Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Deep Throat: Hero or Traitor?

By now I think everyone is aware that perhaps the best kept Washington secret, who was the legendary Woodward and Bernstein source referred to only as Deep Throat, has been answered. Today, we now know that Deep Throat was indeed, as many had expected, Mark Felt, the Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and agent in charge of the Watergate investigation.

It has been suggested by several commentators, including, but not limited to, former White House chief of staff to both Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, David Gergen, that Deep Throat did not act honorably in revealing the information to reporters from the Washington Post. Well, I for one think that is an interesting question that is worthy of a discussion here at the Political Spectrum. To start things off, I'll try my best to make both sides of the argument.

On the one hand, there is the argument that “but for” Deep Throat, it is possible that President Nixon would not have been forced to resign and further, it is possible to argue that without the information that was provided to the Washington Post, the reporting that informed everyone that the scandal and subsequent cover-up went all the way up to the highest levels of our government could not have been completed. Now, I personally think that the situation was such that that Deep Throat’s actions, while far from perfect, were justifiable given the circumstances. Remember that at this point in American history, 1971-1974, there were no Independent Counsels, no "special prosecutors," (at least not in the modern, Ken Starr sense of the term) and, therefore, arguably no other institution other than the FBI that was capable or even competent to handle and investigation of this magnitude and political sensitivity. This is not to say that Woodward and Bernstein or others wouldn’t have uncovered the truth behind the famous question of “what the President knew and when he knew it,” but I think it is fair to say that it would have been much more difficult and likely wouldn’t have been accomplished until long after President Nixon had completed his second term. By then it arguably would have been too late, the damage would have been done and we might well be traveling down a dramatically different course of action. It was the failure of, using a cliché, the “watchers to watch themselves” that led to Congress's enactment of the Independent Counsel law and allowed subsequent investigations into the White House (e.g, Iran-Contra, Whitewater) to be conducted, for better or for worse, outside the political control of the Presidency.

Flip the coin, however, and there is a compelling argument that suggests that Deep Throat, not only broke several laws of the United States relating to secret and classified government information, but also violated the trust of those people who mattered most. Mr. Felt, being the second most powerful member of the FBI, had put himself in position to both serve and protect the President of the United States who appointed him and the White House who trusted him to fulfill his oath of office. If he had personal disagreements with the Bureau or the White House he had legal remedies that did not have to involve leaking information to Washington Post reporters late at night in dimly lit parking garages. Arguably, Felt could have resigned at any point and then disclosed the information in either grand jury testimony or possibly even publicly after consulting with an attorney. True, Mr. Felt did neither, and well, here we are, 30 plus years later questioning how a similar situation would be treated today. Would a conveyer of confidential information of Deep Throat’s magnitude be tolerated today? Do reporters who use “confidential sources” do so with the apparent caution and care that Woodward and Bernstein used (assuming you agree that they used him properly, which of course is a point that can be debated itself).

I suppose regardless of where one comes down with respect to Mr. Felt, it is clear, at least to me, that one of worst things that will happen over the next few days and weeks is that the focus will be, not on what Mr. Nixon and his close advisors and associates did, but rather on what Mr. Felt did and why he did it. Watergate was one of the worst abuses of political power in this Nation’s history. With or without Mr. Felt, Watergate was wrong, and the subsequent cover-up was also without question equally as wrong. Those facts are incontrovertible and do not change with this new revalation about the identity of Deep Throat. Watergate changed both American history and politics and, in my opinion, in no way for the better. Let’s hope we don’t lose the forest through the trees. People should and will examine Mr. Felt’s behavior, but I hope that they do so in its proper context. The context is important, it doesn’t in any way absolve or justify anyones actions, but it does inform them to a degree that might render any contemporary comparisons moot.

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Friday, May 27, 2005

Poor Tommy

...apparently he's actually quite sensitive.


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Do People Really Want an Imperial President? Because in some ways you already have one

Over the last couple of years I have become somewhat addicted to talk radio. For this I blame three things: (1) getting a car; (2) having a decent commute to and from work; and (3) the abject failure of modern and "popular" radio stations to play anything that even resembles quality music. Be that as it may (it could easily be a post all its own), I’m really surprised by the number of people who call into to these shows (be they liberal, conservative, or C-SPAN which is "bi-partisan") who say things like "I support [GWB] or [the President] no matter what," " people (read: liberals) who don’t support this President are not good Americans," or "this President deserves to have his agenda acted upon no matter what." Now granted, I’m paraphrasing here a bit for effect, but anyone who has listened to even a bit of talk radio these days knows what I’m referring to. Now to be fair, the left is not any better, nor was it any different when Clinton was President, so this phenomena of blind support for the President has nothing to do with partisan politics.

What it does have to do with, in my opinion, is a basic misunderstanding of how our government works, or should I say, is supposed to work. More and more often I get the feeling that the average American forgets about Congress's existence and thinks that the Administration or the Executive Branch runs the entire show. Now, I can make all the arguments that based on the structure of the Constitution (listing Congress first) that the framers intended the legislative branch to be the most important/powerful branch of government, but that would be boring, and my fellow bloggers are equally, if not more, capable of doing the same thing. In addition, the claim, while supportable, it also contentious with a fair amount of evidence supporting alternative interpretations. Rather I want to focus on the "power-grab" that Presidents usually engage in, but that this Administration in particular has seemed to perfect. This, again, in my opinion, is leading down the road to an "Imperial Presidency."

Paul and I have commented on the acquiescence of Congress, and its failure to assert its independence numerous times, but neither of us has really attempted to flesh out some recent examples of the problems that this abdication of power has caused. So I want to focus on two things that have occurred since President Bush has taken office that highlight this dangerous trend. First, the President’s refusal to respond to or enforce lawfully enacted requirements for information and reports to Congress. Second, the President’s naked attempt to extend the doctrine of executive privilege.

Take the following as a prime illustration of the first problem. In each of the recently enacted "terrorist related" legislation (Patriot Act, Air Transportation Security Act of 2002, Homeland Security Act, and Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004), as well as in numerous other laws there have been hundreds if not thousands of requirements that the Administration (President, DOD, and other relevant agencies) report on the progress and use of the law that they are making. Some of these requirements involve simply filing written documents with various Congressional committees, while others involve live testimony before committees, and still others require periodic updates to Congress before additional provisions go into effect or additional money is made available. None of these requirements are new, Congress has required reports by the President since 1787, unusually onerous, or unconstitutional. This President, however, unbeknownst to many Americans has indicated in signing statement after signing statement, that these reports are not to be filed and that he will not enforce the requirements on his agencies. In effect, the President has exercised a line-item veto over reporting requirements to Congress. Now, for those of our readers who are not attorneys, the Line-Item Veto is a power that Presidents of both parties have advocated being granted for a long time. President Clinton actually succeeded early in his first term in convincing Congress to give him this power over appropriations measures. The statute was later declared unconstitutional in a case titled Clinton v. New York, for the simple, yet straightforward reason that it violated the Constitution’s detailed prescriptions on how legislation is to become law. Simply put, bills are to be passed in identical form by majorities of both the House and the Senate and then signed by the President. Nowhere does the Constitution contemplate a bill passed by both houses, then amended by the President via a line-item veto and then signed into law. So what has this President done, well he’s effectively vetoed over 600 provisions requiring his administration to report on its activities to Congress.

What, you ask, has Congress done in response...wait for it...NOTHING, not a gosh darn thing. Well, okay, that’s not quite true. A couple of weeks ago a House sub-committee spanked the Administration with the loss of $700 million dollars until it completed a long-overdue report on aviation security. It remains to be seen if this will have any effect. I tend to doubt it as the money will likely be restored in conference and besides $700 million in a $30+ billion dollar appropriations bill really isn’t all that big of a deal. While all of this may not seem like a big deal to you, you would be wrong to think that way. If the President can simply refuse to enforce lawfully enacted reporting requirements, it begs the question, of what’s next, or what else has Congress done that the President has decided he doesn’t like, and therefore, will not follow? Furthermore, it sets an awful precedent for future Presidents and Congresses regardless of which political party is in control. Finally, well it’s a big deal because its illegal, not to mention unconstitutional, and it continuation destroys the delicate separation of powers principle that this nation was founded upon.

For our next example one needs look no further than the dealings between the Vice-President’s office and the Government Accountability Office regarding the energy commission, as well as the actions of the President with regard to the Medicare actuary who was responsible for communicating to Congress on the projected costs of the proposed, and ultimately enacted prescription drug benefit during the 108th Congress. Both cases are long and detailed, but they boil down to this, under this administration the principle of executive privilege, found no where in the constitution has been extended far beyond even that which President Nixon could have imagined. I mean when the President asserted that the medicare actuary was protected by executive privilege from disclosing the Administrations own projected cost figures, he not only extended the protection so far down the chain of command, he also thwarted the ability of Congress and the intent of the statute that created the job of actuary in the first place. If you look at the statute, the actuary’s job is protected by "for cause removal" meaning that while the person works in the Executive Branch and reports to the President, there has to be a stated reason for the person’s termination, he can’t simply be fired for any old reason. In other words, the actuary is not an at-will employee. In fact, that protection was given precisely so that communication between that position and Congress could occur free from any political influence. So much for Congress’s intent, by extending executive privilege to such a job the President has shielded the person from communicating with Congress something required by the statute. More to the point, there are other federal laws that prohibit people from thwarting a government official from communicating or sharing information with Congress. Again what has congress done, that’s right, you guessed it, NOTHING. They still don’t actually have the actuary’s figures, even though every major media outlet reported that they were $200-300 billion dollars more than what CBO estimated and the GOP Congress relied on when passing the bill.

So when people say that one should support the President because that is what American’s do I wonder if (a) they are aware of some of the things that this President has done, and (2) if they have forgotten about the other co-equal branches of government. More to the point, I wonder if congress remembers that it is a co-equal independent branch of government that is not beholden to this or any other President, but can and has the responsibility to take its own actions, interpret the constitution and the laws its own way, and act according to what it thinks is in the best interest of this government and nation. If they have forgotten, they may as well recess permanently and appoint the President King, because that’s where we’re heading if they don’t take back some power and influence soon. What’s even worse, is I’m not sure that many Americans would notice or even care.

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Stranger in My Own Land

I think I can speak for all of the authors on this weblog, regardless of viewpoint, when I say that we here at Political Spectrum like to deal with contemporary issues of interest. One subject that has been the subject of discussion at times in our cozy little forum has been illegal immigration. Paul and yours truly are of the belief that the fact that illegal immigration is, well, illegal pretty much says it all. Mouldfan and Repeal22 do not seem to think that illegal immigration is a problem, and even find it to even be beneficial. (Obviously, this is a crude encapsulation of a very complex debate, but it will have to do for the sake of this post.) I have no idea where Unconfirmable stands on the issue – he tends to keep his views shrouded in mystery (read: cigarette smoke).
For all of our divergent viewpoints, however, I can safely say that I am the only person among us whose job actually requires daily contact with illegal immigrants. Being a prosecutor in New York City all but guarantees this. Whether they are defendants or victims, illegal immigrants are a major constituency of the criminal justice government, and this is problematic on many levels.
First, there is the theoretical argument that I would have given if you had asked me about illegal immigration years ago: namely, that illegal immigration contributes dramatically to domestic crime in the sense that it creates both villains and victims. Far from being jingoistic sentiment, this is just plain old reality. Since people are people wherever you go around the world, illegal immigrants can be both good and bad in character. (I will not couch the sides in terms of “law-abiding” or “non-law-abiding,” since, by definition, all illegal immigrants are breaking the law.) Naturally, a certain cross-section of this demographic will engage in crime: theft crime, violent crime, and so on.
One of my appellate colleagues had a gruesome case that I will never forget. The defendant in her case was an illegal Mexican immigrant who lived with two of his amigos in Spanish Harlem. One night, he and his buddies, stumbling home drunk from a night out, came upon a prostitute – an American citizen. They propositioned her, offered her cash for an evening with all of them, and she agreed. She returned with them to their apartment. She had sex with two of them on the roof of their building, at which point one of them went back into their downstairs apartment and went to bed. The other two remained on the roof with the prostitute and continued to have sex. For reasons not entirely clear, the defendant went downstairs to their apartment, retrieved a long, sharp kitchen knife, returned to the roof, and brutally stabbed the poor woman 17 times until she was dead. The defendant then convinced his roommate to put the prostitute’s body in a plastic bag and toss her over the side of the roof. The pictures of the crime scene were among the most graphic and horrifying I have ever seen.
To be clear: I am not saying that the defendant in the above case killed that woman because he was Mexican. That would be absurd. I am saying, however, that if our government had been doing its job and enforcing the rules against illegal immigration, that woman would not have been killed as she was.
Lest I be accused of being unbalanced, I offer the other half of the equation: illegal immigrants are somewhat more likely than American citizens to be victims of crime. The reason is quite simple: because many are illegally present in the United States, they are afraid to go to the authorities when they need help. Sometimes, the perpetrators of crimes against illegal immigrants are illegal immigrants themselves, seeking to manipulate their own in an attempt to wield power and gain wealth. (How do you think ethnic organized crime in America got its start?) Sometimes, the wielders of power are American citizens, shamefully terrorizing and taking advantage of the weakest among us. Any way you slice it, this vulnerability is primarily a product of illegal status and nothing else.
Since starting my new prosecutorial assignment a little over a month ago, I have seen in dramatic, everyday terms just how much illegal immigration has altered the criminal justice system in this city, and not for the better. Whether they are in arraignments, in jury pools, or even on trial, illegal immigrants are clogging the system, causing confusion and wasting of resources – and making the life of prosecutors that much harder.
I have one concrete example from my recent experience (I’m sure it is but the first of many). I received a case that started as a verbal dispute between two women and degenerated into a rather vicious, one-sided assault by the defendant. When I called the victim the other day to begin investigating the case, it did not take me long to realize that I had a problem: the victim did not speak English. My initial response was momentary embarrassment and a desire to find someone who spoke Spanish. (Fortunately, our office has a variety of interpreter services, although it should come as no surprise that there are far more Spanish interpreters than for any other language.) I subsequently found out through a translator that not only was the victim in the case an illegal immigrant, but so was the defendant. The defendant even had the audacity, after the physical assault itself, to threaten the victim that if she did not drop the charges, she would call the INS on the victim and have her deported back to their native Ecuador.
Later on, when I did a little reflecting, I became frustrated, perhaps even a little bit angry. I resented the fact that I was being made to jump through hoops because I spoke my country’s native tongue and my victim did not – it made me feel like a stranger in my own land (hence, the title of this post). It annoyed me that I was being forced to turn a blind eye toward the fact that I am expending time and energy, not to mention taxpayer resources, to resolve a criminal case that never would have been if immigration laws were actually enforced as written. There is also a further irony in that modern-day American prosecutors – who theoretically are assigned the twin duties of prosecuting crime and protecting the citizenry – are discouraged from reporting illegal immigration.
I have no doubt that cases like this – and far more severe ones – happen every day in every city in the United States. I have no scientific data or information to support the following, but I would say, based upon my own personal observations and crude calculations, that at least 10% of the defendants who make their way through New York courts are illegal immigrants. Assuming you buy that very conservative figure, I want you to put that in perspective: that means that at least one in ten crimes in the city of New York is committed by an illegal immigrant. That also means that at least 10% of criminal justice expenditures are spent to capture, prosecute, counsel, and imprison illegal immigrants.
Enchiladas, anybody?

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All hail the self-righteous

Peggy Noonan pens a scathing attack on the oh-so-noble 14. And she's right on point.
You've heard the mindless braying and fruitless arguments, but I'm here to tell you the facts, no matter what brickbats and catcalls may come my way. Lindsey Graham defied the biases of his constituency to do what was right, not what was easy. Robert Byrd put aside personal gain to save our Republic. David Pryor ignored the counsels of hate to stand firm for our hopes and dreams. Mike DeWine protected our way of life. These men are uniters, not dividers.

How do I know?

Because they told me. Again and again, and at great length, as they announced The Deal. And I believed them, because I am an idiot. Or as they might put it, your basic "folk" from "back home."

Listening to them I thought of some of the great and hallowed phrases of our Republic. "The rooster who thought he brought the dawn." "The only man who can strut sitting down."

I know they're centrists, but there is nothing moderate about their self-regard. And why should there be? I personally was dazzled by their refusal to bow to the counsels of common sense and proportion, and stirred that they had no fear of justified insult ("blowhard," "puffed up popinjay") as they moved forward in the halls of the United States Senate to bravely proclaim their excellence.
The other day I called the Senate a joke, but it was not due merely to the compromise reached on Monday night. The Senate has long become a place of insufferable blowhards dating back, well, probably to its creation at the outset of the republic. Even such dynamic and eloquent Senators such as Webster, Calhoun, Douglas and Clay, great statesemen that they all were, had a bit of the blowhard quality to them. Only today's Senators are mere blowhards and lack the "great statesman" aspect of their description.

Perhaps I am being a bit too harsh, but is there really any sitting Senator that merits much praise? Oh, there are a few on both sides who are decent fellows, but certainly no one that will be remembered a hundred years from now. Unfortunately most of the Senate is comprised of self-congratulating media whores a la McCain, Kerry, Kennedy, Byrd, Voinivich, Graham, Schumer, and the rest. I mean lets look at Chuck Schumer for a second. It takes a hell of a lot of effort to make Hillary Clinton look like a state's most stately and least annoying Senator, and yet Chuck Schumer has accomplished that by his steadfast refusal to do anything other than whine and complain like a spoiled rotten bratchild for the past five years. He is perhaps American history's least consequential Senator, and he must thank God every day that New York state has turned into such a putrid shithole because he is guaranteed re-election for the rest of his life.

But enough about Chucky. Where were we again? Ah yes, the Senate was indeed designed to be an institution that would temper democratic exuberance, as we've discussed many times before. And it has done that, though not always in the most noble of manners. Publius believed that the Senate would be a semi-aristocratic assembly. Unfortunately American aristoctracy is evidently boring, egotistical, and annoyingly self-righteous. Such is life I guess.

Update: There's no crying in the Senate. Well, not unless you're George Voinivich, and you must hold back tears while speaking on the floor of the Senate.
I know some of my friends say, 'Let it go, George, it's going to work out.' I don't want to take the risk," Voinovich said. "I came back here [to the Senate] and ran for a second term because I'm worried about my kids and my grandchildren. And I just hope my colleagues will take the time ... and do some serious thinking about whether or not we should send John Bolton to the United Nations."
Daniel Webster, he is not.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Complexity as an Excuse for Inaction

From the Coalition for Darfur.

A few weeks ago, PBS aired a made-for-HBO film about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda called "Sometimes in April." Following the presentation, journalist Jeff Greenfield held a panel discussion about world's last of response to Rwanda and the similarities to the current genocide in Darfur.

Former Deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz was among the panelists and during the discussion, made the following points
Wolfowitz: One of the things that bears thinking about from the Rwanda experience, and everyone of these cases is different, and I think one ought to recognize that. But it seems to me that the
thing that stuck me as unique about the Rwanda experience, on the one hand the sheer horror of it, with the exception of the Holocaust and even then at a sort of per day rate, this was probably the worst genocide ever. But secondly, and we'll never know this for sure because you never know the course that wasn't taken, but it was seem as though a relatively modest military action aimed at eliminating that regime could have ended the genocide and ended it rather quickly.

What strikes me and seems to me is true in Rwanda, is true in Bosnia, is true in World War II, is true in Cambodia, this kind of systematic, one-sided elimination of a population is not done spontaneously by another ethnic group, it's organized by a criminal gang and if that criminal gang had been eliminated in Rwanda the genocide would have ended.

But that comes to my last point which is, then it depends on how do you conceive of the peacekeeping operation and nobody proposed, that I know of, going in and taking out the government.

Greenfield: Should they have?

Wolfowitz: I think so, yes.


Wolfowitz: This is not a simple problem. The Rwanda case, I think, is striking because it at least it looks in hindsight to have been so simple to prevent something that was so horrible. But most of these cases are complicated ... In a way the Rwanda case is helpful for thinking about things but in some ways it's misleading because most cases are a little more difficult.
Wolfowitz openly argued that the world should have intervened in Rwanda, but then makes the strikingly disingenuous argument that Rwanda was somehow "simpler" than the current situation in Darfur.

Rwanda is only "simpler" because it is now over and hindsight allows us to see just how, where and why the world failed. But in 1994, with bodies filling the streets, Rwanda did not appear to be simple at all
U.S. Opposes Plan for U.N. Force in Rwanda
12 May 1994
The New York Times

UNITED NATIONS, May 11 -- As rebel forces of the Rwanda Patriotic Front pressed their attack today against the capital, Kigali, the United States criticized a new United Nations plan to send some 5,500 soldiers into the heart of the Rwandan civil war to protect refugees and assist relief workers, saying it is more than the organization can handle.


While not excluding any course of action, Ms. Albright said it remains unclear whether African countries are ready or able to send forces for such a dangerous and complicated mission at the epicenter of a raging civil war.
Ten years later, it now appears as if a few relatively simple measures backed by the necessary political will could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But in 1994, the
genocide appeared massively complex and that complexity was routinely cited as a justification for not intervening.

And Wolfowitz is making exactly the same justification for not intervening in Darfur today.

Were there feasible solutions to Rwanda? In hindsight, the answer is obviously "yes." Are there feasible solutions to Darfur? It is hard to say because right now it seems so complex, but there certainly are if the world powers can muster the will to address them.

But unfortunately, it is far more likely that ten years from now, when perhaps another one million Africans have needlessly died, we'll wonder why we did not act when "it looks in hindsight to have been so simple to prevent something that was so horrible."

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A selective reading of conservative principles

Stephen Bainbridge is one of the best legal bloggers around, thus his analysis of the filibuster deal is that much more maddening. Bainbridge has an unfortunate tendency to scoff at conservatives when they disagree with him, and this is more of the same as he basically tells us all to chill out. He turns to selective quotations of Russell Kirk to inform us all of how unconservative we're all being. But the very quotation he uses demonstrates why we are in the right.
Conservatives are champions of custom, convention, and continuity because they prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t know.

... Burke’s reminder of the necessity for prudent change is in the mind of the conservative. But necessary change, conservatives argue, ought to he gradual and discriminatory, never unfixing old interests at once.... In politics we do well to abide by precedent and precept and even prejudice, for the great mysterious incorporation of the human race has acquired a prescriptive wisdom far greater than any man’s petty private rationality.

... Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. As John Randolph of Roanoke put it, Providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries.
Bainbridge uses these quotations as evidence of why breaking the filibuster is both wrong politically and principally. And yet is not our insistence on maintaining two plus centuries of precedent the very definition of conservatism? It is the radical left that is breaking with tradition in utilizing the filibuster to require a supermajority to confirm judicial nominees. Read more »

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Senate Compromise, Winners and Losers

Rather than relegate my thoughts to the comments section of Paul’s post regarding the "compromise" reached by the 14 Senators late last night, I’ll stick them on the main page for all to see and mull over.

As my previous thoughts on the matter indicated, I took an instiutionalist point-of-view towards the entire issue finding fault with both sides and characterizing the whole controversy as not about political philosophy, judicial philosophy or governing principles, but rather about power and politics, pure and simple. That being said the natural question is; well Mouldfan, how did the institution of the Senate fair?

To be honest, I’m not sure that this compromise will do anything for the institution except perhaps delay the inevitable power struggle for another time and allow the Senate to move forward on other equally contentious issues like energy policy, transportation spending, and annual appropriations bills. The important thing is that this was essentially a political issue that was resolved, well politically, which in my mind explains much of Paul’s and I am assuming GipperClone’s concerns. I don’t think that the Senate becomes a "joke" as a result of this, but I’m not sold that it regains its stature as the "world’s greatest deliberative body" either. I think that time will tell what the true effects of this compromise will be. Is it better than the "nuclear/constitutional option," sure, how much better, I don’t know yet. That being said, I don’t really think that there are many "winners and losers" as a result, with the lone exceptions of Senators McCain and Frist respectively.

I agree with Paul with respect to naming Senator Frist as the biggest loser. For what ever reason Frist has hitched his wagon to the (for lack of a better phrase, not because I agree with its use, or should I say overuse) "religious conservatives" who were, of course, strongly in favor of the confirmation of all of President Bush’s nominees and opposed to the existence of the judicial filibuster. Simply put, Frist failed in his only objective which was to rid the Senate of the filibuster for judicial nominations. As a result, he appears to be weak and unable to carry the torch as the standard bearer for "conservative causes." Put another way, he may be, without a massive image adjustment over then next 2 years, "dead on arrival" with respect to the 2008 GOP Presidential nomination.

Of course, on the flip side of that coin you find Senator McCain, and it is here where I disagree most with Paul’s post. While I can understand Paul’s frustration with McCain for abandoning principle and forging a compromise with the "hated" Democrats, I’m not sure that a majority of people will see things that way. Again this goes back to my point that what I think Paul was looking for (and quite reasonably I might add) here was a principled solution to a disagreement about principles. The sad fact is that this was neither a debate about principles, nor one that resulted in a principled solution, which is exactly why McCain wins. Think about it, McCain gets to put himself before the people as the man who helped save the Senate from itself and as the consensus builder who will be able to do on a national level what President Bush has been unable to achieve, namely, unite the country not divide it. Are any of these claims true, well that depends on your point-of-view, but remember that elections are about the 20-25% who are undecided or "independent." McCain has some solid conservative credentials on things like abortion (he’s pro-life) gay marriage (he’s against it) and congressional spending (he’s probably the most adamantly anti-pork spending member of the Senate along with Tom Corburn), but he has been a bit wishy washy on some things, notably his support for campaign finance reforms, and now his compromise on judicial nominations. All in all though he might be the candidate that right now plays well in all parts of the country and that makes him, in my opinion, the front runner. I’m sure that Paul and GC will disagree, and they will have many good points to make against McCain, as there are many that can be made, but right now he’s going to be seen as the perceived victor and to the victor go the spoils. To continue the use of cliche’s, right now McCain’s in the driver’s seat, unless and until something or someone changes the equation.

In the end my score card looks like this, McCain 1 or maybe 2, Frist 0 or even -1, and the Senate as a whole, well its got to be 0 or maybe N/A as we shall see what happens in the next weeks as the Supreme Court term closes and we see how many, if any, of the Justices decide to retire.

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Monday, May 23, 2005

The US Senate: Madison is in tears

"Nooooooooooooooooooo!!!" - Darth Vader, after learning he had killed Padme.

"Nooooooooooooooooooo!!!" - Jack Bauer, after Habib Marawan fell to his death.

"Nooooooooooooooooooo!!!" - Paul Zummo, after learning about the Senate compromise.

At first I was concerned about the news of the compromise. Then enraged. Then worried. Then sleepy. Then enraged again. And now I am merely annoyed, but I am not sure my annoyance is with the weak Republican leadership, the demogoguery of the American left, the conniving little brat that is John McCain, the moderates in this country who hold themselves to be the bearers of the light and truth in this Nation, or the state of the US Senate.

The obvious problem with this deal is the vague terminology of "extreme circumstances." Either this was a clever ploy by the Democrats to lull the Republican leadership with a false compromise that in the end means nothing, or this was a rhetorical bone that the party threw to its base while acknowledging ultimate defeat. In reality, probably the latter. If the Democrats attempt to filibuster a nominee to the Supreme Court who has already has been confirmed by the Senate to a lower Court, can they really claim that such an individual is an "extreme" circumstance? Of course the way Democrats bandy about that word John Mardshall would be considered an extremist, so we can't really be certain what will happen.

Even if the Democrats are the ultimate losers, or are just ultimately losers, Bill Frist deserves every bit of scorn that will be unleashed at him from the right. Put simply, Bill Frist proved himself to be an unworthy leader, and if he were a Parliamentary leader, probably would be forced to resign his leadership. That such a deal could be worked out under his nose by several renegades from his own party does not speak well of his leadership qualities. Any chance he thought he even had for the presidential nomination has come and gone.

As for John McCain, well, let's just say I will admit to few mistakes in life, but voting for this two-faced, spineless, media (rhymes with bore) in the 2000 New York State primary was the biggest mistake of my life. Echoing Krempasky, he is dead to me.

It is galling to me that 12 Senators -talk about minority power - can so dominate one House of Congress. In some respect this reminds me of the Great Compromises of 1850, which in fact were not so great in the long run. But a select few Senators managed to work out a series of compromises that temorarily saved the Union. We all know how that turned out. It is funny, but in reading the comments on this matter, both left and right are enraged. As well they should be. Both sides feel betrayed by the moderates in their parties, and in a sense they were. Moderates have appropriated this mythical image in the United States, as though they uniquely care about the greater good. But moderation has accomplished nothing. A run through of all the great moderates in history quickly reveals this:

There, done.

But most maddening of all is the fact that the Senate has become a joke. It is an institutional farce filled with grandstanding, obnoxious, egotistical would-be Emperors whose sense of self-importance precludes them from doing anything to improve this republic of ours. The filibuster is not a mechanism to guarantee institutional independence; rather it is a device to demonstrate the Senate's pomposity.

Publius foresaw the Senate as being a semi-aristocratic institution that would temper democratic passions. But the passage of time, as well as the unfortunate passage of the 17th amendment have destroyed whatever luster there once was to this body. There's a reason Jack Kennedy is the only person in the past hundred years or so to be elected to the Presidency from the US Senate. Would you want any of these individuals to lead our country right now? Didn't think so.

Watching the self-congratulatory press conference earlier tonight made me physically ill. Star Wars may be science fiction, and George Lucas an embarassing political satirist, but he certainly was dead on in his depiction of the Senate.


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Church: The Musical

Yesterday I attended Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine on the CUA campus. For those unfamiliar with it, the Basilica is the largest Catholic church in the western hemisphere and is just a beautiful setting for Mass. Normally I prefer to attend the Latin Mass at St. Matthews or even the Tridentine at St. Mary's, but on days when I don't really feel like getting up at 7:30 in the morning, I settle for the English Novus Ordo at the Shrine. Ususally I don't mind, but yesterday's services bothered me to some degree.

Yesterday's Mass was the Church's celebration of Memorial Day. As such there were bagpipes, choral anthems, and much pomp and circumstance. I am one who appreciates all of what I have just described, but I must wonder if Mass, particularly on the day of the commemoration of the Holy Trinity, is the most appropriate setting for all the glitz and glamour on display at the Basilica.

It took about 20 minutes before we even made the sign of the cross and got down to the business of praying. Again, I can understand a certain element of celebration, but at some point I was expecting dancers to take to the altar for a Ray Fosse-esque tribute to the military.

Of course none of what transpired was as bad as what you get at some other Catholic churches. I'm of course talking about those ugly-as-sin Churches which feature a five piece band. Every time I am forced to sit through such a service where they break out the acoustic guitar I half expect Christ to pick that moment for his second coming. And what will Christ do? He will take that guitar, smash it to bits, and then, mimicking John Belushi in Animal House, offer a very sheepish-looking "sorry."

Perhaps I am a bit of a hard-liner in this regard, but the Catholic Church made a very bad decision forty years ago in getting rid of the Latin Tridentine Mass. Now we're stuck with the wannabe Protestant services which feature almost as much entertainment as religious worship. The solitude of the Tridentine Mass provides a much more spiritual setting. Of course I know the Church will never return to the Tridentine, and at least they're working to make the English translation fall more in line with the Latin. And, most importantly, the manner of celebration is not as important as the fact that celebration is in fact occurring. But it would be nice if they could put down the bagpipes and get to folding the hands a bit more.

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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Iran’s Deadly Game Begins Anew

Late last week, Iran informed Great Britain, France, and Germany that it has no intention of halting its quest to develop nuclear weapons – notwithstanding whatever else the rest of the world might have to say about it – and threatened dire consequences should the international community act against their weapons program.

Obviously, the troublesome Islamic republic did not state its threat in those words, but it might as well have. According to ABC News, Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Reza Asefi said the following in relation to the so-called E-3’s most recent efforts to encourage Iran to stop its uranium enrichment program (which, in addition to being problematic in a vacuum, also happens to be in violation of earlier agreements between the E-3 and Iran):
“The Europeans will sustain more damage than us if the talks have no result
and Iran's case is taken to the U.N. Security Council,” Asefi told

“The case will turn into a crisis they cannot manage any longer and the
Islamic Republic will act unilaterally,” he warned, without elaborating.

While such words are discouraging, they are hardly unexpected. Indeed, Iran has been playing this game for years now. (I harken you back to a previous post on this same subject by yours truly dating back to last November. In as modest fashion as I can, all I can say is: See, I told you so.) It has time and time again reiterated the facially absurd notion that its enrichment activities are aimed at energy production, never mind the fact that Iran probably has oil reserves that rival those of Saudi Arabia. It has also maintained that it seeks an agreement between itself and the West, even though it has undermined each and every one of its own prior agreements with these same nations not long after forging them.

In short, Iran is a huge threat to our way of life, and if you think this week’s approaching battle over filibusters and presidential nominees for the federal bench is going to be one hell of a showdown, you ain’t seen nothing yet. While I truly do hope that the ongoing skirmishes in Iraq between our troops and the remaining pockets of insurgents is as bad as it gets, I suspect that we have not witnessed the last theater of this War on Terror. Talk like the above only provides further clues as to where we are headed.

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Friday, May 20, 2005

He use big werdz

Only William F. Buckley is capable of stringing two consecutive sentences such as the following:
Really, you would think the Republicans had proposed to rape the Statue of Liberty. The brummagem moral fanfare imposed on the controversy reminds one of the desperation with which losers will attempt to cope with disappointment at the polls.
If I had one person to choose as a Scrabble partner, it would be the man would use "brummagem" in a sentence and actually know what the word means.

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The End

Warning: Some spoilers ahead, but if you don't know what happens, then you're not really a Star Wars fan.

As the final shot of the two suns setting on the Tatooine horizon descends into the closing credits, a profound sense of sadness overcame me. It felt as though a part of my childhood had come to an end. The double trilogy was now complete after 28 years - the exact length of my life thus far. No more Star Wars - unless they do in fact make Episodes 7, 8, and 9, which is a possibility, though it would likely be someone other than Lucas directing.

This was an emotionally draining movie. As alluded to above, it felt like an important part of my - and my generation's - childhood had come to a close. Those of us who are Star Wars fans, whether they be the crazies who dress up like Darth Vader and stand in line for two weeks before the move opens, or the more sedate among us who merely have seen each of the movies a couple of dozen times, have basically waited a lifetime for this movie. And now it has come and gone.

But the movie also connects on an emotional level. As Annakin lays on the molten beach or whatever you want to call it, unable to move, shouting with furious rage at Obi-Wan, you can't but help feel sorry for this pitiable figure. He has turned to the dark side for an understandable if mistaken reason, and now that reason is taken away from him anyway. It is this climactic scene which makes Annakin/Darth's salvation at the end of Return of the Jedi now seem so much more meaningful. To me Return of the Jedi signifies the return of Annakin to the jedi. Maybe that's not what Lucas intended, but that's what I take away from it.

The final hour of this movie is the most depressing and gut wrenching hour of movie-viewing that I have ever witnessed. There is one calamity after the other, with little in the way to relieve the tension. After Annakin vanquishes Mace and accepts Darth Sidious as his Master, and the Jedi are one-by-one destroyed, it becomes quite clear just how dark and ominous the final installment of the Star Wars saga will prove to be. Even though it had been spoiled by me in earlier previews, the scene in which the younglings, cowering in the temple but relieved by Annakin's entrance, only to have hope turned to fear as Darth Vader reveals that he is there to in fact kill them all, is one of the most emotional moments in the whole series.

Return of the Sith is unlike any of the other Star War movies. Even Empire had a lot of light moments to keep it from being a completely dark thriller. Not so for Sith, at least in its second half. It is odd that the two best Star War movies are the ones which have the unhappiest endings, but this certainly ranks up there, and perhaps even exceeds Empire.

Yes, there are quibbles with the movie. The acting is much better, but Natalie Portman's Padame is by far the weakest link. I am also uncertain how she goes from barely pregnant to a balloon in a week's time. And speaking of timing, so it takes them roughly 19 years to finish this Death Star and then, what 5 or so to construct the next one? Talk about improving effiency. And some of the battle scenes simply fall flat. Mercifully the political overtones were kept to a minimum, but Vader's you're either with me or against me line which induces Obi-Wan's follow-up of "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes" completely contradicts what was actually established earlier in the film, but that's been covered in another post this week.

Those quibbles aside, I think fans of the series should be happy with how it has been concluded. Our lifetime of waiting has been rewarded.

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Charlies Fried on the Constitutional Issues surrounding the filibuster

I thought I'd link everyone to my Confirm Them post before I head out for my interview. Clink on the link if you feel like reading. Or not.


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A Must Read

I don't often agree with David Brooks, but his column in today's New York Times is about as correct as correct can be.

Funny thing about being right, there isn't much for commentators to say about you.

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Take the 4 train to Grand Central, and switch to the 7

Courtesy of MetsBlog here is a Daily News article that should get the juices flowing for the upcoming Subway Series between the Mets and Yanks. I will state uncategorically that the bandwagon label does not apply to our very own GipperClone. Like most real Yankee fans he has or had the appropriate shrine to Don Mattingly to indicate his earnestness. As for the great majority of Yankee fans - you phonies might be itching to don those Wright jersies, but stay the fuck away from Shea. Capice?

Frankly this series has lacked something since the 2000 World Series as the Mets have struggled mightily since then, but with the addition of Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, and the resurgent Mets slightly outplaying the Yanks thus far, this inter-league rivalry has a renwed energy about it. Sadly I will have to view from afar in a city whose own intense inter-league rivalry series is still a year away. My only hope is that on Saturday Fox will decide to air the rivalry game that people actually care about. If Cubs-Sox should appear on my screen, heads will roll. Mark my words.

"Plus, there's no Jason Giambi and no John Sterling in Queens, and we have Anna Benson. There's three reasons right there to switch."

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Hotel Rwanda

I don't know how many of you have had the opportunity to see this movie, but it tells a simply awe-inspiring, apolitical, tragic, shameful--and true, story of one man and his family admist the horrors of the Rwandan genocide. Numbers approaching 900,000 people were brutally slaughtered and the world stood by and did NOTHING. It puts into perspective the current situation in Darfur, andthe unlearned lessons, hypocrisy and apathy that sadly persists in so-called civilized countries, as well as what a "war of necessity" actually is....or should have been.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Delays and Complications

This week's Coalition post.

The genocide in Darfur began more than two years ago. Since then, more than 400,000 people have died and the international community has yet to take any concrete action toward stopping the violence or helping the nearly 2 million displaced return to their destroyed villages and resume semi-normal lives.

And the longer the world delays, the more complicated the situation seems to become.

Just last week, the UNHCR was forced to pull its staff out of four refugee camps in Chad after five of its workers were wounded in protests over food distribution. The same day, two refugees and two Chadian police officers were killed during a clash in another camp.

Also last week, two drivers for the World Food Program were killed and rebels abducted but later released 17 members of the African Union ceasefire monitoring force.

The UN reported that militia attacks have intensified in the last month and there are now reports that rebels in the East have amassed along the border with Eritrea, potentially creating a Darfur-like conflict there as well.

All the while, the world makes symbolic gestures of concern and assistance. The AU has decided to expand its force in Darfur but lacks the troops, money and logistical resources necessary to fully do so. Help from NATO has been requested but has not yet materialized. For domestic political reasons of its own, Canada recently pledged to send 100 troops to Darfur but has since backed off because of objections from Sudan. Meanwhile, leaders from Egypt, Libya, Chad, Nigeria, Sudan, Gabon and Eritrea jointly announced their rejection of "any foreign intervention in the Darfur problem."

The crisis in Darfur is by no means simple and solutions are going to require serious thought and real political will. Unfortunately, Darfur has not yet been able to garner either. But the longer the world refuses to deal with this, the more complicated the situation is going to become.

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Dirty Harry's version of American history

"Right now, the only check on President Bush is the Democrats' ability to voice their concern in the Senate," said Reid, D-Nev. "If Republicans roll back our rights in this chamber, there will be no check on their power. The radical, right wing will be free to pursue any agenda they want."
This is Harry Reid, commenting on the GOP attempt to end these judicial filibusters.

Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats are engaged in an attempt to alter the meaning of the Constitution of the United States. If you do not believe this to be the case, then read his next comment:
"The goal of the Republican leadership and their allies in the White House is to pave the way for a Supreme Court nominee who would only need 50 votes for confirmation rather than 60," the number of senators needed to maintain a filibuster, Reid said.
Gee Senator Reid, that does sure seem unfair of the Republicans. After all, it says right there in the U.S. Constitution that court appointments must be confirmed by 3/5 of the Senate. It says it right there in Article . . . hmmm, I can't seem to find it. It must be there somewhere. What's that you say? There is absolutely nothing in the Constitution that mandates justices be confirmed by a super-majority? You mean Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats have created an artificial threshold for judicial nominations?

I must ask Senator Reid: why not 67 votes to confirm? Why 67, you ask? That is the number of votes that used to be required to end a filibuster until there was a rule change.

A rule change? In the US Senate? You mean to tell me that the Senate is allowed to change the rules? Is not the filibuster enshrined in the Constitution?

What's that you say? The filibuster is an extra-constititional device that is no more a part of the constitutional mandate of the Senate than its decision to not electronically file its financial reports?

The idea that the end of the judicial filibuster signifies a rollback of minority rights in the Senate is farcical. Set aside the fact that as long as wimpy RINO's such as John McCain and Lincoln Chafee are roaming the halls there is little chance that the President will be able to ram his agenda through Congress without a fight. The fact remains that the filibuster is not the mechanism through which the Senate retains its strong influence in the balance of power. The constitutional design of our federal government provides enough checks on the government so that the filibuster is little more than a tool for the minority to grab far too much power. If the Senate - and for that matter the House - is unable or unwilling to check the powers of the presidency, then the problem lies with the individual members of Congress who have abdicated their responsibility in matters which they truly do have a constitutional role. Congress has let the presidency grow in stature practically to the point where Congress has become something of a joke. And yet in the one area where the President is decreed greater power it is here that the Senate rears its ugly head in a manner that breaks the bounds of its constitutionally delegated powers. Advice and consent does not mean 2/3 or 3/5 or whatever arbitrary fraction you want to imagine.

Senator Reid's distortion of the historical legacy would be laughable were it not for the Republican leadership's failure thus far to do anything meaningful. I hope that their efforts today do not prove to be fruitless.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

I, apostate

In the comments section Jeff brought up this Washington Times article on Pat Buchanan. I was going to relegate my reaction to the comments section because, quite frankly, I have spilt far too much digital ink on this one writer. But upon closer examination of the article, there's just too much to let go without comment.

First snippet:
"[Conservatism] doesn't exist anymore as a unifying force," he says in an interview with The Washington Times. "There are still a lot of people who are conservative, but the movement is now broken up, crumbled, dismantled."
Right off the bat we have an observation that is so historically off the mark that it almost begs for parody. The conservative movement has never been a unifying force. It has always been splintered into different factions. One of the most wonderful things about conservatism is that it cannot easily be defined by any sort of orthodoxy. Edmund Burke specifically shunned the sort of mataphysical abstract thinking that dominates political ideologies. Perhaps the right was unfied during the Cold War in its determination to roll back Soviet domination, but the libertarian-conservative alliance was always an uneasy one.

Conservatism is made up of many different strands of thought, and this is a strength, not a weakness. Jonah Goldberg explains this in greater detail, and I made a go of it a while back on Southern Appeal.

Buchanan then continues.
Unnamed phonies, he suggests, have infiltrated the movement.

There are "a lot of people who call themselves conservative but who, on many issues, I just don't consider as conservative. They are big-government people."
Gee Pat, such as, say, YOU? I think Ramesh Ponnuru makes a pretty compelling case that Buchanan himself is guilty of the committing same transgression he is accusing others of performing. You know that whole "compassionate conservatism" thing? Wonder where George Bush may have heard that before?
In The Great Betrayal, Buchanan compares free markets to the law of the jungle and writes, "Better the occasional sins of a government acting out of the spirit of charity than the constant omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference." Conservatives who grind their teeth every time George W. Bush uses his favorite adjective should remember that Buchanan was the very first compassionate conservative — "I may charge him with plagiarism," he says. Buchanan has been slow to grasp the full implications of his new political stance. He still, for instance, opposes increasing the minimum wage. But his "conservatism of the heart" has moved him to favor higher unemployment benefits, to support a cap on executive pay, and to condemn Republicans' brave efforts in 1995 to curb the growth of Medicare.

Buchanan almost never talks about cutting government any more, certainly not about ending specific programs or programs that benefit the middle class. It is true that most Republicans these days share this reticence. But only Buchanan says that advocates of the flat tax have spent too much time with "the boys down at the yacht basin." Not even liberal Democrats bash corporations with his gusto, deploring as he does their greed, questioning their loyalty, and second-guessing their decisions. (For all the anti-corporate rhetoric, of course, a Buchananite economic policy would in practice involve an alliance between Big Government, Big Business, and Big Labor — as every country that has tried to implement such a policy has found out.)
But of course Buchanan remains a strong social conservative, correct? After all, he says so himself, and he criticizes the GOP for taking its focus off of cultural issues.
"They are indifferent to those moral issues because they see them — and correctly — as no longer popular, no longer the majority positions that they used to be," he says. "They say, 'Let's put those off the table and focus on the issues where we still have a majority — strong national defense and cutting taxes.' "

So, Mr. Buchanan concludes, Republicans have "abdicated from the cultural war. They've stacked arms."
How very fascinating. But where was the culture warrior in 2000 when he was making his own bid for the presidency? More Ponnuru:
What actually motivated the Buchanan brigades to pick up their pitchforks was, above all, their opposition to abortion. Buchanan won the 1996 New Hampshire primary because 64 percent of those voters whose top issue was abortion rallied to him. These pro-lifers must now be astonished to learn that Buchanan, in pursuit of a national ticket and $12.6 million in federal matching funds, cares more about trade and foreign policy than he does about abortion. He is apparently willing to join a pro-choice party and to risk helping the Democrats appoint two or three more Supreme Court justices in a post-Clinton administration.But even Christian conservatives, many of whom are also economic conservatives, have deserted him. Buchanan's vote peaked his first time out: He has never equaled his showing in February 1992, when he won 37 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary. There were, of course, non-ideological reasons for Buchanan's subsequent burnouts. To begin with, he was surprisingly lackadaisical about politics for someone who wants to reshape it. After losing in 1996, Buchanan went back to CNN; Steve Forbes, by contrast, never left the hustings. Gary Bauer has raised money for other candidates; Buchanan has done nothing to nurture a like-minded cadre in Congress. Buchanan's showing in the Iowa straw poll in August — Bauer placed higher — underlined the point that he has no future in the Republican party. The most recent poll shows him with the backing of only 3 percent of Republican voters, and he has the support of no acknowledged conservative figure.
So I guess it's up to other politicians to focus their energies on cultural issues, but when Buchanan is the candidate, he'd rather promote his William Jennings Bryan in the 21st century economic vision.

More Buchanan:
He expresses resentment over the "imperialist" prescriptions of neoconservatives. "I don't think neoconservatives are conservative at all," he says. "I'm often asked what exactly is it that they want to conserve. They are Wilsonian interventionists abroad; they are big government at home."
He sort of has a point. True neocons are struck with something of a utopian grand vision of spreading democracy as a cure for all evils, and earnestly support interventionist government at home. But how is that any more of a departure from conservatism than Buchanan's protectionism? In all honesty there is no "pure" conservative economic program. Burke was a fan of Adam Smith, though traditional conservatives generally have cast a suspicious eye on corporations, until more recently. That said, there is nothing inherently conservative about an America-first and only policy that severely restricts trade and therefore dampens the workings of the capitalist market. Thus when Buchanan claims that neoconservatives are not really conservative, I wonder if he has a mirror handy.

Additional thoughts What particularly bothers me about Buchanan and guys like Andrew Sullivan is their implicit belief that they are the definers of what authentic conservatism is all about. Perhaps we are all guilty of this to one degree or another. We fall into the trap of thinking that our ideas are the best, and anything which strays a little bit is wrong. But with Buchanan, Sullivan and others, they seek to define conservatism though their personal prism. As a result, they develop daydream realities which never were to justify their position. Take for example Sullivan's absurd remaking of the Reagan legacy after his death. Sullivan attempted to portray Reagan as some sort of social moderate so as to distinguish him from the vile theocrat known as George Bush. But in reality Reagan was no less of a social conservative than Bush, and in fact was often much more harsh and dogmatic than Bush could ever dream of being. Similarly Buchanan paints an idyllic image of a conservative harmony that never existed. Pity, because Buchanan is a tremendous writer with a gifted intellect. But for every astute observation he offers is a theory which defies logic.

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Monday, May 16, 2005


You - you got what I need.
But you say he's just a friend.
You say he's just a friend.

A friend of a friend recently traveled to Egypt, our good friends in the northeast of the African continent. Not only was this friend a female, she had the double misfortune of being Jewish. Needless to say this particular person encountered some difficulties in the land of the pharoahs. Merchants who had previously bargained with her husband seemed less inclined to deal. Evidently all Egyptian males have the mentality of a typical American teenager and seem incapable of standing in the presence of women. So this woman - a self-described feminist - had a natural explanation for this boorish behavior: it was all a result of British colonialism.

That's right. As we all have read in our history textbooks the Brits were notorious for their second-class treatment of women. It's not as though any British women have been allowed to attain any positions of prominence, other than of course being head of state. And we're all familiar with the headscarves that British women are required to wear, and the generally subservient position that they must all accept. Before the Brits arrived Egyptian women flourished, but it was those nasty Brits that taught Egyptian men the virtue of misogyny.

It's amazing really. American leftists (and Andrew Sullivan, not there's a distinction there anymore) bemoan the phantom rise of the theocrats. You know, they're those crazy nutbags who believe in all sorts of hokey nonsense like the son of God and going to Church every week. According to the left these "theocrats," who by the way represent both fundamentalist Christians and Roman Catholics, are engaged in some nefarious plot to take over America. Let's let alone the fact that Fundies and Catholics agree on little more than that Christ was in fact the Son of God and therefore the Messiah. Hey it's not like Fundies disagree with Catholics on such petty things such as transubstantiation and the literal interpretation of the bible. Obviously since we all believe that Christ is the risen Lord we must all share the same basic worldview, except for those cases where we don't. Hey, just because most Fundies think that all Catholics are going to hell couldn't possibly mean there's any dissonance between these two groups. Just like Jews have managed to organize in a plot to take over the world even though they can't effectively organize to arrange a smooth-flowing Shabbot service, let's not let pesky facts get in the way of a ridiculously stupid characterization of the so-called "Christian right."

Where were we? Oh right. Somehow it's these Christian theocrats that present a threat to the world and the American way of life. But as mentioned below it ain't the Christians rioting and murdering over alleged desecrations of holy documents. It ain't the Christian societies that won't allow their women to show their faces in public, drive cars, or vote. And before January there was only one Middle Eastern society that functioned as a democracy, and it wasn't the state in which the official religion was the one adhered to by most Middle Easterners.

Yet despite the incredibly inhumane treatment of an entire gender our noble feminist decides to deride western culture and pin the blame on a society that was ahead of its time in its sex relations. It is as though a left-winger knows not what to do. Sure, Middle Eastern men treat their women like complete shit, but they hate America, and in the end, isn't America hating more important than the equal treatment of women?

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We don't watch Star Wars for the brilliant writing

Professor Bainbridge is not just one of the great legal minds of our generation, he's also an astute observer of popular culture, as this post indicates. Long story short, George Lucas betrayed one of the most fundamentally important plot points of Star Wars in order to score fairly mindless political points.

He quotes the New York Times review of the movie.
Mr. Lucas is clearly jabbing his light saber in the direction of some real-world political leaders. At one point, Darth Vader, already deep in the thrall of the dark side and echoing the words of George W. Bush, hisses at Obi-Wan, "If you're not with me, you're my enemy." Obi-Wan's response is likely to surface as a bumper sticker during the next election campaign: "Only a Sith thinks in absolutes." You may applaud this editorializing, or you may find it overwrought, but give Mr. Lucas his due. For decades he has been blamed (unjustly) for helping to lead American movies away from their early-70's engagement with political matters, and he deserves credit for trying to bring them back.
As Bainbridge details, in fact the Jedi were guilty of the same sort of thinking, as the dialogue from the original movies demonstrate. And . . .

Wait a second, am I really getting into an analysis of Star Wars? Wow. Just read Bainbridge's damned post.

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Coming soon (eventually)

My brilliant idea of the day: Today's decision in Granholm v. Heald (the interstate wine shipment cases) makes all recent blather about the Constitution-in-exile movement look silly. Moderates and liberals (and Nino) use the Constitution to liberate trade and property rights. On the other hand, Justice Thomas, supposedly the most likely to reverse 70 years worth of constitutional decisions to vindicate those same property rights, defers to state regulation and restraints on trade.

I'll develop this in more depth, but remember: you read it here first.

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Fact checking? We don't need no stinking fact checking.

Now that it has been revealed that the Newsweek story about the Koran being flushed down the toilet is not true, or at least has not been confirmed and therefore should not have been published, there is a mini-dustup in the blogosphere over who to blame for the deaths of 16 people. On some level of course Newsweek deserves the scorn being unleashed in its direction. As Ace and Michelle Malkin so aptly put it, "Newsweek lied. People died." They decided to publish a story that they knew would be disastrous in terms of American foreign policy, and yet did worse than a sub-standard job in fact-checking said story. Now 16 people are dead, and anti-Americanism abroad is stoked again.

But Dave at Garfield Ridge understands where the real story is.
But let's face facts, folks: at the end of the day, the story here isn't about Newsweek, or the Pentagon.

It's about adherents of a religion that riot and kill because someone allegedly burned a book.

I don't care if it was the Koran, the Torah, or Curious George Meets The Electric Fence-- this sort of delusional behavior is not only irrational, it's psychotic. And it shows just how far we have to go for the Islamic world to be brought into the 21st-- hell, the 20th-- century.

. . .I've never heard a Colorado minister preach for honor killing. I've never seen deadly riots in Alabama over a crucifix in urine. Hundreds of Baptists didn't begin suicide bombing statehouses performing same-sex marriages, or grade schools teaching evolution.

Yet, the Left fears Christianity as if it were evil incarnate. Meanwhile, we patronize all Muslims by tacitly accepting sick and violent behavior from these evil men, casually writing off millions of innocent people all because we don't dare question how anyone practices their religion.

Hey, they're just Muslims; they don't know any better, right? We here in the West are so much smarter than they are. Better to forget about them, let them kill themselves, and sit tight at home watching Desperate Housewives.

One would have thought 9/11 would have convinced us all that we can just sit behind our walls and hope the evil doesn't come in.
We can all appreciate the emotional and psychological impact that the desecration of a sacred symbol can have on a people. So important is the American flag as a national symbol that no less a liberal jurist than William Brennan Justice Stevens (caught my mistake a bit late) thought that anti-flag burning laws did not violate the first amendment. Working in the Mayor's Office of New York City - the largest liberal enclave in the country - I saw a slew of e-mails denouncing the vile "Madonna covered in feces" piece of "art" that the Brooklyn Museum of Art exhibited. And yet I do not recall too many Catholics taking to the streets in protest, and have yet to hear about any deaths that resulted.

It's long been noted that bullies are those that lack self-esteem. They hate their own lives so much that they will take their frustrations out on others. Similarly, certain people choose to blame others for their putrid state of existence, and lash out in fits of rage over their so-called oppressors. Every time I see people from the Middle East waving their fists at the evil Americans it reminds me that so much of their anger comes from within. They have lived with despotism their entire lives, and have seen their governments curtail any and all freedoms. As such, any perceived slight is magnified a thousand times. So they use an excuse a purported desecration to take to the streets and vent their anger.

I guess this is all a good thing for many of the Middle Eastern states. I was watching the Prime Minister of Egypt on Meet the Press yesterday and he had to sit there and pretend that anti-Americanism wasn't a convenient outlet for Egyptians whose true enemies were the men running their own government. Oh sure, elections in that country are a farce and real democracy does not exist there, but as long as the tyrannized can turn their anger on a distant land rather than the real tyrants, then those in charge can sit back and relax. But that won't last for long. As Fareed Zakaria noted,
Tomorrow, were the Egyptian Street to voice its views—I mean the real Egyptian Street, not President Mubarak's state-controlled media—we would probably discover that its deepest discontent is directed not at the president of the United States, but at the president of Egypt. Perhaps Arabs and Muslims are not some strange species after all. It is their rulers who are strange.
Anyway, as Dave said, as much blame as Newsweek deserves, it's the people who actually did the killing that are the evil ones, and as such are the people we ought to be focusing our anger upon.

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Sunday, May 15, 2005

Judicial Crossroads for GOP Senators

Republicans are on the verge of shooting themselves in the foot. Again.

Late Tuesday afternoon, rumors were rampant that Senators Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) had cobbled together an agreement in an attempt to avoid a showdown over the liberal Democrats’ ongoing filibuster of President Bush’s appellate court nominees. The essence of the alleged agreement was as follows: six Republicans and six Democrats would sign a binding agreement that would obligate the six Republicans to vote against any proposed rule changes intended to prevent filibusters of judicial nominees, while obligating the six Democrats to not filibuster four of the seven judicial nominees that the Democrats have repeatedly blocked from having votes on the floor of the Senate. The deal would also obligate the six Democrat senators to help break a filibuster for any future appellate nominees, including Supreme Court nominees, except under “extreme circumstances.”

Senator Lott responded to that rumor quicker than a jackrabbit on a date, stating that no such deal was being pursued. In the days since, however, rumors of a compromise have resurfaced, and from numerous sources. Words used by the likes of Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Republicans on the Sunday morning talk shows intimate that the Republicans are hesitant to change Senate rules in order to ensure up-or-down votes on the floor of the Senate for all of Bush’s nominees.

Apparently, the Republicans are once again displaying their perennial fear of actually having to wield responsibility. What these same Republicans fail to understand is that a compromise harms (surprise) Republicans and their ability to lead.

For starters, if an eventual theoretical compromise were to mirror the afore-mentioned Lott-Nelson agreement of last week, the only guarantee upon which Republicans can count is that Democrats will violate the agreement before you can say “roll call.” That agreement contained language requiring Democrats to vote for cloture on any nominees that come to the floor except under “extreme circumstances.” Simply stated, any such language automatically provides liberal Democrats in the Senate (in other words, all of them) with the loophole they need to obstruct all future floor votes of judicial nominees. (Can’t you just see them now? “Well, I know I signed that agreement to bring Bush’s nominees to the floor, but this nominee is just – well, regrettably, he’s just too extreme. I saw him reading the Constitution during breaks in his confirmation hearing. We can’t have federal judges engaging in such reckless behavior on the bench . . . ”)

Furthermore, any compromise short of one that guarantees a floor vote for each and every presidential nominee for the bench, current and future, only guarantees a renewal of this fight down the road. For all of their bluster on the issue, Democrats do not want a rules vote now. Were there to be a confrontation over this issue in the coming days – as appears imminent, based upon reports of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s intent to bring this issue to the floor this week – Democrats would suffer in two significant ways: they would lose the last major obstructionist arrow in their quiver, and they would expend considerable political capital in the process. If the Democrats are somehow able to forge a deal – and if the Republicans are somehow foolish enough to go for it – the Democrats would succeed in preventing Republicans from bringing the issue to the fore, would continue to block Bush’s nominees to the federal courts that actually make law, and would give Democrats the advantage of using the filibuster card in the future when the Republicans might have less public support – such as when Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist will allegedly be stepping down early this summer.

The next few days will tell us if the Republicans are truly serious about leadership. Here’s hoping the GOP has the guts to move in for the kill.

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Saturday, May 14, 2005

100 "Greatest" Americans

Professor Bainbridge links to Discovery Channel's list of the 100 greatest Americans. This is a wonderful combination of America's historical ignorance and political correctness. Among those on the list:

Barack Obama - His main accomplishment has been to be a black person getting elected to the US Senate.
Laura and Barbara Bush, Jackie O - Managed to marry men who became President.
Jimmy Carter - also known as "history's greatest monster."
John Edwards - This is a joke, right? I guess conning juries qualifies one as a great American.
Bill Clinton - Errr, right.
Lyndon Johnson - oh come on, he makes Richard Nixon look downright saintly by comparison.
Mel Gibson- Isn't he Australian? Even if not, as much as I like the Passion of the Christ, umm, no.
Christoper Reeve - the less said the better.
Madonna - I guess being a no-talent slut is another qualifier for greatness.
Michael Moore - yeah, let's award hacks who direct bad "documentaries." I guess his greatness is measured in pounds.
Oprah Winfrey - this woman has contributed more than anyone else into making America a land of neurotic wussies.
Rush Limbaugh - I love Rush, but give me a break.
Tom Cruise - Really stretching there, aren't we.

Bainbridge points out some out some other doozies. Let's just say any list that includes Maya Angelou but leaves off James Madison, John Adams and John Marshall is just a bit off.

Hooray for historical shortsightedness!

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Friday, May 13, 2005

Santo subito?

Our new Pope has decided to waive the normal time limits on beginning the investigation into the life of his predecessor, for the possibility of eventual canonization. Not that anyone asked, but I disapprove.

I have no doubt that waiving the rule is in the Pope's power. This rule was something entirely made by the Church, and may be entirely waived by the Church. While it is in his power to waive the rule, I think doing so demonstrates poor judgment.

The entire justification for the rule is that time serves to separate the wheat from the chaff. It recognizes human error. (Just as people often suffer from undeservedly bad reputations, it is possible for someone to benefit from an undeservedly good reputation.) The rule recognizes that emotions run high when a person who is admired dies. (What is the difference between the throngs chanting "santo subito" during the Pope's funeral and the student riots of '68 about which Pope Benedict's opinion is well known?) In short, the rule says to the faithful: "Think someone was a saint? Come back in 100 years and tell me if you still think so." It's not as if anyone is really harmed by this; it's not as if St. Peter stands at the gates and says, "I'd let you in, but the Roman Curia has not finished its investigation yet."

The rule should be honored (i.e., followed) for its accute perception of human realities, a perception which is the fruit of centuries of accumulated experience. Instead, we have a situation where the clamor for quick action -- the very thing that the rule was designed to deal with -- is sufficient reason to waive the rule. That's irrational.

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Here's a public suggestion. (This could have been discussed through back channel means, but on the chance it produces meaningful banter, I post it publicly. Besides, I haven't put up a post lately.) In the Darfur region of Sudan the Muslim gangs known as janjaweed are killing a lot of people. Every week we put up a post designed to bring attention to the situation in Darfur.

My guess: No one reads those posts. (I certainly don't.)

My inkling: Putting the posts up on our site is nothing more than a balm for American sensibilities.

My suggestion: Stop putting up the weekly posts. They haven't kept anyone from being murdered; and they haven't kept anyone from murdering. They are, I suggest, an empty gesture. I am not a big fan of empty gestures, and do not wish to share authorship of this particular (ex hypothesi) empty gesture.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Where Are All the Institutionalists?

I fully intended to post this thought this morning, but work got the best of me yet again. I want to focus on the growing debate regarding judicial nominations. We at this blog haven't posted much on this subject in a while. Paul of course is involved with the Confirm Them project, so he has a built in excuse, but I think the rest of us believe that each has taken an unwaivering position one way or the other. That being said, given all of the news regarding the immanency of the “nuclear” or “constitutional” option regarding judicial appointments, one has to wonder what has happened to the interest in the institution of the United States Senate.

It should come as no surprise to the readers of this blog that while I have been opposed to the filibuster of judicial nominees on the Senate floor, I don’t support eliminating the filibuster either. How is it, you ask that one can with a straight face say that the filibuster is wrong yet not support taking steps to correct the problem? To answer that question, I have to explain why I am opposed to the use of the filibuster. My opposition is not because I don’t believe in the use of filibusters, because I do, nor is it because I feel that the use of the filibuster is unconstitutional, because, in my opinion, it isn’t (or at least I have yet to read an argument that navigates around Art. I, Section 5, clause 2, which states that “[e]ach House may determine the rules of its proceedings.” For what it’s worth, I’ll gladly read anything that people link to in the comments, but I’ve not encountered anything that convinces me that the filibuster itself, regardless of how it is used, is not encompassed within the terms of the Constitution.), nor is it because I support the President’s nominees, because I don’t. Bottom line is that my opposition to the filibuster is, and has been, based on my belief that its use in this way is simply bad politics.

Given that my opposition is neither philosophical, legal, or constitutional, but political, it seems to me that a political compromise is the best way to proceed. So why not the “nuclear/constitutional” option? Simply put, in my opinion, it’s bad politics as well. Furthermore, in my opinion, such a rules change weakens the institution of the United States Senate. To amend or alter the rules and traditions of the Senate after 200+ years in a way that eliminates and restricts the opportunity to endless debate would render the Senate a purely majoritarian body, and well we already have one of those, its called the House of Representatives. Consistent with the founders intent, it is the House that was designed to be directly accountable to the people. Thus, they are directly elected, stand before the people every 2 years, and have adopted a set of internal rules and regulations that emulate its direct democracy and majoritarian principles. Neither the Senate, nor the Presidency was designed to be a majoritarian institution. The Senate originally had its members appointed by the State legislatures, not directly elected by the people. The President, to this day, is not directly elected by the people, but rather is still officially elected through the Electoral College process. It was this anti-majoritarian body that was given the constitutional power of advice and consent, in part because they were considered to be less politically influenced, as only 1/3 of their membership is to be replaced at any interval.

I have no argument with the position taken by many of those opposed to the action of the Senate that the Senate has no role in nominating people for judicial positions, that role is clearly assigned by the Constitution to the President. That being said, the Senate has a constitutional role, namely to render advice and consent. To remove the filibuster would, in my opinion, render the advice and consent provision to be nothing more than a rubber stamp and would remove any constitutional significance or importance that it might have. While I think that advice and consent should be offered by and up-or-down vote on the Senate floor, I don’t think that changing the rules strengthens either the President, the Senate, or the judiciary.

What I think is lacking from the current debate is any sense of the institution of the Senate. The win at all costs, beat the opposing party mentality that is dominating the media accounts and blogosphere right now, will ultimately be the most damaging aspect of this entire ordeal, regardless of which side, Republican or Democrat, eventually prevails. I don’t know how to rectify the lack of institutional interests, but I believe that is in part what is driving the speculation that “moderate” Senators like Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Ben Nelson (D-Fla) will try to reach a political compromise. Senator Lott is not a political moderate by any stretch, but what he is displaying is not a moderate political tone, rather it is an institutional interest that is needed right now for everyone’s sake and honestly ought to be coming from the Senate leaders on both sides. I believe that there is a way to get past this impasse without doing lasting damage to any of our political institutions. I believe that there is a way to protect the President’s nomination prerogative, the Senate’s advice and consent role, and the right to filibuster any and all actions brought to the Senate floor. I only hope that in the coming days and weeks that cooler heads prevail and those on both sides of the political divide remember that the institutions should always be placed above partisan politics. More than the judicial philosophy of the nation is at risk, the very political institutions that has made this the most successful republic in the history of the world are endangered and need to be protected, even if it means paying a short-term political price.

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This is one of those fantasy baseball tragedies that drives fantasy owners nuts. Matt Clement, who has been one of my best pitchers this year, throws seven beautiful innings, only allowing one run and giving up 5 hits and one walk. The Sox are up 4-1 in the 9th, and their closer Foulke is in the game, so I'm sitting pretty to get a much needed win. So what does Foulke do? He allows a run scoring hit to make it 4-2, but goes 0-2 on Eric Byrnes, who proceeds to blast a three-run homer to put the A's up and costs me a fantasy win. The kicker: Eric Byrnes is on my fantasy team, but unfortunately he's on my bench because after four weeks of doing nothing I got a little tired of the surfer dude. Freaking jackass. Thanks for nothing.


There, that's better.

No, it's not.

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The Attention it Deserves

From the Coalition for Darfur. You can also read this article from the BBC which explains that so much money poured in for disaster relief after the tsunami in December that Doctors Without Borders raised four times the amount it needed and now has to try to track down donors in order to return the money or get permission to
redirect it to places like Darfur.

The Coalition for Darfur has two goals: to get bloggers writing about Darfur and to raise money for worthy organizations providing life-saving assistance to the people of Darfur.

So far, we are not doing particularly well on either count.

Outside of Instapundit, very few of the "big blogs" seem to be paying much attention to Darfur, which is why it was nice to see Kevin Drum finally address the issue a few days ago.

In his post on the topic, Drum made an important point about the genocide
But hope is not a plan, and right now it strikes me that the only realistic option for stopping the genocide is to be prepared for a full-scale invasion and long-term occupation of Sudan. I could probably be talked into that if someone presented a serious military plan showing where the troops would come from and how they'd get there, but I haven't seen it yet.
It is probably an
oversimplification to say that full-scale invasion and occupation of Sudan is the "only realistic option" for dealing with the genocide, but the key point to be understood here is that nobody knows what it will take to stop this because almost nobody is even thinking about it.

Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, the head of the failed UN mission to Rwanda, estimates that it would take 44,000 troops to stop the violence and Brian Steidle, a former Marine who spent six months serving with the AU mission in Darfur, estimates that it will take anywhere from 25,000 - 50,000. There is also talk of imposing a no-fly zone and an arms embargo and expanding the AU mandate to allow it to protect civilians. But after more than 2 years of violence, these things still remain little more than talk.

As far as can be determined, nobody (not the US, the EU, NATO, or the UN) has even seriously contemplated what sort of military action might be necessary in order to stop the genocide. Foreign policy journals and think tanks have likewise been silent on the issue. The only people who appear to be seriously thinking about what needs to be done in Darfur are journalists like Bradford Plumer and activists like Eric Reeves.

For two years, rhetorically pressuring Sudan to disarm and reign in the Janjaweed and stop the genocide has not worked. Many hoped that the Security Council's referral of the crimes in Darfur to the International Criminal Court might force Khartoum to back down, but unfortunately that has not happened. If anything, the ICC referral may have made the situation on the ground worse - and open discussion of
possible military intervention might make things worse still. It is impossible to say.

Nobody wants a large-scale invasion of Sudan, but more importantly, nobody wants to even think that such an invasion might be necessary and how it will need to be carried out. It is a sign of just how little serious concern the genocide in Darfur is generating that those who might theoretically be called upon in the future to intervene do not appear to even have begun examining the feasibility of such an intervention. Darfur might not require military intervention, but it certainly requires more than the few small steps currently being contemplated. And until those in power begin to give the genocide the attention and serious thought it deserves, there is little reason to believe that there will soon be an end to the

This genocide will end in one of two ways: either the international community will begin to take its responsibility to protect the people of Darfur seriously and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure their survival or it will end when the Africans in Darfur have been completely eliminated.

The choice is ours.

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