Saturday, July 02, 2005

Gonzales: Just too damn liberal?

The battle begins in earnest: As I've suggested before, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales might not be such a bad choice as the next Supreme Court justice -- at least given the alternatives, all of whom seem to stand well to his right. But, as the Times reports, the right-wing goons -- otherwise known as Bush's base, which claims credit for 2004 and is now looking for payback -- are out, knives in hand, to take him down.

For Gonzales, you see, just isn't conservative enough for them. Especially on abortion and affirmative action, he has shown moderation and restraint, defending race-based preferences and opposing parental-notification requirements for minors seeking abortions.

But is he a liberal? Hardly. Remember that this is the guy who, as White House counsel, argued that foreign detainees in the war on terror shouldn't be treated according to the Geneva Convention and who essentially signed off on torture.

But that doesn't stop the right, which is out to remake the Supreme Court according to its own brand of judicial activism. For however much conservatives may scream against what they see as liberal activism, the new activists are to be found on the right, and a shift too far to the right could very much mean the dismantling of the liberal state as we know it. Right-wing ideologues want that, of course, but I wonder if Americans realize just what that would mean...

In the meantime, I'll continue to push for Gonzales as the only even remotely sober candidate in the bunch. After all, as Slate put it recently, his judicial philosophy is characterized by "a restrained role for judges". Isn't that what real conservatives (as opposed to the radicals who call themselves conservatives) should want? And isn't that what liberals who are serious about the Constitution and who are willing to work for the common good should accept as the best Bush has to offer? I'm still hoping (against hope, perhaps) for a moderate-conservative nominee who would sail through the Senate, even if that would allow Bush to claim a quick victory in the wake of his collapsing approval ratings -- after all, it would be fun to see conservatives tear each other to pieces, fracturing the conservative movement and what passes these days for the Republican majority. But the future of the Supreme Court and its long-term impact on American life is far more important than short-term partisan politics, and for that reason Bush would do well to nominate his pragmatic and loyal attorney general over the radical ideologues of the right.

The right wants its theocratic revolution upheld, and even imposed, by the federal judiciary. It needs to be stopped -- and now -- lest America, arguably "the last, best hope on earth," become little more than an ideological experiment disconnected from its own roots in liberal political philosophy, with a constitutional soul polluted by shameless revisionism and extremist ideology.

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Friday, July 01, 2005

The I-word returneth (impeachment, that is)

Liberal Oasis has a good take on all the recent impeachment talk, based on a recent Zogby poll: "[M]ore than two-in-five voters (42%) say they would favor impeachment proceedings if it is found the President misled the nation about his reasons for going to war with Iraq." Let me say once again here that I do not support the impeachment of President Bush. If new revelations come out, fine. But, based on what we currently know (see, for example, my take on the DSM here), there is in my opinion no justification for impeachment. L.O.:

For one thing, there’s practically no chance that this Republican House will ever vote for impeachment of this Republican president. And there’s similarly little chance that the Democratic leadership will get behind impeachment.

(There is a little loose talk about pushing impeachment among a few liberal House members, but even Rep. John Conyers, who organized the Downing Street Memo hearings, is not on board.)

So if some politicians and activists step up the impeachment talk, it would not really be with any hope of an actual impeachment, but with the hope of reframing the political discussion about Iraq...

Iraq is a crisis. A crisis of Bush’s making but a crisis nonetheless. And the public demands a strategy and a resolution.

To not do so is to lack credibility in the broader Iraq debate.

You want to push for impeachment?

Then you better say at the same time what you believe should happen with Iraq after impeachment.

Otherwise, you will just look political while people continue to die.

So it's up to Democrats to come up with an alternative on Iraq, not just to talk impeachment loosely and without any real hope of success:

"Impeach Bush," by itself, is an obsession, not an agenda. If it is to be pursued, it needs to be part of a larger agenda for Iraq...

Without a singular view, there’s probably no way around having a cacophony of voices from liberals and Dems on Iraq for the foreseeable future.

The risk is without agreement on what to do going forward, it will be too easy to only debate the past, leaving the false
impression that liberals and Dems have no thoughts about how end the Iraq crisis.

But hopefully, if we all are at least offering ideas about what should be done going forward, regardless of our other strategies, we can at least expand the discussion and move towards a unifying vision to offer to the public.

And that's exactly what the American people -- the overwhelming majority of whom are dissatisfied with Bush's job performance -- are waiting for. Are Democrats up to the challenge?

