Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Banning Kitchen Knives?

Three physicians wrote an article in the British Medical Journal in support of replacing the sharper kitchen knives that could be used to kill people and in their view, banned, with blunter instruments that cause only "superficial wounds." I guess they could go back to the real old ways and just use their hands but I can't imagine Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and the Dutchess of Cornwall eating filet mignon or a sirloin like spare ribs.

If someone wanted to kill somebody that person would find a way to do it. Will they next ban cars because it could be used to run over people? Lamps? Just imagine a husband or wife bopping the other on the head with a lamp after a heated argument. Perhaps we should all eat our food on the table because we can throw dishes at each other.

Deep Throat Speaks Out?

It's unconfirmed at this point because the two former metro Washington Post news reporters (Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein) who used this source to bring down the Nixon administration for its cover up of the Watergate break-in refuse to confirm or deny Mr. W. Mark Felt's admission to "Vanity Fair."

Mr. Bernstein and Woodward say they owe it to all of their sources, "including Deep Throat," to withold any comments until he or she (or they) die.

I don't know what to make of it at this time or why the two former reporters would not confirm the story if Mr. Felt really is Deep Throat.

Student's Religion Displays

"The policy classifies jewelry that features the pentacle, swastika and drug-oriented symbols as potentially disruptive to the educational environment.

Last week, school officials softened their position and said Rebecca could return to classes if she agreed to wear the pentacle inside her clothing.

School officials said they never banned the pentacle on religious grounds. They said the symbol was banned in 1997 because it became associated with animal sacrifice and devil worship." - from The First Amendment Center

Well of course that may be true but the same could be said of the Muslim who wears a burkha in a predominantly Christian rural school, the self-declared atheist, or the Christian who passes out Bible readings in a class full of non-Christians. And what's this about the school having a right to deprive pupils from supporting devil worship? Would not the devil worshipper have the same right to speak about his religious beliefs?

Superintendent Bobby Parker Jr. made the right call by reversing the school and allowing this student the right to publicly display a prominent religious symbol for a religious group.

No Religious Decrees Permissible

"The parents have the right to raise their child in that faith, just as I have the right to raise my child in the Christian faith," said Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana. - from the First Amendment Center

The parents should obviously win this case on appeal. Judges have no grounds to instruct parents as to the proper religious teachings to give to their children whether they come from a traditional "mainstream" religion or a pagan religion.

Kudos to Micah Clark. He may believe in Christianity and disapprove of the rearing of cildren in any other faith but Mr. Clark knows that the same parenting rights that give him the authority to raise his child as a Christian applies to the parent who seeks to raise his or her child as a wiccan.

Catholics v Evangelicals on Stem Cells

The Washington Post has an article on embryo adoptions and how Catholic leaders and conservative evangelicals may disagree on whether to endorse these practices. The evangelicals generaly do this in order to "save" the lives of the embryos that would otherwise be destroyed but some Catholic leaders suggest that makes them complicit in "unnatural" fertilization.

So let me get this straight. The Catholic leadership believes life begins at conception and that the embryo's life is as valuable as that of the fetus and born child but it opposes the very means by which that embryo would grow? So what do the Catholic leaders expect those who possess frozen embryos to do? Destroy them? Leave them in that permanent state of no-man's land of being neither living or death? What kind of life do they want for the embryos, a frozen one?

Monday, May 30, 2005

Stem Cell Battle

The latest chapter in stem cell controversy had forced me for better or worse to crack out my old biology textbook from college so that I could learn or re-learn a thing or two about cell biology, embryos, and stem cells. I know this has been an ongoing controversey (though one that is not as old as the one surrounding abortion) and admit to being a latecomer on the topic.

This blogger did not formulate an opinion on the topic when the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns were underway (and I doubt it it was a big issue at the time though that could be wrong) and didn't really pay any attention until now.

On Wednesday I provided several links for my readers - two news articles from the Washington Post on the stem cell bill that recently passed in a non-veto proof House vote and on the alternative favored by the theoconservatives and others associated with the right to life movement (the advocates in both groups overlap but there are some notable crossovers), biolgocial information from an online encyclopeadia, a conservative blog that is featured on the right side of my blog, and an opinion in which the conservative author supports a veto to any new embryonic stem cell funding.

At issue here are restrictions on embryonic stem cell research funding. President George W. Bush said he would support some funding in August of 2001 but expressly limited that approval to the pre-existing stem cell lines taken from frozen embyros that either were going to be or were already discarded. Some within the scientific community believe this research may lead to medical cures, better treatment, or preventive medicine. If for instance, researchers could reliably manipulate stem cells in such a way that they grow into red blood cells, doctors could replenish the blood cell reply killed off during chemotherapy.

"Right to Life" activists oppose research involving embryonic stem cells and instead would divert that funding to adult stem cell lines and umbilical chord stem cell lines. They belief life begins at conception. The embryonic stem cells themselves are not living organisms but the embryos that have to be destroyed in order to obtain them are, so these activists view this as blood research. Ramesh Ponnuru sums up their view best in the article I linked to the other day.

"We know that the embryo is alive, not dead or inanimate. We know that it is not just alive the way that one of our skin cells is alive: It is a distinct organism, not a part of some other organism. It has the capacity, under the right circumstances (circumstances that are in an important sense “normal”), to direct its own development from the embryonic to the fetal to the infant stages of development and beyond. And we know that this organism is human and does not belong to some other species."

Those who support embryonic stem cell research oppose any limit on funding to adult stem cells since they may not live as long, divide into as many embryonic stem cells, or be as easily manipulated into developing the desired cell or tissues.

The "right to life" advocates in part rely upon what is by now generally accepted as a given and and a questionable assumption. They say life begins with conception and if by life we mean that the creation and growth of a new living organism they are right. The zygote has its own DNA structure and if it is given time to develop unimpeded it will grow into a human.

"Pro-life" advocates (and Ramesh Ponnuru) in his article assume that embryos and fetuses right to life are equal to the toddler in value, and that there is no principle in which we can distinguish between the single-celled zybote and a toddler. Mr. Ponnuru accurately states that point of view here:

"We do not generally believe that the right of members of the human species to live—that is, not to be killed—depends on their size, age, location, condition of dependence, or number of limbs. Any claim that the embryo does not have a right to be protected from killing has to involve a denial of the idea that “mere” membership in the human species is enough to confer that right. That right will instead have to be posited to depend on some accidental quality that some human organisms have and others do not. Perhaps that quality is sentience or rich relationships with others or an ability to perform high-order mental functions or something else.
But whatever that something is, making the right to life depend on it creates serious problems. First, it is not just embryos who will be denied protection. Newborns can’t perform high-order mental functions either, which is why philosophers who are consistent about denying the importance of membership in the human species, such as Peter Singer, approve of infanticide. Second, these qualities vary continuously. It is impossible to identify a non-arbitrary point at which an entity would have enough of the quality in question not to be killed. Third, for the same reason, it is impossible to explain why some people do not have more or fewer basic rights than other people depending on how much of this quality they possess. The foundation of human equality is denied in principle when we allow some members of the human species to be treated as mere things."

No, of course not and I would suspect that many who support embryonic research would reject age, size, geographic or dependent-based distinctions between an embryo and a fully developed human being, nor is human equality repudiated when we "allow some members of the human species be treated as mere things."

Mr. Ponnuru should know better. As a conservative he should be well acquainted with the arguments from his side of the ideological divide concerning just and unjust discrimination which can be summarized as follows - you cannot compare apples with oranges to see if either of the two is short-changed. We owe equal treatment to those who are similarly situated but discrimination is permissible in areas in which those who are treated differently are in fact different. A blind man or woman is my equal with respect to voting rights because he or she pays taxes for that representation and the services it provides but he or she is not my equal in driving ability. Laws forbidding the blind person's voting would be unjust but those barring them from driving would not be unjust. Race-based discrimination is wrong as a general rule but we can find a reason to justify discriminatory conduct every now and then. If someone warned airpoirt security of an impending bomb from a Saudi bomber we would expect guards to take a closer look and exercise further safety precautions when dealing with Arab tourists than they would towards Europeans, Asians, or Africans. Affirmative Action supporters use restitution, inherited Jim Crow attitudes, and [revao;omg racial sterotypes to explain why they believe these programs would help level the playing field.

Conservatives use the same argument to refute gay rights activists who compare today's ban on gay marriage to yesterday's ban on interracial marriages. They say our society has every interest in banning gay marriage in order to encourage childbirth but no stake in determining whether that child be white, black, red or yellow. (I support gay marriage but nevertheless acknowledge that the state's interest in prohibitng one is less substantial than its interest in prohibiting the other). And Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy used this principle to overturn a Colorado Amendment that rendered gays politically impotent as a class when the state offered no rational basis for making that change.

