Saturday, October 08, 2005

Did Rove lie to Bush?

The answer to that question would seem to be a resounding Yes.

Murray Waas has the story at National Journal:

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove personally assured President Bush in the early fall of 2003 that he had not disclosed to anyone in the press that Valerie Plame, the wife of an administration critic, was a CIA employee, according to legal sources with firsthand knowledge of the accounts that both Rove and Bush independently provided to federal prosecutors.

During the same conversation in the White House two years ago-occurring just days after the Justice Department launched a criminal probe into the unmasking of Plame as a covert agency operative-Rove also assured the president that he had not leaked any information to the media in an effort to discredit Plame's husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson. Rove also did not tell the president about his July 2003 a phone call with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, a conversation that touched on the issue of Wilson and Plame.

But some 22 months later, Cooper's testimony to the federal grand jury investigating the Plame leak has directly contradicted Rove's assertions to the president. Cooper has testified that Rove was the person who first told him that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, although Rove did not name her. Cooper has also testified that Rove told him that Plame helped arrange for Wilson to make a fact-finding trip for the CIA to the African nation of Niger to investigate allegations that then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium with which to build a nuclear bomb.


There's more — make sure to read the whole thing: it's quite long, but it's one of the best pieces that's been published on The Plame Game (a.k.a., Rovegate) — but this is what it comes down to:

Sources close to the Fitzgerald investigation say that Rove's personal assurances to the president and his initial interview with the FBI are central to whether the grand jury might charge Rove with making false statements to investigators or with obstruction of justice.

When Bush took office in 2001, he claimed that he would restore integrity to the White House. Yet it was Rove who was the brains behind both of his presidential campaigns and who is now his deputy chief of staff. I suspect that this will ultimately lead to Rove's resignation, most likely at a time that somehow benefits his boss, but, regardless, Rove's conduct, if true, further taints a White House that can ill afford any more bad news.

Stay tuned.

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ElBaradei and the IAEA win Nobel Peace Prize

And the Nobel Peace Prize goes to...

Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency. CNN reports:

The U.N. nuclear watchdog and its head, Mohamed ElBaradei, won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their efforts to limit the spread of atomic weapons.

ElBaradei told CNN he was "overwhelmed." He said it was "a shot in the arm" for his agency and would strengthen its resolve in dealing with major issues like North Korea and Iran.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee picked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and ElBaradei, an Egyptian, from a record field of 199 candidates.

It praised ElBaradei as an "unafraid advocate" of measures to strengthen non-proliferation efforts. (Full citation)

The prize is to be split equally between the agency and ElBaradei. He promised the money would be spent on "good causes."

He told a news conference in Vienna, Austria, that the prize "sends a strong message" about the agency's disarmament efforts and will strengthen his resolve to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

"The award basically sends a very strong message, which is: Keep doing what you are doing," ElBaradei said. "It's a responsibility but it's also a shot in the arm."

This victory will surely be met with irritation, if not outright dismissiveness, from conservatives and other anti-U.N.ers who see ElBaradei as an obstacle to peace rather than a promoter of it. But even those who oppose President Bush on most fronts, including his handling of North Korea and Iran, the two most serious question marks (and exclamation marks) out in the nuclear community, may not care much for what seems like a politicized pick. At The Washington Note, for example, Steve Clemons, certainly neither a conservative nor an, responded unfavorably:

John Bolton must have a headache over this as ElBaradei was one of his targets when Bolton was Under Secretary of State. Bolton apparently screened intelligence intercepts of ElBaradei's conversations to find material to help block his efforts to serve a third term as Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But as much as I find ElBaradei an interesting person, a celebrity-bureaucrat given his high profile, I haven't found him overwhelmingly successful in his job. We clearly have a collapse in the global proliferation regime. The IAEA may be doing all it can to reverse or stall trends, but still... success has not been very evident.

Perhaps this is a pat-on-the-back Nobel, a keep working hard carrot, a congrats-on-your-third-term "shot in the arm" as ElBaradei called it.

But still... this should have gone to someone who was making real sacrifices on behalf of global peace. Despite his being a reasonably good global civil servant, I don't think that ElBaradei cuts that profile.

Fair enough, but I would add this: When are Nobel Peace Prizes (or, for that matter, Nobel Literature Prizes, also highly politicized) ever given out on the merits? More often than not, they seem to be prizes with a message. The message here? Stick with the U.N. and its inspection regime as the best way to control nuclear proliferation. And its (possible) corollary: The U.S. (and the Bush Administration in particular) is wrong/dangerous/crazy (take your pick).

This is how
Outside the Beltway, a conservative blog, sees it, noting that ElBaradei and the IAEA won for "their opposition to the Bush Administration". Former President Jimmy Carter's win in 2002 was also seen as a vote against Bush, as The Agonist points out. The Heretik remarks that "Cheney’s sparring partners on WMD in Iraq just won the Nobel Peace Prize". The Mahablog agrees: "The Bushies must be mightily pissed". Indeed, if they even care.

