIA, whether or not she was in fact a covert agent. If this was an intentional act, with full knowledge of a breach of national security, there should be much more severe consequences for some "senior white house official," or "Official A." Unfortunately, intent is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prove in court.

Although I do believe Libby lied to either cover for others, or at least mislead the investigators, I do not believe that there was any conspiracy to intentionally breach national security on the part of this administration. The fact that Libby was charged with making false statements, perjury before the grand jury, and obstruction of justice does not necessarily imply a larger plan to expose a CIA operative, who may or may not have been covert. Libby's lawyer says he will make the case that a poor memory contributed to his false testimony. However, that carries little weight, because the statements he made were on very specific questions of well documented and publicized conversations, especially the one with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press." Libby could have easily reviewed his past statements before meeting with the Grand Jury to jog his memory. Instead, he lied and perhaps delayed the conclusion of the investigation by a year. Stay tuned Karl Rove, you may weasel your way out of this yet.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Calm Before the Storm

Today Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination for Supreme Court Justice. The right-wing conservative base was successful in their attempt to pressure her to withdraw. The radical social conservatives are now more likely to get a nominee who falls closer to their judicial philosophy, most importantly an anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage activist. A nominee more in line with Justices Scalia and Thomas is the only nominee that would please these right-wingers in order to balance out what they perceive to be an activist court controlled by liberals.

The far right's obsessive concern for the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court distorts constitutional law. They believe they are entitled to an extremist nominee who will act as a radical activist to turn back social progress by decades. Harriet Miers may not have been qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice, but she did deserve a chance to be heard in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. On the other hand, the fact that she was given a second chance to complete a preliminary questionnaire, because her answers were woefully insufficient the first time says something about her qualifications to be a judge.

My hope is that Bush will nominate a moderate conservative more along the lines of Chief Justice John Roberts who is well qualified with a solid background in judicial matters. Unfortunately, the list of possible nominees include a large number of right-wingers who would be much more difficult to confirm than Roberts based on ideological concerns the liberals are likely to have. This is the scenario the conservative base have wanted all along, and that is why they forced a Miers withdrawal. They believe the conservative majority in the Senate will be enough to confirm a right-wing ideologue to the Supreme Court, and they may be right unless the nominee's judicial philosophy even remotely resembles that of the infamous Robert Bork, rejected by the Senate almost 20 years ago. I hold out hope that there are enough moderate conservatives to block a social conservative extremist nominee, like Bork, in the Senate.

Another factor in whom Bush nominates next will be the political climate following the conclusion of the CIA leak investigation. Combined with the damage the Administration has suffered from Hurricane Katrina, and the failed nomination of Harrier Miers, Bush cannot afford another significant black eye in the form of an indictment of his closest colleagues. It may be necessary for Bush to nominate an easily confirmable well qualified moderate conservative for the Supreme Court if he has any chance to salvage his Administration and the party for the mid-term elections of 2006. On the other hand, he risks alienating his base even further, as he did with the Miers nomination. However, Bush no longer needs to worry about re-election, and is free to move closer to the center.

Stay tuned for the fallout of the CIA leak investigation. Vice President Dick Cheney could be central to the political storm ready to hit the neoconservatives in Washington. More than likely, he will avoid an indictment, with his office staff members taking the heat for him, including Lewis "Scooter" Libby. If that is indeed the case, how is it that Cheney knew nothing about any attempt to leak the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame originating from his own office? After all, Libby could only have learned about Plame from Cheney himself. Enough of the speculation, I will reserve judgment for when the complete investigation is made public.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Day of Reckoning

Republicans beware, your day is coming. Just like Clinton’s second term scandals, the media is ready to pounce, only this time with the Democrats on board. You know what they say, what goes around comes around. Also similar to the Clinton scandals, some conservatives are blindly supporting the Bush Administration, denying any wrongdoing, and even blaming their problems on the other party. Hmmm, sounds familiar doesn’t it? Don’t conservatives believe in personal responsibility anymore? Or is that just when the other party is in power? Clinton has since admitted his personal transgressions, but I somehow doubt Rove, Libby, and Co. is going to do the same at any point in the future. I guess absolute power corrupts absolutely after all.

We will see as we rapidly approach the 2006 mid-term elections, which party will gain seats in Congress. I am not sure whether there will be enough of a shift to throw either house back to the Democrats, because they simply lack a positive message. All they can do is sit back and capitalize on the mistakes of the president. The Republican strategy that worked so well in 1994 when they seized control of both houses of congress was to capitalize on the corruption of the Democrats who were in power, but they also used other tactics including gerrymandering and campaign finance loopholes to take an advantage in the voting booths. A new paradigm is needed to break this cycle of corruption in the majority party.

