Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Slow Road to a Conservative Judicial Revolution

Writing for National Journal, Jonathon Rauch offers a detailed analysis of what changes might occur on the Supreme Court if John Roberts is confirmed. Through the course of his excellent piece, Rauch argues that the conservative revolution which many on the right desire, is not likely to come—just as it didn’t come after President Nixon appointed four justices or after Presidents Reagan and Bush five.

There are several reasons for this, but the most fascinating is Rauch’s claim that there really is no such thing as a unifying conservative judicial theory. Quoting University of Chicago Law Professor Cass Sunstein, Rauch writes:

Sunstein, instead, divides judicial philosophies into four types. "Perfectionism" seeks to make the Constitution the best that it can be. This is what many conservatives mean by "judicial activism." "Majoritarianism" holds that the Court should defer to the democratic process unless the Constitution has been plainly violated. "Minimalism" is skeptical of broad theories and sweeping holdings, preferring narrow decisions that proceed one case at a time. (In some of his statements evincing distaste for theory-driven judging, Roberts sounds like a minimalist.) What Sunstein calls "fundamentalism," and what most other people call "originalism," seeks to interpret law in light of its authors' intentions.

When Bush and other conservatives talk about judicial philosophy, they speak with one voice in opposing perfectionism, but they embrace all of the other three philosophies as if they were interchangeable. In reality, majoritarianism, minimalism, and originalism are often in tension -- and are sometimes incompatible.

I think that is right on the mark. The reason the conservative revolution on the court hasn’t happened isn’t because some of the justices haven’t been “pure enough” as some on the right would have us believe, but because different kinds of conservatives have been appointed. And different kinds of conservatives are going to have different interpretations.

It seems to me that all conservatives value some form of restraint. But, for justices, the method of restraint varies from being restrained by precedent to being restrained by the wishes of elected officials to being restrained by the original intent of the writers of the Constitution. If precedent or the wishes of elected officials are in conflict with the intent of the writers of the Constitution, then there is going to be conflict amongst conservatives.

Additionally, if restraint truly is the defining characteristic of conservativism, then one must wonder exactly how you can have a restrained revolution? You can’t, really. And that, I think, is another reason why, despite conservative dominance, the Court has not become as radically transformative in a rightward way as say the Warren court was in a leftward way. The principle of restraint is just not conducive to revolution.

True liberals have been a minority on the Court for a long time now, and yet the Court continues to hand down decisions that certain groups of conservatives deplore. But instead of blaming moderate conservative justices for being too easily seduced by liberalism, perhaps conservatives should consider the contradictions in their own ideology.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Illinois Gov to close gun show loophole, maintain database of gun buyers

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will sign legislation today requiring background checks for all gun buyers, closing what law enforcement advocates see as a back door for illegal purchases of firearms.

I strongly support full background checks for all individuals interested in owning a firearm. Each state should have clear guidelines on who is eligible to purchase a firearm and each gun owner should be required to register his/her gun with the states. With current technology, the waiting period that an individual must endure can and should be reduced. A background check is not an overly burdensome violation of privacy rights for the purchase of a firearm.

A second bill, which Gov. Blagojevich plans to veto, will allow the state to maintain, indefinitely, a state database that contains records of all gun purchases in the state.

On this issue, I share the concern of the NRA (never thought I’d write that phrase) that the maintenance of a state database with information on all gun purchases infringes on the privacy rights of legal gun owners. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and others have long campaigned for a bill to allow the state to maintain this data in an effort to prevent gun runners and gangs from purchasing weapons. However, an effort to prevent a few individuals from purchasing a quantity of firearms is not a compelling reason to maintain a database of all background checks.

Neither proposal is going to keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. Closing the gun show loophole will help to keep guns away from gangs and dealers. However, in maintaining, indefinitely, a database on all gun purchases, the state is overstepping its authority and infringing upon the rights of law abiding citizens.

Support the CAFTA 15

More and more I am coming to believe that the left-flank of the Democratic Party wants to turn their party into a very small, but ideologically pure political group. The latest proof? The calls for the 15 Democrats who supported CAFTA to be punished.

The influential labor blog, Working Life initiated the call which has been taken up by others such as the liberal magazine The Nation.

This is an inane idea. First of all, Democrats were once, just a decade ago, a fairly strong pro-free trade party (102 Democratic representatives voted for NAFTA which was signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton). These 15 Democratic CAFTA supporters can hardly be considered out-of-line because they refused to join their party’s leftward drift (although, really, there’s nothing all that “liberal” about protectionism—but protectionsim does go against Bush’s wishes, so I suspect that was good enough reason for many to vote against CAFTA).

What’s the theory here? That all free-trade Democrats should be purged? Certainly there are very legitimate disagreements about free trade. They exist in the Republican Party too. But since when are Democrats exclusively the party of protectionists? Since the far left seized hold of the party, I guess.

Well, I for one refuse to believe there is no room for free-trade leaders in the Democratic Party—particularly since free trade and Centrist ideals tend to go hand-in-hand. So, I say support the CAFTA 15.

Here are their names and contact numbers which I lifted right off the Working Life post. But instead of condemning them, call them and let them know that it’s o.k. to be a Democrat and pro-free trade. And if you support CAFTA, thank them for their vote while you’re at it.

Melissa Bean, Illinois (8th District): 202-225-3711

Jim Cooper, Tennessee (5th District): 202-225-4311

Norm Dicks, Washington (6th District) 202-255-5916

Henry Cuellar, Texas (15th District) 202-225-1640

Ruben Hinojosa, Texas (15th District) 202-255-2531

William Jefferson, Louisiana (2nd District) 202-255-6636

Jim Matheson, Utah (2nd District) 202-255-3011

Gregory Meeks, New York (6th District) 202-225-3461

Dennis Moore, Kansas (3rd District) 202-225-2865

Jim Morgan, Virginia (8th District) 202-225-4376

Solomon Ortiz, Texas (27th District) 202-225-7742

Ike Skelton, Missouri (4th District) 202-225-2876

Vic Snyder, Arkansas (2nd District) 202-225-2506

John Tanner, Tennessee (8th District) 202-225-4714

Edolphus Towns, New York (10th District) 202-225-5936

Australia Bans Grand Theft Auto

Apparently, overreacting and inconsistent moral standards are not things unique to America. Australia’s Office of Film and Literature Classification has just outlawed the sale of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas because a code downloaded from the Internet can unlock explicit sex scenes in the game.

As we have previously written, it’s hard to imagine that a sex scene, no matter how explicit, would somehow make this already ultra-adult game any more adult or offensive. To reiterate, this is a game where you kill cops, engage in gang warfare, pimp prostitutes, carry out hits and generally perform the vilest acts of violence imaginable. You can set people on fire with a flame thrower and watch the burn and hear their screams, for goodness sakes!

I’m not one to tell another nation how to run their country. So I’ll just say that I’m glad to know that we in America may have overreacted to this issue, but at least we didn’t take the unforgivable action of censorship.

There's No Such Thing as a Perfect War

Writing for The Chicago Tribune, historian and noted conservative Victor Davis Hanson provides one of his always fascinating history lessons. This time it’s to scold those who improperly distort or misuse history when discussing today’s war on Islamic fascism.

The main thrust of Hanson’s piece is that there has been changing war rationales, civil rights abuses and giant intelligence mistakes in all American wars. Now, I’m not a big fan of the “well, we were pretty bad last time too” argument. There is no point in using the low bar from the past to set our goals for the future. But Hanson’s argument is a little different. He is, in effect, saying that we’ve never been able to wage war differently.

Government transparency, highly accurate intelligence and robust civil rights. Are those just not compatible with war? And, if they’re not, how do we the people judge our leaders? What amounts to incompetence and deception—and what are understandable actions during the fog of war?

I don’t know. But Hanson is right about history. An honest reading proves there is no such thing as a perfect or even close-to-perfect war.

Frist Announces Support for Stem-Cell Fudning

Breaking with both the President and his party’s socially conservative base, Senate Majority Leader Frist has announced he will support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. This is, to say the least, a surprising development.

As we have written, we support the legislation authorizing federal funding of new stem cell lines and believe the President and his supporters have taken a position that makes little sense when analyzed. It’s heartening to see Frist, a social conservative by all accounts, coming to the realization that it is morally acceptable and scientifically and economically justifiable to do research of embryonic stem cells derived from embryos that would have otherwise been discarded by fertility clinics.

Of course, it’s hard to see Frist’s move on this and not consider the political ramifications. Often touted as a potential candidate for the 2008 presidential election, Frist’s stem-cell position moves him away from the socially conservative base and towards the center. This is an intriguing move indeed, since Frist has often been assumed to be not only a rigid social conservative but also the man Bush would most like see replace him.

The fallout over this will be interesting to watch.