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Reaction to the news: 7/1/05

Here's a new feature at The Reaction. From time to time I'll forgo longer posts to offer a brief overview of major items in the news, along with a line or two of commentary and links to article(s) and, where applicable, my own previous post(s). Let us begin:

O'Connor resigns: Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has retired from the Supreme Court, opening up the first vacancy in 11 years and setting what is anticipated to be a brutal, divisive confirmation battle once Bush picks a nominee. The Times reports here. I've previously posted here and here. Sullivan: "The war begins." Drum: "This is going to be bloody." Maybe, but I'm not so sure. Bush's critics, yours truly included, have come to expect the worst, but I'm not sure that Bush will try to replace a swing-voting moderate woman like O'Connor with a hard-liner. He'll feel intense pressure from the right, and his current unpopularity means that he may end up giving in to his extremist base, but let me be a (hopeful) contrarian on this muggy Canada Day and predict that Bush will go with a (non-radical) conservative who would tip the balance on the Court slightly to the right but who would also face a relatively quick and easy confirmation process in the Senate. That's the balance he needs to strike: a nominee who's just conservative enough to please the right but not quite extreme enough to arouse the wrath of Democrats. Let me know if you have any thoughts on who that might be.

Germany heads to the polls: Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has successfully managed a defeat on a confidence vote in the Bundestag, paving the way to a federal election later this year (likely in September, a year before the end of his mandate). The Times reports here. I've previously posted here. Schroeder's SPD (governing in coalition with the Greens) is currently 20 points behind Angela Merkel's CDU in the polls. Given all the uncertainty in Europe right now, this will be an interesting story to follow. Will Germany move back to the center-right, or will Schroeder's Blairite third way manage to retain power?

Britain assumes E.U. leadership: The U.K. has taken over the E.U. -- well, sort of. It's just a six-month presidency. The Globe and Mail reports here. I've previously posted here, here, and here. What does Blair face? Consider these issues: accession negotiations with Turkey, global poverty, Iraq, globalization, the E.U.'s finances, constitutional ratification (or not), and agriculture. Not to belittle the upcoming Supreme Court battle in the U.S., but this is truly going to be bloody.

Chirac's troubles: Bush's approval ratings may be at all-time lows for his presidency, but he's got nothing on French President Jacques Chirac. According to a recent poll, Chirac's approval rating stands at just 21%. The Toronto Star reports here.

That's it for now. Enjoy your weekend, but keep checking back at The Reaction for more...

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Happy Canada Day!

Born in 1867, Canada is 138 years old today.

Happy Canada Day from The Reaction.

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Thursday, June 30, 2005

The plight of the Mau Mau: A lesson in imperial brutality

As some of you know, I've already written extensively on what we'll call here The Torture Issue. Meaning: the allegations of torture, or other prisoner abuse, at American detention facilities like Gitmo and Abu Ghraib.

I've hit the U.S. hard on failing to live up to its principles and on engaging in practices that are clearly inhumane:

On the Amnesty International report, see here and here.
On Cheney's defence of Gitmo, see here.
On all the scapegoating, see here.
On "Korangate, see here.
On Dick Durbin, see here.

And I've even called for an apology from the enablers of torture (i.e., those in the Bush Administration who have created the culture of torture and who therefore need to be held accountable for prisoner abuse by America's hand, under America's watch, and with America's blessing): see here.

BUT: I've also criticized what I see as an effort to equate the United States with the true perpetrators of brutality, both the current insurgents in Iraq and the totalitarian regimes of the last century. Durbin, in my view, didn't make this argument for moral equivalency -- he was misrepresented and thus should not have had to apologize; indeed, he and his nuanced argument should have been taken more seriously -- but there are those on the left who seem to think that Gitmo is in fact a gulag or a concentration camp and that the United States is in fact akin to Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. This, in my view, is both wrong and insulting. America may have committed a number of gross injustices throughout its history, and it may be committing injustices today as part of the war on terror, but there is no excuse for maligning it so unjustifiably.

Criticize what's going on at Gitmo, if you will, as I have done repeatedly, but don't mistake Gitmo for America. To do so is like mistaking a malignant tumor for the entire body. You do what you can to rid the body of the tumor, but you don't rid the body of the tumor by destroying the body in its entirety. What would be the point? For just as the tumor doesn't define the body, so does torture not define America. Torture is America's tumor. Get rid of it and America will be healthier.

If I may return to today's L.A. Times for a second straight post, check out Max Boot's column on the Mau Mau, Kenyan insurgents opposed to British rule. Boot goes too lightly on America's prisoner abuse, but the story of the Mau Mau and their brutal destruction at the hands of the British puts even the worst allegations of that prisoner abuse into perspective. America has a lot to answer for, yes, but it's important to ask the right questions.

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Iraq: A massive blunder, a more sober America?