One positive step towards this new paradigm would be to reform the media. This perception of a “liberal bias” in the news media should be eliminated because it undermines legitimate debate over ideological and divisive issues. Right-wing conservatives seeking to mislead its base from striving for the facts on their own use the liberal bias as a wedge issue to divert attention from media ownership and who really controls the media. The conservative base has become so anti-intellectual they are unable or unwilling to think for themselves, relying on daily “talking points” consistently broadcasted across the talk radio programs and the Fox News Channel. They label those who work in the media, especially journalists, as being elitists because of their fancy education and the big words they like to use. They like to spin conspiracy theories about the media that fits their view of a “liberal bias.” What has made this tactic so successful is because the simple truth is the more educated you are, the more liberal you are likely to be. What is easily lost in this argument is the fact that the owners of the media conglomerates are overwhelmingly conservative. If you don’t believe me, look up the CEO for each of the five major media conglomerates, and which party they are registered to vote for and which party they give the most money too. The argument should be over how much control ownership has over the content journalists present in the media. There is a give and take, with the best seller getting the most air time because the media is a profit generating business. Ironically, it was the Democrat President Clinton, along with a Republican controlled Congress, who set the ball rolling for the massive media consolidation we have seen over the last decade.

Harriet Miers may be rejected, Rove, Libby, and Delay may be all indicted, and Bush may have one of the lowest presidential approval ratings in history, but the conservatives will still have the infamous Bible belt, the red states, and the heartland in their back pocket. They can still use the Christian Coalition as a political tool to con good, but ignorant people into believing that liberals stand for moral decay and corruption. They can do this by the power of the “liberal” media. Taking advantage of our extremely short attention spans, the conservative base effectively spins their own problems onto the liberals and the media. When things go wrong when they are in power, so many are too eager to believe it is the media’s fault, because they are all a bunch of liberals trying to make good conservatives look bad. Remember what the media did to President Clinton. How could one possibly believe that the media has a liberal bias after watching the Clinton-Lewinsky affair on 24-hour news networks, including the Fox News Channel, and conservative talk radio? The media has a corporate bias, because a sex scandal increases ratings and profits, that is indisputable, and a lot of those watching are social conservatives. Even the “silent majority” have to accept the reality of the profit-driven media becoming increasingly sleazier as fewer and fewer choices are presented. The conservative base must admit to itself that the fiscal conservatives, the ultra-capitalists, are not on the same side of “morality” in the media. Social conservatives cannot, with a clear conscience, continue to support fiscal conservative control over the media’s future. Vice versa, pure capitalism advocates cannot allow social conservatives to hinder the profit margins of media corporations through social regulation and FCC censorship. A day of reckoning, in more ways than one, is inevitable for the great conservative movement.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Insider Criticism

Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, criticized the administration for hijacking foreign policy decisions in the run up to the Iraq war yesterday. He referred to a secret cabal primarily between Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield which led to poor decision making concerning detainee treatment at Abu Ghraib. He accused President Bush of "cowboyism" foreign policy who had little interest in foreign relations and therefore had little input or control over Cheney and Rumsfield foreign policy decisions. He also criticized Condoleeza Rice of being part of the problem because she was too weak to stand up to the cabal and would often side with the president instead of giving solid advice as National Security Adviser, or currently as Secretary of State.

Wilkerson's claims of a cabal that kept the rest of the bureaucracy in the dark appears to have some credibility, as evidenced by the administration's poor response to Hurricane Katrina, resistance to legislation defining torture rules led by Republican Senator John McCain, the poor handling of the Iraqi insurgency, and the identity leak of the CIA agent, wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, among numerous other bureaucratic policy debacles. In each case, the federal bureaucracy has appeared inadequate for dealing with the political fallout. The Cheney-Rumsfield neo-conservative movement has left the impression that it has hijacked the Republican Party.

As was the case with criticisms made by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil and former Counter Terrorism Chief Richard Clarke last year, the criticism made by Wilkerson are likely to be quickly discredited by the neocons. No doubt he will be accused of having an ideological agenda or having an axe to grind for being "forced" to resign along with Colin Powell. Powell himself was publicly seen as a dissenter to the neo-conservative agenda being pushed by the Cheney-Rumsfield cabal, maybe providing a motivation for his resignation. Perhaps Wilkerson is angry about how Powell was used to present the now infamous photos of what was assumed to be mobile chemical and biological weapons labs inside Iraq to the U.N., which later turned out to be incorrect. Does Wilkerson believe the position of Secretary of State was used to justify the Iraq war? Indeed, Wilkerson questions whether the cabinet position even truly exists anymore.