A RELATED SIDE NOTE: The only argument I’ve heard against federal funding that makes any sense is the small-government, fiscally conservative argument that says private industry and the states are doing just fine funding this research and the federal government doesn’t need to be spending our tax dollars on it. That is at least a consistent argument (unlike the President’s). And it has some appeal to me because I do believe the federal government has its hands in far too many activities.

But, in my mind, medical science is just about the last area where we need to remove funds when cutting the budget. Certainly we can cut from a lot more areas before we cut medical science. Perhaps the free market can adequately fund stem cell research, but how do we know for sure? And how does it hurt the research by putting more money into it?

I understand the impulse not to use our tax dollars to fund something that the free market can handle by itself. But a science as promising (and it is promising, despite what some would have us believe) as embryonic stem-cell research deserves every chance to succeed. Federal funding can help significantly. If people disagree, they can vote out of office the many representatives and senators who vote for it.

Redistricting Update

Charging RINO has the 411 on all that's happening on the redistricting reform movement, an issue near-and-dear to our hearts here at TYL.

No one is covering this issue better than Charging RINO.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Future of Unions

Ambivablog has put up a fascinating post concerning unions and a new form a populism that the Democrats might want to embrace to win back blue-collar workers.

The post is long and you should read the whole thing, but the crux is that there are a lot of American workers getting left behind by the global economy—not just because they lack the skills but because their work is being exploited. And no one is helping them.

The argument is that Democrats can fill this void. But isn’t that what unions are for? It seems to me, in this transition to the global economy, we are in real need of intelligent unions. Except, what we need is a whole new kind of union—not the inept industrial-age behemoths that are slowly, slowly going extinct.

We need modern unions that can guide and ease worker transition into the global economy.

The free market only works if everyone plays by the rules. When companies start exploiting workers, the system fails. So what stops the exploitation from happening? Not government. It's knowledge.

And it's knowledge that should be new unions’ business. Not just providing workers knowledge of their rights (although that is very important), but providing the knowledge of how to get ahead. Instead of working to impose seniority systems and no-fire rules, unions should be encouraging systems that reward good work and they should help their members become integral to their companies (instead of mere cogs). Job security in the future will not be guaranteed by collective bargaining. It will only be ensured by being a valuable asset to your employer.

In addition to being that base of knowledge, they could help create a system of job fluidity. Instead of striking, dissatisfied workers could look to the unions to help them get new jobs or even new skills. Unions could provide or work towards transportable healthcare which would go a long way towards easing job changes. And unions could work towards greater transparency from companies so that, when business truly is bad, workers and management can work together to save the company (or workers could get out before it’s too late if they so choose).

This approach is both less confrontational and less problematic for all parties involved. If unions could present themselves as a partner instead of an adversary to business, companies might in turn stop opposing unionization, thus giving many more Americans the chance to join a union.

If unions adopt a more cooperative approach as well as a more holistic approach to their efforts, workers will hopefully become more integrated in the economy. Instead of being disposable parts, workers should be integral pieces. But not necessarily integral to one company—integral to the economy as a whole so that every worker has the means to stay fluid and yet stay employed.

This, I know, is a significant departure from they way unions work now and is no guarantee of success. But it’s an idea that strikes me as worth trying.

Call it What You Want, This is Still a War

I actually wasn’t aware that the “War on Terror” was an official slogan. But it is, or I should say it was, because it has been retired by the White House in favor of the global struggle against extremism.

The Heritage Foundation thinks this is a good thing because it is a better definition of the conflict we face. For one, terrorism was too broad because it’s a tactic, not an ideology and “war” was too specific because this is not merely a military struggle.

But, to me, war isn’t just a military struggle. War is a clash of civilizations with both sides fighting to completely defeat the other—it includes all means used to wage that fight. The only reason I think this war has seemed to be merely a military conflict is that groups on one side refuse to admit this is a war at all while groups (and I’d include the administration here) on the other side refuse to admit that sacrifice needs to extend outside the military.

To me, this is a war. Not a conventional one for sure, but a war nonetheless.

As for “terror,” that’s always been too imprecise. But how is “extremism” that much better? What’s so wrong with calling this what it is. A war on Islamic fascism. Is that too politically incorrect? Too scary?

I don’t get it. I don’t understand why this has been downgraded from a war to a struggle. And I don’t understand why the Bush Administration does not want to specifically identify the enemy.

They can call this what they want. But it’s still a war. And the enemy is still Islamic fascism.

CAFTA Approved

In a 217-215 vote, the House has approved the Central American Free Trade Agreement known as CAFTA. The Senate had previously passed the agreement and now it goes to President Bush for his signature. We at The Yellow Line have been strong supporters of this legislation and are glad to see it pass.

But free trade isn't magic. There is some give and take and there will be consequences for some Americans, particularly some farming interests. As we've said many times, the global economy and free trade are here to stay and we can either move into these agreements now and manage the results or be thrust kicking and screaming into free trade at some point in the future when it will no longer be on our terms. Thus, the passage of CAFTA gives both opponents and proponents an opportunity to work with affected industries to ensure the transition is as stable as possible.

Free trade requires us to think about industry and our economy in new ways. The benefits far outweigh the consequences but that doesn't mean we shouldn't work to minimize those negatives.

Today is a good day for free trade and the American economy. Now, let's make sure the overblown and dire predictions of the critics are proved entirely false.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Iran Executes Homosexuals

Every once-in-awhile I read someone claiming that Iran is a democracy. Democracies don't execute people because of who they love. And yet, The Moderate Republican reports that Iran just executed two homosexual men for being gay.

"Barbaric. Truly Barbaric," says Dennis at The Moderate Republican.

Yes. And I only wish such threads of evil didn't reach into America. But I am reminded of the hate-mongers who had such dark hearts that they protested the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man killed in Wyoming back in 1998.

Obviously I am well aware that there is a vast difference between a few citizens protesting a funeral and a government ordering the deaths of two men for being gay. But there is shared evil there. There are those in all countries and in all religions who virulently hate homosexuals.

And it is wrong. It is wrong in all its forms.

But is Hillary Qualified?

Michael over at The Mighty Middle asks us to consider if Hillary Clinton is even qualified to be president.

What exactly does Hillary bring to the table? She's a smart woman, a capable Senator. Smarter, more of a woman and more capable than Diane Feinstein? No. Why Hillary? Is she a great campaigner? No. Is she an attractive personality? No. Is she a particularly knowledgeable expert in some vital area? No. Is there a red state she would be likely to deliver to the blue team? No. Is she a deep thinker or courageous leader who has altered they way we look at politics and the world? No. Is she a strong leader? I don't see any evidence that she is.

Why Hillary? Because she has won the Money Primary. She is the front runner because the people who place early bets have decided she's the front runner, and they should jump aboard her bandwagon early to get the best seats. Hillary has been chosen by the campaign consultants and insiders and money men who have so brilliantly guided the Democratic donkey into the swamp where it now waits, trembling, for the hyenas to bring it the sweet release of death.

I guess the assumption is that she learned a lot about running the country while she was First Lady. In fact, that's got to be the thinking. Otherwise, by 2008, she'll just be an 8-year vet of the Senate with a quietly effective but hardly brilliant record. If her last name wasn't Clinton, would we even be considering her a strong candidate?

It's kind of like the old saying: all that glitters is not gold.

McCain Takes a Step Towards 2008

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has restarted his Straight Talk America PAC. The official reason for the PAC's recreation is to help fund McCain's travels as he attends the numerous speaking engagements to which he's invited.

Uh-huh. Would those be speaking engagements in Iowa and New Hampshire?

Looks to me like McCain's looking to take one more run at the White House. And anyone who reads this blog knows I am certainly in favor of that.

Cook County GOP offers reward

In what’s got to be an all time low for Chicago politics, the Cook County (Chicago) Republican Party is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an indictment and conviction of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

I think Daley’s press secretary Jacqueline Heard said it best. “This is ridiculous, politically motivated and undeserving of any further comment.”

DC gun laws under attack

Whether or not you believe an individual has the right to own and possess a gun, there are multiple jurisdictions around the country that have established regulations that limit gun possession and distribution within the jurisdiction. The courts have ruled some bans unconstitutional, others have been upheld.

As a result of one of these local decisions, just a few weeks ago, the NRA announced a decision to move its planned 2007 convention from Columbus, Ohio.

Washington, D.C. is home to some of the most restrictive local gun control laws in the nation. The DC City Council and the Mayor are unanimously opposed to revising or relaxing the city’s gun laws.

Late last month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to repeal one of the District's gun restrictions. The federal legislation would allow residents to keep in their homes loaded and assembled rifles and shotguns, as well as handguns purchased before 1976, loaded and assembled.

