Saturday, September 03, 2005

Katie, Bar The Door

After the death tonight of Chief Justice Rehnquist, the only attractions missing from Washington in the next couple of months will the bearded lady and the dog-faced boy.

With the confirmation hearings for John Roberts scheduled for this week there was already an anticipatory feeling of partisan politics in the air. Now all hell is going to break loose. The Usual Suspects on the Left will come more unhinged than usual; I expect at least one if not more Democrat Senators to seek to postpone the Roberts hearings so they force Bush's hand in picking Rehnquist's replacement before confirming Roberts. (Early odds in Vegas have Schumer, Leahy, and Kennedy leading this effort.) The Republicans controlling the Senate will have none of it and the hearing will go forward, one way or another.

UPDATE: Bush has nominated Roberts as Chief, which is a politically astute move. This will allow the Court to have all nine Justices on the bench if Roberts is confirmed by October, as O'Connor has stated she would continue to serve until her replacement is confirmed. My guess now is that Bush will nominate Edith Clement, who was on the short list to replace O'Connor originally. Clement is also from New Orleans which will not go unnoticed.

In the meantime, the specials interest groups will either reflexively support or savagely slander whomever Bush nominates. NARAL, MoveOn, etc., already have their press releases of condemnation ready to go, they merely await a name to which they can be attached. Pro-life groups will begin a steady campaign of pressuring not only the White House but particularly Senator Specter, the pro-choice Republican who is Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, to nominate and confirm a Justice with what they believe is the proper judicial pedigree.

All of this posturing and pressure has been, and continues to be, misplaced. The Supreme Court is invested, through Article 3, with the power of interpreting laws, not making them. Yet for the past decades that is effectually what the nine unelected Justices have been doing and a complicit American electorate has enabled it to happen.

It should give the pro-choice movement pause to realize that the right to an abortion was given by fiat. It can be taken away in the same fashion and that is why these confirmation hearings are so contentious. It is has become increasingly clear that Roe v. Wade is a poorly written opinion that is antiquated, largely through advances in medical technology. (An interesting survey: Ask people who vigorously support Roe who wrote the majority opinion. Ask them if they know the criteria Justice Blackmun used for determining fetal viability. In short, ask them if they have actually read the opinion.) It took quite a bit of intellectual contortion to "discover" a right to an abortion in the Constitution but it was a logical progression from the Griswold decision of 1965, in which Justice Douglas invented Constitutional rights out of thin air.

Today it is almost unimaginable that people, 40 years on from Griswold, would disagree with the outcome of the decision, but the Devil is in the details. Apparently inventing Constitutional rights is like eating potato chips, it is hard to stop at one. My radical notion here is this: make the men and women that comprise our respective legislatures actually work. We are a Republic, let's start acting like one. For those who desire a woman to have access to an abortion, work in a legislative framework to write and pass laws allowing that access. Those in opposition can work to ban or restrict that access. Amend the Constitution if it becomes necessary.

Protestors of all political persuasions, in the coming days and weeks, will descend on the Supreme Court building in support of their beliefs; they should walk across the street to the Capitol instead. There are 535 Members of Congress and innumerable legislators on the state and local level whom we have elected to create and enact laws. We should all be discomforted, therefore, by the power that nine individuals, appointed for life and who deliberate in camera, have over us.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Tower Of Siloam

At 9:02 on the morning of April 19th, 1995, a Ryder truck exploded in front of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, among them 19 children. This bombing was a reaction to the method by which the United States Government, significantly the F.B.I. and the A.T.F., along with then Attorney General Janet Reno, handled the stand-off with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas in 1993.

Therefore, Bill Clinton's policies killed the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Of course this reasoning is nonsense. Why, then, are an admittedly small but vocal and enthusiastic number of left wing pundits and "news" outlets finding a way to blame the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina on President Bush?

As the Gulf Coast deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina it has been predictable but nevertheless disheartening to take note of those who seek to politicize a largely natural disaster. (Clearly, building a city like New Orleans 12 feet below sea level had something to do with the extent of the devastation.) I have referenced the unbridled idiocy of Robert Kennedy Jr'.s statement on the hurricane below. I might also note that Ted Kennedy has been strangely silent on this matter, which is surprising in light of his expertise on drowning.

