28 May 2009

Judging Sotomayor, Part I

I have conflicting thoughts on Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's first Supreme Court nominee, so my remarks will be split into two separate posts.

Of those rumored to be on the alleged "short list," I had actually most hoped for Sotomayor, perhaps simply as the best of an unsatisfactory lot. She, of course, was originally appointed to the federal bench in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush, and eleven years ago, was appointed to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals by President Clinton.

While I have heard many conservative talking points against her appointment, I have not actually heard of a case that came before her either as a district court judge or a member of the 2nd Circuit panel that bears upon her fitness for the Supreme Court. If a reader has a citation to a particular case in which Judge Sotomayor wrote a particularly disturbing (or even just poorly reasoned) opinion, I invite you to leave the such in the comments section.

I believe that the president's bleeding-heart judicial philosophy, which clearly begat this appointment, is inherently flawed. His recent statement -- in which he claimed an ideal candidate demonstrates "empathy" and is willing "to protect people who may be vulnerable in the political process" -- is flat-out wrong. Obama is terrific with wordplay, but he often leaves many questions unanswered; and here, the question for him to answer is, "Sir, what exactly are you talking about?"

The president is dancing around his affinity for affirmative action and, generally, the allegedly downtrodden.

I do not care if a Supreme Court justice has a heart. I do not care if he or she is empathetic, no more than I care whether he or she enjoys chocolate ice cream. When a case reaches the appellate level of the federal court system, the job of a the trier of fact is not to pat litigants on the head and craft opinions laced with kind, empathetic statements. It is to review the record before him or her, interpret the governing law, and hand down his or her decision in an unbiased manner. Whether a judge understands "how ordinary people live," as the president also recently said, is completely irrelevant. Regardless of whether a judge hails from a mansion in the Hamptons or Sarah Palin's "real America," all he or she must understand is 1) the law and 2) the facts of the case at bar. 


Additionally, the notion -- apparently advanced in an article written some years ago by Sotomayor herself -- that Sotomayor is somehow better-suited to sit on the Supreme Court because she is a woman, and is Latino, is rather insulting. I don't know that I'd disagree that with respect to cases of discrimination only, someone who has actually been the subject of workplace or social discrimination him- or herself would be particularly suited to rule on, say, damages sustained as a result of the discrimination. In certain, very limited contexts, perhaps there is a degree of truth to such a statement. However, in theory, when one sits as an allegedly impartial trier of fact, what matters is only one's ability to grasp legal issues and the facts contained in the record on appeal. 

There is a reason that Lady Justice wears a blindfold.

25 May 2009

Newt agrees with the Commish

On Meet the Press yesterday, the former House Speaker and erstwhile conservative icon had this to say:

"I don't want to pick a fight with Dick Cheney, but the fact is, the Republican Party has to be a broad party that appeals across the country. To be a national party, you have to have a big enough tent that you inevitably have fights inside the tent." 

Pointing to President Ronald Reagan appealing to Democrats and independents as he carried 49 states in 1984, Gingrich -- himself a potential 2012 contender for the party's presidential nominee -- concluded, "I think Republicans are going to be very foolish if they run around deciding that they're going to see how much they can purge us down to the smallest possible space."

Hat tip: Politico.

22 May 2009

The ongoing conservative hysteria

In response to our most recent post critical of former Vice-President Cheney, wherein we demanded that members of the Bush administration actually provide concrete examples of tactics such as waterboarding having a positive effect on national security, a reader commented that perhaps I had fallen prey to the Changemaker's messianic aura.

What I'm starting to conceptualize is a stunning attitude on the right concerning the infallibility of the executive branch in the national security arena. The gospel according to Limbaugh seems to say two things:

(1) The reality -- as explained by Sen. McCain and exemplified by the disturbing example of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi -- that people who are tortured will say anything to make the pain stop is irrelevant.

(2) Anyone deviating from the Cheney/Limbaugh neoconservative dogma is either unconcerned with national security, or drinking the president's kool-aid, or both.

I understand that this is a debate sparking much passion, especially on the right.

But we are not the type of folks who can be painted into an ideological corner. When the writers on this site take issue with something either party is doing wrong, partisans on all sides should stop and take notice. We admittedly have spent quite a bit of time slamming the GOP, especially in the wake of the 2008 presidential election. However, it should have been made abundantly clear by now that we think President Obama is a hypocritical demagogue. Many of the statements and decisions of his first 100 days in office reflect the worst excesses of the far left.

This blog exemplifies why exactly it is that the Republican Party is in so much trouble. Each member of this team voted for Sen. McCain for president in 2008, and two of the three of us for President Bush in 2004. Since our inception in April 2008, we've been harshly criticized by both sides, as either kool-aid drinking liberals or hateful right-wing warmongers.