The effort by Congress to override the city’s regulations is outrageous, especially as the City does not have a vote in congress. The small, but growing, number of advocates in the city seeking a repeal of the District’s gun laws should appeal to their representatives on the city council. And, Congress should treat Washington, D.C. as it does every other local jurisdiction in the nation – with a hands off approach.

Gun legislation and a conflict of interest in the Senate

The Senate moved legislation designed to shield firearms manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits over gun crimes to the Senate floor late yesterday, moving legislation to authorize $491 billion in spending for our nation’s defense to the back burner.

The bill’s supporters claimed consideration of the measure was long over due. Opponents tried to point out the “distorted priorities,” to use Sen. Feinstein’s words, of the Senate in moving this legislation ahead of defense spending.

While Alan and I disagree on the specifics of an individual’s right to own and possess a gun, I think we’re in agreement that the manufactures and dealers of firearms should not be held liable for the misuse of a weapon as long as it is manufactured, marketed, and sold legally.

There is a second issue with this legislation that I’m more concerned about. The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho). Sen. Craig also sits on the board of the directors of the National Riffle Association. This bill is the NRA’s #1 priority.

Sen. Craig was sent to Congress to represent the people of the State of Idaho. And, while the interests of the state may be in line with the position of the NRA on this issue, the Senator’s membership on the NRA board of directors creates, at the least, the appearance of a conflict of interest. It is not out of line for opponents of the legislation to ask: Does Sen. Craig represent the NRA? Or the people of Idaho?

Members of Congress should recluse themselves from sponsoring or voting on legislation in which they have a personal interest.

Far Right Criticism of Bush Portends 2008 Battles

For those who believe that President Bush is an extreme right-winger, it might be a surprise to learn that the President has recently heard a lot of criticism from his right flank. Paul Mulshine, writing for the New Jersey Star Ledger reports that conservative talk-radio host Michael Savage has lately been deeply critical of Bush.

Savage has even started calling rabid Bush supporters “Bush Bots” because he feels they’re too stupid to realize Bush is selling them a false line of conservative goods. The crux of Savage’s critique is that (get this) Bush is far too liberal. You’ll have to read the column to get the full feel of the criticism, but far right conservatives really do have a number of reasons to be upset at Bush.

Does this then make Bush a Centrist or at least a Center-right politician? Hardly. What this shows is that the flat-line paradigm of political affiliation is not (and probably never has been) all that accurate or telling. But more importantly, it shows that there are rifts in the Republican party. The same disagreements that spawned Pat Buchanan’s multiple candidacies could spawn a similar candidacy in 2008.

We will likely see three types of candidates in the Republican field. The social conservative/big business/big government model like President Bush, the protectionist/tiny government model like was Pat Buchanan, and the Center-right model like John McCain.

Which of the three types prevail will depend a lot on the individual candidates, but it will also depend on Bush’s next 3 years. If Bush’s second term is perceived by the party to be generally weak, the social conservative/big government candidates might have problems. And if the battle comes down to the protectionists versus the centrists, the centrists will clean up. Like the far left, the far right has far fewer supporters than it thinks.

Whatever the case, I would expect the storied Republican unity to fall apart the closer we get to 2008.

Hillary under attack from Liberals

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s call for a cease-fire within the Democratic party, combined with her decision to lead a DLC initiative aimed at developing a positive policy agenda for the party, has led to numerous attacks from the left.

The liberal blog Daily Kos has one of the harshest attacks here.

If you want to win elections and have a positive impact on our nation, you need to appeal to the middle. It’s not always about being right or wrong. It’s often about having a debate and being receptive to new ideas and compromise. It’s clear that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party just doesn’t get it (by the way, the same can be said for the conservative wing of the Republican Party).

Far Left Irritated at Hillary's DLC Appearance

NOTE: Joe and I managed to post on the same topic at the same time, but there's enough to talk about here that we're leaving both posts up.

If there’s one thing liberal Democrats such as the folks at Daily Kos hate more than Republicans, it’s Centrist Democrats. So, not surprisingly, Kos had some vitriolic words to say about the recent DLC annual meeting where Centrist Democrats gathered and laid out what I thought was a very reasonable and smart platform.

What makes the Kos post interesting is that it condemns Hilary Clinton for attending the DLC meeting. If Clinton really is a Centrist (or is at least committed to portraying herself as one), upsetting liberals like Kos is a great step in the right direction. There is no way that a Centrist Democrat can be a true Centrist and still pander to the far left.

Best case scenario for the Democrats is that the far left realizes they have no home with the Democrats and go start their own party. While folks like Kos will spend their time shocked at how few Americans follow them, the Democrats can go about winning over the broad middle. Can Hillary lead the way or at least speed the process along? We’ll see.

Attorney General speaks out

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales gave a wide ranging interview during which he:

1) Claimed a Supreme Court justice does not have to follow previous ruling “if you believe it’s wrong.” The AG, thus, believes that as a Supreme Court justice John Roberts would not be bound by his past statement that the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision settled the abortion issue;

2) Defended indefinite detention of our terror suspects at the US naval prison at Guantanamo Bay Cuba as “absolutely the right decision” in the war against terrorism; and

3) Declined to answer questions about his decision, while as White House counsel, to delay notifying most White House staff about a Justice Department investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity.

Gonzales’ statements on each of these issues are alarming. TYL has already discussed the revival of the debate surrounding abortion. Gonzales’ statements on this issue is sure to impassion advocates on both sides of the debate. Neither Alan nor myself believe that establishing abortion as a Constitutional right was the right path for our nation. However, regardless of whether or not Roe is overturned there are going to be abortions in this country. We must work to alleviate the “social conditions that lead women to believe abortion is their best choice and with the lack of education, availability or general ambivalence that leads so many to not use birth control.”

TYL has also previously taken the position that Congress needs to pass legislation that would prevent the US military from engaging in cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of any individual in American custody. We have also called upon Congress to support an effort by Rep. Adam Schiff that would give detainees legal status while formalizing the process for the review of military decisions to hold enemy combatants. While the decision to hold these individuals may be “absolutely the right decision,” the decision to continue proceeding without Congressional authorization to hold these individuals is wrong.

TYL has also written extensively on the Plame affair, stating that the president should follow up on his initial statement to immediately remove from his administration anyone involved in the leak of classified information. We have not previously posted on Gonzales’ decision to not immediately reveal to WH staff that the Justice Department had begun an investigation into the leak. However, Gonzales’ decision could have allowed relevant information pertaining to the leak to be destroyed (though I do not believe that Gonzales acted deliberately to allow others to destroy evidence).

Gov Pataki may not seek reelection

NY Republican Governor George Pataki has scheduled a noon news conference at the state Capitol to make a “major announcement” where he is expected to announce that he will not seek reelection next year. Early polls for the 2006 gubernatorial race show Pataki trailing state Attorney General Elliot Spitzer in the race.

Pataki continues to consider a run for the Presidency in 2008.

Pataki has a long record of support for gay and abortion rights along with support for reducing taxes and fighting crime. He is also known as a strong campaigner. He will be a contender in 2008 for the Centrist vote, if he chooses to run.

U.S. Approval Rating Improves in Muslim World

Max Boot of the LA Times reports that a new Pew Global Attitudes Project poll shows that attitudes towards America are improving in Muslim nations and approval ratings for terrorists are falling.

Certainly good news. Boot hypothesizes that this is due to the numerous terrorist attacks against Muslims carried out by the extremists.

I would imagine this is true. The relentless killing of Muslim civilians in Iraq and the recent slaughter of Egyptians cannot be helping the terrorists endear themselves to the rest of the Muslim world. Couple that with the attack in London which reminded the world that this isn't just big, bad America's war, and a drop in approval for terrorists is no surprise. The fact that there was also an upturn in approval of America is a more surprising development.

We certainly don't want to govern based on world opinion, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be pleased when world opinions of us improve.

Iraq Wants U.S. Withdrawal to Begin Soon

The Iraqi transitional government has called for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. forces. Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari made this request in a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld today.

U.S. commanders later acknowledge that substantial withdrawal could begin as early as next spring. This is, they say, contingent on training and deploying more Iraqi security forces--a process al-Jaafari also said should be speeded up.

Everyone has always said that we shouldn't stay longer than the new Iraqi government is willing to welcome us. And if they're asking us to speed things along, I think we better start speeding things along. But, really, this is a positive development. It shows that the Iraqi government is confident in their ability to govern their country without the help of a significant number of American troops.

The next six months will tell if a spring withdrawal is realistic. But it's reassuring to know Iraqi and U.S. leaders are planning for the exit phase.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Will Courts Decide What Our Healthcare Rights Are?

A U.S. District Judge has ruled that Union Pacific Railroad is unfairly discriminating against women for not including prescription contraceptive coverage in the company’s health plan.

