Saturday, July 16, 2005

SCOTUS Speculations


The wheels go round and round...

By now it’s common knowledge that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is retiring from the Supreme Court, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist is not. Naturally, the rumor mills have hit overdrive, on all sites interested in the High Court, which is to say pretty much everyone.

It occurs to me that a good sense of what to expect, would come from a consideration of what we already know about the Justices. Some of it is bound to be wrong, but in the main we should still get the gist of it.

First, why did O’Connor resign? Her health is certainly not a factor, nor was there any obvious dissatisfaction with her colleagues or the Court’s direction. For all appearances, she seems to be retiring solely because she feels she has done what she wanted, which is fine, except that I don’t buy it.

I am a big fan of the late Roger Zelazny, especially his Chronicles of Amber series. I remember one scene where the family on which the story focuses, and a key dispute where each side has a leader, and the family separates both figuratively and literally according to where they stand. The Court is the same way, led on the Left and Right by Ginsburg and Scalia respectively. Rehnquist is the Chief Justice, but that doesn’t give him the most influence. With all the 5-4 decisions in the past few years, the divide has been fluid and real.

Next up on each team would be Breyer and Souter for the Left, and Thomas and Rehnquist on the Right. That left the final three to swing the calls, Kennedy, Stevens, and of course O’Connor. Those final three most likely think of themselves as Independents in the power balance of the Court, but that doesn’t change their personal tilts. O’Connor, it may be remembered, was a strong Bush supporter in 2000, while Ginsburg was a vocal advocate of Gore, and likely also for Kerry. This suggests to me that O’Connor wanted to give Bush a clear nominee all his own, while Ginsburg will try to hold out to 2009 and 2010 on the hope that a Democrat President will choose her replacement.

This brings us to Rehnquist. If Rehnquist steps down at the same time as O’Connor, expect the RINOs to demand a “balance”, matching a conservative Justice with a “moderate”, meaning weak enough to satisfy the Democrats, as in Souter II. But since Rehnquist says he is not stepping down, then Bush is free to nominate whomever he likes, which hopefully means a Garza or a Brown. Since Bush has not had a nominee before, his nominee will probably pass far more easily than the press realizes, especially with the focus on just one nominee, and since Bush is not going to announce the nominee with any more time than he needs; this is exactly why we have not heard the nominee’s name before - it’s good tactics.

If I had to guess, I have a feeling that Rehnquist will try to tough out the coming session, and will step down next summer. Yes, it will make the Court an issue in the 2006 Elections, but Ginsburg is weaker than she lets on (I suspect), and it is entirely possible that Rehnquist will try to talk her into stepping out with him, which makes it likely that Bush will wait until then to submit Gonzalez, possibly for Chief Justice. The real question is the nominee for the third slot (Ginsberg); will Bush push for a Conservative to replace Ginsberg (who replaced a fairly Conservative Justice in 1993) , or appeal to “moderates” with someone more to their liking (though still likely to be labeled “Hard Right” for political attack value). I’m hoping Bush will play it straight and move the Court to the Originalist lane as much as he can.

Scalia, Breyer, Thomas, Souter, and Kennedy are all in pretty good health and have no plans to go. As for Stevens, I’d expect he’ll do his best to hang on to 2009, in hopes for a Democrat President to follow Bush. If his health allows it, that is.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Driving The Slander-Monkeys From the Temple of Knowledge


A couple thousand years ago, an itinerant Rabbi was teaching a message of hope and compassion to the world, not a new message so much as a reminder of the original truth, and a personal lesson by example. It happens, the accounts are written, that this Rabbi came to the Temple in Jerusalem, where he saw merchants exchanging currency for acceptable sorts of coin, and selling various animals for the required sacrifices. It happens, say the stories, that these merchants were not content to perform a necessary service or provide a convenience for pilgrims who did not have the proper accessories for their obeisance to God Almighty; they regularly cheated the people with inferior animals and high fees and dishonest scales. This outraged the Rabbi, who was ordinarily the most peaceful of men, so much so that later when he was murdered, he asked God to forgive his killers. In his rage against this injustice, the Rabbi fashioned a whip out of rope, and he drove the merchants from the temple by force.