Properly used, discrimination is an exercise in moral discretion. Frightened by the moral tyranny theoconservatives would impose upon them and the society at large, many liberals abaonded moral discourse in favor of a value-free anything goes society when instead they should be arguing over the conservatives' exercise in moral judgment.

The stem cell debate offers them one such area for debate. We may compare and contrast a five-to-seven day-old blastocyst destroyed to obtain stem cells from an older embryo, fetus and fully grown human being and then see if the unequal protection of that right to life (State and federal laws ban murder and infanticide but do not prohibit "blastocystide") is permissible if not warranted or justified.

A blastocyst is an embryo with a ball of 40-50 undifferentiated cells and cavity arranged into the inner cells that will later develop into fetal tissue and the outer cells which will form the placenta. The blastocyst is an embryo at its earliest stages - usually 4 to 12 days old. It lacks the nervous system that would allow it to react and respond to their surroundings through taste, touch, sight, or sound (the neural growth process starts two weeks after ovulation), or a respiratory system.

Like the quasi-living "virus" (or some chemical reactions) but unlike an embryo at an older stage of development, fetus, or a human being after childbirth, the blastocyst's growth process can be shut on or off. Remove the embryo from the uterus and growth stops. Re-implant it within a woman's uterus and the growth process will continue as it had before (though I guess the environment which allows it to grow can be re-created in the petri dish).

It could split in two and provide the pregnant woman with twins but the two could reunite into one embryo before its fate is determined through further cell division and differentiation. If the two were to reunite would either one of the twins have died? No. The blastocyst's growth process could be turned on or off as noted above. The behavior more closely resembles that of two chemicals that are combined and react to their new surroundings, are then separated from one another, and then brought back together.

In sum, the blastocyst lacks an identity and sentience. Mr. Ponnuru says it has a "right to life "but what does that right protect? What is the purpose to life? I don't know and no one can say for sure, but there must be something that this "right to life" protects otherwise there'd be no need of insisting on this right to begin with. I guess we can say it protects one's potential life but what does a potential life mean to something that is not a live or, if it is alive (a blastocyst does live in the most basic way), has nothing by which to differentiate its life from non-existence. It has no awareness of its surrounding, no pain, no smiles, no crying. The embryo at this stage of life can't touch, taste, see, or hear anything. It's life is essentially meaningless and its destruction uneventful from its non-existent "perspective."

Mr. Ponnuru would I guess suggest that human life up through the infant stage should have no harm done to them so we cannot treat the blastocyst any differently from the toddler and we'd either have to oppose stem cell research to protect the toddler or we'd have to support Peter Singer and allow for infanticide. In theory, we'd owe both freedom from harm.

But what is harm and what harm could we do to something that lacks any of the senses that could allow it to be aware of its surroundings and be harmed? You can't torture it by giving it something of poor taste, or subject it to loud bodily noises that would harm it. I'm sure I stepped on many amoebas on my way to sit down at this computer and type this out and they were probably killed but were they harmed? You can't suffocate it to death or tear off any limbs. Remove one cell (that is not a stem cell) and it could go on at this stage of its development.

Compare that with a fetus with simple reflex movements at its earliest stages of growth, a discernable heart beat and limited but still existent awareness of its surroundings by the fourth and fifth month of pregnancy. Or compare that blastocyst to the fully-developed human being suffering from cystic fibrosis, Tay Sachs or lung cancer and any number of diseases that stem cell research may one day help defeat. These people have real lives full of anguish, joy, fears, dreams and memories to protect. The curious overwhelmed and amazed toddler, the daydreaming teenager, the aspiring but still carefree college student, the ambitious young worker looking for a shot as corporate executive and the reflective senior citizen - they have something they value that the "right to life" protects. The young fetus may lack those qualities, but the "right to life" principle can be extended to it if only because we owe sentient creatures like the pet dog freedom from unneeded pain and suffering but that doesn't apply to here eiter.

We don't need to know when a human fetus or even an embryo in its later stages of development can suffer in order to make a decision on the blastocyst's "right to life. We know that an embryo in its later stages is just beginning to form the organs (including the neural plate that is the foundation of our nervous system). We don't need to know if it has limited sentient qualities at that time to acknowledge that as a matter of fact, it lacks the very organs needed to have those qualities at the stage of its life such stem cell research wold take place. "Killing" or "destroying" the blastocyst causes no suffering and it certainly doesn't protect anything it could possibly "value" or "cherish."

Let us err on the side of caution and fight for those we know can be alleviated from their known suffering. To forsake them and equate those who do have a stake in life with them something that clearly doesn't would be the real tragedy in justice here.

Saturday, May 28, 2005


Here's the two cartoons for the week.

Schumer on Judicial Nominees

Here he is, from Wednesday's "Hardball" transcripts. Boldfaced my emphasis.

MATTHEWS: On chief justice. And then, when Warren Burger was sent up by Nixon, that was a three-vote opposition, just three votes in opposition. The others were all for the confirmation.
And then, as recently as Rehnquist, the sitting chief justice, when his name was sent up, 33 votes against him. Why is there this exponential growth of opposition over time to names?
SCHUMER: Good question.
Here‘s what‘s happened. It used to be that presidents would send up people who were approved by the Bar Association, really without much regard for ideology. And what happened in the ‘60s—and this, I agree with the conservatives in a certain sense—the judges on the court were very liberal and began to reach and sort of make law, not interpret law. The conservative movement said, oh, that‘s no good. We have to stop it. And they really did begin to stop it.
And what‘s happened is that they—it has become now that judges are nominated for ideology, because, once they stopped it, they went further. And now they want to nominate judges who would do the same thing on the right side that the liberal judges did on the left side.
When the liberal judges did it, it wasn‘t necessarily liberals who were nominated. Earl Warren, no one thought he would be a big liberal judge. He was a Republican governor of California.

Yep. The junior (excuse me) senior senator from New York is right on this one. The conservative judges might choose to rewrite the law in their favor.

Here's more of the interview:

"But what has happened now is that the president, this president, George Bush, has nominated judges through an ideological prism more than any other president has. We can go back to the old way. That‘s what we would like to do. And you would have a court that might have one justice, Brennan, a very liberal judge, one justice, Scalia, a very conservative judge, but not five of each. President Bush is trying to get five Scalias on the court. And that is not going to wash." - Charles Schumer

Bush hopes it will though.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Embryonic Stem Cells: An Introduction

This week, the House of Representatives voted to support funding on embryonic stem cell lines created after August 21 and the president vowed to kill it with his veto (if only he vetoed Congressional spending more often!) should it come up to his desk for a vote.

Nevertheless, the moral debate over stem cell research is an interesting and very difficult one for a lot of us. The conservative "pro-life" advocates offer their own alternative, which allows for the use of umbilical chord stem cells. I will comment on it either tomorrow or before the end of the weekend but would like to provide some links to you before I do so.

Ramesh Ponnuru no suprise, comes out against stem cell research in this article which I linked to from "The Corner." He makes a pretty good argument for those on his side of the debate and it is worth reading since it does make you think.

The Debate over at "The Corner" itself promises to be lively and interesting. John Derbyshire again broke with his conservative colleagues on this and what he has to say is interesting as well. I'd like to see him develop it into an argument.

I know Slate Magazine had an article from the other side of the debate but I'll look for that one later.

And this link offers important scientific background information so we all know what is actually being debated.

Something to Ponder

from The New York Times

Bush and Abbas

Today's meeting between our president and the Palestinian counterpart was important if only for its symbolism. Here we see leaders of two people meeting each other as equals. The Israeli Prime Minister nowhere to be seen and both reiterating their call for an independent and democratic state.

Yes, the two have met without the Israli prime minister before, as did Clinton and Arafat but even so, the invitation and our president's own willingness to treat the Palestinian leader and his people as an equal in this respect is heartwarming.

Mr. Abbas no doubt used this occasion for his campaign. His remarks over the wall that may eventually separate Israel from Palestine and his remarks concerning the "two sides" of democracy clearly were used to bolster his people's faith (if they have any) in his nationalist credentials before Palestinians go to the polls on July 17 of this year.

Our president for his part lent his support, a financial aid package, and an indirect critique of Israeli settlement expansion policies. It would have been nice if he forcefully came out against the settlements surrounding Jerusalem and if he encouraged Mr. Abbas to crack down on the militants a little more but even a photo-op meeting like this can help move the peace process along.

Women Still in the Army

Conservative House members who pushed for new laws forbidding women from combat areas were defeated in their efforts yesterday after "We Go to War with the Army We Have" Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other top military brass officials spoke out against the bill.

Had House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter succeeded to push it through in its original form, the Defense Department could not move women closer to areas of combat without receiving such authorization from the Congress. The narrower version merely requires our Secretary of Defense to waste his time that he could use figuring out what went wrong in Iraqor what military options we could use against the North Koreans and Iranians to issue a report on how he would enforce the 1994 rules of conduct regarding women and combat.

But the military officers were concerned that the House would have sent the wrong message to those men and women serving overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan by severely curtailing the role of women overseas.