This is a very interesting ruling because it raises the issue as to whether or not courts can force private companies to provide a certain level or a certain kind of healthcare.

According to the judge in the case, Union Pacific is in violation of the Civil Rights Act which prevents companies with 15 or more employees from discriminating on the basis of gender of pregnancy. The ruling says Union Pacific’s policy is discriminatory “because it treats medical care women need to prevent pregnancy less favorably than it treats medical care needed to prevent other medical conditions that are no greater threat to employees' health than is pregnancy.”

But to me, this seems like a medical rights case masquerading as a civil rights case. What if the company decided not to pay for treatment of diseases caused by obesity? Would that also be a violation of an employee’s civil rights? How about the very real case of the company that routinely tests employees to see if they’ve been smoking and fires all smokers, even if all the smoking is done outside of work?

As healthcare costs rise and as medical knowledge grows, we could see more-and-more cases of workers suing for specific kinds of health coverage. I'm sure some smart lawyers and well-funded interest groups could figure out a compelling argument as to how we are constitutionally guaranteed healthcare from our employers.

This is yet another reason why I support reforming the healthcare system so that Americans don’t rely solely on their employers for coverage. We have simply progressed to a point that we no longer consider healthcare a benefit. It is a right. Or at least a necessity. And we need to figure out how to get all Americans a basic level of care. And we need to do so outside of the courts.

I don’t think we want court cases determining what coverage we are and are not entitled to.

The Moderate Republican on the War on Terror

What I enjoy most about moderates (as distinct from ideologues) is their willingness to debate ideas. You don’t have to be a Centrist to be moderate and not all Centrists are moderate, but Dennis over at The Moderate Republican is indeed a moderate Centrist. And he’s been sharing with his readers a debate he’s been having with another blogger concerning the War on Terror and what strategies should be used to win.

The first post is here.

The second is here.

Some great ideas and some well-thought out points. We need more people willing to use reason to communicate ideas instead of using blind faith in an ideology. The good news is, even if we don’t often get that from our elected leaders, it’s happening on the blogs and amongst the people at large. That, in my mind, is a good thing.

WH won’t show all Roberts’ work

The Chicago Sun Times is reporting that a senior Bush administration official has said that the WH will release Roberts’ work for President Reagan in the 1980s, but documents relating to Roberts’ tenure as principal deputy solicitor general for President George H.W. Bush between 1989 and 1993 will not be released.

To date, there has been relatively little for Democrats to use in their opposition to Roberts’ nomination. However, this development may provide the ability to portray Bush as an obstructionist, even if it is not enough for Senate Democrats to oppose Roberts’ nomination.

NYC proposes to track diabetics

New York City health officials have proposed a system that would track diabetics to ensure that they adequately control their blood glucose levels. The plan would require medical labs to report to the city the results of A1c tests, which indicate blood glucose control over 3-4 months.

A patient who fails to control his/her diabetes is subject to complications ranging from Kidney failure and blindness to loss of circulation in the extremities often leading to amputation. Diabetes costs an estimated $5 billion a year to treat in New York and was the fourth leading cause of death in the city in 2003, killing 1,891. Nationally, diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It afflicts about 18.2 million Americans.

The argument put forward by those supporting the plan, including the American Diabetes Association, is that it would allow doctors better access to medical information especially among patients who frequently switch doctors, that it would allow the city Department of Health or individual physicians to follow up with patients who miss appointments, and that it would save the city millions by preventing complications of the disease.

These are all interesting arguments that have some merit. However, none overcomes an individual’s constitutional right to privacy and establishes a dangerous precedent for state intervention in the treatment of all types of health issues.

Perhaps NYC could also create a national database that forces everyone over the mean weight to report their 3-month average weight to the state? How about every individual being required to report his/her cholesterol levels if s/he has a family history of heart disease?

There are countless medical conditions that left untreated result in severe complications, including death. The government needs to work to ensure individuals understand the effects of not controlling their conditions and to ensure that every individual has access to health care and prescription drugs. It does not need to create a data base that monitors an individual's health status.

To Bomb or Not to Bomb Mecca: A Debate Continues

Our recent post concerning the ethics, morality and military usefulness of bombing Mecca in the event of a nuclear terrorist attack here has elicited a lot of interest, particularly in the moderate blogosphere.

When I wrote the post, I thought it was an obvious opinion to be against attacking Mecca as a means to punish and perhaps help stop the terrorists. But it turns out that a number of very smart people disagree with me. The resulting debate has been incredible. Check out our original post for much of the debate. But, as is the nature of blogs, the debate has spread outwards and continued on a number of other sites.

For those of you interested in this surprisingly engaging topic, check out the following sites who have picked up on this story and continued the debate:

The Mighty Middle

The American Centrist

The Moderate Voice

Indpendent Sources


Monday, July 25, 2005

DLC Urges Democrats to Toughen Up

During their annual meeting currently being held in Ohio, The Centrist branch of the Democratic Party, known as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), has come out in favor of expanding the size of the military and toughening Democrats attitudes toward the war on terror.

The DLC has even adopted a stance directly opposed the university-wing of the liberal base in asking colleges to open up their campuses to military recruiters instead of partially or completely barring them in protest of the War in Iraq. DLC founder Al From said yesterday, “A Democrat has to show the toughness to govern…No political party deserves to win unless it lays out a plan for Americans to win.”

This is a much-needed message. After being the engine that carried Bill Clinton to the presidency, the DLC has sputtered in recent years. Unjustly criticized by liberal activists as the left-wing of the Republican party but justly criticized by other Centrists as seemingly more focused on the needs of big business than actually leading the party, the DLC has been a generally ineffective since President Bush took office. But is all this about to change?

If what we’re hearing coming out of the national meeting is true conviction and not just opportunistic positioning, then there’s reason to be hopeful. I have long argued that there are many ways for Democrats to be pro-military and strong on defense without being just like the Republicans. The DLC is proving just that.

First, the DLC wants to expand the military to relieve National Guard units of the burdens they are bearing in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a solid policy. The National Guard is not our foreign military force and yet they have been used as such. Solving this problem would correct what is an injustice to National Guardsmen and women who have practically been conscripted into active duty. But it would also serve to strengthen our military.

Secondly, the problem of military recruiters being denied access to college campuses is a very real violation of freedom of speech and association, as far as I’m concerned. Universities should not be allowed to deny a major and respected employer from petitioning students while permitting just about every private employer to come to campus. But to get this changed, it will take a push from left-leaning groups like the DLC who are willing to call out their own fellow party members.

Thirdly, the DLC has made it clear that they are not going to be pushed around by the left-wing of the party on the issue of defense. From’s statement’s call on Democrats to stop fretting about the war on terror and start fighting it. That doesn’t mean criticism should be squelched…only that the “blame America” attitude of those on the far left cannot be allowed to infect mainstream Democrats.

Finally, if the DLC keeps this up, they can hit the Republicans in what I think is one of their greatest weaknesses in the war on terror—their failure to lead this war as a national campaign rather than merely a military one. We are all at war and yet almost nothing has been asked of the home front. There hasn’t even been any major recruiting drives for the military spearheaded by Republican leaders. It’s as if they are skittish about burdening the rest of us with the costs of this war. And yet it is we on the home front who are most likely to be killed any time this war makes it to our shores.

By supporting military expansion and such policies as letting recruiters on campus, the DLC is directly addressing the fact that this truly is a large struggle that must involve all of us in one capacity or another. If this is indeed the intent of the DLC (and I could be reading a lot more into their statements than what they intend) then I think this bodes well for the Democratic Party as a whole—or at least the sensible wing of the Democratic Party.

By the way, rumored 2008 contender, Iowa governor Tom Vilsack takes over as head of the DLC today. Can he be a Centrist Democratic standard bearer? I don’t know, but I’ll be listening eagerly.

Attack in Egypt

TYL wasn't posting this weekend as details on the terror attacks in Egypt come in over the weekend that killed at least 64 individuals. TYL sends our condolences to the family and friends of the latest victims.

This attack clearly shows the reach of the terrorists' evil. The global community will remain united against them and they will be brought to justice.

WH aims to block legislation on inhumane treatment of detainees

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that the White House is seeking to block legislation that would authorize bar the US military from engaging in “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” of detainees, from hiding prisoners from the Red Cross, and from using interrogation methods not authorized by a revised Army field manual.

The WH is arguing that the effort would “restrict the President’s authority to protect Americans effectively from terrorist attack and bring terrorists to justice.” The Bush administration’s opposition is so strong that they have threatened to veto the $442 billion defense appropriations bill if language to this effect is added to the legislation.