What we hope for is an actual, substantive debate on the crucial issue of enhanced interrogation techniques.

And surprisingly, it's been the left -- led by the Obama administration and its enablers in the mainstream media -- that has been willing to discuss exactly why it is that tactics such as waterboarding should not be used. And it's largely been those on the right who have been reduced to sweeping, spiteful generalities and inane logic. As recently as 2006, most of the nonsensical noise in the political arena came from the MoveOn.org wing of the Democratic Party. 

But, as noted previously on this site, now that the shoe is on the other foot, the self-appointed opinion leaders on the far right are showing their true colors.

I have listened closely to our president's justification for putting an end to enhanced interrogation techniques. He makes a mostly logical and articulate overarching case for his position, although it is a mistake to paint with such a broad brush and sweep a tactic like sleep deprivation into the same category as waterboarding.

Conservative response to the president's statements has been limited to "ticking time-bomb" and "executive power." That's it. The president, citing Sen. McCain, Col. Wilkerson and others, has discussed the harmful effects of torturing an individual to get inaccurate information (such as was obtained from al-Libi). Not once have I heard this point addressed by a thoughtful conservative. Nor have I heard a rebuttal to Col. Wilkerson's charge -- supplemented by a story that broke earlier this week centering around Alberto Gonzales -- that the Bush administration actually approved the utilization of waterboarding not to prevent an impending terrorist attack, but rather to establish a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

If the issue really is obtaining accurate information in the face of a potential attack on American soil, don't you think this is something that must be addressed?

Furthermore, scanning the ruins of the GOP in the wake of the Bush administration's exit, doesn't it bother you conservatives that the Bush administration effectively issued itself a constitutional carte blanche on wartime power after 9/11? Is this permissible with conservatives' conception of limited and divided government? (And no, Dr. Rice was not the only one to buy into this grandiose conception of executive power -- in fact, being one of the most politically moderate members of the Bush cabinet, one would have expected she and Gen. Powell to be the last ones to subscribe to such a theory.) 

Why has the alleged party of limited government allowed the likes of Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld to dictate such an expansive conception of executive power, virtually unhampered by checks and balances? Isn't this contrary to what Hamilton, Madison and Jay argued in the Federalist Papers, and contrary to everything conservatism stood for in the 20th century?

Why was it permissible for Cheney to describe executive wartime powers as "plenary"? Is this the only area in which it is ok for the federal government -- and particularly the executive branch -- to enjoy such wide, unbridled latitude? 

Why did most conservatives collectively shrug when it was discovered that the Bush administration engaged in the warrantless wiretapping of the telephone calls of normal, law-abiding citizens without going through the statutorily mandated FISA channels? Does it bother anyone that the FISA system was implemented largely because of the worst excesses of the Nixon administration?

Where was the conservative outcry when the Ashcroft Justice Department arrested American-born gang member Jose Padilla, designated him an "enemy combatant," transported him to an undisclosed location, and refused to charge him and provide him a jury trial, in explicit contravention of the Sixth Amendment?

I don't claim to have the answers to these questions. I simply don't understand how a swath of tens of millions of voters who still identify themselves as Republicans -- and who still invoke the name of Reagan in a call for smaller government and less regulation at nearly every turn -- allow such deference to a small group of individuals. 

And what's further frustrating is the fact that when anyone -- Republican or Democrat, libertarian, conservative or left-wing moonbat -- dares question a consolidation of power in one of the three branches of government, it is met with howls of criticism, and, inevitably, namecalling. It's baffling.

In Federalist No. 51, James Madison had this to say:

"In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable to the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself. "

And in 1775, Alexander Hamilton wrote this:

"A fondness for power is implanted in most men, and it is natural to abuse it when acquired. This maxim, drawn from the experience of all ages, makes it the height of folly to entrust any set of men with power which is not under every possible control."

Perhaps those excerpts only apply when a Democrat is in the White House.

19 May 2009

Cheney and torture

I would vote for he and President Bush again in a heartbeat over the bumbling, incompetent, egomaniacal Kerry/Edwards ticket, but it's time for Dick Cheney to go away.

His behavior since the Bush administration exited office has been equally as disdainful as Al Gore's global warming fanaticism and former President Carter's frequent critiques of American foreign policy. Such harsh criticism is entirely unbecoming of a man who held the second-highest office in the country for eight years. As President Bush noted, President Obama deserves the former administration's silence and respect. 