Elsewhere, The Glittering Eye suggests that this was an award for effort, if nothing else:

[D]uring Mr. ElBaradei’s tenure at IAEA North Korea and Pakistan have developed nuclear weapons and Iran is on the brink. Job well done, guys! During the same period South Africa, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Romania, Argentina, Libya, Algeria, Yugoslavia, and Iraq have all abandoned nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons research for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the IAEA but everything to do with the changing geo-political situation and in one case, Iraq, war and another, Libya, fear.

History does not support the Nobel Prize Committee’s conclusions. So, the Committee now rewards aspiration rather than accomplishment.

It's tough to disagree with that assessment -- and I'm not about to. I wonder, though, if there isn't another side to the story. Though I agree that ElBaradei's win can be read as a strong anti-American message (at least in terms of the Bush Administration's policies towards Iran and North Korea), the Nobel Committee, rightly or wrongly, may be trying to support the IAEA at a time when its role is more important than ever and when, to quote The New York Times today, ElBaradei won a third term as chief of the I.A.E.A. earlier this year despite opposition from Washington" (and "overwhelming support from the rest of the world community"). Yes, this may be seen as proof of the Committee's anti-American (anti-Bush) bias, but:

The Norwegian Nobel Institute's prize committee said it hoped that the prize will strengthen the United Nations organization and refocus energy on nonproliferation in the wake of a failure to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at a United Nations conference earlier this year.

"The director general has stood out as an unafraid advocate," the Nobel committee chairman, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, said in making the announcement beneath crystal chandeliers in a small vaulted room on the third floor of the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo. He added that the I.A.E.A.'s work is of incalculable importance "at a time when disarmament efforts appear deadlocked, when there is a danger that nuclear arms will spread both to states and to terrorist groups, and when nuclear power again appears to be playing an increasingly significant role."

Mr. Mjoes said the award to Mr. ElBaradei was not meant as a veiled criticism of Washington or of Mr. Bush. "This is not a kick in the legs to any country," he told reporters gathered for the announcement. A former committee chairman described the 2002 prize to former President Jimmy Carter as a "kick in the legs" to Mr. Bush.

Of course he'd say that, I know, but, again, it could just be that the Nobel Committee is rewarding the IAEA's work, however much the success of that work may be called into question.

And here's another possibility: Could it not be that the Nobel Committee wanted to focus on nuclear disarmament in 2005, the 60th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? But, then, why not go for Japanese anti-nuclear activist and Nagasaki survivor Senji Yamaguchi? The Times again: "Mr. Yamaguchi, in Nagasaki, told Agence France-Presse that he believed he had been passed over because the Nobel committee didn't want to offend the United States. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. He said that Mr. ElBaradei and the I.A.E.A. should "work harder to stop the possibility of repeating the Hiroshima and Nagasaki tragedies in the future."

All this is speculation, of course. The Nobel Peace Prize is largely a political award with political ramifications and embedded political messages. And perhaps the corollary is as true as the overt message, that is, perhaps the pro-IAEA message is indeed coupled with latent (or perhaps not-so-latent) anti-Americanism. And perhaps, too, ElBaradei and the IAEA don't even deserve the award -- yes, merit matters. But is it so wrong that they won? Is it so wrong that the Nobel Committee has focused its attention (and the attention of the world) on an international body that aims to control nuclear proliferation through peaceful resolution rather than through war?

I'm hardly a fan of North Korea and Iran worries me immensely (see links below), and war may ultimately be necessary in both cases, but it's tough to say, I think, that ElBaradei and the IAEA aren't doing good work and shouldn't have been recognized for their efforts. Especially with our attention this year drawn back 60 years to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


For some background, see my previous posts on North Korea:
And my previous posts on Iran:
And my previous post on Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

Let me offer a pick for the Nobel Peace Prize: Ariel Sharon. Controversial, perhaps, but shouldn't he have deserved consideration?

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Friday, October 07, 2005

Job opportunities at al Qaeda

Yes, I had to blink a few times when I saw this one:

Reuters is reporting that "Al Qaeda has put job advertisements on the Internet asking for supporters to help put together its Web statements and video montages":

The London-based Asharq al-Awsat [newspaper] said on its Web site this week that al Qaeda had "vacant positions" for video production and editing statements, footage and international media coverage about militants in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Chechnya and other conflict zones where militants are active.

The paper said the Global Islamic Media Front, an al Qaeda-linked Web-based organization, would "follow up with members interested in joining and contact them via email."

The paper did not say how applicants should contact the Global Islamic Media Front...

Asharq al-Awsat said the advert did not specify salary amounts, but added: "Every Muslim knows his life is not his, since it belongs to this violated Islamic nation whose blood is being spilled. Nothing should take precedence over this."

I wonder what, if any, benefits are used to lure prospective applicants to al Qaeda other than an eternity of bliss (virgins included) in return for blowing themselves up and slaughtering the infidel. Like, say, a dental plan and three weeks of vacation? And maybe casual Fridays and an in-house masseuse?

What I continue to find so absurd about this and related stories is that al Qaeda is very much a working organization like any other even as the U.S. and others are actively hunting down its leaders (and pretty much everyone else in the organization) and trying to kill them.

Simply bizarre.