This story is an interesting one to me, not only because it tells how Jesus Christ loved Justice, but notes that his actions were not always predictable to the people around him. While Jesus taught a consistent and deep lesson of forgiveness, he also taught about consequences, and the need for Good to oppose Evil.

What does this have to do with a political blog? According to Blogherald, there are now more than 60 million blogs in the world, more than 10 million in the “Anglosphere” (US-Canada-UK-Australia-NZ). I couldn’t find an official count for the number of political blogs, but a quick look on any subject at Technorati shows a continuing explosion there, as well. Lots of opinions, enough to suit any taste. And a lot of them have endured; where the average blog dies out after the initial excitement wears off, there are many political blogs which have survived and grown. Partly, this is due to Dan Rather, whose failed attempt to influence last year’s Presidential Election with forged documents demonstrated the value of all sorts of specialized knowledge websites; the nation learned a new respect for typesetters and military clerks. But also, the continuing prevalence of slander-screaming, lie-flinging dung monkeys shows the deep need for regular sweeps by volunteers in the web world.

In “The Third Wave”, Alvin Toffler explained that the world operates on a basic system of social intercourse, which drives the worth not only of nations but individuals as well. This intercourse is defined by a “wave” of development which drives the character of its identity and growth. The first wave was Agriculture, which greatly improved the production of food and led to the first towns and communities of nations. The second wave was Industry, which greatly improved distribution and trade, significantly improving living standards and driving the natural order through cooperative ventures and alliances. The third wave is Intellectual Property, which opens the door to mutual-gain initiatives and truly symbiotic relationships at almost every conceivable level.

But there are threats to these waves as well. Robber gangs pillaged first-wave towns to take the food they wanted, while monopolies and oligarchies perverted the operation of industrial nations and communities. Today, there are people strongly opposed to the free exchange of ideas and the development of integral associations. What could once be dismissed as Luddites and Flat Earthers, have themselves used the very tools of Intellect to pursue a strategy of conquest against the common good. Rather than correct their views to withstand scholarly scrutiny, they mock scholars to deny them the chance to consider their actions. Rather than adopt constructive and realistic worldviews for their future resolutions, they do their all to smear the lens from gaining a proper context to their intentions and efforts. Rather than cooperate to common gain, they demand the absolute destruction of their enemies, defining as ‘enemy’ anyone who dares to question them or suggest constructive alternatives. They are cunning with words, in the manner of the ‘Newspeak’ and ‘Doublethink’ Orwell warned about more than a half-century ago. They oppose all that must come to bring a better future, and so must be denied the influence they demand, so long as their motives and tactics are destructive and zero-sum. That’s where the blogs come in.

You may notice that in describing these Slander Monkeys, I did not name their political party or any specific identity. This is partly to avoid the distraction of focusing here on one individual or claim, but also because we also carry the responsibility for countering such tactics regardless of who is using them. That is where the MSM collapsed; it no longer can claim to represent the public interest, but each agency and conglomerate does as it pleases, following a self-interest rather than the national priority. I can’t be too harsh on the individuals, I guess, since we all put up with various disappointments in order to continue receiving regular paychecks (itself an issue worth discussing, but for another time), and the slide from committed defender of the truth to Hairspray Flunky can be hard to notice by the person in the descent. Blogs, for the most part, are not only totally controlled by their writer/editor/janitor/programmer, but do not generally provide very much in the way of revenue or influence, so that the blogger is not particularly tempted to sway from his/her original purpose in writing the blog. For good or ill, bloggers tend to maintain their character and integrity. Bad for personal finances, true, but worse for Trolls and Slander Monkeys, because bloggers tend to be quite an idealistic community, determined to shine the light of objective analysis and comparative evidence on just about any claim, and they tend to be rough on posers and rhetorical thugs.