We should be relieved. As I have noted in one of the posts written last week, the military could not afford to cut off well qualified help when we have troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Kosovar province, Bosnia, Germany, South Korea, and Liberia to name a few. Add to that the fact our president's administration is using the National Guard in Iraq and we need to increase surveillance along our borders to the north and south. Congress should not be micromanaging our military strategy and deployment at a time when our military obligations are at their highest.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Bloch on Antigay Discrimination:

If anti-gay activists needed any encouragement in promoting a hostile working environment for their gay co-workers, they got it when Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch went before a senate subcommittee and said he had no authorization to protect gay workers who are fired because their gay sexuality was discovered.

Mr. Bloch said Congress alone could authorize that protection but when he was given the opportunity to recommend such an act from their part he declined to answer in the affirmative or the negative. Suffice it to say, Mr. Bloch doesn't care if a person who devoted 10-20 years of quality service was fired for engaging in sexual activities that have absolutely nothing to do with their job performance.

When he was president, Bill Clinton issued an executive order prohibiting anti-gay based discrimination in federal agencies and as The Washington Post article notes, this was reaffirmed by the current administration last year. Senator Carl Levin apparently reminded Mr. Bloch of this executive order and questioned why he as special counsel would not feel "bound" to those rules and he responded by suggesting that he personally was bound but could not enforce the policy with respect to others.

Talk about switching the definition of "bound" (which for Levin had a legal connotation across the board) to one in which Mr. Bloch and those within the White House alone are bound to follow!

Mr. Bloch got in trouble for this before and the White House subsequently was forced to issue the above-referenced statement to satisfy critics in Congress. He wanted to rescind Mr. Clinton's executive order protecting gays from unwarranted discrimination and threatened to fire gay employees who would not accept cross-country transfers within a 10 days so his latest statements, though unfortunate, should not at all surprise us.

OSC Spokeswoman Cathy Deeds said the office does investigate discrimination complaints against gays and said the office uses other standards to remedy these situations but the damage was already done. Mr. Bloch wanted to send a message to the anti-gay activists within the office - you could fire them. Too bad.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Filibuster Compromise an Important Reprieve; Reid and Frist should Resign

The fourteen senators that signed onto yesterday's judicial nomination memorandum won those won us a much needed reprieve. President Bush won up or down votes on three of his most conservative nominees and a promise that the filibuster would only be used in "extraordinary circumstances." Democrats bought themselves time to win over the trust of maverick and centrist-minded Republicans needed in a future vote against filibuster rule changes.

Our president in all likelihood will nominate conservatives like Priscilla Owens and Janice Rogers Brown to fill vacancies on the circuit courts and to replace Chief Justice William Rehnquist should he resign at the end of this term in June as expected. The Republicans at that time will say they will be replacing a conservative with another conservative, thereby preserving the status quo but should the Democrats filibuster that nominee, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will again call for a repeal of the filibuster.

I believe this struggle for power over the president's nominees hurt the senate and the judicial branch and the senate leaders from both parties share in the blame. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Minority Leader Harry Reid risked the senate's reputation and the Supreme Court's legitimacy and forfeited cooperation, civility and compromise for the support of the passionate few party activists who go out to vote. For that we should ask for their resignations as party leaders.

Mr. Reid and his Democratic colleagues filibustered nominees who could not overturn judicial precedent too often. He abandoned comraderie, discretion, trust,a nd cooperation for obstructionism nor did he propose a suitable alternative during the nomination process. The senate minority leader offered neither offered a set of moderate candidates nor seek an agreement whereby his party and the president's would balance courts that lean too far in either ideological direction. Had he and his supporters conceded and allowed for votes on Estrada and some of the conservative's other nominees, Mr. Reid might have succeeded in defeating the nominations for Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owens, undercutting the very rationale that his party is now committed to vote to the floor conservatives of the same cloth.

For his part, Mr. Frist pushed for a rule change that would seriously have eroded any chance for bipartisanship in the senate, fostered a climate of resentment, and undermined any faith in very branch that guarantees commonly understood civil liberties and rights in the constitution and the guidelines on governmental procedures. Had Mr. Frist succeeded and pushing through the new rules, our president would have packed not only the lower appeals courts but eventually even the Supreme Court, with nominees that would be willing to overturn long-established and accepted judicial precedents.

We could have seen (and still might for that matter) a narrower interpretation of First Amendment rights that benefits conservative ideologues at the expense of liberals, an overturning in privacy rights in general let alone abortion, and a permissive governmental right to push the majority's religious preferences on those who do not conform. But constitutional rules should not be overturned and then restored at a whim. Our confidence in the courts depends upon their willingness to uphold its judicial precedents and overturn them sparingly.

Mr. Frist in this sense invited constitutional warfare when he backed a procedural change that would have lowered the consensual threshold our president needed to push his nominees -nominees who would be more inclined to overrule precedents in favor his religious own religious values - and he did so at the expense of rights now respected by most within the legal community and taken for granted by the people at large.

The fourteen Republicans and Democrats now stand in the leaders' way. They should enlist the support of those moderates and mavericks who did not sign onto their agreement and encourage our president to consult with members of both parties on future Supreme Court nominees as is called for in their memorandum. The Democrats of their number should vote for cloture on future appeals court nominees and on replacements for the most conservative Supreme Court justices but their Republican counterparts should agree to vote against filibuster rule changes should the Democrats block a vote on a conservative who is nominated to replace a moderate like Sandra Day O'Connor or liberal justice.

Frist and Reid are ill-suited for the positions they now hold. Instead of fostering comraderie and trust they invited constitutional brinkmanship and warfare. This blogger hopes that their constituents will remember this and support anyone opposing them in the primaries. In the meantime, their colleagues would be advised to find suitable alternatives for the party leadership positions they now hold.

Why President Bush Still Won on the Filibuster

The Senate narrowly avoided a showdown yesterday when seven Democrats and seven Republicans signed a memorandum committing them to push for an up or down vote on three of the president's most conservative nominees, allow for the filibuster of two of the lesser well-known nominees, and preserve in name the right to the filibuster.

President George W. Bush and the Republican senate won more than they lost in this deal. The seven Democrats are committed to vote for cloture on the three most conservative and controversial of the president's judicial nominees - California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown for the D.C. Circuit, Recess Appointee and former Alabama Attorney General William Pryor for the 11th Circuit, and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen for the 5th Circuit.

Abortion activists have rallied against Justice Priscilla Owen because she strongly dissented in an abortion case. Priscilla Owen said a minor failed to obtain the necessary proof to obtain an abortion without her parents' consent. William Pryor helped right the brief supporting a Texas sodomy law that the Supreme Court of the United States overturned as unconstitutional.

Some Republicans and conservatives associated with the National Review believe the Democrats can not use the "extraordinary circumstances" phrase to filibuster a judicial nominee with theoconservative values or an originalist constitutional interpretation now that they have agreed to allow for a vote on the Pryor, Owen and Brown.

That is not entirely accurate, for Democrats could distinguish beween a vote for a conservative who cannot overturn judicial precedents from one on a like-minded conservative who potentially can reverse Court rulings on abortion, gay rights, affirmative action, and other hot-button issues. Democrats who signed onto this agreement may consider not only the ideological leanings of the president's nominees but also their ability to impose their beliefs on those who disagree with them by overruling judicial precedent.

They nevertheless will lose that argument because their technical and abstract argument cannot override their concession to allow votes on nominees they themselves labled "extremists" and Republicans will no doubt remind the public of that concession.

In turn, the seven Republicans agreed to vote against the "nuclear option" for now and allow for the use of the filibuster against two of the president's judicial nominees - William Myers of the 9th Circuit and Henry Saad for the 6th Circuit. The Republicans conceded little here, for their promise to uphold the right to the filibuster is made "in light of the spirit and continuing commitments made in this agreement" and in no way commits them to vote against a rule change if the Democrats filibuster nominees for reasons the y (the Republicans) do not believe to be "extraordinary." Mr. Myer's appointment to the 9th Circuit would not have altered the balance of power in the most liberal-leaning appeals court in the nation and Saad may not have won the up and down vote President Bush called for anyway.

The Democrats won at most a reprieve on a vote they most likely would have lost if this agreement was not made. Two Republicans (Lindsey Graham and Mike DeWine) who signed onto this agreement said they would have supported the nuclear option and have not ruled out a future vote if the Democrats "renege" and vote against cloture on future judicial nominations, leaving only five of their number who may potentially vote against the "nuclear option" in the future. Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and John Warner remain unofficially uncommitted either way, leaving only Lincoln Chafee and John McCain as sure-bets against a change in the rules.