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Harriet Miers, a recommendation

I highly recommend Eriposte's excellent overview of Harriet Miers -- "Who is Harriet Miers?" -- at The Left Coaster. It's one of the highlights of the blogosphere's reaction to her nomination to the Supreme Court. In a separate post, Eriposte predicts that Miers will "withdraw herself from contention". A good prediction, if you ask me. There's no way she belongs on the Supreme Court, and she'll withdraw before she goes down to defeat.

See also this piece in the Post:

The conservative uprising against President Bush escalated yesterday as Republican activists angry over his nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court confronted the president's envoys during a pair of tense closed-door meetings...

The tenor of the two meetings suggested that Bush has yet to rally his own party behind Miers and underscores that he risks the biggest rupture with the Republican base of his presidency. While conservatives at times have assailed some Bush policy decisions, rarely have they been so openly distrustful of the president himself.

Read on. The "rupture" is upon us.

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Let the indictments begin: Patrick Fitzgerald and the outing of Valerie Plame

My friend Todd Haskins at The Blue State is reporting that a number of indictments -- 22, to be precise -- are about to be handed down by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the case of the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. There is also renewed speculation that Karl Rove is a key target of Fitzgerald's investigation.

(For more on The Plame Game (or Rovegate), see my previous posts here and here.)

Stay tuned. This could be a big one.

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George Will on Harriet Miers

No round-up right now. Just a single link.

In an important and powerful column in Wednesday's Post, George Will spoke to the concerns of the most serious critics of Harriet Miers's nomination to the Supreme Court. He certainly spoke for me:

Senators beginning what ought to be a protracted and exacting scrutiny of Harriet Miers should be guided by three rules. First, it is not important that she be confirmed. Second, it might be very important that she not be. Third, the presumption -- perhaps rebuttable but certainly in need of rebutting -- should be that her nomination is not a defensible exercise of presidential discretion to which senatorial deference is due.

It is not important that she be confirmed because there is no evidence that she is among the leading lights of American jurisprudence, or that she possesses talents commensurate with the Supreme Court's tasks. The president's "argument" for her amounts to: Trust me. There is no reason to, for several reasons...

Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that Miers's nomination resulted from the president's careful consultation with people capable of such judgments. If 100 such people had been asked to list 100 individuals who have given evidence of the reflectiveness and excellence requisite in a justice, Miers's name probably would not have appeared in any of the 10,000 places on those lists...

It is important that Miers not be confirmed unless, in her 61st year, she suddenly and unexpectedly is found to have hitherto undisclosed interests and talents pertinent to the court's role. Otherwise the sound principle of substantial deference to a president's choice of judicial nominees will dissolve into a rationalization for senatorial abdication of the duty to hold presidents to some standards of seriousness that will prevent them from reducing the Supreme Court to a private plaything useful for fulfilling whims on behalf of friends.

The wisdom of presumptive opposition to Miers's confirmation flows from the fact that constitutional reasoning is a talent -- a skill acquired, as intellectual skills are, by years of practice sustained by intense interest. It is not usually acquired in the normal course of even a fine lawyer's career. The burden is on Miers to demonstrate such talents, and on senators to compel such a demonstration or reject the nomination.

(Read the whole thing. It's a must.)

Harriet Miers may have many good qualities, but a qualified nominee for the Supreme Court she is surely not.

Think what the Framers of the Constitution would say.


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What to do with Comrade Lenin?

Okay, I'm much more of a capitalist than that last post would suggest, whatever my admiration for Socrates, but let's turn here to one of the giants of the last century, V.I. Lenin, revolutionary anti-capitalist and all-around nasty Bolshevik. Apparently, no one's quite sure what to do with him -- or, rather, no one's quite sure what to do with his body, which continues to lie in state long after his regime collapsed and his ideology fell into disrepute -- happily so, in both cases. Here's what's going on:

For eight decades he has been lying in state on public display, a cadaver in a succession of dark suits, encased in a glass box beside a walkway in the basement of his granite mausoleum. Many who revere him say he is at peace, the leader in repose beneath the lights. Others think he just looks macabre.

Time has been unkind to Lenin, whose remains here in Red Square are said to sprout occasional fungi, and whose ideology and party long ago fell to ruins. Now the inevitable question has returned. Should his body be moved?

Revisiting a proposal that thwarted Boris N. Yeltsin, who faced down tanks but in his time as president could not persuade Russians to remove the Soviet Union's founder from his place of honor, a senior aide to President Vladimir V. Putin raised the matter last week, saying it was time to bury the man.

"Our country has been shaken by strife, but only a few people were held accountable for that in our lifetime," said the aide, Georgi Poltavchenko. "I do not think it is fair that those who initiated the strife remain in the center of our state near the Kremlin."

In the unending debate about what exactly the new Russia is, the subject of Lenin resembles a Rorschach inkblot test. People project their views of their state onto him and see what they wish. And so as Mr. Poltavchenko's suggestion has ignited fresh public sparring over Lenin's place, both in history and in the grave, the dispute has been implicitly bizarre and a window into the state of civil society here.

Ah, the twist and turns and tensions of Russian history. Russia always seems to be wrestling with its past even as its past lives on in the present and threatens its future. It's hardly for me -- a non-Russian and an ardent opponent of everything Lenin stood for -- to say, but I wonder if it wouldn't be best to put Lenin to rest for good.

Best for Russia, that is.