Wilkerson kept his criticism tied to bureaucratic hijacking, and stopped short of criticizing the decision itself to invade Iraq or directly implicating the president for foreknowledge of the intelligence failures in the lead up to the war. There is no doubt, however, the case for war was based on conflicting and suspect evidence of weapons of mass destruction, strongly pushed by the hawks of the administration, while the doves remained primarily silent, at least until they left office when they could speak more openly. It is not just the liberals who are critical of the Iraq war. There are truly reasonable and moderate conservatives out there with legitimate concerns about the motivations of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) which includes Cheney and Rumsfield. Unfortunately, the swift attacks made by administration officials to undermine internal dissent have stifled productive debate within their own ranks. In essence, the neocons have been allowed to overrun this administration’s foreign policy agenda, further alienating our allies and undermining U.S. efforts to democratize Iraq and to quell the insurgency, which is made up of only 2% foreign fighters with the rest being Iraqi Sunni. That little factoid is for another entry.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Media Panic

I am sure you remember the SARS pandemic scare a couple of years ago. Before that, there was the Anthrax scare, and even Y2K. The latest media craze is the bird flu. Fears over terrorism is always a fall back position when nothing much else is going on, in other words a slow news day. This is the nature of today’s 24/7 cable news networks. Instantaneously manufactured fear wrapped in the latest and glossiest commercial package. Every flu season, it seems like we are bombarded with fresh warnings of the worst case since the famous outbreak of 1918 that killed thousands. Conveniently, even though each new flu season brings a slightly different strain of the virus, a vaccine is already prepared and ready for instant consumption by anyone who is even a little paranoid about getting a little sick for a few days, which might happen even if you did get the shot. The only purpose for a flu shot is to try and protect individuals with weak immune systems, mostly the very young or the elderly. Yet when there was a purported “shortage” of flu vaccinations before last year’s flu season, many perfectly healthy people panicked, when they had no reason to. So the government restricted the shots for the elderly, the very young, and others with weakened immune systems, a sensible policy.

The bird flu fears have actually been around for over a year in the alternative media, and reported around the world before the majority in this country even heard about it. Now the fear has reached our shores, despite the limited number of human deaths attributed to this virus. Why is it that medical professionals are predicting a jump from the birds to humans and then human to human transmission sometime in the very near future? Why is it assumed that this will become a major pandemic that will inevitably kill a million people world wide? Where are they getting their information? There were similar warnings about SARS, which turned out to be baseless and severely exaggerated. The World Health Organization (WHO) is responsible for tracking new disease outbreaks and cross-species possibilities. The WHO is also commonly responsible for jump starting a hyper media blitz over such concerns, often reporting doomsday scenarios that are completely ridiculous. The American corporate news media organizations just eat up anything that tends to scare people on a mass scale. The government has not done much better managing information pertaining to possible disasters, in fact the Department of Health often adds to the media hype, as was the case with SARS and now the bird flu. All of this only serves to fuel the conspiracy theories of collusion between governments and agencies developing biological weapons in the form of experimental genetically modified viruses created in laboratories which then leak these pathogens in order to study their effectiveness on the mass population.

The only conspiracy going on here is profit. Fear-based reporting generates a ratings boost, which attracts more advertisers. The bird flu pandemic scare feeds the massive profit generating media machine. No actual fact based reporting is going to change the profit paradigm. This whole situation provides a great argument for media reform. Unfortunately when a true health threat comes along, most of us will most likely ignore it because of the memories of SARS, the bird flu, and others that turned out to be relatively harmless. The media does an absolutely horrible job of keeping things in perspective. A responsible media should concentrate more on factual evidence, rational or reasonable precautions for outbreaks or disasters, and accurate forecasts instead of sensational or exaggerated figures meant to scare people. Of course, who would watch such a boring news program, except for your intelligent concerned citizen?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Intelligence Accountability

Last Wednesday, CIA Director Porter Goss announced that an accountability board will not be held on 9/11 failures. A classified CIA report conducted by CIA Inspector General John Helgerson is likely to remain classified despite efforts by the families of 9/11 victims and some Members of Congress on the House intelligence panel including Jane Harman (D-CA). Goss argues that making the report public or holding an accountability board would harm agency morale and undermine the ability for covert agents to take risks in the future. However, public confidence in our intelligence community has been severely damaged with the failures of 9/11 and the absence of WMDs in Iraq. Holding the agency responsible would be an excellent start in restoring not only this country’s public confidence, but the confidence of the global community. If the United States were ever to make the case for disarming a rogue nation of WMDs in the future, such as North Korea, with any hope to gain support from the U.N., the reliability of our intelligence would need to be examined. Furthermore, to avoid another Iraq in the war on terror, the U.S. will need allies who can trust our intelligence sources in order to take effective action against future acts of terrorism.