I genuinely believe that President Bush acted in good faith in ordering and approving these complained-of "enhanced interrogation techniques" that the Obama administration has outlawed. Bush was unflinching in his determination that the U.S. mainland would not be attacked again while he was in office, and for his success in preventing further attacks, he deserves great credit.

But Condoleeza Rice's recent justification, caught on candid camera at Stanford University, that "enhanced interrogation techniques" weren't torture because the president told them so tells me plenty about the grandoise conception of wartime executive power that many in the administration actually believed that the president possessed.

If this was feudal England or modern-day Russia, I suppose this explanation would be perfectly acceptable. However, in a system of divided government whereby the president does not make nor interpret the law, and where the United States is a party to myriad treaties (such as the International Convention Against Torture, signed in 1988) that I am sure President Bush never heard of until he won the election, that's not good enough. The president can ask the Justice Department for legal advice, but the "because I said so" statement does not good law make.

I think a very good case can be made that things like sleep deprivation, stress positions and loud music aren't even in the ballpark of the internationally accepted definition of "torture." But the Bush administration rarely seemed to concern itself with winning an argument based on what the law actually says.

What also bothers me about the conservative case in this regard is that I believe opinion leaders on the right -- mainly led in 2009 by Cheney and Rush Limbaugh -- present the torture debate as a false choice to the American people.

This is a zero-sum game -- a replication of the Bush Doctrine, circa 2002: You're either with us, or with the terrorists -- and Cheney, Limbaugh, Kristol, et al. have set the terms of the game for public discourse. If the new administration does not play by their rules, or wishes to roll back some of the Bush/Cheney policies, they are by definition weak on terror.

I might actually buy Cheney's argument if he could answer the following questions:

1. What "traditional" interrogation techniques were used that did not work?

2. What "enhanced" interrogation techniques were used that did in fact work?

3. What specific information was gleaned as a result of such techniques?

Unfortunately, the former vice-president and his enablers insist that questions 1 and 3 are of such vital importance to national security that the public is not entitled to answers. 

Sorry, that's not good enough.

The American people deserve to know how exactly these enhanced interrogation techniques have worked. They deserve to know why it is that the "traditional" methods have not. This is a governmental system founded on transparency, and the American people are entitled to it.

This shadowy "because I said so" justification for virtually every matter concerning national security is in no way inherently conservative or patriotic. 

How can the former vice-president expect me to buy this story without specifics?

I'm reminded of a comment from Steve Martin's character in the late-90s remake of "Sgt. Bilko: "What are we in, Russia?"

However, perhaps the most disturbing element of this debate came from an op-ed penned by Col. Lawrence Wilkinson, one of the leaders of Colin Powell's State Department during the Bush administration's first term:

Wilkinson said he learned that long before the Justice Department rendered any opinion about the legality of the interrogation methods, the administration was utilizing them in 2002 not to prevent another terrorist attack (the "ticking time bomb" scenario that Cheney so often cites), but rather to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. 

The full text of Wilkinson's remarks can be found here.

This effort was focused on one detainee in particular -- Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi -- who was waterboarded in Egypt, and as a result, gave up supposedly valuable information to his interrogators regarding a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Al-Libi's disturbing backstory can be found here.

If you think waterboarding is a fail-safe, fool-proof way to interrogate detainees in the interest of national security, do yourself a favor and click on that link.

If you've taken the time to do that, you'll notice that the information linking the two and provided by al-Libi during his interrogations actually turned out to be false. Al-Libi was the consensus star detainee cited by the Bush administration in the lead-up to the war in Iraq in 2003. The story of al-Libi proves that, number one, the Bush administration was waterboarding detainees not to prevent another terrorist attack, but rather to establish some sort of link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Second, it proves that, as Sen. McCain has so often noted, detainees suffering through such interrogations will say anything to make the interrogators stop.

In his book, "Faith of My Fathers," McCain said that when he was being tortured in the Hanoi Hilton, and was pressed for the names of American squadron leaders, he gave his interrogators the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line.

This statement -- from a man who, unlike anyone in the Bush administration, actually endured such interrogations -- shows that such techniques can easily lead to inherently unreliable information.

The summation of my remarks is this: Dick Cheney is not entitled to be taken at his word. This is a debate of vital national importance, and those purporting to set its terms must show their cards. No leader -- Republican or Democrat -- during any time -- war or peace -- deserves such blind deference from the American people.

14 May 2009

The "Democrat-Socialist" tag

At the risk of trumping yesterday's rampage against Nancy and Harry's universal health care utopia, let me return to bashing the GOP.

I genuinely wonder if the powers that be are intentionally trying to push the Republican Party to the brink of extinction. The Republican National Committee is expected to vote on a resolution next week that would re-brand the Democrats as the "Democrat-Socialist Party."