Russia must surely continue to look to and learn from its past, but how can it renew itself, how can it move forward, when its past is so present? Lenin himself understood that a new regime needs to establish its own identity with its own symbols and mythologies. It would only be appropriate for him to be buried accordingly.

Remember, but move on: Let Lenin live on in the history books, not on display in Red Square.

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Don't worry, be happy: You're in Bhutan!

What is happiness? How is it measured?

What is a healthy society? How is it measured?

Given our emphasis on money, on economic well-being, happiness is often linked to financial success both individual and political. Money may not be able to buy us love or happiness, but it can go a long way towards satisfying our most primal needs and our most desperate longings. Towering figures like Socrates were poor, to be sure, but they were the exceptions. Indeed, as much as Socrates himself managed to link true happiness to justice, that is, to a healthy, balanced soul, that is, to philosophy, he understood that he was the exception and that most men (and women) are more like the patriarch Cephalus and his son Polemarchus, both of whom link living well, and hence happiness, back to money. When you have money, after all, you can do what you want, and that means happiness.

Just read Book I of Plato's Republic. Then read Machiavelli's The Prince, where that great founder of modernity uncovered the desire to acquire at the core of human nature. Then read Locke's Second Treatise on Government, where that great founder of modern liberalism explains, among other things, just what it is that makes money so alluring. Remember, Locke said that we human beings have the natural rights to life, liberty, and property. Jefferson may have changed "property" to "the pursuit of happiness," but the connection between property and happiness wasn't lost. In America, and throughout much of the West and increasingly throughout much of the rest of the world, happiness means property and property means money.

Well, I'm not about to discourse on the nature of happiness, a task well beyond the narrow confines of a blog, but this cursory and somewhat pretentious prelude brings me to the purpose of this post: I came across an interesting article at the Times earlier this evening about, of all places, Bhutan, a remote kingdom in the Himalayas. (I don't know much about Bhutan, but it did produce a wonderful little movie called The Cup.) Well, it seems that Bhutan has found a new way to measure happiness -- and it isn't reduced down to a statistic like per capita GDP. It's a long article -- and I certainly recommend it in its entirety -- but here's how it gets going:

In 1972, concerned about the problems afflicting other developing countries that focused only on economic growth, Bhutan's newly crowned leader, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decided to make his nation's priority not its G.D.P. but its G.N.H., or gross national happiness.

Bhutan, the king said, needed to ensure that prosperity was shared across society and that it was balanced against preserving cultural traditions, protecting the environment and maintaining a responsive government. The king, now 49, has been instituting policies aimed at accomplishing these goals.

Now Bhutan's example, while still a work in progress, is serving as a catalyst for far broader discussions of national well-being.

Around the world, a growing number of economists, social scientists, corporate leaders and bureaucrats are trying to develop measurements that take into account not just the flow of money but also access to health care, free time with family, conservation of natural resources and other noneconomic factors.

The goal, according to many involved in this effort, is in part to return to a richer definition of the word happiness, more like what the signers of the Declaration of Independence had in mind when they included "the pursuit of happiness" as an inalienable right equal to liberty and life itself.

It's an interesting idea, and the article takes us well beyond Bhutan's borders -- to Canada, in part, but also to some serious discussions in contemporary philosophy and political science. Make of it what you will. I've studied enough ancient political philosophy, and I'm enough of a good modern liberal, not to discount the importance of money and property in our lives, and, like Machiavelli himself, I can hardly deny my own desire to acquire. But there's something awfully reductionist about the way we value money and property over and above non-economic factors that may constitute happiness in a truly fundamental, and truly human, way.

Even a rich man may have a barren soul, after all, and even a rich society may not be able to provide its members with genuine happiness.

Bhutan may not have all the answers, but it certainly seems to be onto something.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Rigging the Iraqi referendum

There's a bit of good news coming out of Iraq today:

Iraq's Parliament voted today to cancel a last-minute rule change that would have made it almost impossible for Iraq's new constitution to fail in the upcoming national referendum.

The reversal came a day after United Nations official in Baghdad told Shiite and Kurdish leaders that the new rule was a violation of international election standards. Sunni Arab leaders who oppose the constitution had also criticized the rule change, saying it amounted to rigging the referendum in advance.

The Shiite and Kurdish leaders capitulated today, with 119 of 157 legislators voting to cancel the rule change. But Shiite leaders said they were still deeply concerned about whether the vote would be fair, and they left the door open to challenging the results if the constitution fails on Oct. 15.

The Shiite leaders said they believed insurgents might manipulate the vote through selective violence. They said they had agreed to cancel the change only after securing a promise from the Iraqi government that it would prevent that from happening.

But there is still cause for concern:

The dispute over the referendum has already sharpened sectarian divisions over the constitution, and the uneasy resolution today seemed to open the door to further dissension, especially if the violence grows worse.

The Shiite leaders gave no hint about what standard they would use in judging the legitimacy of the vote, which is almost certain to be accompanied by major insurgent attacks.

Just hours after legislators debated the constitution in Baghdad, a bomb in Hilla, south of Baghdad, tore through a Shiite mosque, killing at least 25 people and wounding more than 87, police officials said. The bomb was placed near the entrance to the Ibn Al-Nama mosque and detonated just as the call to prayer began, marking the first day of the holy month of Ramadan for Shiites, said Ahssan al-Khalidi, spokesman for the Hilla police department.