Former CIA director George Tenet (appointed by Clinton), his former director of operations James Pavitt, and former chief of the counterterrorism center Cofer Black are all apparently named in the classified report according to officials who have read it. Holding these people responsible would merely single out top officials in the agency, embarrass their predecessors, and bring into question President Bush’s decision to present Tenet with the Presidential Medal of Freedom shortly after his resignation. It may be true that not one particular person or group could have prevented 9/11, but that should not preclude a public review of the agency as recommended by the 9/11 Commission. Each inspector general from the departments of State, Justice, and Defense has already completed their own investigations without publicly disciplining anyone. This represents a pattern in this administration of stonewalling public questions over government decision making and accountability of its officials.

The hard-line conservatives have taken advantage of fair criticism of government secrecy in the Bush administration by portraying the media as liberal, and therefore justify their efforts, via the corporate controlled Fox News Channel and talk radio networks that spin the facts in favor of a neo conservative agenda, to create a “counterbalance” and a culture war over values. All of this has resulted in an increasingly polarized electorate, creating cynicism and apathy among political moderates who find themselves lost in the middle. On the right, the social conservatives have aligned themselves, via the Christian Coalition, to the neo-cons and war hawks of the administration. On the left, the liberal peaceniks have rallied around Cindy Sheehan in an ill conceived cause to prematurely bring our troops home from Iraq, while the Democrats on capitol hill have nothing to stand for except hollow criticisms over the administration's tactical failures and lack of progress in training Iraqi battalions and combating a robust insurgency, yet presenting no real alternatives or solutions.

The belated response by FEMA to Hurricane Katrina, the Rove leak identifying a CIA agent, the Tom DeLay and Bill Frist ethical scandals, the Iraqi insurgency, and the intelligence breakdowns have all contributed to an erosion of public confidence in this government. Unfortunately, alternatives to the current course of an open ended war on terrorism, growing bureaucratic mishandlings of emergencies, and the overall conduct of public officials are few and far between. The Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, a recently created position, was brought in to oversee a vast intelligence bureaucracy and to improve cooperation between the various agencies. Negroponte has decided to go along with Goss’s decision in withholding agency accountability and even protection of retired agents who made mistakes, continuing a pattern of government secrecy and a lack of taking responsibility.

The line between national security and government transparency continues to shift away from openness and disclosure in favor of protecting federal bureaucrats. This pattern only contributes to maintaining the status quo, which will do nothing to improve the credibility of our intelligence networks in the eyes of the world, an often overlooked component critical to maintaining allies in the global war on terror.

Without credibility, governments cannot hope to combat perpetual terrorism on a global scale, because its allies or even its own citizens will have little reason to trust the intelligence to prevent future attacks. This “boy who cried wolf” syndrome could have devastating consequences on the scale of 9/11/2001. Remember all of the resources being wasted when preparations for a threat are made and then the information turns out to be false. Consider what happened last week when there was an apparent terrorist threat to New York City’s subway system. Just a few weeks ago, the Department of Homeland Security spent $2.7 million on 30 bomb-sniffing dogs and the training of their police handlers for 10 transit agencies in major cities including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, but NYC turned down the offer. The threat turned out to be not credible. (Source:

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Bush War on Terror

On Thursday, President Bush once again tried to rally the American people to his war in Iraq by connecting it with a wider global war on terrorism. This was basically the same argument used to justify the war shortly after it was admitted that there was no WMDs in Iraq well over a year ago. The president’s speech writer should be given a lot of credit because it was a great pep rallying, war propaganda type speech filled with patriotic rhetoric. Almost anyone listening to that could not help but feel very good about being an American at that moment. The National Endowment for Democracy hosted this little presidential poll booster, reinforcing the current justification for preemptive war in the name of spreading democracy. Unfortunately, after reality sets in, one realizes that a clear exit strategy was not in place before this war started and the results have been costly in more ways than one. We are essentially engaged in nation building on the fly, completely relying upon an experimental quasi-democratic, hopefully moderate Islamic theocracy, with a real chance of civil chaos breaking out the moment significant American forces are withdrawn.