Check out Timothy Garton Ash's review of Bush's Fort Bragg speech in today's L.A. Times. There's so much bluster coming from all sides on Iraq, but Ash brings a welcome perspective with his detached, non-partisan moderation:

Bush's speech once again presented Iraq as part of the Global War on Terror -- the GWOT. He mentioned the Sept. 11 attacks six times; weapons of mass destruction, not once. We have to defeat the terrorists abroad, he said, before they attack us at home. As freedom spreads, the terrorists will lose support. Then he made this extraordinary statement: "We will prevent Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists from turning Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban -- a safe haven from which they could launch attacks on America and our friends."

Consider. Three years ago, when Bush started ramping up for war in Iraq, Afghanistan had recently been liberated from both the Taliban and the Al Qaeda terrorists who had attacked the U.S. Iraq, meanwhile, was a hideous dictatorship under Saddam Hussein.

But, as the 9/11 commission concluded, Hussein's regime had no connection with the 2001 attacks. Iraq was not then a recruiting sergeant or training ground for jihadist terrorists. Now it is. The U.S.-led invasion and occupation has made it so. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark put it plainly: "We are creating enemies."

And the president says: Our great achievement will be to prevent Iraq becoming another Taliban-style, Al Qaeda-harboring Afghanistan! This is like a man who shoots himself in the foot and then says, "We must prevent it turning gangrenous, then you'll understand why I was right to shoot myself in the foot."

Whether or not the invasion was a crime, it's now clear that -- at least in the form in which it was executed -- it was a massive blunder. And the American people are beginning to see this. Before Bush spoke at Ft. Bragg, 53% of those asked in a CNN/Gallup poll said it was a mistake to go into Iraq...

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is right. It would be suicidally dumb for any European to think, in relation to Iraq, "the worse the better." Jihadists now cutting their teeth in Iraq will make no fine distinctions between Washington and London, Berlin or Madrid. Any European tempted to luxuriate schadenfreudishly in the prospect of a Vietnam-style U.S. evacuation from Baghdad may be awoken from that reverie by the blast from a
bomb, planted in Charing Cross tube station by an Iraq-hardened terrorist.

But it is a fair and justified historical observation that U.S. policy has gotten better -- more sober, more realistic -- at least partly because things in Iraq have gone so badly. This is the cunning of history.

Maybe. Although I supported the war, at first, I certainly acknowledge that, all in all, it has become "a massive blunder," not least because Bush didn't plan at all effectively enough for the war's aftermath: the rise of the insurgency, the training of Iraqi police/military forces, the support and cooperation of the international community, the development and long-term viability of liberalization/democratization, declining popular support at home, etc. It will take sustained sobriety to fix that multi-pronged blunder, but, thus far, I have seen nothing to suggest that Bush is sober enough to pull off such a feat.

Ash rightly points to signs of a turn to realism as a replacement for neoconservative idealism, but the recent performances of Cheney and Rumsfeld, not to mention Bush's speech at Fort Bragg, indicate that the powers-that-be at the White House and the Pentagon are still either unable or unwilling to take responsibility for their own mistakes and to follow through with a comprehensive approach to Iraq that could, if properly executed, reverse what seems more and more to be a continuing downward trend, if not an out-of-control spiral, into irreversible failure.

The status quo clearly isn't working, but a full-scale, Vietnam-style withdrawal would only signal defeat, cowardice, and irresponsibility, leading to anarchy and a haven for jihadists bent on taking the war directly to America. No, the U.S. must be accountable, and it must finish the job it started. Which is why, all other issues aside, Bush never should have been re-elected last year. He's just not the right man to fix his own mess. He doesn't even seem to know where to begin.

America may indeed be a more sober place with respect to Iraq, and to the world in general, but its leaders are still drunk on idealism and self-delusion.

How do we deal with that problem?

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Proud to be a Canadian: A victory for same-sex marriage

As I mentioned back on June 2, Canada was set to become only the third country, after Belgium and the Netherlands, to legalize same-sex marriage. And that's precisely what's happened.

After the near-demise of Prime Minister Paul Martin's minority Liberal government last month -- the government only survived because the (Liberal) Speaker of the House, according to precedent, broke a tie on a confidence vote by voting with the government -- Tuesday's vote marks an extraordinary milestone in Canadian history, and Martin deserves much of the credit for ensuring its success. Opposition (and Conservative) Leader Stephen Harper has vowed to continue to fight the legislation (and same-sex marriage in general, now that it's become his wedge issue to secure the support of social conservatives), but there is no doubt that the long battle has finally been won. The Globe and Mail reports here:
Canada is on its way to becoming the third country in the world to legalize marriages between couples of the same sex after the House of Commons gave its final approval last night in a 158-133 vote.