The WH position is absurd. While our nation is asking other countries around the world to live by the rule of law and respect the Geneva Convention the WH is opposing efforts that would ensure our government abides by the same standard. The president required special powers in the days after September 11th to respond to the attacks against our country, but enough time has now passed that we need to allow Congress to authorize, limit and monitor how the executive branch and military conduct the war.

TYL applauds Sens. McCain and Graham for their leadership and urges the WH to support their effort to prevent inhumane treatment of any individual in the custody of the United States of America. This effort, along with one by Rep. Adam Schiff’s (D-CA) to give the detainees legal status while formalizing a process for the review of military decisions to hold enemy combatants, should be embraced by the WH and by Congress.

Mainstream Media Itching for a Roberts Fight

In an in-depth post, Charging RINO reports that that mainstream media (with an assist from blogs) is manufacturing a conflict in the John Roberts Supreme Court Nomination. Basically, the Bush administration is being accused of stonewalling Democrats by refusing to turn over papers related to Roberts' tenure in the Reagan and Bush I administrations.

Problem is, that's not true. The Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have not yet requested those documents and the White House has not refused to provide any documents. There is no story. But the mainstream media is apparently incapable of reporting news that is not based on conflict.

This kind of shoddy journalism feeds right into the wants of interest groups determined to turn what should be a civil nomination process into an all-out war. In fact, I would not be surprised that the "document issue" was manufactured by left-leaning interest groups in an attempt to invent a crisis. The fact that the media would latch on to such a non-story is incredibly disappointing.

Hopefully the White House and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee can rise above this false controversy and get on with their work.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Bomb Mecca? How About: Vote Out Tancredo

A week ago, U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) was asked in an interview what he thought should be the U.S. response if terrorists used a nuclear weapon against us. He responded:

''Well, what if you said something like -- if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites." When the host asked him if he meant ''bombing Mecca," he said, ''Yeah."

Not surprisingly, such remarks have received wide-spread condemnation and calls for Tancredo to apologize or face discipline from the House of Representatives. While the House has not acted on this matter, it is rather surprising that this has become and issue. After all, bombing Mecca, even in the wake of a nuclear terrorist attack, would be an act of extreme brutality and unjustifiable vengeance.

And yet, Tancredo defends his remarks in today’s Denver Post, saying that we absolutely must leave all options on the table and a threat to hit Islamic holy sites may be what’s needed to persuade moderate Muslims to start fighting terrorism with greater intensity. Tancredo says:

Until "mainstream" Islam can bring itself to stop rationalizing terrorist attacks and start repudiating and purging people like [terrorist apologist] Ali and [terrorist supporter] Hajjar from its ranks who do, this war will continue.

I agree completely that moderate Muslims need to do be more vocal and forceful in condemning the Islamic fascists in their ranks. But Tancredo’s suggestion that the threat of brutal force will motivate moderate Muslims to act in our interest, is small-minded. Bombing Mecca or Medina simply cannot be an option just like, during the height of IRA terrorism, bombing Rome was never considered a viable option, despite the fact that many Catholics around the world tacitly or directly supported the IRA.

Tancredo is right that moderate Muslims need to be more forcibly on our side. But intimidation is the worst way to win allies and his suggestion that we threaten to his Islamic holy sites is obscene. While we at TYL never support disciplining a politician for their words (only their actions), we do believe the people in Tancredo’s district should seriously consider throwing him out in 2006. We need politicians of real vision—Tancredo doesn’t appear to come close.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Hazards of an Automated Life

I don't share many personal stories here. But this one is just itching to be told--mainly because I think I have stumbled on one of the oddest problems with modern money management in the age of the Internet and bank mergers and automated payments. Basically, I've lost access to my own account and can't seem to get it back.

A few years ago, I took out a car loan through a Virginia bank. I then set up automatic payment of that car loan through Riggs Bank, with whom I had a checking account. On-line bill pay is wonderful. You don't get any more statements jamming up the mail box and, assuming you have a regular flow of cash going in, you don't even have to think about paying your bills. It just happens.

Well, you know what else happens? Bank mergers. That Virginia bank was bought by BB&T and Riggs was bought by PNC. Nevertheless, my payments kept ticking right along even though all my account numbers changed.

But now I'm moving and need to switch the payments to come from another bank. I also might sell the car and need to know how much I still owe. Problem is, I don't seem to have the new loan account number. You'd think I could get it from PNC since they transfer over the payment every month, but you'd be wrong. See, I'm not signed up for their on-line bill pay. They were nice enough to roll over my payments from Riggs but for me to make any adjustments or see the account numbers to which the payments are going, I have to sign up and reset everything up. But I'm about to change banks, I said. Oddly, that didn't inspire them to help.

Right now, all they can give me is the last four digits of the BB&T account number.

O.k., someone at BB&T should be able to help, right? Nope. To get the privilege of speaking to a human being, you have to enter your social security number AND your account number. Apparently, if you don't know your account number, you're left with e-mailing the bank as your only option. Which I have done and from whom I've received little help so far.

Undoubtedly I'll get this resolved. But what a waste of my time. I find it astounding that we have gotten to a point where a guy can lose control of his own account. This is a good lesson. Be careful how automated you let your life become. Things can get away from you and suddenly that service that was supposed to make your life easier becomes a huge thorn in your side.

The Power of the Ivy League Brand

Anita Hill thinks the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court is a step back for diversity. She worries that in the quest for confirmability, we will see more and more rich white males being nominated to the Supreme Court because rich white males are the ones most likely to meet the high standard of Ivy League education, Supreme Court clerkship and Beltway insider credentials.

Hill may have a point buried somewhere in there—even forgetting that Alberto Gonzales was widely assumed to be the most confirmable choice available. But, wait, Alberto Gonzales, like Roberts, is a graduate of Harvard Law School. Which brings me to my real point (inspired by Hill’s editorial):

The Ivy League (particularly Harvard, Yale and Princeton) has done a great job of branding and selling itself. With an increasing number of colleges and people with college degrees, it’s amazing that we still give deference to a few old, elite schools.

But I, for one, refuse to believe that the Ivy League schools provide a significantly better education than do many other schools. This is not based on any statistics or research (there isn’t any as far as I can tell) but on personal observation. I’ve known and worked with a lot of Ivy League grads and the only thing that distinguishes them from their non-Ivy League peers is their unwieldy debt (those that weren’t independently wealthy, that is). Otherwise, Ivy League grads are about as capable and knowledgeable as anyone else with a college degree from a good university.

I’m not saying Harvard and Yale shouldn’t be respected—I’m just saying that they aren’t any better than many other institutions of higher learning. They’ve just branded themselves better. What they sell is not really a great education—it’s prestige and great contacts. That’s why, even to this day, Ivy Leaguers are found at the very top of every profession—particularly in Washington politics. George W. Bush: Yale. John Kerry: Yale. Bill Clinton: Yale. John Roberts: Harvard.

But most of us, when it came time to go to college or grad school, could not afford the Ivy League or did not get in or did not want to go that far from home. But that in no way means that those of us who went to Bard or Kenyan or The University of Illinois or Trinity University or UCLA or any number of other great but “less prestigious” universities received any less of an education or deserve any less of a shot at the top positions. Right?

So here’s what I’m suggesting. Stop buying into the brand image. Stop being enamored with that Ivy League name. Don’t discount Ivy League grads but don’t afford them any extra points because of it. Five years out of school (heck, even right out of school) it’s what you’ve done and what you can do that should matter—not your degree. Holding Ivy Leaguers in higher esteem only helps create an immobile class system where entry to the top tiers is too-often afforded not by consistent merit but by educational status—a status that was, for most of us, determined before our 18th birthdays when we chose a college.

This is not a monumental problem, clearly. But it is a real issue and an annoyance that’s grated on me since I moved to New York City after college and found myself regularly discriminated against in my profession for no reason greater than the fact that I was not Ivy League. It’s a discrimination that clearly continues all the way up the ladder. And it’s one made possible in large part by our own willingness to buy their brand.

With so many great schools and so many talented men and women from across the nation, there really is no longer a need to hold just a handful of universities in such absurdly high esteem.

Is Islam to Blame?

Irshad Manji believes that, in part, Islam itself is to blame for terrorism and argues that her fellow moderate Muslims who do not strictly interpret the Koran need to raise their voices.

While I have studied Islam and the Koran, I claim no expert knowledge. But what I do know is that, like many religious texts, the Koran contains many thoughts, some of which are contradictory and some, if read literally, are disturbing in their implications. And that is the problem with religious fundamentalism. It is, by definition, intolerant and can lead adherents to justify cruel acts as God’s command.

While fundamentalism is not in-and-of-itself wrong, there is a reason why it is religious fundamentalists and not religious moderates who commit the vast number of crimes and murders “in the name of God.” That’s why I think Manji is correct. One way to fight terrorism is for moderate Muslims to become the dominant voice in Islam. Right now, fundamentalist Islam is too powerful and that helps create the conditions for terror. It would be very helpful if that were to change.