Some Sunni Arab leaders, who had threatened to boycott the referendum after hearing of the rule change, expressed relief about today's vote. But many remained angry that the change had been made in the first place.

There are some
serious problems with the proposed constitution, but fixing the referendum rules to ensure success could have intensified the already tense sectarianism that divides the Sunnis, formerly the Iraq's rulers under Saddam, from the majority Shiite-Kurd coalition in the Iraqi Parliament.

Iraq already faces enough ongoing problems — the troubled and largely overhyped reconstruction, Shiite extremism in the south (where the British are facing threats from insurgents and discontents), and an insurgency that is showing no signs of letting up.

Furthermore, the Bush Administration and the American occupation generally are face increasing criticism not just from the anti-war movement but from influential figures on the right, such as Chuck Hagel and Francis Fukuyama.

And here's what John McCain said a few days ago to General Myers at a joint hearing of the Senate and House Armed Services committees: "General Myers seems to assume that things have gone well in Iraq. General Myers seems to assume that the American people, the support for our conflict there is not eroding. General Myers seems to assume that everything has gone fine and our declarations of victory, of which there have been many, have not had an impact on American public opinion. Things have not gone as we had planned or expected, nor as we were told by you, General Myers. And that's why I'm very worried, because I think we have to win this conflict."

Vietnam Iraq may or may not be, but McCain is right. The United States has to win. There is no other option.

But winning means not just defeating the insurgency, to the degree that that is even possible, but constructing a viable Iraqi government to take charge of a reconstructed Iraq. The parliamentary elections back in January went some way towards that goal, but Iraq now needs a constitution before it can continue the arduous task of building a stable, long-term democracy.

It is tempting to approve of the effort to lower the threshold for popular approval of Iraq's proposed constitution, but Iraq's democracy must be built legitimately and without recourse to such desperate measures. That is, both the process and the constitution itself must be recognized as legitimate by all three major groups if Iraq is ever to be anything more than a fragmented union threatened by sectarian strife and general mistrust.

Obstacles abound and the insurgency will continue to wreak havoc throughout the country, but at least the upcoming referendum won't be "rigged". Iraqis, after all, need to know that democracy isn't a game.

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The qualifications of Harriet Miers

I intend to do another long round-up of reaction to the Harriet Miers nomination (which still continues to baffle me) later today or tomorrow, once some of the dust has settled, but for now I wanted to quote a comment that a reader left in reply to my first round-up, published late Monday night:

I just plugged "Harriet Miers" into Westlaw as a search term for all federal decisions. The result: She has been named in exactly six federal decisions. In one of these as Chair of the Texas Lottery Commission, in another as a member of the Dallas City Council, and only in four as a lawyer on the case. (One of these was a discovery motion in bankruptcy court which she lost in its entirety.) This is not even a mediocre track record for a lawyer who is involved in federal litigation. Remember, not every decision that is reported in Westlaw is reported in the federal reporters. None of these were appellate decisions.

By contrast, I plugged in "David Boies." He is named as lead counsel in 185 federal decisions reported in Westlaw.

What does this mean? Well, that Ms. Miers is a rather unimpressive and underqualified nominee for a seat on the highest court in the land -- and perhaps for a seat on any court. Much is made of her legal background, including a managing partnership at a large Dallas law firm, but what exactly are her legal qualifications? Cronyism aside, that's the big question.

Wonkette continues to add to her Miers pages -- see here.

Breaking news: Drudge is reporting that Miers "supported full civil rights for gays and lesbians" and "backed AIDS education programs for [the] city of Dallas". The Time piece to which he links is here. That won't exactly endear her to the anti-gay right (i.e., Bush's base), but here at The Reaction that's one big point in her favour.

I still think she's the wrong choice for the Supreme Court, but at least in this regard she's on the right side.

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The blame game board game

Bill Christofferson -- "recovered" journalist, Democratic strategist/consultant, and author of The Xoff Files blog (at, a Wisconsin politics site) -- sent me an e-mail today that deserves mention. Mr. Christofferson is the co-creator of a new board game called The Blame Game. Here's how he puts it at his blog: "It is called 'The Blame Game,' and the object is to get out of New Orleans -- but there is no way out on the board, as players encounter the same problems the city’s residents did before, during, and after the hurricane." All proceeds will "benefit victims of the hurricane".

Check out his post for more information. See here for a column in the Austin American-Statesman about the game.

It's a sensitive topic, to be sure, but sometimes satire is the best weapon of all.

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Harriet Miers: The wrong choice for the Supreme Court

(See here for why I supported Roberts. See here for a list of all my posts on Roberts, Gonzales, and the other candidates.)

Last week, John Roberts was confirmed 78-22 by the Senate to be the 17th chief justice of the United States. That wasn't much of a surprise, whatever the justifiable reservations of his critics. With his confirmation, attention turned to nominee #2, Bush's pick to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. And that pick, announced on Roberts's first day on the job, is:

Gonzales? Luttig? McConnell? Clement? Jones? Brown? Owen? Garza? Thompson? Alito? Wilkinson? Batchelder? Sykes? Callahan? Olson? Corrigan? Estrada? Cornyn? Martinez? Williams? Posner? Hatch? Glendon? Kyl?