The vote capped an intense and divisive two-year Commons battle that maintained its political drama to the end, as Liberal minister Joe Comuzzi resigned from cabinet yesterday because he could not support his government's move...

In the end, 32 Liberals voted against the government and five were absent. On the other side of the House, three Conservatives voted for the same-sex marriage bill.

When the final vote was taken, one side of the visitors' gallery erupted into applause...

The passage of the same-sex legislation also brought the curtain down on one of the most tumultuous sessions of Parliament in recent history.

Using obscure procedural manoeuvres and even a direct appeal to the public, Prime Minister Paul Martin managed to keep his government afloat in spite of a persistent attempt by the Conservatives and Bloc to force an election over allegations of corruption exposed by the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal.

All that remains for the same-sex bill to become law is debate in the Senate, where Liberals vastly outnumber the
opposition Conservatives and are expected to pass the bill early next month.

Belgium and the Netherlands are the only two countries to have legalized same-sex marriage, but Spain is on the verge of passing a similar law that will soon be put to the King for final approval.

Well done, Prime Minister. As I've said before, this makes be incredibly proud to be a Canadian.

(For more on the issue of same-sex marriage and gay pride, I invite you to check out my recent posts on Toronto Pride (here) and the anti-pride policies of Hillsborough County, Florida (here). Through those two posts, some of my readers have been carrying on an incredibly intelligent discussion on this admittedly sensitive topic (especially at the latter post). Check out the posts and the comments, and, if you feel so inclined, please weigh in with your own views -- either about a particular topic or about sexual orientation, gay rights, and same-sex marriage in general. Or just bring the discussion over to this newer post and keep it going. I look forward to reading and responding to more of your comments.)

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More on Darfur...

For the latest from the Coalition for Darfur, a non-partisan blog of which The Reaction is a member, see here (and, in particular, this recent post).

400,000 deaths is genocide. Period. And something must be done about it.

(For my own previous posts on Darfur, see here and here.)

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

On climate change, they know the truth in Tuktoyaktuk

Much of the evidence may be anecdotal, but those who live close to the land and sea know that things are changing. Up in Tuktoyaktuk, in Canada's Northwest Territories (see maps here), well above the Arctic Circle, the signs of climate change are all too obvious -- and all too worrying:
It's not just the rising water and more frequent storms. The ice breaks weeks earlier, and much faster, than it used to in spring, and forms more slowly each fall. The weather is less predictable. These are hazards for the many residents who still go out on the land to hunt seal, polar bears, muskox and caribou. The wind blows from the south more often. Long-time residents see grizzly bears, ravens, white-throated sparrows, chickadees and other creatures that never used to venture this far north. Shrubs are poking up beyond the tree line. Permafrost is starting to melt.

Tuktoyaktuk means, in the western Arctic language, "resembling a caribou." The animals are a major food source. The longer growing season produces more vegetation for them to eat. But the early thaw slows their trip to summer calving grounds on the Arctic coast, and calves born during migration are less likely to survive. Local researchers say one of the two local herds, the Porcupine, has dropped by 3 per cent a year for the past decade.

(For more, see the full Toronto Star piece here.)

So much of the discussion of climate change (a better term than global warming) takes place in the abstract, in the world of theory, with computer modelling taking inconclusive (or at least circumstantial) data and projecting perceived trends into a distant future that is difficult to grasp. And it doesn't help that the world's superpower refuses to do much about it, at least officially. The Bush Administration -- the defining characteristic of which seems to be a self-delusional veil of ignorance on a whole range of issues, from Iraq and the economy to social security and stem-cell research -- has pulled the U.S. out of the Kyoto Protocol and has more or less refused even to discuss the problem, even as Tony Blair, one of America's only allies with any clout, has publicly stated that climate change is "probably, long-term, the single most important issue we face as a global community". (See my post on Bush-Blair here.) Things aren't all that much better here in Canada, and economic booms in China, India, and Brazil are likely to contribute to a worsening of the situation.

It is difficult to deny the results of both scientific research and computer modelling -- unless, of course, you live in a faith-based reality and refuse to acknowledge such factual objectivity. But those of us who live in the real world know that the problem is real and that something needs to be done to reverse the slide into global catastrophe. We have the science to point us in the right direction, and we have bad movies like The Day After Tomorrow to arouse some popular interest in an overlooked issue, but it also helps to have those on the front lines of climate change, those who live with it on a daily basis, those whose lives are profoundly affected by it, to tell us their stories.

Now it's up to us to listen to them. And to do something about it.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

What's French for nuclear fusion?