Remembering those Murdered in London

By the grace of God, no one died in yesterday’s bombings in London. But that was obviously not the case two weeks ago when terrorists killed 52 commuters on the London transportation system. Yesterday, authorities released the final name of those 52 victims—a young Afghani man who had moved to London to escape the Taliban who had murdered his parents.

The names, faces and short biographies of those killed are available here. Some say it is morbid to view such a site. To me, it is essential. It’s essential to remember those who were lost. To see for ourselves how indiscriminate the terrorists are. How they will kill anyone and everyone just because they can. The young, the old, Christian, Muslim, Jew, black, white, asian, they don’t care.

And that’s the point. We look at these names, read the 100 or so words devoted to their complex and important lives and we can’t help but hurt. The terrorists feel nothing. Or worse, they feel proud of their carnage.

There are not words strong enough to express the depth of the terrorists’ evil. But there is resolve strong enough to confront them. The British clearly have that resolve. And so do we.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Abortion, Roe and What Now...

Assuming John Roberts is confirmed to the Supreme Court and assuming he is against Roe v. Wade there is more chance than ever that the Constitutional right to an abortion will no longer exist. That fact alone makes now as good a time as any to discuss abortion. And people are.

Check out Michael Reynolds’ revealing post over at The Mighty Middle where he discusses his own personal experience with the absurdity that is NARAL.

Then, read Amba’s truly excellent and insightful post over at AmbivaBolg. Her thoughts on abortion are always worth reading and this post is no different.

Then, writing for the Houston Chronicle, Froma Harrop argues that overturning Roe would hurt Republicans significantly. An interesting take to say the least.

What do I think? I think those who believe that Roe’s demise would be an apocalyptic blow to freedom are flat-out wrong. But I also think those who believe that Roe’s demise will solve the problem of abortion are also flat-out wrong.

What I’d like to see (with or without Roe still in place) is a move away from the black/white debates we have on this issue. Abortion is not a glorious civil right. Nor is it an act of evil. It’s something far more complex and far more difficult. Venerating it as a grand civil right or demonizing it as cold-blooded murder does little to promote an honest debate.

And if we want to reduce abortions (and we should want that), we have to have an honest debate.

I do believe that enshrining abortion as a Constitutional right was the wrong path for our nation to take. But I don’t know if overturning that decision will set things right. What I do know is that we need to stop fighting about a legal decision and start working with the reality of abortion, with the social conditions that lead women to believe abortion is their best choice and with the lack of education, availability or general ambivalence that leads so many to not use birth control.

With or without Roe abortion exists. And it’s abortion that’s the real issue.

Should the Party control its nominee?

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that Washington state will continue to use a primary system that forces voters to choose one party’s primary ballot while it appeals a federal court decision declaring unconstitutional its preferred system, approved with 60 percent of the vote last fall, which permitted primary voters to vote for a Republican in one race and a Democrat in another, with the top vote-getters in each contest proceeding to the general election. Under the system being implemented voters will not have to be a registered party member to choose that party’s ballot.

Last week, US District Judge Thomas Zilly ruled that the Washington “top two” primary system was unconstitutional, violating the political parties’ rights by “(a) allowing any voter, regardless of their affiliation to a party, to choose a party's nominee, and (b) allowing any candidate, regardless of party affiliation or relationship to a party, to self-identify as a member of a political party and to appear on the primary and general election ballots as a candidate for that party.”

TYL has previously called for electoral reform, placing open primaries atop our list of goals for the Centrist Reform Movement. We believe that every American should be allowed to vote for the individual s/he believes best represents him/her regardless of party affiliation or electoral race.

The Washington plan was approved by 60 percent of the state’s electorate and should be allowed to be implemented.

Strange bedfellows

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrinch (R-GA) have joined together in an effort to build a bi-partisan coalition for cost-saving and lifesaving health care legislation. The duo appeared together at a “Ceasefire on Health Care” event sponsored by Pfizer and American University.

This is a stark reversal for Clinton and Gingrinch who just a few years ago would have opposed something simply to be on the side opposite the other.

All the news from the event isn’t positive for Centrists. Gingrinch stated that he’s “not quite sure I’m ready to join the mushy middle,” a shot at those of us who believe that you can stand for something without being in the extremes of the ideological spectrum.

House and Senate Debate Patriot Act Renewal

The US House of Representatives began debate on legislation to renew the USA Patriot Act today, shortly after news of the terror attacks in London was first reported. The legislation calls for making permanent 14 of the 16 provisions of the original law passed shortly after the Sept 11th attacks that are due to sunset at the end of this year. The House version also extends provisions relating to allowing roving wiretaps and another relating to searches of library and medical records for ten years. A vote is likely to be held later in the day.

On the Senate side of the Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved legislation to make 14 expiring provisions of the anti-terror law permanent while extending through 2009 two other sections authorizing roving wiretaps on terrorism suspects and allowing law enforcement agents to seek a court order for “any tangible thing,” such as business records, they deem related to a terrorism investigation. The legislation would require agents to show “reasonable grounds to believe” that the records sought are related to a terrorism investigation.

A competing bill has already been approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which would give the FBI expanded powers to subpoena records without the approval of a judge or grand jury, ensuring further debate in the Senate before the legislation moves to a House-Senate conference.

TYL has previously called for reforms to several of the provisions of the Patriot Act, fearing that the legislation go too far in sacrificing freedom to protect us against terror. Statements, including this one by Sen. Leahy, ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicate that some reforms have been included in the bill working its way through that committee. However we still need to continue to press our leaders to ensure that the necessary reforms are included in the final version of this bill that will eventually be sent to the President.

The Emerging Anglosphere

As British Prime Minister Tony Blair held a press conference in the aftermath of today’s London bombings, Australian Prime Minister John Howard stood by his side, much as President Bush stood by Blair’s side after the attacks two weeks ago. The imagery is hard to ignore. There is some serious solidarity between the English-speaking nations of the world.

According to the new book The Anglosphere Challenge by James Bennett, this solidarity is actually part of a new political phenomenon dubbed the Network Commonwealth which is emerging as a consequence of the Internet/interconnectivity revolution. The Anglosphere will be the first of these Network Commonwealths and, because of our shared political freedoms and forward-thinking culture, the English speaking nations are well positioned to lead the world over the next few decades.

The summary of this book alone is enough to fascinate even the most casual of political observers. There is a lot of power behind Bennett’s theories. The speed and ease by which we can now communicate and travel will undoubtedly create significant geo-political changes. And it makes perfect sense that the shared language and culture between Britain, America, Australia and Canada could indeed coalesce into a new form of political union—not one that supplants our current form of government, but actually adds to it.

Increasingly free trade, shared military campaigns and constant communication between citizens have already fallen into place. Could we be headed for a Network Commonwealth? It could happen, I think. Bennett’s book is definitely worth checking out.

Terrorism – a theory

A friend of mine who happens to be writing her doctoral thesis on terrorism at the University of Illinois is visiting this week. Given global events from Afghanistan and Iraq to today’s horrible events in London, we’ve had a lot to discuss.

The basic theory (this is a brief summary) that she is putting forward in her dissertation, one with which I agree, is that terrorism is a tactic. It is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. In other words, terrorism is tactic used to gain a larger victory and cannot be understood outside of the larger conflict in which it is being used.

She also contends that those who commit terrorist acts believe that they are engaged in a war. They have been brought up in a culture or influenced by a culture that holds a strongly felt resentment against another party for an event, either real or perceived. However, their ability to fight in "traditional ways" is not available. Thus, they turn to terror.

In such a theory, there can be no victory or cessation of hostilities until the factors underlying the terrorists’ grievances are solved. Unfortunately, the cycle of terrorism is often self-perpetuating. A country that is attacked often reacts with force against the terrorists giving them new grievances (perceived or real).

Unfortunately, I believe this theory is accurate. We are facing a long, sustained fight that will last until we address the reasons that people are attacking us rather than trying to eliminate those who are carrying out the attacks.

Great New Centrist Blog

Several Centrist blogs spring up every week. When we find them, or they find us, we add them to the blogroll which is stretching further and further down the page.

Today I discovered Donklephant, an excellent new Centrist group blog with a variety of perspectives from the center. Really solid writing. Really good reads. Check them out.

Plame memo indicated information was secret

According to the Washington Post, White House officials gained information about Valerie Plame from a memo that clearly identified as secret, a clear indication that any official who read it should have been aware that the information was classified.

The memo in question was produced for Secretary of State Colin Powell and presented to him one week before Plame’s identity was revealed by Robert Novak. Several senior WH officials including senior advisor Dan Bartlett, then-spokesman Ari Fleischer, and others.