Despite many strong feelings against this war, there is no escaping the fact that we are largely responsible for that country’s past, present, and future. The president is absolutely correct in defining the enemy that are now in Iraq, and who will continue to be there at least until a substantial withdrawal of American troops. The question is, if and when a new Iraqi government is able to manage its own security, where will this war on terrorism expand to next? Bush compared the current war on terror to the Cold War. This might seem true on the surface, if you think solely in terms of black and white or conveniently ignore recent foreign policy scandals. Our government has a terrible track record in meddling with foreign conflicts. The central theme for American foreign policy across the more recent administrations, Democrat or Republican, has been “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The irony of our current situation, post-9/11/01, is that our government enabled the Taliban to eventually take control of Afghanistan by indirectly supplying CIA training and weapons to Osama bin Laden’s Islamic radicals against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. The mujahideen were fighting a jihad against the communists in Afghanistan alongside the more moderate Muslims, who were the primary target of funding via Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) by the governments of U.S., Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. In any case, our government did not count on these foreign fighters in Afghanistan to organize terrorist networks like al-Qaeda, and turn against western interests. However, perhaps a lesson should have been learned after Iran-contra when American support of Suddam Hussein in Iraq against Iran came back to haunt us when Saddam invaded Kuwait and ignited the first Gulf War. Then, after President George H.W. Bush decided not to remove Saddam, economic sanctions were put in place to keep weapons of mass destruction, which America previously supplied to Iraq, from further development in Iraq.

After a decade of pure American foreign policy rhetoric lamenting over Iraqi non-compliance with U.N. inspections, suddenly Saddam became an “imminent threat to national security” and a linchpin to mid-term congressional elections in November, 2002 when Republicans further solidified their hold on the legislature. Although President Clinton had made it an objective of American foreign policy for eventual regime change in Iraq, it wasn't until after the events of September 11 that a pretext for an invasion opened. The neo-cons of the “Project for a New American Century” (PNAC) ,originally founded in 1997, were now solidly in a position to enact their plans to secure America’s ever growing energy needs through foreign occupation of the oil-rich Iraq, controlled by a dictator and who could conveniently be lumped into a larger global war on terror. The stated goals of PNAC included establishing strategically placed permanent military bases all over the world, and expanding military power to include “peacekeeping” missions to act as a global police force. Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield, and former Deputy Sec. of Defense Paul Wolfowitz were all members of the PNAC think tank and extremely influential in developing the Bush Doctrine on foreign policy and conducting the war on terrorism. Finally, the neo-cons got their wish on March 20, 2003, declaring “mission accomplished” just days later, with the capture of Saddam not coming until later that December. Since then, the American consciousness has been completely redirected from a focus on finding Osama bin Laden and the perpetrators of 9/11, but instead inundated with talk of Iraqi violence, “unpatriotic” American war protests, the U.N. oil-for-food scandal, and random terrorism attacks all over the world which may or may not be connected to al-Qaeda or the Iraq occupation.

Virtually ignored in the considerations to remove Saddam in light of Islamic radicalism is the fact that Hussein, although a butcher, was a secular Sunni Arab, and very much hated in the region by the radical Muslims who now seek to take control of that country. It is ironic that Saddam served as an effective buffer for western interests from Islamic radicals, whom he routinely had executed, a fact that was acknowledged at some level by Bush, Sr.; otherwise he would have removed Saddam during the first Gulf War. Nevertheless, PNAC believed it to be of the upmost importance to go ahead with an unprecedented preemptive American invasion, arguing that in a post-9/11 world could ill afford to take a chance on an Iraq armed with WMDs. Therefore, the intelligence agencies, already with egg on their face from the failures of 9/11 as documented by the 9/11 Commission, were given the task to provide evidence that supported Iraqi development of WMDs. Despite the fact that the U.N. weapons inspectors were being allowed to complete their job by Saddam’s regime in response to the Bush threats, hipocritically the Bush Administration did not feel it necessary to continue inspections, kicking them out in preparation for an invasion, just like Saddam had routinely kicked out U.N. inspectors during the 1990s. Nevertheless, some questionable intelligence data suggested a real possibility Iraq were developing WMD programs. However, the Downing Street Memo, Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger, and numerous other reports have all suggested that the intelligence was in fact being fixed around the policy to invade Iraq, and was painfully obvious to some observers, including myself, even in the months prior to the actual invasion.