Let me be clear that I believe the president is extremely liberal, and I could never envision myself drinking his leftist brand of vodka (now, if Sarah Palin somehow secured the Republican nomination in 2012, then perhaps we could talk ...). 

But this isn't about ideas or ideology -- it's about demonization and name-calling. This is the same nonsense that Pelosi, Michael Moore, Daily Kos moonbats and the Dennis Kucinich wing of the Democratic Party spent eight years doing vis-a-vis President Bush during the Republicans' consolidation of power. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, the Hannity/Ingraham wing of the GOP continues its incomprehensively annoying collective temper tantrum.

The emptiest cans always do seem to make the most noise. 

For Daily Kos moonbats and Ann Coulter devotees, politics is not about ideas or constructive dialogue. 

President Reagan and Newt Gingrich were the two most influential, successful Republicans of the last 50 years, and perhaps of the entire 20th century. Reagan swept into the White House in 1980 and, working with a Democratic Congress, cemented himself as one of America's greatest leaders. As noted in a previous post, while he was adored by conservatives, he was almost equally as loved by those near the center, as he used the bully pulpit of the White House to communicate his ideas and values to the American people. Gingrich was a leader in crafting the Contract with America, which blew the Democrats out of Congress and cemented a limited-government/personal-responsibility axiom that two-thirds of the country supported. It was about ideas, not idiotic name-calling. 

While Reagan and Gingrich rarely deviated from the core principles of conservatism, they realized that their rhetoric necessarily had to appeal to the middle third of the country that inevitably decides each and every election.

Their attitude toward politics could be summed up as such: "Let me tell you why it is you should agree with me."

For right- and left-wing moonbats alike, politics can be reduced to, "Here's why the other guy is a nut."

The key here is that most voters don't think the president is a socialist. Even if you genuinely believe that he is, why in the world would you broadcast this outside of an RNC boardroom?

Are you suicidal?

13 May 2009

Liberalism and health care reform

Nancy Pelosi has promised to tackle the issue of health care reform before Congress recesses.


I won't go so far as to say that bleeding-heart left-wing liberalism is a mental defect. However, it is patently stupid to assert that the United States will somehow be better off if Pelosi and the far left push through their dream program of universal health insurance.

Look at Canada! liberals exclaim. Look at Britain! Look at the Dutch! How wonderful it must be to cover everyone!

Ask a Dutchman how he likes that across-the-board 45% income tax.

The day we stop incentivizing the health care profession -- as Canada and Britain have done, and which will inevitably happen in any universal health care system -- is the day America's brightest young minds with an interest in medicine pursue law or business, looking for profit elsewhere. 

Why wouldn't this happen? It's taking place everywhere socialized medicine has been tried. Open your eyes. Why do liberals continue to blind themselves to the Canadian example -- artificial price controls, long waiting periods for surgeries and a severe shortage of doctors?

In the 1960s, the Warren Court said it was unconstitutional to deny a criminal defendant the privilege of legal counsel if he was unable to afford a lawyer. This helped accelerate the rise of the public defender in the 1970s and 80s. Now, if someone is accused of a crime and cannot afford a lawyer, our laws require that he is provided an attorney.

Criminal defendants can do this, so the argument goes -- why not those among us who are indigent and uninsured?

The answer is because we already have a federal program designed for exactly that.

It's called Medicaid.

There are 45 million Americans who do not have health insurance. 

However, roughly 15 million of them are eligible for Medicaid, but have not applied. 

Whose fault is this?

Of those 30 million more, I'd like to know how many drive and own a car. Two cars? A house? A cell phone? Two cell phones? How many subscribe to cable TV, or perhaps have a dish on top of their house? How many go out to eat? How many own a pair of $150 Air Jordans? 

How many go to the trouble of working two jobs if one doesn't provide enough income?

The streak in me that takes offense to the likes of Mike Huckabee preaching about social issues takes equal offense to the suggestion that affordable health care is somehow out of everyone's reach, and that we must help able-bodied people who somehow, by their own laziness or complete and utter conception of priorities and what it means to be an adult, spend their money on the wrong things. 

Health insurance is not cheap, but it is not outrageous. 

It also is not a "right." If it is a "right," then by logic, a doctor or nurse has an obligation to give it away. This is ridiculous.

Tell a neurosurgeon that you have a right to his services. Tell an oncologist that he should provide his time and skills to you for free. Try walking into your dentist's office, getting your teeth cleaned, and then walking right back out the door without paying.

A press free from government restraint is a right. Marching on the Mall in Washington is a right. The freedom to attend church on Sunday is a right. The Supreme Court has held, since virtually its inception, that rearing one's child is a "fundamental right."