Last week it was disclosed the senior presidential advisor Karl Rove as well as vice presidential chief of staff Lewis Libby confirmed Plame’s identity to reporters. Rove has previously stated that he first learned that Plame worked for the CIA from reporters and he continues to claim that he did not mention Plame by name or intend to disclose her identity. Rove also says he did not see the memo in question until it was shown to him by the special prosecutor investigating the leak of Plame’s identity.

Something still is not adding up here. I continue to believe that evidence significant enough to pursue criminal charges will not be found. However, I continue to believe that President Bush and the White House should come forward and address this issue to the American public rather than hiding behind an “ongoing investigation.” I also believe the president should follow through on his initial pledge to remove any individuals involved in the leak from his administration rather than raising the standard for removing individuals who leaked information to being convicted of a crime.

Filibuster against Roberts is unlikely

The Gang of 14 Senators are meeting today to discuss John Roberts’ nomination to the US Supreme Court. Several of the Republican members of the informal group, including Sen. John McCain, have already stated that Judge Roberts deserves an up or down vote. Many of the Republicans among the gang of 14 have even praised Roberts. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn) said the president had recieved the message of the Gang of 14 and sent a "mainstream conservative" to the Senate for confirmation.

These positions are enough to indicate that while Roberts can’t expect an easy confirmation both parties are looking to move the nomination forward to the full Senate.

Roberts’ hearings and a vote are expected to begin shortly after Labor Day and last approximately one month.

Another attack in London

Details aren’t in yet, but there has been a second attack on the London underground and bus system. In an attack remarkably similar to the attacks two weeks ago, 3 trains and 1 bus have been targeted. CNN and others are providing details as they break. TYL will provide our analysis after we learn the details.

ALAN UPDATES: Right now, CNN is reporting that one of the bombers may have survived the attack and is in the hospital where police have responded.

I have nothing to add but to reiterate what I said two weeks ago. These attacks should only steel our resolve to confront these murderers. The cannot be appeased. They can only be defeated.

UPDATE: London police have confirmed there were four explosions or "attempts at explosions." There are no reported cassualties which is incredibly good news. It is still unclear what has happened at the hospital. It now appears that police went in looking for a man believed to have been involved in one of today's bombings.

Prime Minister Blair spoke around 10:30 a.m. ET in a manner that was both resolved and relaxed. Australian Prime Minister Howard was by his side and both men reconfirmed their nation's committments to defeating these terrorists. There is no doubt that incidents such as this only further the resolve to confront these groups.

2008 Hopefuls Will Show True Colors During Supreme Court Confirmation

In an otherwise throwaway editorial about the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, David Brooks of the New York Times makes one point that is certainly worth thinking about.

I suspect the Democratic elites would rather skip this fight because it has all the makings of a political loser…But the Democratic elites no longer run the party. The outside interest groups and the donors do, and they need this fight. It's why they exist.

Hillary Clinton and the other Democratic hopefuls will have to choose between the militant wing of the party, important in the primary season, and the nation's mainstream center, which the party needs if it is to regain its majority status. It will be a defining and momentous vote.

That is absolutely right. The most interesting votes that will come out of this confirmation are the votes of the Democrat senators planning a run at the White House. Clinton, Kerry, Biden and Bayh all have a tough decision to make. They already declined to be part of the Centrist coalition that saved the filibuster earlier this year. Will they again decline to vote for cloture and for a filibuster? Or will they just cast their “no” votes and hope that’s enough for the base?

How they handle themselves now can either endear or repulse the Democratic activists that have assumed control of the party. But how they act can also endear or repulse the broad mainstream that will ultimately decide the 2008 elections. Probably the best strategy is to act professionally, vote for cloture, vote no and get on with other business.

But can they resist the cries of the base?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Grand Theft Auto and a Contrived Controversy

The video game industry has decided to change the rating for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to AO for adults only, up from M for mature. This is due to the revelation that a code downloaded from the Internet can unlock secret graphic sex scenes.

The outrage over all of this has bordered on absurd. Talk about a completely contrived issue. First of all, anyone who has the technical skills to download and install code from the Internet can easily access all manner of pornographic material that would make anything in Grand Theft Auto seem tame. Secondly, does anyone honestly think that graphic sex somehow turns this bloody, sadistic, vulgar game from a family title into an adult title? This is a game where you can blow people’s heads off, kill cops, pimp prostitutes and wage gang warfare. Really, how much more adult can it get?

Fact is, parents' groups seized on this to perform one of their usual overreactions and demands for censorship while politicians like Hillary Rodham Clinton opportunistically jumped on board to shore up their pro-family credentials.

But where were they when this game was released? In my mind, it should have had the adults only rating to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a brilliant and enthralling game that I thoroughly enjoyed playing. But I wouldn’t let any child of mine near it—even if they were well into their teens. It’s too realistic, too violent and too easily gets into your head.

The message here, as in most cases, should not be one of stricter government regulation but of parental education. Mom and Dad—you gotta watch what your kids are playing. Some of those games are worse than the ratings indicate.

Opposition to Roberts is on Weak Ground

The speed and efficiency of the opposition to John Roberts’ nomination to the Supreme Court leaves me wondering if liberal groups are opposing John Roberts or opposing the very notion that conservative judicial philosophies have a place on the Court.

Don’t get me wrong, the criticism is quite targeted. Take’s statement which says:

In nominating John Roberts, the president has chosen a right wing corporate lawyer and ideologue for the nation's highest court instead of a judge who would protect the rights of the American people. Working for mining companies, Roberts opposed clean air rules and worked to help coal companies strip-mine mountaintops. He worked with Ken Starr (yes, that Ken Starr), and tried to keep Congress from defending the Voting Rights Act. He wrote that Roe v. Wade should be "overruled”...

But the thing is, any nominee chosen by Bush would have a history of advocating judicial views contrary to what the left would prefer. Does that make every and any conservative justice unqualified? Are Scalia and Thomas unqualified? I’d wager many liberals would say yes.

Take the ACLU’s statement released before a nominee was known. They said they were concerned that Bush would choose “a nominee whose judicial philosophy is fundamentally opposed to the progress made in protecting individual rights over the past century.”

This is disingenuous. Just because someone opposes using the Supreme Court as the primary means to advance individual rights not delineated in the Constitution does not mean he or she is opposed to using other means to advance those same individual rights. One can think Roe v. Wade is a bad ruling from a Constitutional standpoint but still want abortion to be legal.

We hear all the time that conservative justices will lead us to segregation, the elimination of workers rights, child labor, imprisonment of homosexuals and a universal ban on abortion—to name a few evils. But that kind of talk is just playing off the tired and untrue “conservatives are evil” propaganda. A conservative Court would not seek to impose such a dark vision.

What it would do is restrict the federal government’s ability to impose rules and regulations in situations where the Constitution gives the federal government no authority to act. Yes, that could, for example, have the effect of giving states the right to abolish worker protection laws or openly discriminate against homosexuals, but it would not prohibit a state from passing its own worker protection laws or advancing broad rights for homosexuals. Nor would it prohibit the passing of a Constitutional amendment to broaden federal authority or advance individual rights.

I believe that the federal government has a vital role to play in our nation. What I don’t believe is that, should its current role be diminished, all hell will break lose. The Supreme Court is not the end-all-be-all for what individual rights we do and do not have. And just because a justice believes in a judicial philosophy that would limit federal power does not make him or her unqualified to serve.

There is room on our Supreme Court for jurists of varying judicial philosophies. To believe otherwise is to believe that there is only one obvious interpretation of the Constitution. That is wrong. And if those who oppose Roberts want to gain any traction with their effort, they’re going to have to offer more than cries of “he disagrees with us, therefore he is unqualified.”

Fact is, from all we know, justice Roberts is quite qualified. Groups like are fighting a losing battle because their complaint isn’t with Roberts, it’s with the whole scope of conservative judicial philosophy. They certainly have a right to stand-up for what they believe, but their money and efforts might be better spent working towards Constitutional amendments and state laws that would cement our rights in more solid ground than a Court ruling.

As someone who is a strong supporter of individual rights, I am sympathetic to the concerns of many of these liberal groups. But I can’t in good conscience oppose Roberts. Instead, I will seek other more substantial means to ensure our individual rights remain plentiful.

Don’t whine if you don’t vote

Here at TYL, we’ve gotten a number of comments (the most recent are here) to our posts on the Supreme Court vacancy, as well as other issues, stating that individuals shouldn’t complain that the President and the Republican controlled Congress are pushing through their agenda if they also didn’t vote.

I must say that I agree with their argument. If an individual doesn’t care enough to vote, especially in today’s very closely divided nation, s/he shouldn’t complain about the outcome of the elections and/or the political consequences of the election. But the fact is that those who didn’t vote in 2004 are very likely not complaining now – if they didn’t care then, why would they care now? Those who are voicing concerns about the Supreme Court vacancy are very likely the same individuals who were engaged and active in the last election. These same people are also likely to be those who are engaged and active in the next election.