An interesting story in the Times: "France won an international competition today to be the site of the world's first nuclear fusion reactor, an estimated $12 billion project that many scientists see as essential to solving the world's future energy needs."

It's not so much that France won the competition that matters -- however galling (De Gaulling?) that may be to those of us with Francosceptic inclinations -- but rather the fact that the six members of the international consortium (U.S., Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, and the E.U.) have finally put aside their differences (and their bickering) to launch what could turn out to be a revolutionary development in energy generation -- and a long-term solution to many of the world's most pressing problems. It may take several decades for nuclear fusion to achieve anything in the way of commercial success, but it certainly makes sense for the international community to cooperate with an eye to that future.

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I love the smell of desperation in the morning...

In my last post, I suggested that Bush would resort to desperate measures to try to boost his sagging approval ratings. Well, forget desperate measures. Now it's just desperation, plain and simple. As Steve Soto reports at The Left Coaster, Cheney "has resorted to taking shots at Chuck Hagel," one of the only Republicans who has any sense on Iraq (and, unlike the warmongers in the Bush Administration, someone who's seen actual combat). Bush will try to pull himself up with a televised speech on Tuesday at Fort Bragg, against another "Mission Accomplished" backdrop, but it seems unlikely that such a staged event will turn public opinion back in his direction. With rising casualty numbers coming out of Iraq and more or less bad news across the board, the American people are finally coming to see just what they've got in the White House. And they don't much like it anymore.

And the Democrats? "All Democrats have to do in response to Bush's speech tomorrow is point to the CIA's own report that shows Bush's bungling has accomplished something that Saddam couldn't: make Iraq into a terrorist threat."

Maybe -- just maybe -- we're witnessing the last throes of the Bush presidency. He's got a few more years, and that's an awfully long time in politics, but it's hard not to conclude that, at the moment at least, he's running on empty.

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Monday, June 27, 2005

Bush's (dis)approval ratings: The tanking of a president

Over the weekend, I mentioned that Bush's approval rating among independents now stands at 17%, one point lower than among Democrats (see here). And now there's more bad news for Dubya. According to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released today (see here), Bush's approval rating stands at 45%, the lowest of his entire presidency (tied with a late-March rating). Looking at the numbers from the other side, his disapproval rating stands at 53%, the highest of his entire presidency. The eight-point gap is also the largest of his entire presidency. Bush has an approval rating over 50% on only one issue, terrorism, where his approval-disapproval rating stands at 55-41. I can only explain this by repeating that Bush has maintained support on this issue largely by alternately playing on fear and encouraging Americans to go shopping instead of paying too much attention to what he's up to (and not up to). Other disapproval-approval ratings (listed by level of disapproval):

Social Security: 64-31
Health care: 59-34
Iraq: 58-40
The economy: 55-41
Energy policy: 53-36

Those are significant numbers. I'm rarely one to pay much attention to polls, and I object to what has become the American pollocracy, but is there any denying that Bush's support among the American people is collapsing? We're talking spreads of at least 14 points on five key issues. Finally, perhaps, the American people are collectively catching on to the disaster that has been the (G.W.) Bush presidency.

It now remains to be seen both what Bush does to try to pick himself back up (I'm thinking desperate measures) and what Democrats do to try to fill the vacuum.

Update: See Kevin Drum's brief take here, along with a fascinating chart of the decline.

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Is Gonzales Spanish for Souter?

Well, that's apparently what some Republicans think. See Slate's excellent review of eight of the top candidates for the Supreme Court -- with Rehnquist and/or O'Connor set to resign in the days or weeks to come. I don't have too much to add here, but see my recent post on the subject (which, yes, got a mention at The Guardian). Also see Jonathan Turley's thoughtful take at USA Today (here), plus other reviews of the leading candidates at USA Today (here) and the L.A. Times (here).

A friend of mine suggested today that this is similar to the recent papal election. Perhaps. There's already a lot of idle (and likely ill-informed) speculation out there, but no one's quite sure how Bush will handle his first Supreme Court nomination. Would he go with a conservative to replace Rehnquist? That would maintain the current balance on the Court. Would he nominate a new chief justice from the outside, or would he nominate a current justice, like Scalia? Obviously, that would also maintain the current balance, but Scalia is not without the stink of controversy, and Democrats could object fiercely. Would he break new ground and nominate a Latino, either Gonzales or Garza, to shore up more of the Latino vote for the Republicans (but also, with Gonzales, to contribute to his own legacy by appointing a trusted friend)? Would he go with a conservative to replace O'Connor? Given O'Connor's swing credentials, such a move could tip the balance significantly to the right. And two new conservative justices, such as Luttig and Roberts, along with Scalia as chief justice, would be a serious threat, in my view, to the very foundations of the liberal state in America. Finally, how are Democrats going to respond to Bush's picks? Will they stand united and filibuster with confidence, as they've done so far on Bolton, or will they cave in and give up on the Supreme Court for years and years to come?

Okay, so it's getting to be like the papal election -- to a point. For now, all I'll say is that seven of the eight candidates in the Slate piece are profoundly conservative, with Gonzales the lone exception. Perhaps we should expect nothing else from a president who is all about pandering to his right-wing base, just as we shouldn't have expected anything else but a conservative's victory in the conclave. Was Ratzinger a surprise? Hardly. Would either Luttig or Roberts be a surprise. Not at all.

This leaves me rooting for Gonzales... ouch, that was tough to write. Am I rooting for him? Well, maybe. On the one hand, his lack of experience could be a problem, but what worries me more is his long career of pro-Bush partisan hackery. He sucked up to Bush in Texas, and he's spent the past four-plus years, both as White House counsel and now as attorney general, sucking up to him in Washington. Perhaps a seat on the Supreme Court would unleash his independence, but I wonder if his political partisanship wouldn't continue to taint his legal opinions. On the other hand, the right has already come out against him. Robert Novak, duschbag extraordinaire, notes that Gonzales is opposed by "anti-abortion activists" and "organized conservative lawyers". (Hey, maybe Gonzales wouldn't be so bad, if we judge him by his enemies.) In addition, he suggests (rightly, I think) that "Senate Democrats may have expunged anti-Gonzales bile from their system and be willing to support somebody who is markedly less conservative than any other nominee".

Yes, Gonzales would likely face a relatively easy confirmation battle. Given Bush's current problems, that could be what gets him the nomination. (For now, that's what The Reaction is hoping for. Another Souter wouldn't be so bad, would it?)

Stay tuned.

(For more on this, with regular updates, see The Supreme Court Nomination Blog, from Goldstein & Howe.)

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From pride to disgust: Hillsborough County (Florida) shuts out gays and lesbians

It's now official. Florida is certifiably insane. (If there are any Floridians reading this, I urge you to explain just what's going on down there. Please. Add your comments. I (we) need to know.)

Yesterday afternoon, I wrote what one commenter called an "intimate and positive" post on Toronto's extraordinary Pride festivities, a fantastic week-long celebration that culminated in Saturday's Dyke March and Sunday's Pride Parade. If I may put it this way, Toronto Pride makes me proud to be a Torontonian. And proud to be a Canadian -- a same-sex marriage bill will soon be passed in the House of Commons.

But now, thanks to that same commenter, I've learned of the utterly stupid actions of the Hillsborough County Commission in Florida (the Tampa area):
The Hillsborough County Commission has enacted a policy banning county agencies from acknowledging gay pride events, despite several impassioned pleas from gay rights advocates.

Civil rights groups threatened to sue and called for a town hall meeting on the ban, which requires the Hillsborough County government "to abstain from acknowledging, promoting or participating in gay pride recognition and events." The board passed the proposal 5-1 on Wednesday.

Hillsborough Commissioner Ronda Storms, who recommended the policy, followed up with a second proposal, that commissioners can only repeal the policy on a 5-2 super majority vote that follows a public hearing.

Angry yet? Here's more:

The vote comes a week after a book display recognizing Gay and Lesbian Pride Month was taken down at West Gate Regional Library after some library patrons complained. Library officials have said the exhibit at West Gate was removed due to a misunderstanding and was later moved to a less prominent area in the fiction part of the library.

Details of the ban, such as whether any display about gay issues would be banned at libraries, were unclear. After the vote, Storms would only say that she feels the language is clear.

But when asked about whether gay student groups would be allowed to meet at a county library or another meeting space, Storms said they would.

"We're not saying that because of your sexual orientation you can't come into the library," she said.

Thanks for the clarification, Ms. Storms. But let me ask you a few questions: Do you just hate gays and lesbians in theory, or is it personal? What is it about them that worries you so? What's so wrong with "gay pride" that your government -- you know, the one that allegedly represents the people (all the people) of Hillsborough County -- shouldn't be allowed to have anything to do with it? And would you be happier if they had their own libraries? You know, separate but equal, or something like that? Is that next?

I'd like some answers, because, try as I might, I just can't figure out where the hell you're coming from -- unless it's just a simple matter of bigotry.

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I'm in the "last throes" of my patience

Kevin Drum takes on Rumsfeld (and his defence of Cheney's inane assertion that the Iraqi insurgency is in its "last throes) at Political Animal -- see here. Needless to say, Drum is right:
These guys still can't face the reality of what's happened to their lovely little war. They willfully ignored the advice of the uniformed military officers who had actual experience in fighting modern wars, and because of that they didn't know what they were getting into before the war, they didn't know what they were up against after the war, and they're apparently still clueless about what to expect in the future. It's long past time for George Bush to either find someone who's serious about winning this war or else someone who's serious about getting out. Rumsfeld is neither.

As one who (reluctantly, given the irreversible build-up) supported the war before it began, largely based on Blairite humanitarianism and false (or politicized) intelligence, I cannot but agree*. Whether you supported this war or not, whether you support it today or not, whether you think the U.S. should pull out or double its efforts to see the job done, it is a fact, if I may be so blunt, that the handling of the occupation, which began back with the pre-war planning (or lack thereof, from what the British tell us), has been a disaster. How many more people will die as a consequence of such failure?

No, I don't have much patience left, if any, but the insurgency still has a long, long way to go -- perhaps 12 more years, according to Rumsfeld himself. (And whom do you trust more to speak the truth, Cheney or Abizaid? Exactly.)

* See a lengthier post on Iraq here, with an explanation of my shifting views from invasion to occupation.

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Calling Cardiff!

If you're in need of a fun (and funny) break from the gravitas of your life, check out the "Welsh or Gibberish" quiz over at the Dominion Wine and Cheese Society.

(Not that there's anything wrong with being and/or speaking Welsh, of course. It's just that speaking Welsh obviously releases an inordinate amount of phlegm and may or may not require regular laryngial check-ups.)

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Herr Hitler goes to Washington

That is, his name and his party have been trotted out and invoked with glaring stupidity recently -- not least by one of The Reaction's least favourite politicians, Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. The Post's Dana Milbank reviews the "bull market in over-the-top rhetoric" here. I still think that Senator Durbin was grossly misrepresented -- such is the cost of rhetorical nuance, I suppose -- but there's really no excuse for all the childish name-calling, let alone the references to Hitler, on Capitol Hill.

When it comes to trust and confidence in elected officials, politicians tend to be their own worst enemies. These days, when scoring political points trumps working together for the common good, and when bickering and squabbling get in the way of legislating properly for the American people, many are letting tendentious partisanship get the better of them, and all this insult-laden rhetoric has brought American political discourse (or what passes for it) to yet another low.

It's too bad none of it comes as much of a surprise, given our already low expectations of Congressional behaviour.

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Pride in Toronto: A celebration of identity and connection

Toronto's Pride Parade -- the culmination of a week of festivities that brings over a million people to the city -- is going on as I write, not too far from where I live. It's the 25th anniversary of Pride in Toronto, and ours is now one of the largest in the world, an extraordinary celebration that the city embraces every year. The event speaks for itself, not least as Canada is set to legalize same-sex marriage before Parliament's summer recess, and the organizers have done another incredible job, but allow me to single out my good friend Leon Mar, who does media relations for Pride Toronto (and who is quoted here). Well done, Leon. Tomorrow will be a well-deserved day off. For more on today's Parade, see here, and on yesterday's Dyke March, see here. There are many great reasons to love this city -- my own favourite is the Toronto International Film Festival, the second most important in the world after Cannes, held every September -- and this is certainly one of them.

See also AmbivaBlog's excellent post on sexual identity:
And I'm thinking what a monoculture the straight world is, how conformist really. There are so few straight gender archetypes to embody, and most people try to squeeze into one or the other even when it's a poor fit, or just boring. My friend Sharon got fed up with trying to grow her hair, so she shaved it off. So there she is with a bald, fuzzy skull and a sexy thong. It just busts up all your categories, and maybe that's the real reason why many people find it so existentially threatening. The freedom to define yourself is dizzying.

I don't mean to idealize the dyke counterculture, though. There's something sad about how separate a world it is. That separateness wasn't originally gay people's idea; it was forced on them, and now some of them are perpetuating it, with a defiant provocativeness -- "you wouldn't accept us even if we didn't go to extremes." I guess what I am groping towards is the realization that the relative regimentation of most straight life and the flaunted bizarrerie of some gay life are mirror images of each other. What's sad is the obscuring of how much they really have in common. Underneath the warring uniforms of hetero conformity and outcast chic are just people, loving, craving, needing, longing, and if they're lucky, finding someone with whom to become one flesh and share a life.