Ideas are more important now than ever before. This is not only because it is so easy to convey an idea around the world, but also because in combination with supporting writers and theorists, an idea can become a movement almost immediately. It is therefore more important than ever before, to sweep away obstacles from the work of honest debate and analysis.

Time for driving the Slander Monkeys from the Temple of Knowledge.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Defending Hollywood?


Once again, I find myself in that bizarre parallel universe, where I find myself sympathetic to the plight of people who ordinarily should deserve naught but my contempt. Even so, here I go…

One thing which I have seen in many a column and blog, is harsh rebuke for Hollywood for not depicting Arabs and Muslims as terrorists. After all, they say, we all know very well that 99.999999999999% of all the evil done in the world today, is either done by Muslim fanatics, or on the influence and instructions from Karl Rove, depending on your source. Corporate villains and neo-Nazis are just ridiculous caricatures, and it’s well past time to get villains who match the real perpetrators.

Well folks, I have to say I don’t like movies and shows where they try to slam businessmen or the Intelligence community, just because they’ve done it for decades already. But when it comes down to the race and culture of the bad guys, I have to admit that Reality is not really applicable.

I thought about a comprehensive list of movies and the villains chosen, but that would be dry and miss the whole point. So instead, I will just call your attention to 2 movies of note. Both movies involved terrorists operating on American soil, with a determined and heroic movie star to stop them. Both films had big budgets and featured big-time stars, one with Denzel Washington and the other with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both had all the normal ingredients for a big hit, including the necessary big booms (one even had a nuke) and intense dramatic scores. Neither was a bomb, exactly, but neither did very well at the box office for the caliber of stars and directors they carried, either. Both featured Arab terrorists, accurate in dress, appearance, and mannerisms. And no one I have met, to this day, remembers the villains’ names or their plans in the films “The Siege” or “True Lies”. The villains, as movies go, were flops.

Consider, on the other hand, villains portrayed in the films “Die Hard” and “Swordfish”. Were Hans Gruber or Gabriel Shear believable, or representative of any known terrorist group? No. Did the audience care? No. The smooth, urbane delivery of their lines, even as they killed innocent people, made them very appealing to the audience. The audience, after all, did not buy tickets to see a documentary on the characteristics and methods of the modern terrorist cell, but to see slick people look cool for a couple hours, saying and doing things you do not ordinarily see in your regular day. Seriously, does anybody really believe, for example, that if a woman became a hired assassin, as in “La Femme Nikita”, she’d look half as good as Anne Parillaud does, or that anyone can wear designer clothing and look as good after combat as they do before? If the ‘James Bond’ movies taught us anything, it’s that the desire to willingly suspend our disbelief is very strong.

So, the next time you see a villain on TV or the movies, just remember that Hollywood is not selling the truth, just a product to make money. It’s only when someone like CBS or Michael Moore forgets that they’re selling a slick lie, that it’s necessary to call them out.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Contempt of Courtroom


Is there anything in America at once so necessary and yet also so useless as a courtroom?

I spent Tuesday sitting in a courtroom. Wasting my day in a courtroom, actually. Without going into details which have nothing to do with this article, and which would violate the reasonable expectation a person has of privacy when they are just an ordinary citizen, my company had occasion to sue a customer who simply stopped paying, and then refused to even talk to us. The customer believed they were not required to pay their debt (incorrect), that they did not have to talk to us when we tried to contact them (correct), that they could refuse to accept the Certified letter (correct), even that they could ignore Sheriff’s deputies serving the Summons (wrong).