Ipse dixit logic diminishes the dignity of public discourse. Those who practice such sophistry, irrespective of the agenda, should be admonished. I await an editorial from the New York Times. I am not holding my breath, however.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

In The Hands Of An Angry God

From Robert Kennedy Jr., via the Huffington Post:

As Hurricane Katrina dismantles Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, it’s worth recalling the central role that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour played in derailing the Kyoto Protocol and kiboshing President Bush’s iron-clad campaign promise to regulate CO2.

In March of 2001, just two days after EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman’s strong statement affirming Bush’s CO2 promise former RNC Chief Barbour responded with an urgent memo to the White House.

Barbour, who had served as RNC Chair and Bush campaign strategist, was now representing the president’s major donors from the fossil fuel industry who had enlisted him to map a Bush energy policy that would be friendly to their interests. His credentials ensured the new administration’s attention.

In 1998, Republican icon Pat Robertson warned that hurricanes were likely to hit communities that offended God. Perhaps it was Barbour’s memo that caused Katrina, at the last moment, to spare New Orleans and save its worst flailings for the Mississippi coast.

Interesting theory, Bobby. Were your Dad and Uncle killed because of their adultery?

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Best Of America

There is enough disagreement in the United States; our country was founded on an argument with England and that spirit has enlivened our political and social discourse for over 200 years. At the end of the day, however, it would be nice to think that those with whom we disagree only have different methods but the same intentions, making our country a better place. The genius of America is that we are, and continue to be, a work in progress.

I recall a very moving moment on September 11th, 2001. A news conference was taking place on The Hill and almost all Members were there. After the Congressional Leadership spoke, they broke into "America The Beautiful". As I sat there watching, still benumbed from the day's events, I realized Majority Leader Dick Armey was singing next to Maxine Waters. This is the political equivalent of oil and water moving in together. Seeing that, I knew whoever was responsible for the attacks was in big trouble. For almost all of us, what unites us is stronger than our differences.

There is a humanitarian crisis in the Gulf Coast right now of almost unimaginable proportion that calls us, once again, to the vocation of citizenship. In some way or another, from the responsibility of a Cabinet Secretary to the prayer of a little child, all of us can help. It will take time: time to mourn and time to rebuild; it is fitting and proper to do both. We are bloodied, but unbowed.

We will return to the at times contentious America with which we are familiar. When I was in Manhattan a couple of years ago a New Yorker said to me he knew the city was back to normal when the cabdrivers started being rude again. There will be time for disagreement and I plan to be one of its practitioners. But for now, on this issue, let's pull together.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Truth Emerges

Why doesn't this surprise me...

A woman who led an anti-war protest for nearly a month near President Bush's ranch said Tuesday that she's glad Bush never showed up to discuss her son's death in Iraq, saying the president's absence "galvanized the peace movement."

Cindy Sheehan's comments came as war protesters packed up their campsite near the ranch and prepared to leave Tuesday for a three-week bus tour.

"I look back on it, and I am very, very, very grateful he did not meet with me, because we have sparked and galvanized the peace movement," Sheehan told The Associated Press. "If he'd met with me, then I would have gone home, and it would have ended there."

Yeah, right. How did it go from "this is all about Casey" to that cause being subsumed by the "peace movement"? This is exactly why Bush, rightly, didn't waste his time to speak with "Mother". Had he met with her she would have found a pretense, real or invented, to continue the protest. Cindy Sheehan has gone from Grieving Mother to Media Whore and that, along with her irresponsible statements, has undermined the professed intent of her "vigil".

She has a right to protest whatever she wants, just as skeptical observers can note the increasing cynicism with which she has used the death of her son to promulgate an agenda decidedly not his own.

Monday, August 29, 2005

A First Step

"Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried"

--Winston Churchill

Just finished reading the draft of the Iraqi Constitution. (Okay, so I have some free time on my hands.) The preamble begins:

We the sons of Mesopotamia, land of the (messengers), prophets, resting place of the holy imams, the leaders of civilization and the creators of the alphabet, the cradle of arithmetic: on our land, the first law put in place by mankind was written; in our nation, the most noble era of justice in the politics of nations was laid down; on our soil, the followers of the prophet and the saints prayed, the philosophers and the scientists theorized and the writers and poets created.

What really strikes me is that this is the "Cradle of Civilization", the birthplace of written law, and this is the first Constitution they have had. Is it remotely possible for everyone in this country, for or against the war, to take a moment and consider what is happening in Iraq right now? Our Founding Fathers are in some ways remote; men from 230 years ago in leg stockings and powdered wigs, part of elementary school memorization, carved from marble. (Or granite.) The success of our country subsequent to its founding seems almost inevitable even if, as recent scholars have taught us, it wasn't. The creation of a country is fraught with peril if it is in the 18th Century or the 21st.

As challenging as it will undoubtedly be, I look forward to seeing the birth of a new hope of freedom. Today, the arguments for and against the war are held in abeyance. In a cynical time let's just watch civilized men and women work to form a democratic government. They may stumble and fall, only to rise again. There will be disagreement and rhetoric. Those hostile to a representative government will assuredly shed blood in a desperate attempt to hold back the tide of history. And yet for all its challenges, for all its faults, it is still a thing of beauty to behold.



Econ 101

A good friend of mine forwarded an email to me from a long, and I mean long, chain of people suggesting that Americans "show the oil companies" and don't buy gas on September 1st. What followed was a specious analysis of how much it would hurt the oil companies.

Bullshit.

Why? Because the next day people would have to make a purchase to make up for the one they didn't make the day before. There are only three ways to impact the price of gas and one of them, governmental control, would be a disaster and a non-starter. Therefore it becomes a question of supply and demand.

Demand has grown tremendously in the past decade and it isn't all due to the fact that everyone bought an S.U.V., although that has something to do with it. The increasing industrialization of China, and the incipient economic growth in India, the two most populated countries on earth, has a lot to do with it as well. The only real question here, and we are beginning to have the answer adumbrated, (sorry but I love that word) is at what price point is consumer behavior changed? Ask an R.V dealer and he will tell you. Find out how cheap used S.U.V.s are, especially lease returns. If you can find an airline executive that hasn't jumped out a window, ask one. The tipping point here seems to be about $3 a gallon.

Supply is another matter. Of course Big Oil and O.P.E.C. are making a lot of money right now, but they don't like prices this high either. Why? Because not only does it begin to change consumer behavior, but it also makes other forms of supply economically feasible. Consider this article from Macleans. Even if the speculations are 25% accurate, this is big news. Why do you suppose we haven't tapped this before? Because when the average price of oil over a period of three years is $40 a barrel, and it costs that much to process oil sand, no one makes money and there is no reason to do it. Yes, I know oil is $68 a barrel now, but how long will it stay that high? A nightmare scenario is for a company to invest billions of dollars into processing oil sand and find that consumption has declined (the tipping point mentioned above) and that supply has therefore increased. Would any of you buy a dime for 25 cents?

The last issue, and one inexorably intertwined, is the capacity to refine the oil into gas. America hasn't built a refinery for two decades; part of the reason is market driven, if it costs more money to build a refinery than it can make, it doesn't get built. The other issue has been environmental concerns and the endless litigation costs involved in even preparing an environmental impact report. But again, as oil prices rise these costs become less prohibitive.

Oil exploration and refinement are amazingly complex businesses with a tremendously high barrier to entry. There will be no quick fixes, and $2 a gallon gas, at a minimum, will be with us for the foreseeable future. However, it is these same prices, as frustrating as they may be, that will ultimately force us to solve this problem through conservation, exploration, and the development of new technologies like hybrid cars.

Adam Smith was right.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Another Disgraceful Scene

As bad as Cindy Sheehan's actions have been, at least she has standing to protest, having lost a son. The mouthbreathers below make my skin crawl.

SMYRNA, Tenn. (AP) - Members of a church say God is punishing American soldiers for defending a country that harbors gays, and they brought their anti-gay message to the funerals Saturday of two Tennessee soldiers killed in Iraq.

The church members were met with scorn from local residents. They chased the church members cars' down a highway, waving flags and screaming "God bless America."

"My husband is over there, so I'm here to show my support," 41-year-old Connie Ditmore said as she waved and American flag and as tears came to her eyes. "To do this at a funeral is disrespectful of a family, no matter what your beliefs are."

The Rev. Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist in Kansas, contends that American soldiers are being killed in Iraq as vengeance from God for protecting a country that harbors gays. The church, which is not affiliated with a larger denomination, is made up mostly of Phelps' children, grandchildren and in-laws.

The church members carried signs and shouted things such as "God hates fags" and "God hates you."

Although it is impossible to reason with people this stupid: "Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. " Matthew, Chapter 7, Verses 1-3.

Let me put it another way. If Rev. Phelps showed up at the funeral of someone I was mourning, he would do well to have this number at hand: 1-800-DENTIST.