Both "the relative regimentation of most straight life" and "the flaunted bizarrerie of some gay life" alarm me, just as extremism of any kind alarms me. Even a liberal society requires some social order, but the problem often comes down to trying to balance out the competing claims of the individual and the collective. Given the inflamed passions that come from identity politics (and from sexuality in particular), both the "straight life" and the "gay life" seem to have entrenched themselves in opposition to one another. It's just a shame that we can't seem to understand that we're all looking for the same thing, that, straight or gay or something else entirely, we're all human beings trying to find meaning in a world that seems at times to be beyond our grasp. "Only connect," E.M. Forster implores us at the beginning of Howards End. Yes, that's what we're all trying to do, in our own all-too-human ways.

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Brief comments on Rove and Machiavelli

Over here, Echidne draws a connection between Machiavelli and Karl Rove. Given that "The Prince is supposedly bedtime reading for our administration," we need to analyze Rove's comments the way we do Machiavelli's esotericism, or at least we need to analyze them through Machiavelli's prism. Fair enough. As a Straussian -- even a liberal one -- I'm all for the careful reading of the great works of political philosophy and literature. Rove's speech to the New York Conservative Party, however, doesn't qualify. For its motives seem to me to be fully transparent (and a reflection of current political climate, where Bush's approval ratings are collapsing and Republicans are desperate). Cesare Borgia may have left the people of Romagna "satisfied and stupefied" (see Chap. 7: clearly, this was how Bush won in 2004, satisfying the far right with moralistic wedge issues like same-sex marriage and stupefying everyone else with colour codes and hollow rhetoric of war and terror), but Rove just leaves me pissed off and more eager than ever to defend liberalism against its enemies on the right.

(And as a long-time student and teacher of Machiavelli, let me suggest that he wouldn't be too pleased with the current theocratic leanings of the American right (nor Bush's reckless foreign/military policy; if anything, he wanted religion to serve politics, not vice versa), given that The Prince is very much the handbook for bringing down theological-political power (i.e., the Church, back then) in the name of new modes and orders that, under Hobbes and Locke (both much indebted to Machiavelli), would become the foundations of liberal political philosophy and of modern political liberalism generally.)

So there.

Now let me add a few comments on just why Rove said what he said, an addendum to my earlier post on his speech (see also Seeing the Forest, an excellent blog that has just kindly added The Reaction to its blogroll, which chimes in here):

Rove may or may not be the evil genius the left makes him out to be, but he doesn't do things by accident. He's not a politician who just made some imprudent remarks. His speech was carefully calculated to contribute to the current political climate -- and to try to rescue Bush from the mess he's in (see my previous post on his approval ratings).

Republicans have no interest in discussing the issues because they know they're on the wrong side of public opinion on almost all of them (including Iraq). So the strategy is to divide Democrats (and liberals) and to shift the discussion over to the discussion of the discussion. You know, a sort of meta-discussion. Talk about the talk. That's what the Durbin flap is all about. No one on the right is really engaging Durbin on what's really going on at Gitmo -- because that would mean focusing on all the prisoner abuse itself. Much better to attack the messenger.

So, too, here. Rove went after Democrats (and liberals, more specifically, though he obviously equates the two, as he does Republicans and conservatives) to bait them. Get them to respond. There's little unity among Democrats on Iraq, or indeed on many of those issues he mentioned. Democrats will be all over the place condemning Rove's remarks, but that only means that they won't be discussing the issues themselves. See? Because Rove becomes the issue. Isn't that what you do when you're down in the polls? Divide and conquer, by any means necessary.

I would add that the flag-burning amendment is another such distraction. Remember that playing the patriotism card is usually a sign of desperation (the last refuge of the political scoundrel). And the Republicans are desperate. Behind Rove's arrogant condemnation of liberalism, America's founding political philosophy, lies a good deal of anxiety.

Rove may be something of a Machiavellian, broadly speaking, but Machiavelli himself would hardly approve of his transparent cowardice.

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Bush and the independents

We all know that Bush's approval ratings are collapsing, but a new poll reveals that among independents his job approval rating is down to... 17%. (That's one point lower than among Democrats!) Extraordinary. Not surprising, mind you, but still enormously significant. The Moderate Voice responds here, Andrew Sullivan here. Sullivan, an independent himself:
The disapproval levels of Independents and Democrats are now indistinguishable, but the Republican bloc is solid. This strikes me as a direct result of the Rove strategy of brutal partisanship, Christianist pandering, and general fiscal and military fecklessness. Some readers have said that my criticism of the administration makes me sound like a liberal these days. Well, from these results, I'm not the only one being pushed by right-wing extremism into opposition.

And that's more or less how I feel at this point, too. I'm certainly more liberal than Sullivan, and, unlike him, I would say that I'm a Democrat (a Canadian Democrat?), but Republican extremism is pushing us all further to the left. The question is, can the Democrats capitalize on this?

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