Inevitably history may indeed give President Bush credit for helping clear the way for democratic reform in the Middle East if America is ultimately successful in Iraq. Unfortunately, those of us who remember the way the war was originally justified and carried out might be the only ones left to wonder if that was the start of a new global military-industrial complex, or iron triangle, and the end of a truly democratic American superpower.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Moderate Conservative?

President Bush nominated Harriet Miers for U.S. Supreme Court justice this week. Widely considered to be a stealth nominee, little is actually know about her views. Ironically, this has many hard right-wing conservatives concerned, particularly social conservatives. They argue that Bush let them down with his choice because there are many other candidates more qualified and who have well defined radical conservative views. The problem is many of these other possibilities would have been more difficult to confirm, although ultimately with the Republicans holding the majority in the Senate (55) one could have been pushed through and decisively shifted the court to the right. Retiring justice Sandra Day O’Connor was often a swing vote with many controversial cases over the years, so replacing her with a decisive right-winger would assure a political victory for the fundamentalist evangelical Christians whose sole mission is to eliminate gay marriage and abortion from the face of the earth, refusing to respect the beliefs of moderate Christians who do not believe in forcing their personal interpretations upon society as a whole.

History has shown that solid conservatives confirmed in the past to serve on the Supreme Court have had a tendency to move slightly to the left over time. The reason for this can be explained by the nature of constitutional law, which tends to be a progressive field of study treating a 200 year old constitution as a living document as opposed to a rigid and literal interpretation of the document. The current exceptions to the former are Justices Thomas and Scalia, who are decidedly strict constructionists and hold a belief in upholding the original intent regardless of the changes undergone by society or precedent set over the centuries. There is reason to believe that since Harriet Miers has no experience as a judge, and has only had the perspective of a lawyer when dealing with constitutional issues, she will inevitably be swayed in a more moderate conservative direction when issuing opinions by the experienced judges on the bench. In other words, she will be similar to Chief Justice Roberts as a judge, respecting past precedent and not likely to support overturning established progressive interpretations and precedent on controversial issues facing the high court. For obvious reasons, this has many Christian fundamentalists worried because they wish to have the court move in the direction of a true “judicial activism” on behalf of their own strict interpretation of biblical scripture, most notably on abortion and gay marriage issues.

Perhaps most fascinating element about Harriet Miers religious background that may have some members of the Christian Coalition worried, although Jerry Fallwell has expressed support, is her membership to the Valley View Christian Church, which is associated with the “restorationist” movement. Although the church is described as evangelical, one of the oldest tenets held by that particular “non-denominational” sect is that “where scripture speaks we speak, where it is silent, we are silent.” This would seem to belie a fundamentalist viewpoint that is very vocal on issues not directly mentioned in scripture. It would also explain Miers reluctance to publicly speak out on such controversial cultural issues such as school prayer, abortion, and gay rights issues over the years. In fact, she once denounced a group she was involved in for taking an official stance on abortion. Her particular religious beliefs appear to lean towards a more moderate approach than with what most fundamentalist would be comfortable with. In addition, Miers was previously a Texas Democrat, having supported Al Gore's presidential campaign in 1988, but later switched parties and became a staunch supporter of George W. Bush as governor.

Another fair criticism of Miers is that she has been a part of Bush’s inner circle for the past two decades, currently serving as his legal counsel. Ironically, charges of cronyism have been used by some social conservatives who are wary of a lack of a defined stance on everybody’s favorite subject, abortion. Funny they didn’t speak up much over Michael Brown’s appointment to FEMA, or Bush’s quote, “Brownie, you are doing a fine job,” shortly after Katrina hit. She has routinely represented corporate interests in various legal battles over the years as well Therefore, the more moderate fiscal conservatives are probably happier with the Miers choice because of her experience as a corporate, pro-business lawyer.

Even though I have primarily dedicated my blog to media and corporate reform, I still support Miers nomination by President Bush. I believe she will be swayed away from extreme idealogical views while serving on the bench, and is unlikely to contribute to overturning precedent concerning controversial social issues. Furthermore, I don’t think we are likely to get a nominee any less friendly to corporate interests on the court than Miers, for reasons I have established in previous entries on this blog. Overall, Miers has a better chance of being a moderate conservative than most of the other candidates for the position. I believe the combination of Roberts and Miers replacing Rehnquist and O’Connor over time will prove to be a wash for both conservatives and liberals.