All that said, I voted (though as a citizen of the District of Columbia I have no representation in Congress, but that’s a different issue). And, there are millions like me across this country, some 30 percent of the electorate, who voted and still feel disenfranchised because neither of the two major political parties in this country support an agenda that we can also support.

Whining about politics is guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution. In fact, whining is a necessary evil in today’s age of partisan politics. Without individuals voicing their concern with the direction our country is heading our leaders would be able to lead us down an even more partisan road. Our whining is what keeps them, partially, in check. Without whining, there would be no TYL.

So, while I agree that everyone should go out and vote and that those who don’t vote should keep their mouth shut. There are those of us out there who feel it is our civic duty to contribute to the national debate in whatever way we can. Hopefully, here at TYL, we rise above whining about politics and add to the debate.

Hearings Should Focus on Roberts' Judicial Philosophy

The intent of judicial confirmation hearings should be to judge qualification. And I think qualification is best judged not through demanding opinions on specific issues but by asking questions about a nominee’s overriding philosophy. So, what is Roberts’ philosophy?

Writing for The New Republic, William J. Stuntz questions if Roberts has much of a judicial philosophy. Stuntz sees Roberts as being too much like Rehnquist who Stuntz thinks votes his instinct rather than following a consistent judicial philosophy.

It is all too tempting for Supreme Court justices to vote their instincts and tell their law clerks to come up with the rationales. If Arlen Specter, Patrick Leahy, and their colleagues want to do justice to the next justice--and to the people the next justice will serve--they would do well to skip all the up-or-down questions. Instead, ask Roberts what law is about, what constitutional law is about, and what the difference is. Ask him when the Framers' intent should govern and when precedent should control. Ask him what might lead him to change his mind--not about bottom lines, but about his preferred theories.

I would have to agree. I think it’s vital that Roberts be asked whether he is a strict constructionist or an originalist or a believer in the living Constitution or something in between or something different all together. What system of reason Roberts will use is much more important than how he might rule on a hypothetical case. So too should we ask what respect he’ll give to precedent—even those he thinks may have been improperly reasoned. And does he believe in incremental reversal of precedent (like O’Connor did and like Rehnquist often does) or does he believe in sweeping reversals like Scalia and Thomas often argue for?

A nomination to the Supreme Court is about so much more than one possible case or even one area of law. It’s about whether a nominee’s overriding judicial philosophy is comprehensive, intellectually defensible and acceptable to a majority of Americans.

With a career spent arguing cases for clients, Roberts has not built up much of a record that clearly reveals his personal judicial leanings. Finding out more about his philosophy should be job number one during the confirmation hearings.

Suspect asks to be charged

Jose Padilla, an American citizen, was detained in Chicago by government authorities in 2002 after returning from Pakistan. He is being held as an enemy combatant and has yet to be charged with any crime, though he is suspected to have been involved in a plot to plan the detonation of a dirty bomb. Today, his lawyers appeared in court and asked that Mr. Padilla be charged with a crime.

This is a perfect illustration of the problems associated with the enemy combatant designation – we do not know to whom it applies or what legal rights those accused of being enemy combatants have. There is no notion of due process and no legal precedent to detain individuals under this designation.

TYL previously endorsed an initative by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) to give the detainees legal status and to formalize a process for the review of military decisions to hold enemy combatants.

The government very likely has a good case for holding Mr. Padilla. However, there is no legal process to review the case, ensure that the law is upheld, and ensure the protection of detainee rights. If we are asking other nations to establish and follow the rule of law, shouldn’t we do so ourselves?

Happy Birthday Elbridge Gerry

Charging RINO informs us that it's the birthday of Elbridge Gerry for whom the practice of gerrymandering was named. There will be an event today in DC held by Centrist Representatives seeking to solve the large gerrymandering problems we have today.

How Media Bias Helped Lose the Election for Kerry

In a very interesting editorial, James Taranto claims that the media's liberal bias actually hurt John Kerry's quest for the presidency. Simply, the media bought into the war hero narrative and, because they wanted Kerry to win, failed to adequately question that narrative early on. The result was that Kerry thought Vietnam would be a winning issue when it actually ended up being as much of a negative as a positive.

I've long said that the "liberal bias" meme is way overplayed. I think more-often-than-not what the media has is a conflict bias in that it treats most issues as if they can be boiled down into an A versus B plotline. And conflict-bias makes perfect sense in the Kerry case. During the primaries and lead-up to the conventions, the "conflict" was played out in two directions. 1) Kerry's war-hero merits were in direct contrast to the Democrats’ weak-on-defense image. 2) Kerry’s war-hero status was in direct contrast to Bush’s less glorified service.

The media’s inability to delve past the conflict-driven story resulted in the media ignoring the full breadth of Kerry’s record—namely that his heroism wasn’t his biggest contribution to that era. His big contribution was his work as a protest leader. But the protest leader aspect didn’t fit into the conflict-mentality of the media early on and so it was ignored. And, as Taranto rightly argues, that decision hurt Kerry in the long run. He wasn’t forced to confront the contradictions of his war narrative until too late in the campaign.

And I’d say Kerry was further hurt because once the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth started their attacks, the media was tired of the conflict stories it had been running and was ready for another one. Dan Rather (who truly is liberally biased) tried making that new conflict the contrast between Bush’s image as a war President and his allegedly disgraceful service in the Air National Guard.

But Rather’s story was false. Instead, the lasting story of the fall was the conflict between Kerry’s self-presentation as a Vietnam war hero and his fiercely anti-war activities. Thus, instead of his service bolstering his claim that he could lead us in a time of war, Kerry was painted by his opponents and much of the media as a man who was better suited to opposing war than waging it.

I don’t know if any of this lost the election for Kerry and I’m not saying a conflict-bias was the only thing going on here—only that too often the media is so interested in portraying conflict that they decline to portray reality. Had the media done its job and properly analyzed Kerry’s full Vietnam-era record early in the campaign, Kerry may have avoided the Swift Boat Veteran attacks—or at least have been prepared to deflect them.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Opposition to Roberts Begins

NARAL's front page has been updated to oppose John Roberts nomination to the Supreme Court with a full-page denouncement. There is even a form to make it easy to e-mail your Senator to demand they oppose the choice. People for the American Way has also posted a strong critique of the nomination but is not yet in the full-court press mode of NARAL.

This is no surprise. Expect the TV ads very soon. These groups have raised a LOT of money in the led-up to this nomination. Better believe they plan to spend it.

The Nomination of John Roberts: Battle in the Wings, Confirmation in the Senate

John Roberts, currently a justice on the Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, has been nominated by President Bush to the Supreme Court of the United States. Now that we have a name, we can begin a real debate. The criticism on Roberts will be that he is hostile to civil rights, the environment and legalized abortion. He also has a history of allowing more church/state interaction than some on the left would prefer.

Those in favor of legalized abortion strongly opposed Roberts’ nomination to the appellate court and that opposition was strongly countered by groups seeking to overturn Roe. Does this portend another interest-group battle this time around? Yes. Put money on it. Nothing is more divisive than abortion and Roberts’ 1991 brief (which was written for a client) supporting the overturning of Roe v. Wade will likely be the big story early on.

But will there be trouble in the Senate? Unlike other judges who are perceived to be right-leaning, Roberts was not filibustered and was unanimously confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court in 2003. But, as an editorial by Alberto Gonzales pointed out two years ago, Roberts was initially appointed to the D.C. Circuit Court in 1992 by President George H. W. Bush but never received a hearing. He was nominated again in 2001 by the current President Bush but, again, never received a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing while the Democrats controlled the Senate. It was only after the Republicans took control that Roberts went in front of the committee where he was sent to the floor by a 16-3 vote.

This is a very interesting history. It indicates that Roberts is controversial enough for the Democrats to quietly oppose but too respected and too clearly qualified for the Democrats to openly oppose. So what happens now that the stakes are high?

As The Volokh Conspiracy discussed in May, there is solid reason to believe the liberal interest groups will strongly oppose a Roberts nomination and could sway a few Senators to do the same. But Roberts 100-0 confirmation to the Circuit Court bodes well for his chances here. I simply cannot see a rational reason why the Democrats in the so-called gang of 14 would oppose this nomination—and if they are on board, then Roberts will take O’Connor’s seat on the Supreme Court.

Roberts is conservative but nothing in his record reveals him to be outside the right side of the modern mainstream. There will be a fight in the wings over Roberts. But I think he’ll make it through the Senate without any deafening battles. This was an astute choice by President Bush. It appeases his base but won't send the Senate into crisis.