Health care is not a "right."

It is a privilege. Period.

You know what's perhaps the best argument against socialized medicine?

Crap costs money.

You get a job to pay for a roof over your head and for food to eat. You want a house? Get to work. You want a car? Get to work. You want to eat? Get to work. You want health insurance? That costs money, too.

So get to work.

I think there is a much more cogent argument in favor of housing being a so-called "right" as opposed to health care.

Once Pelosi and her moonbat allies provide health insurance to every upright mammal in America, if I choose to quit my job and become indigent, why shouldn't I expect the government to buck up and foot my bills?

09 May 2009

Doctor, it hurts when I do *this*

If Mike Huckabee and his loyal band of "values voters" have their way, the ideological purification of the Republican Party will never end.

This week, Sen. John McCain and House minority whip Eric Cantor unveiled a program called the National Council for a New America, a fledgling attempt by a number of high-profile conservatives (from across the GOP's ideological spectrum, it must be noted) to rebrand the Republican Party and expand its reach. McCain and Cantor said they hope to communicate with voters in a way that would expand the Republican ranks, and attract moderates and "like-minded Democrats" with their policy prescriptions.

Sounds like just the tonic for a fast-shrinking minority party that has been banished to the wilderness, right?

Because Mike Huckabee -- the former Arkansas governor, current moralistic proselytizer, and next great FOX News windbag -- doesn't agree with you.

Huckabee, along with preeminent social conservatives such as Tony Perkins and Ken Blackwell, have expressed their strong distaste for the group and blasted it for its lack of focus on social issues (such as abortion and gay marriage) among its highlighted policy areas.

Blackwell said the group will inevitably come crawling back to the social conservative bloc because social conservatism and economic conservatism inevitably go hand in hand.

No, they don't. Social and economic conservatism are two entirely different things. Economic conservatism reflects the idea that the government is an inefficient player in the marketplace and its influence should therefore be limited. Social conservatism reflects the idea that the government is "daddy" and must save us from gambling on the internet or performing research on a group of cells in a petri dish.

The attitude put forth by Huckabee, et al. is that there must be ideological uniformity among all Republicans on all issues, but most especially on social ones. This is the same idiotic attitude that caused many (most?) conservatives to trash Arlen Specter on his way out the door two weeks ago and remark "good riddance." It's the same attitude grounded not in polling data or voting record, but in McCain derangement syndrome and the gospel according to Limbaugh, that maintains that the reason Barack Obama is in the White House is because John McCain wasn't conservative enough.

The Republican Party has to be more inclusive. That does not mean it needs to move to the left.

It simply has to stop subjecting every single judicial nominee, every single party leader and every single candidate for national office to an ironclad, ideologically rigid litmus test. It must be receptive to an economic conservative who believes that a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion. It must be similarly receptive to a "values voter" who supported the president's stimulus package.

This pervasive idiocy has to change. If Barack Obama has taught us anything, it's that you can be very, very ideologically partisan and still have two-thirds of the country support you.

I applaud Sen. McCain, Rep. Cantor, Gov. Romney and the rest of the National Council for a New America for attempting to expand the Republican tent. Barack Obama took a liberal Democratic platform that has been roundly rejected by voters for the last generation and, by framing his message in such a way and targeting moderate and disaffected voters, parlayed that into the presidency and an approval rating over 60 percent. 

There is still much talk of Reagan these days. But do you know what made Reagan such a special politician?

His message was one of inclusion. Throughout most of his presidency, somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the country supported him. He worked across the aisle. He appealed to conservatives, but he was equally beloved by moderates who bought into his policies and his message. He did not drive wedges in the Republican Party and stoke ideological divisions. He didn't submit members of his cabinet or Republican congressional leaders to litmus tests.

Under President Reagan, the GOP was the quintessential "big tent" party -- he appealed to everyone from highly educated economic conservatives like George Will to hardworking, blue-collar moderates in the rust belt. Yes, of course Reagan was conservative. But the reason Republicans enjoyed such success under his leadership wasn't because he somehow pulled closet conservatives out of the woodwork, but rather because his message appealed to so many people. 

The harsh reality for the likes of Huckabee, Tony Perkins and Rush Limbaugh is that the Gipper did not win 59 percent of the popular vote in 1984 because 59 percent of the country is right of center. 

Why can't the Republican Party appeal to more people?

The GOP is on the fast track to irrelevance. There is a good argument to be made that it's already there.

Barack Obama singlehandedly transformed the Democrats into a big-tent party by sole virtue of his platitudes and his message.

There's no reason Republicans shouldn't try to do the same.