This wasn’t the first time in court with this customer. On an earlier occasion, the judge had suggested we arbitrate, and after a couple hours we had hammered out an agreement which seemed fair, giving us full payment eventually and the customer a lot more time. Unfortunately, when the time came for the first scheduled payment, the customer refused to make the payment, again refusing to talk about it with anybody, and the merry-go-round started up again. That was why I was there, sort of. Since I am not a lawyer, I was not privileged to sit at the counsel’s table before the judge, but I had been asked to be there, as a kind of moral support. That’s a long story itself, and not really relevant to the story here.

The real story begins with the fact that this should have been a quick and easy win for us. Although they had been properly served, the Defendant did not show, nor did their attorney. All we needed was to appear before the Judge who would almost certainly grant us a Summary Judgment; the same judge had presided over the first hearing was scheduled to hear this case, and was already none too happy that the Defendant had broken the agreement, and had further resisted being served. All we needed was to show up and show that the Defendant had ignored the Court Summons, and we’d be good to go.

In walked a visiting judge. Oops. A visiting judge changes everything, not the least because we had no way of knowing how he would handle the case. We soon found out and yet we did not know the worst of it.

The visiting judge did not feel that it was necessary to set up the docket in order. That is, he would decide at the end of one case which case he would hear next. As a result, everybody had to sit and wait. I’m sure the judge liked having a packed house, but this also caused problems. As each panel of jurors was seated, people had to move out of rows while the lawyers asked their questions and made their strikes. This might be the moment to mention that, like many other courtrooms, the air conditioning was less than completely effective, and the odor, whether body or that lingering aroma of old public building, gained strength and acridity. The charm of waiting for your case, which actually ended at the security desk where it is now necessary to remove all metal objects, your belt, shoes, and anything else that the machine might decide needs further inspection, had completely died five minutes into the Docket Call.

Because some of the cases involved police officers as witnesses, the Judge then decided that they should go first, in order to free up the officers. If he had said this plainly, we would at least have known we would not have seen our case tried that day, and simply returned at the end for the reset date. But he did not, and so we waited, along with everyone else. I consoled myself somewhat, by observing that since I did not have to wear makeup, I didn’t having to worry about sweat smearing my complexion or putty-colored droplets staining my suit. I was also relieved to confirm that my deodorant works under pressure. But a great chance to finally sort out the mess with our rebellious debtor has to wait for another day, and a whole day was wasted which could have been put to use in the office.

I had time to think about a variety of things while I waited for the slow wheels of Justice to do more than smell bad. This courtroom symbolized so much about the world and nation, it seemed. A number of talented people had no chance to do their work, held back through conditions they could not control, even as dozens of regular people suffered through the same delays. A number of possible solutions were available, but the people who could have put them to use had no desire to even consider them. And this condition is multiplied by the number of courtrooms across the nation, not to even consider the frivolous cases submitted and the absurd maneuvers used by lawyers who knew they could not win on the merits of their case, as well as judges and clerks who impair the court with personal attitudes and bias they carried in from home or prior arguments. Looking at recent rulings, it appears that even Supreme Court Justices are not immune to this prejudice and idiosyncratic. Going to court was never meant to be enjoyable, but the Constitution leads one to suspect the process was meant to be relatively smooth and even-handed; the process over the History of the United States shows that this ideal has always failed miserably in actual practice. Because of the heavy cost in time, work, and money to go to court, bullies of many colors have used the threat of suit to coerce submission from people and groups, and there are persons of great repute (Reverend Jackson, for one notable example) who have made a very comfortable living through the use of legal extortion to fund their lifestyles. The courtroom has become like a secret club, where the unitiated and common people are quickly marked as targets, and lose their money, liberties and rights to canny insiders well-versed in the certain tricks of documents and motions before the bar. This is why the homeowner loses to the developer, and the individual to the corporation; the larger predators have legal staffs prepared, even hungry for this arena, where the rights of ordinary people are not recognized in the practice of litigation. What the Constitution protects in theory, the Court eviscerates in practice. The vicious disinterment of long-held protections, is quickly and automatically followed by the devouring by all who choose their fight using weapons created by the rhetoric of dead languages, and with the absolute abandonment of any principled respect for the Law above appetite. Innocence is quickly raped and destroyed within the stone walls, and if Truth dares to follow in search of her sister, she soon meets the same fate. It is all too appropriate that judges wear black robes, archaic and arcane and unanswerable to people used to daylight. It speaks to the matter that Democrats see no need to change the system which allows for whim to interpret the course of our nation’s very identity and values, while most Republicans recoil at the abuse of power and the revisionist fantasies made fiat upon the land.

It is in that consideration, that I now turn to the fact that our founders gave a third of the power over Government to the courts. Never has the phrase ‘necessary evil’ so aptly applied to a group, nor has ever so small a number of men thought it meet to hold power so long as they please without consultation and moral balance. Anyone can sue an ordinary person for any reason, yet justice is not assured in any case. And yet government, which surely errs in occasion and instance, is inviolate in most cases from accountability, and when action is allowed, it is at such delay and cost that the individuals originally wronged have no hope of resolution in any foreseeable time frame. Where once it was considered meet to grant freedom up to the point where it infringed on another person’s freedom, we now see cities and states deciding acceptable conduct, even in private homes. It is generally illegal not to wear your seat belt, even though such a decision hurts no one else. In some cities, it is now illegal to smoke in your own business, even if the public has no access and it offends no one working there. It is now illegal in some cities for parents to teach their cultural values to their children, if those values are considered unacceptable by the City Council. You can be sued not only for things you might have done, but even now for things you never did, if the court agrees that you might be likely to do them in the future, or if your facility is used by someone who chooses to commit a crime. You can be punished for having a home in an area which the City would like to develop for greater tax revenue, even to the point of losing your home to be replaced by a private business. You can be held responsible for actions taken by people with whom you have never had any contact, if you appear to share similar genetic traits, and your children can be denied access to certain state facilities and schools, if they are not the right color of skin. All of these have been affirmed by court actions at many levels, and there is no process in the works to restrain the courts from these and further arrogance.

I certainly recognize the value and necessity of the court system. There must be recourse to wrong, however poorly the system works, and the very notion of tying judges directly to the political process, with regular replacement by whatever party is in power and no doubt introducing the ubiquitous PACs into things as well, makes my skin crawl. Yet for all the good which is done, it appalls me to see the evil so largely unrecognized, to say nothing of unaddressed. I ask again, therefore: Is there anything in America at once so necessary and yet also so useless as a courtroom?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Political Lessons of Nakatomi Plaza


I became a Bruce Willis fan when I first saw 'Die Hard'. I never saw him in “Moonlighting”, but in the action movie he captured my imagination. Sadly, the other ‘Die Hard’ movies weren’t as good, although I couldn’t help but notice the unspoken battle between Bruce and Hollywood in them.

All three ‘Die Hard’ movies had to deal with terrorists of a sort, and Hollywood addressed them much as they do terrorists today. In ‘Die Hard’, the terrorists turned out to be pretty ordinary thieves, just bolder and more bloody than most. In ‘Die Hard II’, the villains were dealing in drugs, and had a few bad soldiers working for them (I noticed how Hollywood tried to imply that all soldiers lean this way, though even in the movie they were never more than a small number), and in ‘Die Hard III’, the bad guy simply wanted vengeance. Hollywood’s stock answer to terrorists in all three movies was to consider them criminals, who needed to be arrested and brought to trial. But in the actual way the movies played out, more realistic and effective lessons were shown:

[] The terrorists, whether bandits, mercenaries, or simple psychotics, did not obligingly follow the rules. In fact, they made merry mayhem by forcing the authorities to follow rules, while they themselves did just as they pleased;

[] John McClane never agreed to those rules, and while it made him unpopular with the various authorities, he always saved the day (and lots of innocents), by the simple plan of killing the bad guys every chance he got, any way he could.