Please see the following links for more info on Harriet Miers:

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Government Secrecy

Do you have a right to privacy? As is the case with the “separation of church and state,” a right to privacy is not directly mentioned in the Constitution. However, precedent has been established by the U.S. Supreme Court recognizing the individual right to privacy in general. Historically, our court system has allowed a breach of that right to privacy in cases involving criminal investigations, and more recently terrorism suspects. An example of such an exception to privacy is the Patriot Act of 2001. There are many arguments against the USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act, because many of its statutes appear to cross that thin line between privacy rights and a compelling government interest to protect the citizenry. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that seeks to protect civil liberties such as the right to privacy, and has been involved in lawsuits against the government on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals who rights may have been violated, especially concerning this particular law.

Since September 11, as is usually the case in times of war, especially an open ended one, we have seen a general decline in the individual right to privacy and an increase in the government’s “right” to privacy, or more accurately known as secrecy. The National Security Agency (NSA), and the newly formed Department of Homeland Security have enjoyed expanded powers granted by the courts to prevent another terrorist act on our soil, even though there is no way of knowing when or how such an event will occur, making a circumvention unlikely. Furthermore, these broad powers granted to the federal government and law enforcement agencies in the name of antiterrorism have contributed to the increase in search and seizures of records previously not available and formerly considered private information, such as library and medical records. Patriot Act II does not have the provision that allows the seizure of library records, but such an overall trend toward reduced individual privacy is disturbing and could be indicative of a “Big Brother” scenario, fictionalized in George Orwell’s novel “1984”, or a similar situation to the real life “Red Scare” of the 1950s at the height of McCarthyism.

Even the protection provided by the Miranda warning has seen some erosion in recent years, particularly thanks to opinions offered by the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist over the years, particularly in 2000 as summarized in an article for “The Economist” publication in which he characterized the rights as being almost quaint and unnecessary because of how embedded in the culture it had become. Law enforcement can now question suspects in many cases without Mirandizing them first. Other possible government encroachments upon individual rights include suspending the writ of habeas corpus in times of war, and of course the declaration of martial law. In these situations, the government does not need to give specific reasons for invoking these “privileges,” even in the absence of an emergency.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 1966, followed by the Privacy Act of 1974, were steps taken by legislators, pressured by their constituents, to protect the public from unnecessary government secrecy and to compel the release of any information no longer deemed worthy of classified status by the courts. Unfortunately, there have been many redactions and exemptions made over the years, and little information is being released by the FBI, CIA, or the President. A loophole in the law actually grants executive privilege to the President to classify any information he deems appropriate for national security purposes. Executive orders have become a convenient tool for the President to keep information out of the public with little possibility of a remedy. For example, President Bush issued Executive Order 13233 authored by current Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzalez in November 2001 which restricted all access to the records of former presidents.

The most notable secret kept by this Administration is the details of the Energy Task Force led by Vice President Dick Cheney, who was recommended for the task by former Enron CEO Ken Lay. Public pressure after the collapse of Enron resulted in a limited release of documents, but much of them remain classified. What is apparent in six task force meetings with Enron executives is that the primary agenda was to secure more sources of energy from foreign sources of oil. No effort was made to develop a plan for alternative energy sources because it would not serve the neoconservative agenda to gain a foothold in the Middle East, particularly Iraq, prior to September 11, 2001. Don't believe me? Check out the following links for information on the neocon think tank "Project for the New American Century" first established in 1997:

Another example of government infringement on the rights of the private citizen is the “Eminent Domain” clause found in the Fifth Amendment. Basically the government is allowed to seize private property for “public use” in exchange for fair compensation. Recently, this “right” was expanded to include “commercial use,” for municipal development. Local governments are now allowed to force private property owners to sell for the purpose of economic development, most likely a commercial business. This ruling has been viewed as especially egregious to many states, as many have passed their own legislation in the intervening months to protect property owners from such seizures. This grassroots populist movement is a positive sign that the citizens are concerned about their individual rights in the face of government encroachment on behalf of commercial interests.