Arlen Specter and Chuck Hagel did not sign onto this agreement and both said all of Bush's nominees dserved up or down votes even though they were reluctant to support the rule change pushed forward by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Specter fought back a conservative challenge to deny him the Judicial Committee's chairmanship but did so with the help of conservative stalwarts like Bill Frist, Rick Santorum, and President Bush. In one of his more hysterical comments yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid threatened to deny the chairman's asbestos bill passage should Frist win his rule change vote. Mr. Reid probably would not have threatened moderate Arlen Specter if he believed the Republican would vote his way.

The Democrats who voted for this compromise needed to avert a showdown. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Lousiana, Ken Salazar of Colorado and Ben Nelson of Nebraska come from states that overwhelmingly re-elected President Bush. No Democrat seeking re-election in these states could ignore the religious right and its staunch opposition to progressive social change.

We stepped back from the abyss for now, but our future depends upon the Democrats' ability to either win over some who otherwise would have voted with Frist, or concede to Bush an up or down vote on all of his future nominees in all but name.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Dumb Laws in the News

"Until recently, Chicago's municipal code had authorized police officers to dump confiscated weapons in Lake Michigan at least five miles from the shoreline. It had also prohibited carrying a dead body on public transportation unless the body was that of a child younger than 8. Those and 33 other laws considered obsolete, unconstitutional or redundant were repealed last year."

I could just imagine someone bringing a corpse with him or her onto a publicly-funded bus.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Mr. Dean on Social Security - Do Nothing

Don't count on the Democrats to offer a plan of their own. Mr. Dean would only refer to one option in passing reference and only when asked by Tim Russert. If he and congressional Democrats are afraid of pushing for their social security reform package and content with scuttling the plan favored by our president (as Republicans did to Hillary Clinton's Health Care Plan) than any hope for reform is slim.

MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned Social Security. You were up in Ithaca at Cornell. "Dean pointed out that while he would not endorse this, if Social Security were left alone for" 10 "years, its benefits would be reduced to 80 percent of what it is now."
DR. DEAN: It's probably a slight mistake that the reporter made. It's actually about 35 years, but that's right. If we did nothing...
MR. RUSSERT: In 2042, the benefits would be about 73 percent of the schedule.
DR. DEAN: That's right.
MR. RUSSERT: So that being said, that Social Security recipients will in effect have a reduction in benefits if we do nothing...
DR. DEAN: That's right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...what are the Democrats going to do to prevent that?
DR. DEAN: Well, the first thing we're going to do is try to get the president to be serious about the issue. The president's pursuing these private accounts. I said earlier, and I'm really not kidding, this is turning Social Security over to the same folks that gave us Enron. We see now what happens to private accounts. The recent bankruptcy court judges is now undoing the pension funds of the people who work for United Airlines. That means likely that all the other airlines are next, because if you take a $9 billion item off the balance sheet of United Airlines, all the other airlines are going to want to do the same thing.
So we see this attack on both private and public pensions. I don't think we ought to attack the Social Security system. It is the last line of defense that Americans have when they lose their pensions. So the Democrats--we will be happy to sit down with the president, but the president has got to stop doing what he always does, which is approaching issues from an ideological point of view. There's only one reason to put private accounts in Social Security.
The president has admitted they do nothing to help the problem in 2042. And that is they have an agenda to privatize Social Security. It helps their campaign contributors and the businesses that support the president, and it also removes the risk from the government and puts it on the individual recipients. And it doesn't, contrary to what the president said, earn any more money once you get through the fees and so forth. When the president is willing to really sit down with us, we'll sit down with him, and we'll work with him to come up with a plan to tweak Social Security so that we can fix the problems that are going to happen to it in 35 or 40 years.
MR. RUSSERT: When you say tweak, you'd be willing to consider raising the eligibility age, reduction in cost of living, means testing?
DR. DEAN: Well, I don't think you...
MR. RUSSERT: There's tough choices here.
DR. DEAN: There are tough choices here, and when the president indicates that he's serious about making tough choices, we'd like to help make those tough choices. There are also some other things that people have, including Democrats, have put forward that the president has rejected out of hand. The president...
MR. RUSSERT: Such as?
DR. DEAN: Such as raising the cap. Right now the Social Security tax is only on the first, I think, about $85,000 worth of wages. I saw an economic analysis the other day that said if you remove that cap entirely that Social Security will be solvent.
MR. RUSSERT: But that's raising taxes.
DR. DEAN: Well, the president has said that he only--that's why we don't come up with a plan, because whatever plan we come up with, the president is just going to say, "Oh, we're not going to do that, we're not going to do this." All right, Mr. President, let's sit down and get serious. Take privatization of Social Security off the table, and I can guarantee you that Senator Reid and Representative Pelosi will sit down with the president. They have told me so privately. They would be delighted to sit down with the president and try to work this out.

Get real, Mr. Dean. Why let the president alone appear like he is governing this country? Is he the only one who would like to know what the Democratic plan (if there is one) includes? What about the public? Do we count for anything? Stop the hiding and suggesting that Mr. Bush alone is an obstructionist to reform and come up with your own alternative plan.

Dean and the Filibuster

From the Same Transcripts:

DR. DEAN: I think the change will be dreadful for American democracy, and I think it's going to be, frankly, very bad for the Republican Party. One of the great geniuses of American democracy, unlike most of the democracies in the world that minority rights are protected, 48 percent of us didn't vote for President Bush, but we still have some say in shaping the agenda of the country. If the filibuster is gotten rid of, the extended debate is gotten rid of in the Senate, first of all, it means the president can put 10 judges on the bench that we believe are not qualified to serve. We've confirmed 205 of his judges. He wants those last 10, so they're willing to change the rules to do it.

But it has much worse implications. The president has a Social Security plan, which is kind of out there. He basically wants to turn over Social Security to the same kind of people who gave us Enron. Privatization is something the America people don't support by a very large margin. Without extended debate, he can march marshal his party and just ram it right through. They already ram things through the House. We need more than one party in charge. And the vote on Tuesday is going to be critical to decide whether American democracy still allows those of us who didn't vote for the president to have any say in running the country whatsoever.

MR. RUSSERT: The Republicans say the filibuster rules being changed would apply to judicial nominations not to legislation like Social Security.

DR. DEAN: That's what they say now. What possible indication is there they won't change their mind later. We could not have predicted when the Republicans were killing 25 of President Clinton's judges when President Clinton was in office, we couldn't have predicted that they were going to resort to this when they got into office. The problem with this, frankly, for the Republicans, is, first of all, Congress is at its lowest popularity rating since--actually since 1993 when we were in power. And secondly, this is an advertisement to the American people, who suspect it--suspect something may go wrong when only one party is in charge. And one party is pretty well in charge in Washington. This is the last opportunity the Democrats have to say anything about public policy. It is a very big mistake, I think, for America. But it's a huge mistake for the Republican Party to do this.

On the substance, Mr. Dean is more right than wrong. The country is divided almsot 50-50 although I suspect they are more unified (and slightly right of center) on cultural mores. Most support or at least concede to women, the right to have an abortion but with some restrictions on partial-birth abortions, parental consent laws, and 24-hour waiting periods. Few would have the police barge into somebody's home and lock haul to jail two men or two women engaging in sex but most would hold deny them marriage as we have seen in the 11 states that recently passed constitutional amendments for that reason. The public tolerates pornography so long as it does not involve children. Prayer is out but Ten Commandment displays are still in.

By far and large, Courts that want its public to accept it would do well to acknowledge this and make rulings that do not overturn now-recognized understandings concerning the legitimate exercise of state power. The religious right would move the Courts far to the right of where the public is and the secularlist left far to the left of where it is now, so in that sense the Republicans (like the Democrats) are defying the public in general, and not just half of the country its understnading of what is and is not appropriate state power.

With this in mind, it seems best that we do not alter the balance of power in the courts and overturn now-acknowledged and accepted judicial precedents sparingly.

Still, if I were Mr. Russert, Howard Dean would not have been left off the hook. The DNC chairman said the minority should be allowed to filibuster unqualified judicial nominees without being pressed on the criteria that qualifies a nominee for the court.

Abortion Now "Health Care?"

Okay. I'm reading the transcripts for Mr. Howard Dean's appearance on today's "Meet The Press" and found this new way of presenting the pro-abortion choice viewpoint misleading. The bold-faced print is added by me for emphasis.

"Let me tell you why I think we ought to--why I want to strike the words "abortion" and "choice." When I campaigned for this job, I talked to lots of Democrats. And there are significant numbers of pro-life Democrats in the South. And one lady said to me, you know, "I'm pro-life. I don't like abortion. I would never have one. I would hope my daughter would never have one. But, you know, if the lady next door got herself in a fix, I'm not sure I should be the one to tell her what to do." Now, we call that woman pro-choice, but she thinks of herself as pro-life. The minute we start with the "pro-choice, pro- choice, pro-choice," she says, "Well, that's not me."
But when you talk about framing this debate the way it ought to be framed, which is "Do you want Tom DeLay and the boys to make up your mind about this, or does a woman have a right to make up her own mind about what kind of health care she gets," then that pro-life woman says "Well, now, you know, I've had people try to make up my mind for me and I don't think that's right." This is an issue about who gets to make up their minds: the politicians or the individual. Democrats are for the individual. We believe in individual rights. We believe in personal freedom and personal responsibility. And that debate is one that we didn't win, because we kept being forced into the idea of defending the idea of abortion."

I'll put aside for the moment the unwarranted association between the merit (or lackthereof) of the "pro-life" position with the new Republican bogeyman on Capitol Hill as well as the DNC chairman's own admission that this is merely a new way of "framing this debat" as opposed to making any substantial argument in support of his favored position.

Mr. Dean may get more supporters if in fact abortion is described as a the right of a woman to make her "health care" decision but he does so by forfeiting accuracy for a vague reference to a procedure used for woman's health care in only a limited number of cases.

If by "healthcare" we mean that quality of care necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle free of life-threatening diseases (lung cancer, cardiac arrest, etc) or those operations used to save life, than abortion certainly would not qualify. Nor would it qualify if we extended the definition to include those prescription drugs to lower blood pressure, or the Tylenols, Aspirins and Excedrins used to avoid mild pain and discomfort associated with headaches and ear infections.

Does an abortion help remove a blood clot? Lower the chances of colon cancer, lung cancer or heart attack? Generally an abortion is performed on another organism (I'll leave out any argument concerning that organism's special nature for now) that is living within the woman's body in order to end that organism's life with minimal impact or effect on the her own body's organs and immune system. Abortions performed to preserve a woman's life or otherweise avoid a severe physical health problems are the exceptions and the denial of a woman's right to an abortion in these instances would deny her the "kind of healthcare she chooses" but even the most restrictive of abortion regulations the religious right would impose on them would exempt them in those instances.

In general though, a woman mayopt for this procedure for a variety of reasons unrelated to her own physical health. She may be ill-prepared for motherhood, or cannot afford to raise the child. The mother may want to spare a genetically-deformed child from needless suffering if such a genetic diagnosis is made, refuse to carry the offspring of the man who raped her, or fear any shame or codemnation associated with bearing a child out of wedlock.

This blogger, like most who read this blog, drive to work, to family gatherings, and to a friend's house, as well as to the emergency room or the doctor's office. Would we consider driving a "health care " related expense in general just because it may in some instances be used for that purpose? I do not think so.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Sunday Preview

1. "Late Edition:" Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks to Wolf Blitzer about the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the violence that followed Newsweek's incorrect story regarding the Koran that was supposedly flushed down a toilet. Richard Perle, former Democratic nominee and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark, Iraqi Minister of Planning and Development Barham Salih, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Dr. Mohammed Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah and senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) are on as well.

2. "Meet The Press:" Former Vermont Governor (and Democratic presidential nominee) Howard Dean in his first interview since he was appointed Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

3. "Fox News Sunday:" Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) on the showdown over the filibuster and the negotiations being conducted in order to avoid it. Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and former NFL player Boomer Esiason, whose son lives with a genetic disease talk about stem cell research and the states that are getting involved in the debate. Paul Gigot, Mara Liasson, Juan Williams and William Kristol in the roundtable discussion.

4. "Face The Nation:" Nothing to report as of yet.

5. "This Week:" Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut) and George Allen (R-Virginia) on the filibuster showdown. Dana Reeve, widow of Christopher Reeve, and Anne Graham Lotz (Billy Graham's daugter) on Congressional efforts to rollback restrictions on stem cell research.

6. "The Chris Matthews Show:" Whether Bill Clinton could ruin his wife's quest for the White House (if she has one) and bad news from the Middle East. Roundtable includes Katty Kay, Joe Klein, Andrea Mitchell and Tom Friedman.

7. "60 Minutes Sunday:" Ed Bradley talks about the money spent on teaching students to abstain from sex outside of marriage. Steve Kroft speaks to a former con-artist and current evangelcial minister's efforts to make amends by investigating fraud. Mike Wallace speaks to a CEO accused of committing securities fraud while at HealthSouth Corporation.

Twin Towers, Skyscrapers, and Fear

Here's an exerpt (scroll down to almost the bottom until you see "FanofHeretic" for the whole comment) from the most recent comment about The Twin Tower reconstruction proposal made by Donald Trump.

"He admitted that leasing remakes of the twin towers would be "difficult to lease". That is a GROSS understatement - no matter the consessions given to prospective lessees. Even when the towers were originally built, they could not lease them, and now - like then, they will have to "give" away space to public/state agencies.But that is only PART ONE of the problem. Since we all were onlookers - via video - of that horrific event, who among us would consider working in replicas of those buildings after seeing what can happen if trapped in a skyscraper during an emergency?In most everyone working man/woman's mind is the conviction that the re-built towers will forever present a challenge to all who hate us. Accordingly, what businesses will rent those spaces knowing it will be nearly impossible to find worthwhile employees willing to work there ?"

I don't know any of the specifics regarding the leasing problem so that will be left for those who can speak of it and those who wish to finance this project should it be approved but this blogger does wish to say a few things about the perception of fear in the back of all of our minds - that we can ourselves be trapped in a building that might be attacked or otherwise collapse because of an earthquake.

Yes, many at this time might fear that and some may be deterred from walking into a skycraper again but the people who work and live in the city have moved on. The skyscrapers (aside from the Twin Towers) and the people who work in them are still there. Over time I believe the fear will subside, particularly since there have been no major successful terrorist incidents to speak of since 9-11 (other than some mail poison of some sort but the fear coming from that has subsided as well). and those who are not going about their normal lives will eventually do so.

War Crime Investigation in Afghanistan Continued

Here's another passage from today's story.

"Case agents make recommendations all the time," Mr. Grey said. "But the review process looks at investigations constantly and points to other things that need to be completed or other investigative approaches."

Let's take a look at a summary of events based upon the information provided in the above-referenced story. All information comes from the news story provided.

December 2002: Two prisoners were repeatedly hit in the legs and beaten to death.

Two Days later: Coroners’ diagnosis - “blunt” trauma to legs caused death
“Soon after”: Bagram personnel say prisoners were hit in thighs while shackled.

Guards admit to either partaking in or witnessing these two incidents but suggest they did so in self-defense. They wanted to subdue the two prisoners even though both were shackled hand and feet and one of the two weighed only 122 lbs.

Army Investigators on field do not question Captain Carolyn A. Wood (who was then transferred to Abu Ghraib), the officer in charge of the interrogators who killed the two prisoners nor do they question Captain Beiring, the commander of the military police company. Investigators neglect to question an interrogator present during most of Mr. Dillawar’s "interviews" to either verify or refute the MP's account of what transpired.

Computer records and written logs that recorded treatment for prisoners at the camp disappeared and blood for one of the victims was stored in a butter dish and put in a refrigerator.

Three weeks after incidents: Army investigation comes to a halt.

March 4, 2003: Investigation at a "standstill." One of the deaths is ruled a homicide (report claims newspaper coverage of this).

April 15, 2003: Senior officials at the Criminal investigation Commmand refuses the field agents' proposal to close the case on the two homicides.

August 2003: Army Investigators take case away from the those operating in Afghanistan and send it to one operating out of Virginia.

October 2004: Probable cause to charge 27 officers for charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to lying to investigators is found.

Seven are charged.

"I could never see any criminal intent on the part of the M.P.'s to cause the detainee to die," one of the lawyers, Maj. Jeff A. Bovarnick, later told investigators, referring to one of the deaths. "We believed the M.P.'s story, that this was the most combative detainee ever."

Hmmm. Incomplete eyewitness testimony, no accounting from military officers as to standard practices, no understanding from their part of what is acceptable, lost documents on prisoner treatment and one of the victims' blood found on a butter tray in a refrigerator (that's an image the Middle Eastern people will think of) .

Mr. Grey says field agents make recommendations on cases all of the time and that the review process helps the local agents think of some other approaches to help in the investigation. Maybe the field agents just didn't want it at Bagram.

It Was As If They Were Run Over By a Bus

Read this excerpt from this developing story.

"The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.
Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

and this excerpt from today's story:

"Military lawyers noted that the autopsies of the two dead detainees had found severe trauma to both prisoners' legs - injuries that a coroner later compared to the effect of being run over by a bus."

Just imagine if our president's administration won the right to continue in this fashion and do whatever it wants to those it considers war combatants without offering them the right to legal counsel and the right to contest their status. If Mr. Dilawar was provided a good lawyer and given the chance to prove his innocence, his interrogators would not have had an opportunity to beat him to death or if Mr. Dilawar was provided the opportunity to say the punishment was "cruel and unusual."

And our administration wanted to deprive an American citizen like Hamdi of the right to a hearing? Was this what the writers of the Constitution had in mind when they bound the newly-established government to specific procedures regarding detainment and trial?

So here we are "exporting" democracy to a part of the world that has only lived through the gun and the sword. If binding a prisoner, crippling him, and then letting him die on his "uncontrollably bouncing legs" is exhibit A for acceptable democratic practices, then I wouldn't know how this "experiment" will differ from what they already had.

The Bad Reporter Returns

I was disappointed when there were no "Bad Reporter" cartoons last week so it was a relief to see them in this week.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Why The Republicans and Perhaps Even The Religious Right, Already Won on the Filibuster

The more I think about it, the more I come away thinking that the religious right won - even if they lose and their filibuster coup d'etat is thwarted by the six or seven renegade Republicans trying to make a deal with the Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist opted to postpone the debate over John Bolton's nomination to the United Nations for a vote on their favored judicial nominees and the filibusters that have so far denied them judicial power. As I write, Senator John Cornyn of Texas is moving for cloture on Priscilla Owen's nomination to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. If the Republicans fail to get the 60 votes needed to cut the debate, as expected on Tuesday, the Republicans will seek a ruling from the parliamentarian that will allow for a vote.

The six Democrats and six Republicans now trying to preserve the filibuster while allowing for an up or down vote on these nominations may reach an agreement that preserves the Democrats' only stalling tactic or they may not but even if they succeed and the filibuster is preserved, their use for it will be confined. The six Democrats involved in the negotiations know that their Republican colleagues could eventually side with their party leaders if the Democrats renege on their agreement to limit its use for "extraordinary purposes."

The parties involved have not yet revealed if they agree on that vague phrase's meaning. The Republicans might define it narrowly to include gaps in knowledge relating to unethical conduct and the Democrats might define it more broadly to include any right-wing nominee for the Supreme Court. Should the two sides fail to reach an agreement, the Republicans might declare their intention to vote with Frist but the Democrats, feeling pressure to save what little they have left, might cave in and let the Republicans have their way, preserving the filibuster in name only. The Democrats may have now conceded an up or down vote on the eventual nominee replacing Chief Justice William Rehnquist (and Antonin Scalia's associate justice seat should he replace Rehnquist) but are negotiating for the right to filibuster a replacement for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor should she also retire.

I favor that distinction and hope the negotiating Republicans would allow for that. Should Rehnquist retire, the balance of power on the Supreme Court will not change too drastically but if O'Connor were to go and President Bush pushed a socially conservative replacement we could see major overhaul in constitutional interpretation.

My bet is that some if not all of the Republicans involved in those negotiations will not support a deal that allows for the use of the filibuster on any nominee and that is why the negotiators are at a standstill. The Republican negotiators know they have the upper hand and that as members of the majority party in all three branches, the Democrats have no other stalling tactic available to them. Should the Republicans lose the White House, but maintain control in the senate, they could still do to the Democratic successor what they did to Bill Clinton and forestall hearings on the nominees, an option Democrats can't exercise without committing political suicide (Republicans will have their quoroum and could do it; Democrats could only do it by denying quorum and making it look like they are shutting the committee, and the government down). If the Democrats won the Senate but the Republicans kept the White House, the conservatives would still have the advantage because the Democrats would only have the power to reject and not pick nominees. And should the Republicans lose both, the senate and the White House they would have maintained at least in principle, the very stalling tactic Democrats are fighting to preserve in name only.

Saddam Hussein News

Boxers or briefs? or are they Hanes?

Feedback on World Trade Center: Responses

Just thought I'd showcase two or three of the comments written in response to my comments on the World Trade Center.

Comment 1: Supporting new Twin Towers

"Maybe the best idea is to replace what was lost on 9/11/2001. Ask any person who suffered a loss that day if they wish things could go back to what how they were before the first plane hit, and I assure you they would say "Yes". I saw the Towers before they fell. I saw the hole that remained long after the broken pieces were removed. I would like to see, again, the Towers stand. It would be comforting to me to be able to walk in the shadows of what was lost, and found again."

Comment 2: Opposing new Twin Towers

"If your house burned down with your family inside it, would you want to live in a replica of that house? Would you want to live near such a replica? Is the only way to prevent the terrorists from "winning" to pretend it didn't happen in some way? We will always remember what happened, should we build our cities to deny our memories? Terrorism is the coercive utilization of fear. The terrorist act fails only when the responses to it are not driven by fear. Rebuilding the twin towers, as Trump now suggests (he's hardly the first) is solely an attempt to negate the act which destroyed those skyscrapers on 9-11. The real significance of those attacks had nothing to do with the specific architecture of the buildings, rather with the effect of spreading fear. Rebuilding the towers would not negate the thousands of deaths, nor would it magically heal our collective psyche. It is all too clear that the designs put forth thus far haven't hit a collective chord; one may question if any single proposal could. This does not mean that something which differs from what was there before the attcks is not the way to go. I seriously doubt any anti-American terrorist cares a whit about what gets built, why would they? They're only interested in spreading fear. Would rebuilding the towers be a show of a lack of fear, or would it be a frightened panic response; we can't think of anything, let's just pretend it didn't happen? Denial is no way to purge fear."

Comment 3: Opposing

"There is no re-set button. Putting up "twins" of the Twin Towers won't heal anything.Who wants to see the skyline without the Towers? No-one wanted to see the Towers fall except the hijackers. We've been looking at a Tower-less skyline for years, now. The skyline has changed. We have changed. We changed the moment the first plane hit. NYC has a grand history of rebuilding, reshaping, and renewing itself. Putting up a different sort of building is absolutely in keeping with the history of New York City.As for the Freedom Tower (I admit, it's a stupid name) being ugly... lots of people thought the Twin Towers were ugly when they were erected. (Check out Ken Burns' New York.)We should not forget the 3,000 people who died. Putting up replicas of the Towers would indeed remind us... in the worst possible way. What a vicious slap in the face to the families of the victims. What a awful thing for the survivors of that day to have to confront.Americans have a long tradition of making areas of great tragedy and suffering into memorials. Why? Because of the impact they had on our society, our culture.Consider the Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor, or memorials at West Point, the Wall in Washington D.C., the WW2 Memorial, the famous sculpture of the flag raising at Iwo Jima. We build monuments to our heroes and memorials for those lost. We do it on a small scale for individuals, a grand scale for such a great loss. So far as I'm concerned, Trump is simply grandstanding, disguising it as an assertion for safety with his "more structurally sound design" argument. I honestly don't know what his motive is, but it's not 'to send a message to the terrorists.' Especially considering that he won't put his money where his mouth is."

Comment 4: Supporting

"Regardless of whether Trump is the right spokesman, I fully support the rebuilding of the Twin Towers. They were an indelible symbol of America's optimism and power, as well as a national symbol. I can't think of a better way to demonstrate our long-term confidence and faith by rebuilding what madmen tried to take away from us."

World Trade Center Feedback

I could not imagine the response I got from my post on the World Trade Center plan revealed in Donald Trump's press conference earlier this week. Mr. Trump proposed to replace the Twin Towers which collapsed from the terrorist attacks with a grander, larger version and I made a few comments supporting that proposal because the terrorists should know that their victory was at best a temporary one and that we could rebuild anything they destroy.

None of this would prohibit us from buiding a memorial for those who lost their lives on that horrible day. If my recollection serves me correctly, a third, smaller building associated with the World Trade Center collapsed as well. We could build a memorial where that building once stood and still have the new, much-improved Twin Towers proposed by Donald Trump. The memorial would remind us of those who perished on that fateful day, and the Twin Towers of the need to stand tall and defy those who brought us that horror.

White House Plans

While the negotiations officially continue and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist pushes to abolish the judicial filibuster, the White House plans for its coup.

From the Opposing Side

"The Democrats have unilaterally shattered one of the longest-running traditions in parliamentary history worldwide. They are not to be rewarded with a deal. They must either stop or be stopped by a simple change of Senate procedure that would do nothing more than take a 200-year-old unwritten rule and make it written.
What the Democrats have done is radical. What Frist is proposing is a restoration." -
Charles Krauthammer

What of Clinton's nominees who stalled in the Judiciary without there being a vote?
If the president has a right to an up or down vote on every nomineee (and I don't) then there is no meaningful way to distinguish between what the Republican majority did to Clinton's nominations and what the Democrats are doing now.

The Republicans had a right to stall Clinton's nominations and insist upon some more cooperation from the White House because the constitution requires the senators to advise as well as consent to nominations but its no different for the Democrats today.

"That is a thought for Republicans to Ponder"

"Once we [Republicans] try to change the rules with 51 votes, the precedent is on the table," he said. "If Hillary Clinton becomes president with a Democratic Senate and wants to appoint Lani Guinier to the Supreme Court, Harry Reid could make that happen with 51 votes." - Senator Robert Bennet (R - Utah) as quoted in David Broder's op-ed.

The Quote in the title comes from David Broder.

"Lights! Camera! Action!"

"The interest groups are cracking the whip on this," said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University.
In that charged environment, the negotiators labored on yesterday, with the countdown clock continuing to tick in the background."
- From today's Washington Post.

If they were looking for political drama, few things would rival this. The senate stands at the edge of the abyss and few outside of those now deciding on the filibuster's fate know how the negotiators will vote. Mr. First will hold a vote on Priscilla Owen's (and perhaps a vote on the filibuster) nomination on Tuesday and the moderates won't get together until the afternoon before.

Had they in fact reached an agreement and are now only delaying their announcement in order to milk up some more favorable press treatment over the weekend or are they stil haggling over the judges' nominations to scrap and the ones to send to the floor? Have the Republicans told the Democrats how they would vote or have they jealously kept that secret from even themselves? Will the moderate and maverick Republicans Democrats hope to win over to their side agree to vote against the filibuster even if there is no agreement and this is their way of appearing statesmanlike and protecting the senate from all-out partisan warfare or are there enough of their number to give Mr. Frist the votes he needs to succeed?

I don't know but just imagine it. Senator Frist announces a call for a change in the procedure, the negotiators ask for a brief recess and announce that they have reached an agreement.

Anyone want to guess what happens?

Harry's Choice for Personnel

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is pushing to change the filibuster rules with respect (at least for now) to judicial nominations and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid brought in the former communications director for Senator John Kerry's botched presidential campaign? Mrs. Stephanie Cutter says she and the rest of the team are "treating this like a real campaign."

Yeah, and that's what I'm afraid of.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Don't Know What to Make of This

Turner said the curriculum should "let the kids know that while some individuals choose to live this lifestyle, that is their choice. They have that freedom as a citizen in this country. However, if they feel uncomfortable with the same-sex attraction . . . they don't have to accept it as a given."
She added, "I will admit there could be a possibility" that in rare instances, people are born homosexual -- such as her cousin Steve.
"He's gay, and he's a great guy," she said. "He's a hairdresser. He's very artistic, very good at what he does, men's and women's hair. Fabulous decorator. And I remember playing together when we were young. . . . My brother was always into trucks and guns, knives and swords. . . . Steve was much quieter. He was much happier hanging out with the girls." -
passage from Washington Post article profiling one who fought a pro-gay sex ed class.

I don't know why but that passage strikes me as odd. Does she or does she not believe gays are born that way and is there in fact a contradiction between her views about it being a choice and her cousin having no choice about his sexuality? Is there in fact, an opportunistic differentiation between those who, in "rare" instances, do not chose their sexual proclivities and those who can?

Return of the Towers

Donald Trump unveiled his vision for a larger and supposedly "more structurally sound" version of the Twin Towers that collapsed after two terrorist-hijacked airplanes crashed into them on September 11, 2001.

Some no doubt would dedicate a new, different building, to their loved ones but unity eludes those who wish to replace the Twin Towers with a memorial. Mr. Trump has yet to reveal the source of his funding (perhaps that will be the job of the winning apprentice on his tv hit show "The Apprentice)" but I support his vision for a return of the Twin Towers.

What an act of definace! The terrorists may have knocked them down but only temporarily. The terrorists may have killed themselves for their cause but our sense of who we are lives on. We may have suffered a terrible blow with the World Trade Center bombings but we returned bigger and stronger.

New York officials could have a memorial for the 3,000 plus World Trade Center workers who died but it should not be the focus of our attention. Build a small memorial. Let the would-be terrorists see that their victory was short-lived. and the buildings they so carefully planned for destruction are back.

Patriot Act Expansion

For now, here's the article as written by The New York Times. I'll wait for some follow-ups in other newspapers before I comment on this.

"People Have To Believe The Government Can't Survive"

The officer said much depended on the new government's success in bolstering public confidence among Iraqis. He said recent polls conducted by Baghdad University had shown confidence flagging sharply, to 45 percent, down from an 85 percent rating immediately after the election. "For the insurgency to be successful, people have to believe the government can't survive," he said. "When you're in the middle of a conflict, you're trying to find pillars of strength to lean on." Another problem cited by the senior officer in Baghdad was the new government's ban on raids on mosques, announced on Monday, which the American officer said he expected to be revised after high-level discussions on Wednesday between American commanders and Iraqi officials. - passage from a New York Times article on Iraq

But how can we expect Iraqis to believe in their government's survival when it is not expected to survive when it is at best a provisional government that will cease to exist once a constitution is written and its successor (be it federalist, confederalist, or nationalist) is chosen? And how can we expect them to believe in its survival when there are three police forces (the Iraqi national force and the militias run and maintained by the Kurds and Shi'ites) that are not expected to be merged operating within Iraq? Seems to me that the Iraqis have every reason to believe in their government's failure.

"There Will Be No Check On Their Power"

"Right now, the only check on President Bush is the Democrats ability to voice their concern in the Senate.
If Republicans rollback our rights in this Chamber, there will be no check on their power. The radical, right wing will be free to pursue any agenda they want. And not just on judges. Their power will be unchecked on Supreme Court nominees…the President’s nominees in general…and legislation like Social Security privatization."
- Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid

Yes, and since Supreme Court justices help define what our rights are as American citizens and the powers states have to curtail them, the conservatives will also win for themselves control over the constitution. Through the courts it will define as legitimate policies that that deprive us of commonly understood rights. I really believe we are witnesseing a potential coup d'etat over the constitution. Unfortunately, as more people see what this is about, the court's prestige will drop, and more Americans will cynically view it as a political instrument.

"Turning A Deliberative Process Into Something Akin to Government By The Queen of Hearts"

Andrew Sullivan discovered this article by conservative Norm Ornstein on the filibusters. Here is an excerpt from this conservative who opposes the proposed rule change on the fiibuster.

"Without getting into the parliamentary minutiae--the options are dizzying, including whether points of order are “nested”--one reality is clear. To get to a point where the Senate decides by majority that judicial filibusters are dilatory and/or unconstitutional, the Senate will have to do something it has never done before.
Richard Beth of the Congressional Research Service, in a detailed report on the options for changing Senate procedures, refers to it with typical understatement as “an extraordinary proceeding at variance with established procedure.”
To make this happen, the Senate will have to get around the clear rules and precedents, set and regularly reaffirmed over 200 years, that allow debate on questions of constitutional interpretation--debate which itself can be filibustered. It will have to do this in a peremptory fashion, ignoring or overruling the Parliamentarian. And it will establish, beyond question, a new precedent. Namely, that whatever the Senate rules say--regardless of the view held since the Senate’s beginnings that it is a continuing body with continuing rules and precedents--they can be ignored or reversed at any given moment on the whim of the current majority.
There have been times in the past when Senate leaders and presidents have been frustrated by inaction in the Senate and have contemplated action like this. Each time, the leaders and presidents drew back from the precipice. They knew that the short-term gain of breaking minority obstruction would come at the price of enormous long-term damage--turning a deliberative process into something akin to government by the Queen of Hearts in “Alice in Wonderland.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

"The Culture of Criminalization"

"Sensenbrenner's jail-centric approach reflects a broader social phenomenon, and a troubling one. The criminal sanction is supposed to be a last resort, reserved for the most serious offenses to civil peace. But more and more, it's becoming government's first line of attack: a way for lawmakers to show that they're serious about whatever the perceived social problem of the month is. We're all familiar with the cranky uncle who brays at the TV: "lock 'em all up, I say!" That attitude makes for entertaining talk radio. But what's frightening is that it's increasingly becoming a basis for public policy." - Gene Healy

Food for thought.

Fiscal Insanity

Here, by the way, is the proposed allocation (House version) by state and the full list of projects (you can increase print font with magnifying glass tool) brought to you by "Taxpayers for Common Sense."

President Bush has threatened to veto any bill that goes above and beyond $284 billion. I'd be relieved if he actually went through with his threat and vetoed this senate version but I believe he really set his standards for fiscal prudence low in accepting a $284 billion transportation budget filled with pork that states should fund if they really think those projects are necessary or worthwhile.

By the way, "Taxpayers for Common Sense" says the senate version includes a few unrelated tax cut provisions. So much for the fiscally prudent approach members of both parties claim to support.

Great. Cut taxes but increase spending. Shift the burden onto the future generations. Hell, people in their 20s and 30s will already be paying for their parents' and grandparents' medicare and social security checks because our congressional representatives and president have not yet reached an agreement on a reform package.

Alaska Getting Too Much

Alaska will be getting a lot back for its money if the House version of the Transportation bill passes and of course the senate overwhelmingly passed its own, $11 billion higher version in an 89-11 vote yesterday. Do we really need to throw $223 million for a bridge rivalring the Golden Gate Bridge for a town of 8,000 people or another $200 million for another bridge linking that state's largest city to a rural port servicing one tenant and a "handful of homes?"

I'm sorry for any Alaskan visiting this web site but spending on New York's pot holes and deteriorating bridges - bridges that strongly impact the economy centered on Wall Street and alleviating the traffic congestion in both the cities, suburbs and now even the outer suburbs, makes more sense.

NJ Catholic Church Diocese Won't Yield On What Was That? Communion Wafers?

Catholic bishops could forgive and cover up for pedophilia and sexual molestation, transfer such priests to other parishes to repeat their offenses, and even conduct a debate over married priests but they cannot make an accommodation for a girl who needs a different kind of communion wafer. Hmmm.

Gutting the MIlitary?

Let me get this straight. We have American troops stationed in South Korea, Bosnia, Macedonia, Serbia and Montegegro's Kosovar province, Western Europe, and Liberia and Afghanistan among other countries and we had to send National Guard troops . Our border control is stretched thin with illegal immigrants crossing our borders, military recruitment is down big time, universities are fighting efforts to support recruitment drives, and the military rejects gay applicants. Now some members in the House are seeking to ban women from the front line?

And I thought we were supposed to bomb our enemies into the stone age.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Compromise on Filibuster Needed

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) have failed to reach an agreement on the president's judicial nominees. Any hope to avert a standoff later this week will depend upon an agreement now being crafted by Senator Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) and Senator John MCain (R-Arizona) and the five members from each party needed to defy their parties' leaders.

The agreement would allow for an up or down vote on most of the president's judicial nominations and assurances from the six Democrats to vote against the future use of the filibuster unless there are extreme circumstances calling for it, and a guarantee from the six Republicans to vote against changes in filibuster rules. We don't know if the Republicans and Democrats that are considering this resolution agree on the judicial nominations to put forward for an up or down vote or if they can agree on when a filibuster would be tolerable.

United, they could thwart the extremists from both parties. If six Republicans defy their majority leader and vote against a change in the filibuster, the theoconservatives' efforts to shove an evangelist-interpreting constitutionalist on the Supreme Court will stall and if the six Democrats defy their leader and allow for an up or down vote on most nominations, the liberals will have to put their hopes for another Justice Brennan or Earl Warren on hold.

Senators Bill Frist and Harry Reid rejected efforts for compromise for good reason. The senator from Tennessee may run for president and does not want to anger the religious conservative leaders that could turn out his party's base to vote for or against him. Those who are insisting that he oppose a compromise know that the real battle will not be over a restrained Judge Bill Pryor or Judge Priscilla Owens on an Appeals Court but over a future nomination to the Supreme Court.

Circuit Court judges usually have the final say in all constitutional disputes because the Supreme Court justices are not sure if they have the votes to make a ruling one way or the other. The circuit court judges are nevertheless restrained by Supreme Court precedents and the fact that three-judge panels could be overruled by the full court.

As a judge on a Circuit Court, Judge Pryor may issue abortion rulings favored by the "pro-life" activists and disfavored by "pro-choice" supporters but he could overturn Roe v. Wade and allow for a ban on abortions in their entirety. He might support police raids targeting gay sex (as opposed to any sex) in public parks but thanks to Lawrence v. Texas, Pryor could not use his anti-gay stance to lable an entire group of people criminal for the sexual activities they are presumed to engage in within the privacy of their home.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist is old, suffering from thyroad cancer, and long-rumored to resign from the court at the end of this term. President Bush could appoint a new justice to replace him as both, justice and chief justice, or he could appoint one of the sitting justices (Antonin Scalia most likely) to succeed as chief justice and another justice to replace him. Should moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor retire, the battle promises to be even more ferocious and bitter.

This battle could have been averted had the president and conservative senators agreed to either nominate and support a group of moderates, preserve the balance on the Circuit Courts, or in the alternative return a court which is overwhelmingly siding with either the left or the right back to the middle but neither the president nor the senate at large was interested in doing that. For their part, the leaders within the Democratic caucus have been filibustering nominees who cannot make judicial precedent without offering any plan to resolve this impasse.

Senator Harry Reid errs in placing a key part of his strategy on Senator Arlen Specter. The senator from Pennsylvania barely survived a challenge for the judicial chairmanship theoconservatives pushing for a more socially conservative replacement but he survived when Senators Rick Santorum and officials close to the White House refused to join int he attempted coup d'etat. Senator Arlen Specter may be a social moderate but I think he would have been more inclined to buck his party leadership on the filibuster over a Supreme Court nominee who could reverse longstanding judicial precedents he agrees with one over an appeals court nominee that cannot reverse constitutional law. The Senate Majority Leader should have limited the number filibusters here and saved his fight for the supreme court nominees that will eventually follow.

But Mr. Frist and Reid are not in control of the situation for they have ceded their authority to the extremists from both sides - activists who are more interested in using the judicial system to achieve what they cannot do in the legislatures and the politicians - activists who do not seem to care if the constitution's credibility is shattered in the process.

Senator Bill Nelson's compromise is not perfect. The plan as described by press reports forsakes ideological compromises (like those I proposed above) and personal characteristics (by allowing for the abandonment of some nominees but not others based upon whatever gets the 12 compromisers' support) for comraderie and the senate's prestige. This blogger nevertheless wholeheartedly supports it because it alone would help us step away from constitutional war upon us.

"When government prays, no one wins."

"As the Chesterfield County case reveals, when government prays, no one wins." Charles C. Haynes

A three-judge panel from the Fourth Circuit says one county's prayer restrictions are constitutional because they only allow for prayers that are non-sectarian and non-proselytizing but are not all prayers sectarian?

The "Lord's Prayer" can only be considered non-sectarian in a world in which Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Wiccans, or those of any other religious faith or none do not exist. They are specifically written and said to a god (or group of gods) that a particular community of religious faith rallies behind. Even those which are addressed to a "Supreme Being" or a "Creator" describe an adherence to a particular god and consequently dismiss as irrelevant or blasphemous the beliefs of those who believe there are several gods and those who believe there are no gods and this is why I believe that Mr. Haynes is right with respect to the three-judge panel's logic. In my view, the Supreme Court's ruling to permit an official prayer service for legislators, was not consistent with its other rulings concerning government-initiated prayer.

I for oppose religious services that are conducted by government officials when they are acting in their capacity as government officials and most adamantly so when they are conducted in public schools at class time or important school functions that students attend such as sporting events, plays, or or graduation ceremonies but am less troubled by a teacher's attendance at an after-or-before-school National Day of Prayer event or the local congressman's attendance at a private religious event.

This blogger doesn't care for these events and questions our government's decision or need to set up a day for prayer (when churches, synagogues and temples provide ample time and space for worship and prayer) but most will resaonably dismiss this for the ceremonial deism that it is. No one is required to attend any National Day of Prayer events and when that day comes once a year I would do my best to tune out any live news footage covering a prayer event.

If I had my way, future presidents would not issue religious proclamations. Church and synagogue administrators set aside at least 52 days a year for communal worship so having the government set up a national day of prayer seems pointless. Priests and rabbis say their adherents should pray every day and Muslims pray at least three times a day. We are not babiers in need for religious instruction or encouragement. We know where we could pray and know no less than our officials where to direct that prayer. Public officials should not presume to know better than us when, how to, and with whom, to pray.

We must nevertheless distinguish between one public official's actions while on government-time made on behalf of or in the name of the government and those which are made in their capacity as private citizens attending an event not associated or affiliated with the govenrment. The local high school principal owes his or her students of all faiths and none equal treatment and courtesy while they are at school but he or she is not required to keep that religious affiliation and those beliefs "in the closet" at those events which are not associated with his conduct as an administrator.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Filibuster Watch

From MSNBC News
Frist needs a minimum of 50 votes to abolish judicial filibusters. Vice President Dick Cheney would provide the tie-breaking vote in his constitutional role as president of the Senate.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democrats’ vote counter, said his party was united. He said he also expected to pick up GOP support from some of those who have yet to signal how they would vote.
“We feel that there are at least four Republican senators who feel as we do and we feel that there are several who are making up their minds at the last moment,” Durbin said.

Durbin says there are at least four who "feel as we do." Hmm. At least four. 55 - 4 = 51. Cheney would not be needed in the vote and Frist wins. That doesn't sound too good for those of us who oppose this constitutional coup d'etat pushed by the theoconservatives, particularly when Majority Whip Mitch McConnell is shooting for 60 votes now and not 50.

Okay. Durbin says he has the 44 Democrats and 1 independent by his side. That's 45 votes. Add to that Republicans Lincoln Chafee, John McCain, and most probably Olympia Snowe. The count is now 48. Will Senator Voinavich defy Bush here now that he already voiced is disapproval in the Bolton nomination? I doubt it. Sununu is one of those undeclared votes but he on Capital Gang all but declared his support for filibuster changes. Specter is the judicial chairman in no small part because Santorum and the president backed him up. He would not want to defy his president now. I consider him a toss-up that could go either way and ditto for Collins. Hagel may run for president so this could either be used to distinguish himself from majority leader Frist or win support from the theoconservative base. I can't tell which way he is going on this yet.