Uh, no. Conservatives all, these at least would have been nominees with suitable qualifications for a seat on the Supreme Court.

Federal judges, politicians, legal scholars, Justice Department officials. Makes sense to look in those areas, no?

No. Bush picked another Cheney -- the very person heading up the search to find O'Connor's replacement:

Harriet Miers.

Currently White House counsel, Ms. Miers has never been a judge and has never argued a case before the Supreme Court. She ran a big law firm, was the president of the Dallas Bar Association, a Dallas councilwoman, chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission, and, then, in Bush's White House, assistant to the president and staff secretary, assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff, and now, yes, counsel to the president. A distinguished career, to be sure, but one worthy of a spot on the Supreme Court? I think not.

How do you spell cronyism? I thought it was B-R-O-W-N, but apparently it's M-I-E-R-S. Yes, Ms. Miers is yet another Bush lackey. A suck-up. Bush calls her "a pit bull in size 6 shoes" (see here). Miers calls Bush "the most brilliant man she had ever met" (see here). Bush may be right. Miers may be insane.

Wonkette has a lot on Miers, including her resume, here.

Needless to say, the blogosphere went nuts this morning. Memeorandum was swamped with updated posts from across the spectrum.

In particular, conservatives aren't at all happy. Hugh Hewitt says Miers is "a solid, B+ pick," but Professor Bainbridge replies that the Supreme Court is "no place for B+ picks".

At The Wall Street Journal's op-ed page, Randy Barnett suitably quotes Hamilton, from Federalist No. 76:

To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity... He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.

Which means:

To be qualified, a Supreme Court justice must have more than credentials; she must have a well-considered "judicial philosophy," by which is meant an internalized view of the Constitution and the role of a justice that will guide her through the constitutional minefield that the Supreme Court must navigate. Nothing in Harriet Miers's professional background called upon her to develop considered views on the extent of congressional powers, the separation of powers, the role of judicial precedent, the importance of states in the federal system, or the need for judges to protect both the enumerated and unenumerated rights retained by the people. It is not enough simply to have private opinions on these complex matters; a prospective justice needs to have wrestled with them in all their complexity before attaining the sort of judgment that decision-making at the Supreme Court level requires, especially in the face of executive or congressional disagreement...

Given her lack of experience, does anyone doubt that Ms. Miers's only qualification to be a Supreme Court justice is her close connection to the president? Would the president have ever picked her if she had not been his lawyer, his close confidante, and his adviser?

Of course not. Which is one reason why Bill Kristol, over at The Weekly Standard, is "disappointed, depressed, and demoralized," why Michelle Malkin is "utterly underwhelmed," and why Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit is similarly "underwhelmed".

At Power Line, Paul Mirengoff thinks it's cronyism and John Hinderaker is disappointed. More: "This nominee is a two-fer -- she would not have been selected but for her gender, and she would not have been selected but for her status as a Bush crony. So instead of a 50-year old conservative experienced jurist we get a 60-year old with no judicial experience who may or may not be conservative."

Blogs for Bush isn't "very excited" and is in fact quite disappointed, too.

RedState (among others) points out that Miers gave money to Bentsen in '87 and Gore in '88.

The Volokh Conspiracy calls Miers's nomination "a squandered opportunity": "[L]ooking at Miers [sic] resume, I can see nothing in her career or her resume to suggest that she has ever thought in any meaningful manner about larger questions of law or judicial philosophy."

Southern Appeal puts it more bluntly: "I am done with President Bush: Harriet Miers? Are you freakin' kidding me?! Can someone -- anyone -- make the case for Justice Miers on the merits? Seriously, this is the best the president could do? And what really sticks in my craw is the president's unwillingness to have a national debate about the proper method of interpreting the Constitution. I suppose I should have seen this coming when White House staffers freaked out over Chief Justice Roberts's ties to the Federalist Society. Thanks for nothing, Mr. President. You had better pray that Justice Miers is a staunch judicial conservative, because if she turns out to be another O'Connor then the Republican Party is in for a world of hurt. Un-freakin'-believable."

Professor Bainbridge, once more, is "appalled". (Check out this post for a scathing run-down of Miers's deficiencies.)

Nope, conservatives aren't happy one bit. (Although, Confirm Them notes that a few conservatives are "comfortable with the president’s selection of Miers".)


Which makes this all the more fun for us liberals and moderates who have been waiting for the conservative movement to implode.

I'm certainly to the right of Daily Kos, but Kos himself is right on the mark here: "[T]his is the sort of pick that can have real-world repercussions in 2006, with a demoralized Republican Right refusing to do the heavy lifting needed to stem big losses. That Bush went this route rather than throwing his base the red meat they craved is nothing less than a sign of weakness. For whatever reason, Rove and Co. decided they weren't in position to wage a filibuster fight with Democrats on a Supreme Court justice and instead sold out their base. We'll have several months to pick through Miers' record, as well as highlight her role in any number of Bush scandals... But my early sense is that this is already a victory -- both politically and judicially -- for Democrats. In fact, it should be great fun watching conservatives go after Bush. He may actually break that 39-40 floor in the polls, given he's just pissed off the very people who have propped up his failed presidency."