[] The media in the movies was just as oblivious to the facts as they are in the Real World.

I also recall another lesson from ‘Die Hard’; whichever side has Fred Thompson working for it, comes out on top.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Coming Fall


I was driving home with my daughter Friday afternoon, listening to the Hugh Hewitt show on the radio. I made the mistake of not paying attention to his guest as they discussed the SCOTUS situation. After covering the usual run of who on the High Court besides O’Connor might resign, who Bush should consider, and whom he likes the most, Hugh’s guest pointed out the reason why the Democrats will not like the outcome, no matter what happens; the last meaningful ally of the Democratic Party may well leave them behind, rendering their fate absolute.

During the opening salvoes fired from Right and Left about whom will or should be nominated, it has struck me again how completely hypocritical the Democrats and their press are being, especially when their conduct regarding Clinton’s appointment philosophy is considered. It’s no surprise, to be sure, but the absolute hysteria from the Left, even before a nominee is known, is clearly being generated by a deep-seated fear, one held by all Liberals. The simple explanation can be stated as the last wing in the halls of American Power is changing management, and no matter whom George W. Bush nominates, that shadow will continue to fall on the Left.

Televised hearings regarding Supreme Court nominees began in 1982. Since then, President Reagan named Justice Rehnquist as Chief Justice (he was appointed an Associated Justice by President Nixon in 1972), and appointed Justices O’Connor, Scalia, and Kennedy as Associate Justices. Judge Robert Bork was viciously slandered during his hearings in 1987, and the Democrats’ tactic of innuendo and character assassination became recognized.

George H.W. Bush appointed Associate Justices Souter and Thomas. The Democrats tried their same slash-and-hate tactics again, but failed in both cases.

President Clinton nominated Judges Ginsberg and Breyer, both of whom sailed through their hearings. Democrats who pretend that “both sides do it” when confronted with their behavior, cannot produce evidence that supports such a lie. In the age of New Media, the clear divide between Republican methods of reviewing the work of a judge, and the Democrats’ established trail of slander and polarized definitions won’t be hidden the way it was in years past.

But to the point; During the days of FDR and LBJ, the Democrats enjoyed heavy majorities in Congress, especially the Senate. This meant that a nominee had to appeal to the Liberal and Union sentiment to be confirmed, and even Republican Presidents knew this. While President Reagan had the charisma to go over the heads of Congress to the American people for a cause or candidate, the beating of Bork by the Left showed the limit to his power. As Democratic control receded in the Senate, it became clear that a more Conservative Judge would get a more Conservative hearing. This is why the Democrats resorted to the filibuster during W’s first term; they had no other effective weapons in their arsenal.

Whatever one thinks of the the ‘Gang of 14’, one effect of the deal they made was that when the Democrats break the deal, as they surely will, the vote on the nominee will be validated that much more effectively. And it is hard to imagine this Senate denying any nominee submitted by Bush, especially with the keen mind of Fred Thompson checking the selection.

The near future is not bright for the Democrats. The House and Senate have been trending Republican for a long time now, and show no signs of turning Left. While a Democrat might be elected President in 2008 or 2012, the increasingly Conservative Senate will not allow another Ginsburg, especially given the behavior of the Democrats in past nominations. Consider how this atmosphere affects the likely career decisions of the remaining Justices. Of the other eight, 2 have been noted for health problems in the past years, and another (Stevens) is 85 years old. Still another is said to be intent on leaving the court while he is still young enough to enjoy his retirement. Bearing in mind that no new Justices have been added to the High Court since 1994, it is not at all unreasonable to believe that President George W. Bush will appoint at least three Justices, and possibly as many as five, before he leaves office. It is entirely possible that even with a disappointment, the Supreme Court after 2008 will be distinctly Originalist. With everything else that has happened in the past eleven years, that would be the worst nightmare in the mind of Democrat strategists.

This fall will be refreshing for the country, but a cold wind indeed for the Left.