The Terry Shiavo case is yet another example of government interference or influence, in particular a family decision The Libertarian perspective looks at such “right to die/life” cases, along with abortion rights, to be the ultimate example of individual privacy having been breached by government in the form of legislation that seeks to make those decisions for them in spite of the personal beliefs of the individuals directly involved. The Supreme Court should stay out of such personal and private issues out of respect of individual or family autonomy. Ironically, the conservatives on Capitol Hill were leading the fight to get the government involved in what was strictly a private family matter. One of the few values I personally share with conservatives is the rights of the individual to be free from government interference in such matters, but instead the Republican Party betrayed one of their core philosophies of “small” government and individual autonomy in favor of the ideology preached by the social conservative Christian Coalition to preserve life at all costs, regardless of their medical condition, or wishes of the legal guardian and the family. Instead, sides were taken by the government and the nation was drawn into what is a purely private internal family dispute. The media was used by both sides to frame the debate and spin the issues in their favor. In the end, the autopsy provided the facts that dispelled some of the claims made by the “right to life” crowd, proving she was indeed in a persistent vegetative state. Yet the debate rages on.

Conservatives love to deride certain members of the courts of being “activist judges” who impose an interpretation of the law outside of the strict constructionist view of the constitution. Now many of these same conservatives were asking the federal courts to settle a family case previously decided by the lower state courts. This demonstrates how much the Republican Party has been completely overrun by social conservatives and the Christian Coalition, which has a very specific agenda that has little to due with some of our core democratic values, and in fact comes into conflict with it. Their strict interpretation of the Christian Bible, for example, by Evangelical Southern Baptists like Jerry Falwell and his followers, is being imposed onto interpretation of constitutional law in order to move the country towards a quasi-theocratic government ruled by the likes of Pat Robertson, who failed in his bid to be the party’s nominee for president in 1988. The fact is most of us recognize the progressive movement as inevitable and inherent to a democracy, otherwise we would not be free, but instead be living under a theocracy not dissimilar in principle to the former Taliban regime of Afghanistan. After all, slavery, women’s suffrage, and other minority civil rights would never have been achieved without a vibrant progressive debate.

To summarize, the Christian right political movement is steering the Republican base away from the traditional conservative ideal of “smaller” government. Instead under this regime we have actually seen an expansion of government involvement in both domestic and foreign affairs. One need not look any further than the Bush record of exactly zero vetoes of congressional spending bills, the creation of a new cabinet position called Homeland Security, the appointment of a Intelligence Czar to oversee all related agencies, the war in Iraq , and executive orders and privileges invoked to conceal access to information, therefore expanding government secrecy. The results of this “compassionate conservative” agenda have included reduced government transparency and accountability, in addition to an expanded federal bureaucracy. Along with a deterioration of individual liberties of privacy or autonomy comes an increase in government secrecy and over dependency on government institutions. This combination is bad for democracy and only further deepens the political apathy and cynicism already rampant among the future leaders of this country, including myself.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Your Corrupt Congress

House Majority Leader and Party Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) have been in the news frequently lately, but there is no shortage of other ethically challenged members among this nation's law makers. The "Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington" (CREW) have created a report summarizing 13 congressmen (10 representatives, 3 senators) besides DeLay, and including Frist who have violated various congressional ethics rules, federal laws, or regulations. Ironically, while DeLay has stepped down from his leadership position, his replacement Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is included in the list of 13 ethically challenged. Of course, the list of names is just a start, because many Members of Congress have yet to be investigated thoroughly, including some connected to the indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abranoff and the DeLay situation.

There are mechanisms in government, oversight committees for example, designed to examine these issues. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is responsible for enforcing campaign finance laws via audits. Both the Senate Select Committee on Ethics and the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct are responsible for oversight of congressional ethics and rules. Unfortunately, these committees have been reluctant to rigorously investigate their own members or to enforce the rules. A long term consequence of such malfeasance is a deteriorating democracy slipping into a corporatocracy with little or no public accountability.

A widely suggested solution to this problem of corrupt politics is to implement a policy for public funding of political campaigns. Such a policy would eliminate corporate donations made by exploiting loopholes in current campaign finance laws, and therefore remove their influence over the election process. Our elected officials would truly be beholden to their constituents because the taxpayers will 'own' the candidate.

What DeLay allegedly did to circumvent Texas law which bans corporate donations to political campaigns resembled a money laundering scheme. Basically, corporate money was exchanged for individual donations to the Republican Party, which DeLay used to help expand his party's congressional power. Gerrymandering and redistricting in Texas to favor Republicans were just tools of the trade for DeLay, one of the most successful politicians when it comes to bringing in corporate control for the Republicans. Fortunately, his recent indictment has spurred new debate on moving towards some sort of public funding scheme for political campaigns.

Here is a link to the CREW report summary "Beyond DeLay" that includes the list of 13 ethically challenged Members of Congress and the indiscretions of each: