Archive for October, 2005

Ten Years and Counting

Sunday, October 30th, 2005

Too often, when people have nothing to write about they revert to writing about writing.  This week marks ten years of publishing a weekly web-based essay. I, therefore, request the indulgence of those who happen upon these words as I briefly reflect on the ten years of writing that produced over 400,000 words of text in over 500 essays.

When this enterprise began in 1995, not that many people had Internet access at home and those that did mostly relied on a dialup connection operating at a now painfully slow, 28 Kbits per second. Now the Internet has become ubiquitous and my cable modem regularly achieves download rates of 4 Mbits per second, nearly 150 times faster.  Even if the connections are faster, but there is still an open question whether the amount of useful information transferred has increased proportionately.

This enterprise began when few used the Internet for politics. Indeed, one of the first essays I wrote compared the Republican and Democratic Party websites and suggested that the comparative mean spiritedness of the Democratic pages were a metaphor for their approach to politics. The comparative nature of these web sites has not changed very much, but at least the visual presentations have become more professional.

Now the number of political sites is enormous. I have a day job and writing once a week exhausts the time I am willing to devote to this enterprise. There are many other sites with political commentary produced several times a day with which I can not compete in terms of volume.  I thus indulge myself in the agreeable fiction that quality compensates for any lack of quantity. One down side associated with the growth of the Internet is that the threshold to publishing is now so low that the signal-to-noise ratio in political discourse has decreased.  My hope is that I have always contributed to the signal portion of that ratio.

A computer examination of my published text reveals that, not surprisingly, other than very common words, “political” is the most frequent word I have used over the years, appearing 984 times. The word “Bush” turns up 590 times and “Clinton” follows with 537 mentions, though both terms apply to more than one politician.  There is no quick way to count the ratio of positive mentions to negative ones that Bush and Clinton have received. However, you can be confident that Bush received far more positive references than Clinton. Despite the fact that baseball is a metaphor for life, the term “baseball” appears a relatively few 139 times.

I have always self-published the pages and have even secured the “” domain.  In June of 1997, asked that I publish there as well and since that time my essays have appeared at both sites. Perhaps the most exciting times occurred when Steve Kangas was the corresponding Liberal voice at Suite101 and we debated frequently in dueling columns.  Unfortunately, Steve apparently committed suicide soon after leaving Suite101. This lapse of judgment has cost him and us his commentary over the last six years.

Suite101 has since changed hands, but in its infancy granted stock options to its contributing editors. During the Internet bubble of the late 1990s, I was actually able to make several thousand dollars from the sale of these assets. Some at Suite101 made even more. However, this writing has never been about money. If it had I would be foolishly working at far below the minimum wage rate.

Sometimes the articles write themselves. Sometimes I struggle. The easiest articles to write are the ones composed in passion.  I have even managed to generate a little poetry about Clinton and Gore. It was embarrassingly easy to write during the Clinton years when finding hypocrisy and disingenuousness was an uncomplicated sport.  In the days and weeks after the attacks of 9/11, words flooded from my keyboard serving as an emotional release for the indignation and distress at the loss of 3,000 fellow Americans.

Perhaps the most liberating feature of this enterprise is that I write for myself. Though feedback is rewarding, I have no one to satisfy, but myself. These essays provide a discipline for me.  Ideas that would have otherwise have floated indistinct and amorphous through my head are now moored to tangible words.

Perhaps most importantly the words written here provide a modest immortality and serve as an intellectual and literary legacy for my children and their children. Of course, I would like for them to understand what I thought of the events of our time. Perhaps, it will help them understand their times in a fuller context. More importantly, I have a private fantasy.  I hope that one day a child or grandchild will spot some clever turn of phrase, some little bit of humor, or a twist of wit I produced and a smile would sprout across their face as they share across the years an intimate moment of joy with me. At such a fleeting moment my mind would be part of their mind.

Libby Gets Indicted

Sunday, October 30th, 2005

Recently, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, resigned as Chief of Staff for Vice-President Dick Cheney after being indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice.  The indictment stems from an investigation surrounding the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA employee. Valerie Plame is the wife of Joseph Wilson, critic of the Bush Administration. Joseph Wilson asserts that the revelation of his wife’s employment was retaliation for his debunking of the claim in the President’s State of the Union address that “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

There are a couple of critical problems with Wilson’s argument.  The first is that the President’s words are absolutely true and to this day, the British government stands by the intelligence assessment the President cited. Second, Wilson’s oral brief to the CIA upon returning from his short trip to Niger reported that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium yellowcake from Niger, though Niger declined Iraq’s overtures. The CIA believed Wilson’s report substantiated suspicions about Iraqi intentions. Third, Wilson self-aggrandizingly told the press that his report had debunked forgeries about Niger uranium sales. These papers had turned up in Italy. The timing for this claim of Wilson does not tally. The US did not come into possession of those forgeries until months after Wilson’s trip and report. This timeline can be found in the 9/11 Commission Report.

In 2003, Wilson was polluting political waters with inaccurate information and the Administration was clearly trying to deal with Wilson’s charges. Wilson claimed that he was sent to Niger on behalf of the Vice-President. The natural question was why Wilson. He was a critic of the Administration and a Gore supporter. He was not qualified in proliferation matters. Why would the Vice-President send him?  He didn’t. In the course of refuting Wilson, presumably Scooter Libby and perhaps others said the Wilson’s wife, an employee of the CIA, was responsible for the trip.  This was repeatedly denied by Wilson, whose pride as a former ambassador may have been wounded by the need for nepotism.  The 9/11 Commission unequivocally concluded that Ms. Plame recommended Wilson for the trip.

There was concern in 2003 that perhaps the identity of a CIA employee at been illegally compromised, but that particular charge seems not to have borne scrutiny. Libby, if he is found guilty, committed the crime obstructing an investigation premised on crime for which there is no prosecution.

If Libby did perjure himself or obstruct justice, then he should be appropriately punished.  Conservatives and Republicans should not be lured into the Clinton defense that perjury and obstruction of justice do not count if the underlying crime seems incommensurate with the penalties for perjury or obstruction of justice. For the answer as to Libby’s guilt we will have to await the results of a trial or plea bargain.

It should also be remembered that at this point, there only seems to be the prosecution of a person with regard to an issue orthogonal to lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Left continues to push the narrative that Bush lied about WMD to get the US into Iraq. For that to be true, President Clinton, Senator Hillary Clinton, the Senate Intelligence Committee, the French, and the Germans would have to abetted in the lie, an unlikely alliance. The 9/11 Commission Report concluded as much, yet the Left still persists in its mendacity.

The Left had hoped that the Libby scandal would allow one more opportunity to peddle their deliberately misleading narrative about the origins of the war. Now it seems that the investigation has narrowed. The prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has said as much:

“This indictment is not about the war. This indictment’s not about the propriety of the war. And people who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel.”

The Left does not really care about Scooter Libby or Valerie Plame. It only cares about undermining Bush.  Who knows? The may succeed one day.  But it hasn’t happened yet and the frustration will likely to increase the vitriol around the Libby case.

Liberal Recognizes Flaws in Roe v. Wade

Sunday, October 23rd, 2005

Occasionally Conservatives repeat themselves over and over again and it seems that no one is listening or at least the point is not fully appreciated. Then, when one least expects it, the message leaks through. For this we have, the reliably Left-wing Richard Cohen,  a pundit with the Washington Post, to thank. Conservatives have often said that the issue of abortion is really two issues that have been treated as one. The result of the failure to separate these issues is confusion, anger, and a judicial nomination process for the federal courts that has been deformed into a political slug fest, complete with character assassination and rhetorical hyperbole.

The first question is what status and what protections ought to be afforded a fetus.  At what point from conception to birth should a fetus be accorded rights associated with personhood?  The second question is what does the US Constitution say, if anything, about a right to an abortion.

The Conservative judicial position has always been that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided as a matter of law.  While there is certainly a right of privacy in the Constitution, especially as embodied in the Forth Amendment’s protections “against unreasonable searches and seizures,” there is no right to procure whatever medical services one is willing to pay for.  The jurisprudence that gave us Roe v. Wade was entirely arbitrary.  There is no explicit or implied right that prevents state governments from regulating the circumstances and conditions of medical procedures.  Indeed, states and the federal government do so all the time, with nary a Constitutional whimper.

There are requirements on the length of hospital stays for certain procedures and limits on what drugs doctors can prescribe. Decisions on medical procedures are not the exclusive province of doctors and their patients. These requirements may be wise or foolish. They may not conform with a libertarian minimalist approach to government intrusion, but medicine is a business like others, provided to the general public, and there is no constitutional impediment to regulation. In Roe v. Wade the court simply decided that abortion ought to be legal and barely gave the Constitution a serious thought before the Court legislated its preferences.

Now even some Liberals are willing to appreciate the nature of the two arguments. As Cohen now concedes, the logic of Roe v. Wade “has not held up … It seems more fiat than argument.” Cohen has come to appreciate that the question of abortion ought to be decided by the public and not dictated by Courts.  Conservatives take heart, Apparently, he has been listening. Cohen is self-described as pro-choice, and finally sees the necessity of making the case for abortion to the public, to gain the legitimacy afforded from the assent of the governed.

If Roe v. Wade were overturned and states were left to their own devices, most would permit abortions of some type, particularly in the first trimester. Later-term abortions would be more regulated and minors would probably have to obtain the consent of a responsible adult (parent, guardian, or judge) to obtain an abortion.  There are some states that would be far more restrictive.  Under such a change, pro-abortion groups could devote their resources to providing transportation for women in states with restrictive abortion laws to travel to states where abortion is liberalized.

The first and primary question about abortion, the status of the fetus, has not been debated. The arbitrary decision in Roev. Wade suspended substantive debate on the core issue of the status of a fetus and focused the public on Constitutional arguments and on extraordinary efforts to influence the selection of federal judges. The past thirty years could have been spent in a serious national debate conducted state-by-state, a thoroughly deliberative process. Instead, we have acrimony and a damaged Constitutional jurisprudence. With the prospect of a Court tilted to the Right, the Left is now beginning to appreciate that it will have to appeal to the public and will not be able to foist a decision upon them.

Delay and Earle – Rounds One and Two

Sunday, October 9th, 2005

Even those who pay only casual attention to the news know by now that Representative Tom Delay from Texas, in accordance with House rules, stepped down as House Majority Leader, after having been indicted by Austin District Attorney Ronnie Earle. The charges center on alleged campaign finance law violations. Known as the “Hammer,” by both fans and critics for treating every political predicament like a nail, Delay claims that he is the victim of a politically-motivated legal assault.

There are at least three possible outcomes for this legal conflict. First, it may turn out that Ronnie Earle has a strong case and manages to convict Delay. Delay’s political career would be over. Political comebacks after a conviction are virtually impossible. Former Mayor of Washington, DC, Marion Berry may be the best known exception. Second, Earle may have a sufficiently strong case that lasts for a long time, all the while bleeding Delay of political power even if acquittal is the final result. Third, the case could be dismissed or acquittal may come quickly, essentially vindicating Delay, buttressing the argument that Earle’s prosecution was without merit and politically motivated.

The first and second outcomes would impact Republicans negatively, but corruption in politics will happen. One more politician convicted of wrong doing will not have very much of a long term impact and may be salutary. In many ways, the third outcome, although beneficial for Republicans, would deal the biggest blow to the republic. It would mean that an out-of-control local prosecutor could affect the leadership of the national legislature based on frivolous charges.

The real current problem is the lack of balanced coverage by the mainstream press organs. The indictment of Delay was duly recorded. Though a Conservatively inclined ear might have detected a note a glee in the reporting on Delay, relevant facts were provided.

However, since the September 28 indictment a number of new an important facts have emerged, which have largely been ignored. The Washington Post has not reported on Delay since October 2. After the initial coverage of the indictment, the New York Times neglected reporting on the indictment until October 8. They reluctantly reported that Delay’s lawyers formally charged Earle with prosecutorial misconduct, without going into the nature of the charges against Earle. It is hard to believe that in a similar situation, a flamboyant Republican DA using extraordinary means to prosecute a Liberal Democratic leader in Congress, these two papers would have remained so silent.

What has happened since the indictment?  First the foreman of the grand jury William Gibson conceded that his decision to indict had nothing to do with the facts presented to the grand jury, but with his anger at political ads. Here is a short excerpt from an interview on KBLJ radio:

Grand Jury Foreman William Gibson: All this all came out way before I was on the grand jury, these mailers were in your paper, in Austin paper, everyone else’s paper, they flooding the market around here. But those were way before I ever went on the grand jury and my decision was based on upon those (the TAB ads,) not what might have happened in the grand jury room…

KLBJ host: Oh. Ok. Your mind was made up after you learned about the ads.

William Gibson: Right, those ads, way back. telling people how, so-called freedom of the speech deal, and I looked at it and they are just telling people go vote for that person, go vote for that person.

KLBJ host: So they didn’t have to persuade you in the grand jury with any evidence, you already…

William Gibson: That was already public knowledge there and way back (unintelligible)…they stated their positions and I could state my position by say I don’t like that.

This does not represent the sort of fairness, one normally expects from a grand juror and one can reasonably call into question the evenhandedness of the indictment process.

Second, there have been questionable and extraordinary legal maneuverings by Earle since the original indictment. After there was a technical issue arising out of the first indictment, Earle rushed back to obtain a new indictment on a slightly different alleged transgression surrounding the same campaign finance issues of the original indictment. The grand jury reported “No Bill” indicating no indictment would be returned. The Associated Press reports that Earle was visibly angry at the obstinate jurors. The reported incident is not consistent with a dispassionate DA. Frustrated, Earle rushed a newly impaneled to return an additional indictment against Delay.

None of these events proves that Earle is out of control and Delay could still be guilty even if Earle is overly aggressive in his legal pursuit of Delay. However, people deserved to know about the extraordinary events surrounding the indictment of the former House Majority Leader. The main stream media have failed news consumers once again. At the same time, these traditional news sources fecklessly wonder why fewer and fewer pay much attention to them.

The Price of Miers

Tuesday, October 4th, 2005

One of President George W. Bush’s endearing qualities is his willingness, perhaps even perverse eagerness, to do what he thinks is right without regard to the political consequences. Although he does tact with the political wind when necessary, on core issues: the War in Iraq or his obligation to nominate judges for the Supreme Court, Bush seems to charge off in an independent direction. The selection of White House counsel Harriet Miers for the US Supreme Court may prove to be one such decision that comes back to haunt the President.

Ms. Miers has little public record against which to measure her judicial philosophy. George Bush is most comfortable dealing with people one-on-one and his close association with Miers has apparently convinced him that she shares his judicial philosophy. For the purposes of argument let us assume the Bush has an accurate read on Miers. Let’s assume that over the next 20 years, Ms. Miers out-Scalias Judge Antonin Scalia and makes Judge Clarence Thomas look as Liberal as Judge David Souter. Let’s assume she steers the Court squarely to the right powered by an engine of brilliantly written opinions for the Court. This represents a long-term advantage for the country and an important legacy for Bush. However, much the same could have been accomplished by another pick.

Assuming that Bush wished to bow at the altar of identity politics and wanted to appoint a woman to fill the seat vacated by Sandra Day O’Connor, there is a bench of female judges with clearly Conservative judicial records from Judges Priscilla R. Owen to Judge Janice Rogers Brown that would have enraged Democrats and elated Conservatives. President Bush has manufactured a “perfect storm” to move the Supreme Court to the right. Republicans have a strong majority in the Senate and have maneuvered Democrats into a political corner making it difficult to sustain a filibuster. Bush have could pick almost anyone he wanted, and Conservative lips were drooling in anticipation.

Now Bush picks a virtual unknown. He has to persuade fellow Conservatives that she is indeed picking a Conservative. Moreover, Conservatives are right to want a rock-solid judicial Conservative whose judicial philosophy has remained consistent over time. It is too easy for casual Conservatives to melt under the Liberal spotlight of Washington, where Conservatives are often lonely voices.

