Thursday, September 15, 2005

Disastrous Fool

Tonight BushCheney will attempt to demonstrate that he can rebuild New Orleans, proving to the American people that he is indeed in command, that he is the leader we need in these perilous time. In doing so, he will abandon his reluctance to direct federal expenditures to domestic purposes. According to the Washington Post, federal expenditures for post-Katrina reconstruction will exceed $200 billion, more than has been spent in the two and a half year war in Iraq. Suddenly it seems, the machinery of the federal government is up and running, pouring resources and money into the hurricane-stricken Gulf Coast.

Had such prodigious effort been devoted to preventing and minimizing Katrina’s destruction, thousands would have been spared death and many, many more would have been spared the destructive flood or at least the terror and agony of waiting days and days for relief. The media are awash with articles about levee repair and reinforcement that was cut from the Corps of Engineers budget, about incomplete or ignored disaster plans and the failure to heed clear and unambiguous warnings that Katrina was “the big one” long feared by New Orleans.

But that’s history. Now BushCheney is on the job, the “can do” executive who will make things happen. He’s looking for that bullhorn moment where he can reprise the stellar moment of his presidency rallying the nation after the 9-11 attacks. So far he’s not found it. And he won’t, simply because unlike 9-11, BushCheney’s failure to respond to Hurricane Katrina, either before or after it struck, contributed mightily to its devastation. Make no mistake about it, state and local authorities also failed but in the end, Americans have always relied on the federal government when disaster overwhelms local capabilities.

As much as he would like to demonstrate capability, it will be a hard sell. And it should be a hard sell. Why should Americans trust BushCheney or the ideologues, syncophants and incompetents who serve him to do the right thing. Whatever, BushCheney proposes will be damage control, aimed at preserving the administration and furthering its ideological goals. Stricken individuals and communities will no doubt obtain some relief but only because it serves BushCheney’s interests.

And a key interest is to further the radical Republican ideology of eviscerating government. Any and every neo-conservative idea is being offered as a form of relief. Ideas that have not gained acceptance in debate and legislation will now ride the gravy train of relief efforts. Once again, American will be treated to a neo-conservative wet dreams that serve the few and the powerful under the cover of “expanding opportunity”. Katrina relief efforts will also no doubt offer another episode of contractor feeding frenzy and fraud as money is thrown into the Gulf region.

We’ve seen this all before, with disastrous consequences. The massive tax cuts of BushCheney’s first terms destroyed hard won gains in fiscal responsibility during the Clinton Administration. The Iraq war was based on lies and misinformation. The cake walk that would bring a new birth of freedom to the Middle East has turned into a costly quagmire that has made new enemies for America. And just two weeks ago, BushCheney’s indifference to a gathering storm allowed a great city to drown

Bush Cheney said that “ the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility.” A hollow statement. "To the extent.” In other words, BushCheney does not acknowledge that the federal government failed in any way. “Take Responsibility.” Words and words only without acknowledging any mistake that will not be repeated. Once again, BushCheney hides behind words that sound good but mean nothing.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, I am hopeless. When it comes to BushCheney, hope is a fool’s errand.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Judging the Judge

The confirmation hearings for John Roberts as Chief Justice of the United States offer a rare lesson in Constitutional law. At issue is the direction of American legal and political thought. Conservatives allied with the BushCheney administration want to see a Supreme Court that limits what they see as the expansion of rights beyond the original intent of the Constitution’s framers, intent they believe is clearly and unambiguously spelled out in the language of the Constitution. Liberals want a Court that will expand fundamental rights to reflect the changing nature of society. It is a debate as old as the American Republic, one that is never ending in a free society. At one point, Americans fought and killed each other over such issues. But mainly we fight in the courts.

During the Roberts’ hearings (and all other judicial nomination hearings as well), the discussion will be rarified, focusing on broad questions of philosophy and the role of the judiciary in the American body politic. But one issue will not be discussed, at least not openly: the political role of the judiciary and how it shapes the American polity. Most Americans regard the judiciary as non-political. But courts are political. The Court “follows the elections” is what I learned way back in political science school. Back then the most immediate example was the evolution of the Supreme Court from a body that rejected most New Deal legislation to one that supported legislation expanding government’s role in the economy and social welfare. Earlier, the Court endowed corporations with legal rights previously guaranteed only to individuals (1886) and asserted its own right of judicial review (1803).