Sit back and enjoy? Indeed.

Kevin Drum at Political Animal has a nice round-up of more conservative reaction -- including David Frum, Pat Buchanan, John Podhoretz, and Jonah Goldberg.

Other liberal/moderate voices:

Steve Clemons at The Washington Note doesn't "see the stomach among Dems yet for a fight".

Obsidian Wings: "This is a nomination that shows us, once again, how little Bush cares about little things like a person's qualifications to hold a job, and his lack of respect for the Supreme Court. That should not please anyone, and apparently it hasn't."

Bruce Reed at The Has-Been calls the Supreme Court Bush's "dumping ground for hacks".

Ezra Klein says "[t]he Right is ready to jump off a cliff". At TAPPED: "This may be the end of the Bush coalition, and, in that, the end of the Bush administration. The only question is why they did it."

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo: "The key that this nomination should and, I suspect, will turn on is that the she fits the Bush administration mold -- she's a loyalist through and through. The lack of any other clear qualifications for the job becomes clear in that context."

Greg's Opinion: "I've got to wonder if the Rove/Bush machine have truly lost their last remaining connection to the political radar that has, up till Katrina, served them fairly well."

Majikthise calls it "an odd pick". Yes, to say the least.

Steve Soto at The Left Coaster: "Miers is being nominated for one major reason: Bush wants her and Roberts there to protect this administration in the legal battles to come. But until she is confirmed, the seat is vacant. She can be opposed simply because she isn’t qualified. At a time when matters of great importance to this nation will be coming to the court, Democrats have a right to demand as much information from Miers as possible, and if they cannot get such information, she should be opposed, even filibustered."

See also The Heretik, The Glittering Eye, David Corn, The Mahablog, and Dean's World.

And, of course, The Moderate Voice.

Finally, here's Andrew Sullivan: "Think of her as a very capable indentured servant of the Bush family. She'll do what they want." And: "The only reason I can think of for Bush to rattle his base in this fashion is the same reason Clinton decided to push his luck with a blow-job in the Oval Office: "Because I could." He picked Miers because he could. If he wasn't allowed to get his favorite crony, Gonzales, he was going to go one better. This is not to say we shouldn't give the Miers nomination a thorough and fair look... I'm not sure yet whether she'd make a decent Justice. But, boy, does this pick remind us of who GWB is: about as arrogant a person as anyone who has ever held his office. Now the base knows how the rest of us have felt for close to five years. He had one accountability moment. He doesn't expect another."


So where do things stand? Here's the Times:

There is still much to learn about Harriet E. Miers, but in naming her to the Supreme Court, President Bush revealed something about himself: that he has no appetite, at a time when he and his party are besieged by problems, for an all-out ideological fight.

Many of his most passionate supporters on the right had hoped and expected that he would make an unambiguously conservative choice to fulfill their goal of clearly altering the court's balance, even at the cost of a bitter confirmation battle. By instead settling on a loyalist with no experience as a judge and little substantive record on abortion, affirmative action, religion and other socially divisive issues, Mr. Bush shied away from a direct confrontation with liberals and in effect asked his base on the right to trust him on this one.

The question is why.

On one level, his reasons for trying to sidestep a partisan showdown are obvious, and come down to his reluctance to invest his diminished supply of political capital in a battle over the court.

The White House is still struggling to recover from its faltering response to Hurricane Katrina. The Republican Party is busily trying to wave away a scent of second-term scandal. The relentlessly bloody insurgency in Iraq continues to weigh heavily on his presidency. And no president can retain his political authority for long if he loses his claim to the center...

Looked at another way, the choice is much harder to explain. In selecting Ms. Miers, Mr. Bush stepped deeper into a political thicket that had already scratched up his well-tended image of competence, the criticism that he is prone to stocking the government with cronies rather than people selected solely for their qualifications.

Perhaps even more seriously for him and his party, he left many conservatives feeling angry and deflated, if not betrayed, greatly exacerbating a problem that has been growing more acute for weeks because of the right's concern about unchecked government spending following Hurricane Katrina. For an administration that has at every turn tried to avoid the mistakes of Mr. Bush's father, especially the first President Bush's alienation of his right wing and the subsequent lack of enthusiasm for his re-election effort in 1992, the fallout on Monday was especially glaring.

A few months and a political epoch ago, Mr. Bush was willing to go to the mat for a controversial conservative nominee, pressing the Senate repeatedly to confirm John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations and then giving Mr. Bolton a recess appointment when Democrats blocked him. On Monday, weakened and struggling to avoid premature lame duck status, the administration had to defend itself against suggestions from the right that it has not lost just its way but its nerve.

We shall see.


Am I enjoying this? Yes. Is it good for America? No.

However much I may like watching the right wing come apart at the seams, America needs a Supreme Court that rises above mere competence and aspires to excellence. That, after all, is what the Framers of the Constitution envisioned. Cronyism aside, America can do better than Harriet Miers. She may be a smart, loyal, pleasant woman with a reputable career behind her, but she's no Supreme Court justice.

My vote: No.

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

The White House and The Plame Game

Were Bush and Cheney involved in the Plame leak? George Stephanopoulos thinks so, as reported here by Think Progress. For more, see Joe Gandelman's post at The Moderate Voice, which includes a list of blogs that have commented on the story. Crooks and Liars has the Stephanopoulos video here (scroll down).

For more on Judy Miller (to whom the leak was leaked) and her relationship to her newspaper, The New York Times, see Jay Rosen at PressThink: "It’s kind of staggering, the way she has hijacked the institution by staging an “epic collision” between herself and the state... By choosing confrontation when she didn't have to, and by going to jail in circumstances that allowed for other, subtler options (good enough for her peers but not for her) Judy Miller has made a great newspaper’s history for it." (Read the whole post. It's excellent.) In other words, she ain't no martyr for journalism. An egomaniac maybe, but no martyr.

For some background, see Michael Isikoff's latest piece at Newsweek.

Obviously, there's a lot more we need to know.

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Floating houses in the Netherlands

Yet another interesting article in Germany's Der Spiegel magazine: "The Dutch," it seems, "are gearing up for climate change with amphibious houses. If rivers rise above their banks, the houses simply rise upwards as well."

"Hurricane Katrina and her lesser cousin Hurricane Rita have sparked interest in the low lying Netherlands. Hordes of hydraulic engineers from Louisiana or Texas are making the pilgrimage to the North Sea coastline to look at the fortifications. The inland river dykes are also considered exemplary models." After all, much of the Netherlands, and in particular its populous coastal regions, lies below sea level, protected by a series of dykes, much like New Orleans and other areas along the Gulf Coast. And that's precisely the problem:

Climatologists predict that precipitation in The Netherlands could increase as much as 25 percent. At the same time, because of the small kingdom's dense population, there is increasing pressure to build in areas prone to flooding. Already, though, the country defies the laws of physics simply by existing: More than a quarter of its land lies below sea level. And, year by year, the land is sinking a little bit lower. The Dutch protect themselves from going under through a network of canals and pumps. It is not only the sea which threatens the mighty barrage on the coast. On the other side lies the Rhine River, which branches out and forms a wide-reaching delta with the Maas. To prevent such huge swaths of land from flooding in summer and winter storms, the Dutch are designating more and more land along their rivers as flood zones. Within the next few decades, the area will compose close to 500,000 hectares -- or about twice the size of the German state of Saarland.

For this reason, the Dutch are experimenting with amphibious houses that can float to accommodate rising flood waters:

The key to making this idea a reality is a patented technique whereby the foundation of the construction can be transformed into a float. A foam core is encased in concrete, with steel cables securing it against the pull of potential currents. Individual pontoons, whether for residential blocks or chicken coops, can be joined to one another like Lego blocks. As a result, a maritime settlement is born.

Not many of these houses have been built (there are some along the river Maas), but entire communities of amphibious houses are being planned, the first near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. It's an interesting idea that may turn out to be quite practical, especially where population density is high and living in low-lying areas is a necessity. I'm not sure if it's the right solution for New Orleans, or if Gulf Coast residents will someday live in floating houses (which could still be destroyed by hurricanes), but other parts of the world -- notably poor, high-density ones -- could surely benefit from some of the visionary work being done in the Netherlands.

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That's a whole lotta facial hair

Speaking of Germany, did you know that weekend has witnessed the World Championship in Beards and Moustaches in Berlin? Apparently, "[s]ome 300 bearded and mustachioed members of the global facial hair community are expected to take part in the competition," which is divided into various categories (moustache, goatee and sideburn, full beard). And did you know that there is actually a German National Federation of Beard Clubs, of which the Berlin Beard Club is a member?

No? Well, I just thought you'd like to know.

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Democracy in Deutschland (addendum vier)

Germany still hasn't sorted out the results of last month's federal election. (I wrote about it here, here, here, and here.) Preliminary results from the postponed election in one of Dresden's districts show Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats ahead of Gerhard Schroeder's Socialists (SPD), but coalition negotiations will continue next week regardless of the outcome there.

There was initially talk of a red-yellow-green "traffic-light coalition" of the SPD, the Free Democrats (FDP), and the Greens, as well as of a black-yellow-green "Jamaica coalition" of the CDU-CSU, the FDP, and the Greens, but it seems that the Greens and the neo-liberal FDP are reluctant to form a government together as junior partners in any such coalition. It now look more likely that the two major parties will form a so-called "grand coalition," though it remains to be seen whether Merkel or Schroeder, or someone else, would become chancellor under such an arrangement. There are rumours that Schroeder is set to resign, but Merkel also has her detractors in the CDU and the CSU (the CDU''s Bavarian sister party), especially after her party's poor showing in the election after leading so formidably in the polls leading up to it.

However, a red-red-green SPD-Left-Greens coalition is still possible, assuming that Schroeder recants on his promise not to negotiate with the Left Party (a union of left-wing SPD dissenters and former East German Communists). So, too, is a CDU-CSU/FDP minority government, or, less likely, an SPD/Greens one. So, too, however, is another election -- neither a "grand coalition" nor a minority government would likely last long.

See here for an excellent analysis of the election's aftermath, "a race to self-destruction".

I'll write more when there are further developments.

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