Even if Bush proves prescient in his choice of Miers, he will likely pay a price twelve months from now in the mid-term elections. It takes time for us to really know about a judge. Baring some spectacularly Conservative decisions led by Miers in the next year, Conservatives will have to swallow disappointment in grudgingly and reluctantly supporting Bush’s choice. Mid-term elections are often decided by the energy of partisans. Depressed and disillusioned Conservatives will not have the sort of energy required for a strong turnout in the mid-term elections. Miers had better prove to be as Conservative as Bush says she is because she is coming at a very dear political price.

Politicans Turned Into Journalists

Sunday, October 2nd, 2005

In 1997, the attractive former Republican Congresswoman Susan Molinari was paid considerably more than her Congressional salary to host CBS News Saturday Morning. The chattering classes were twisted into a pretzel of confusion, consternation, and indignation. Here was a clearly partisan person, a Republican no less, who would be co-hosting a news-entertainment show. How could she be credible? How could she be fair? Would we be getting the GOP news? Would she have to recuse herself from every serious discussion?

Of course, the faux fury evidenced a double standard. A number of Democratic operatives had already jumped across the fairly narrow divide between political advocacy and journalism with nary a peep of protest. One of the better known and most respected people who has successfully made the transition is Tim Russert. Russert served on the Senate staff of Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and has been host of NBC’s Meet the Press since 1991. Russert has earned a reputation as a tough, but fair interviewer.

Molinari never attracted enough viewers to last long on CBS, but that has not stopped others from transitioning from politics to journalism. The notion that a partisan cannot be a good journalist rests on the false assumption that conventional journalists are apolitical.

No serious person can cover politics as a journalist and not develop opinions and perspectives. These views cannot help but inform journalistic coverage. The best one can hope for is that journalists are sufficiently introspective to try to be balanced in their reporting. The one advantage of having a known partisan as a journalist is that at least the perspective from which that person reports is apparent. News consumers are thus free to weigh this potential bias with the information presented.

Another partisan that seemed to have made a successful transition from partisanship to journalism is George Stephanopoulos. Stephanopoulos was the White House Communications Director for President Clinton and is now the host of ABC’s This Week.

Recently, Stephanopoulos interviewed his old boss, one-on-one. One might have thought that ABC would blush, at least a little, in embarrassment to have a former president being interviewed by his former chief Communications Director, the person hired to handle the press, in a straight news interview. The lineup has the outward credibility of a political infomercial.

Stephanopoulos has generally been earnest and sincerely attempts to be balanced. This is what makes his performance when interviewing former President Bill Clinton so disappointing. We have come to expect that Clinton would violate the polite and respectful convention of not commenting on a successor President’s policies. It is no surprise that Clinton dissembles and deliberately misleads in conspicuous ways. However, one would have hoped that Stephanopoulos would have called Clinton on a few of his more outrageous remarks.

In the September 18, 2005 interview with Stephanopoulos, Clinton criticized President Bush’s Iraq policy while at the same time rewriting history by claiming, that prior to the liberation of Iraq, there was “no evidence that there were any weapons of mass destruction.” The variance of this statement now with statements he and his Administration made in the past are almost too numerous to list.

In 1998, Clinton said, “The community of nations may see more and more of the very kind of threat Iraq poses now: a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists. If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow.”

William Cohen, Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, was “absolutely convinced that there are weapons…” He went on to say, “I saw evidence back in 1998 when we would see the inspectors being barred from gaining entry into a warehouse for three hours with trucks rolling up and then moving those trucks out.”

Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright told the country that “Saddam’s goal … is to achieve the lifting of UN sanctions while retaining and enhancing Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs.”

Hussein never complied with weapon’s inspectors and never accounted for stockpiles of anthrax his government originally conceded having. The present assertion by Clinton that there was “no evidence” then of weapons of mass destruction is disingenuous at best. Clinton’s fidelity to the truth is a measure of his character and he rarely fails to disappoint. From Stephanopoulos we had expected more. Perhaps Stephanopoulos was too awed to challenge his former boss to reconcile his present statement with previous ones. Perhaps Stephanopoulos was too respectful to confront the former president’s contradictory statements. In any case, the journalist in Stephanopoulos failed and tarnished whatever respect he has been able to earn.