Recent experience shows that the Court not only follows elections but decides them as well. The Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore gives a chilling example of the Court’s political role. The Court ignored law and precedent, even its oft-stated deference to states rights, to award the election to BushCheney. In choosing lifetime justices for the supreme court, America defines how law will be used in the society created by the social contract that is the United States Constitution. Therefore, a nominee’s judicial philosophy is a valid line of inquiry, one that determines what kind of society America will be.

Constitutional law in the United States has generally expanded fundamental rights to persons and groups previously excluded from those protections. From a document that allowed slavery, restricted voting to white males and countenanced unequal representation in state and local legislatures, the Constitution has through amendment and interpretation extended protections to previously excluded or unrecognized members of society. In doing so, the United States has broadened its definition of democracy and fundamental freedoms. The process has been uneven and contentious at times, but the trend has been consistent. And it has always been a matter of choice–politics–made by elected representatives and appointed judges.

That is why questioning a nominee who will serve in a lifetime appointment is critical. Understanding a nominee’s philosophy and how he or she approaches legal issues allows the Senate to make an informed choice about the individual who will affect the course of this nation for decades. This is clearly a political choice. BushCheney claims that he wants judges who are not “activists,” judges who will not “legislate from the bench” even as his Justices Scalia and Thomas, BushCheney’s “ideal justices” do just that in selectively apply their concept of Original Intent to overturn acts of Congress. in the name of Original Intent. What BushCheney seeks are justices that legislate in a manner consistent with his beliefs. Senators, charged with the responsibility to advise and consent to judicial nominations likewise do the same. Few actions are as political as choosing a Supreme Court justice.

So politics figures prominently in selecting a judicial nominee and the subsequent confirmation process. BushCheney occupy the presidency and his Republican minions control the Senate so he largely controls the nominating process. John Roberts is a choice that reflects their politics and, unless the hearings produce some surprising information, he will be confirmed. But Republicans have no mandate for their radical philosophies that threaten fundamental liberties (Patriot Act, broad unchecked executive power, intrusions against privacy). In this divisive environment, Democrats also have a role to play by questioning Roberts about his judicial philosophy and approach to the judicial process.

From everything I’ve read John Roberts is intelligent and has extensive experience as a lawyer before the Supreme Court. He is a savvy choice, a man who has reasonable credentials to serve as Chief Justice. But Roberts has also expressed disagreement with the right to privacy established in Griswold v Connecticuit, believes that gender discrimination is not an issue for public policy, has taken a restrictive view of civil rights protection and questions the basis for much of the New Deal and subsequent policy. His history is clearly that of a Federalist Society Republican who, like the Chief Justice he seeks to replace, wants to limit federal authority to meet the responsibilities established inthe Constitution. He may not be Grover Norquist but his record is uncomfortably close.

If BushCheney and his lapdog Senate want to saddle America with this kind of Supreme Court Justice, then the Democrats have a duty to expose the intent and consequences of this nomination.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Four Years On

Whatever words I could write about September 11, 2001 would be no better than Juan Cole. The money quote:

Bush has given us the worst of all possible worlds-- a half-finished job against al-Qaeda, an Iraqi imbroglio that could still explode into civil or even regional war-- and which serves as an al-Qaeda recruiting tool--, a government starved for funds, an enormous windfall for the rich at the expense of the middle class (which saw average wages actually fall recently), and an inability to respond effectively to a major urban catastrophe.

Four years after September 11, al-Qaeda's leadership should have been behind bars or dead. Four years after September 11, Afghanistan should have been stabilized. Four years after September 11, the government should have been ready to save lives in an urban disaster.

Bush recently started likening his poorly conceived and misnamed "war on terror" to World War II.

What his handlers have forgotten is how long World War II lasted for the United States.

Four years.

In four years, Roosevelt and allies defeated Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. In four years, Bush hasn't managed even to corner Bin Laden and a few hundred scruffy terrorists; or to extract himself from the deserts of Iraq; or to put the government's finances in good order so that it can deal with crises like Katrina.

Four years. I think about the victims of 9/11, and now 7/7. We have let you down