Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Let's Talk

Here is a fun audio story from NPR Morning Edition about an 81 year old multi-lingual Belgian woman who spends time in a Paris park holding a “Hello! Let’s talk” sign, encouraging strangers to engage in conversation, thereby overcoming their loneliness.

Who Speaks for Islam?

The Pope certainly has his detractors, including lots of Roman Catholics, but at least it is agreed he speaks the official line for his organization. But who puts out the official word out for Islam? The answer seems to be “no one”, or perhaps more accurately, “everyone who wants to”. Here is an interesting article on this question, written a couple months after 9/11 by Charles Kurzman, a sociologist at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Non-Muslims did not care much about whether Islam had an agreed upon spokesman before 9/11. Since then, every time some perpetrator commits a terrorist act supposedly approved or required by the Koran, we long for an Islamic pontificate to condemn the atrocity as contrary to Islamic Law. What we get instead is some trickle of clerics, or Imans or Mullahs or whoever else we don’t recognize making statements in varying degrees of rejection of the act as against some precept or another that is unfamiliar to us, while at the same time some of these men [apparently Catholics don’t have a monopoly in believing men should be in charge of religious interpretation] make further statements that sound to our sensitive ears like criticisms of non-Muslims.

What prompted this post was the Judge today sentencing the terrorist killer of Theo Van Gogh to life in prison, the maximum allowed under Dutch law. In particular the details of the brutality of this crime, claimed by the killer to have been done in the name of Islam, made me wish for a “Head Muslim” who would appear in Court and tell the perpetrator that his actions were totally contrary to Islamic Law and Allah will render appropriate punishment of his own [I expect Muslims presume Allah is a male, just as most Christians do].

If you believe in capital punishment as a deserved retribution, then you likely wish the Van Gogh killer could be executed. There is not much reason to believe the existence of capital punishment would have prevented the killing. These terrorists seem to have a suicidal mentality even when they don’t have a bomb strapped to them. If you want capital punishment for Islamic terrorists, you might also consider joining me in my above wish for a “Head Muslim”, and then go me a step further by making him the executioner.

Sense Report Card

Three months ago I posted a list of ten revisions being considered for this blog, and now I am reporting on their status.

These three have been accomplished: making the index a side link; dropping the posting of a recent comments list; and including more links in my posts.

I have failed completely to include pictures and graphics on the blog itself and to include a weekly posting on a lighter vein. The search box at the top of the page also seems to be a failure, but that is Google’s misfire, not mine.

Two revisions have received mixed treatment. Though I have not reported on all my current book readings, I have mentioned a few in postings. Inviting reader feedback through a weekly question was done for a while, but after some initially interesting responses, later questions went unanswered, and the questions have been omitted for the last few weeks.

Limiting the number of daily posts and the length of posts has not been as significant a concern lately because the overall number of my posts has diminished. The visit counter at the bottom of the page shows visits are being made, but comments have been few and far between. The reduced number of comments could be an excuse for my lack of postings, but in fact I think my postings and your comments are all suffering from the competition of other summer activities.

I’ll try to overcome my inertia by writing some shorter pieces on various topics, maybe including some occasional lighter ones, and depending on how I do and on what happens in the way of comments, I may try to resurrect the questions for readers somewhere down the line.

As always, your feedback is encouraged.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Judging the Judges

Yesterday afternoon I spent a couple hours checking out the woman who should have been the nominee to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the US Supreme Court, Edith Brown Clement. Replacing the first woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court with another woman seemed a no-brainer, and therefore within the capabilities of George W. Bush, whose wife even recognized the sensibility of such a replacement. Appointing a Hispanic female would score political points in that community also, but apparently elevating Alberto to Attorney General was deemed sufficient for now, without risking an affirmative action backlash from the white privilege Republican base.

I found that Judge Clement has an impressive record. She did not attend an Ivy League law school, but instead stayed in her own community and graduated from Tulane in Louisiana. For several years, she practiced maritime law, which though somewhat exotic, still is the real world. She then put in over ten years as a Federal trial judge, compiling an excellent record of handing down over 1,300 decisions, of which only 17 were reversed on appeal. Her experience as a lawyer in private practice and as a trial judge taught her that cases turn on the real facts and on the proper application of the relevant law. Determine the facts and the law, and the outcome should logically follow.

When Judge Clement was elevated to the Federal Court of Appeals, the transcript of her confirmation hearing in the Senate showed her to be much like Sandra Day O’Connor, a judge who examined each case very closely on its facts and who studied the applicable law with great respect, always keeping in mind the awesome importance of our Constitution. Label them conservative and strict constructionist, but in fact they are relatively moderate. O’Connor’s “swing vote” record has set an example of how to ameliorate the ideological polarization in America. On the abortion “litmus test”, like O,Connor, Clement made it clear she realized Roe v Wade is the established law of the land and should not be eroded or overturned. Clement was confirmed unanimously for the Appeals Court.

But that was the afternoon. In the evening, Bush did what should have been more predictable - he nominated a white male Rehnquist clone, John G. Roberts, Jr. Like Rehnquist, Roberts is very bright and very Republican. Roberts is a Harvard Law grad, who does not seem to have practiced any “real people” law. He has a great talent for appellate argument and has served as counsel in the Reagan White House and as an Assistant Solicitor General for the US under Bush the First, arguing about three dozen cases before the Supreme Court. He has no trial judge experience and has only been an Appeals Court judge for two years.

On the abortion litmus test, Roberts has criticized Roe, but since that was as Solicitor, he can say he was only advocating the view of his client, the first Bush Administration. Lawyers advocate the positions of their clients, but don’t necessarily share those positions personally. Nevertheless, to the extent a lawyer chooses which clients to represent, if a lawyer always represents corporate polluters or if a lawyer is a public defender, that may reflect the personal views of the lawyer. And herein lies what is probably the real Bush litmus test for a Supreme Court Justice who could serve for the next 30 years - the firm Roberts worked for, Hogan & Hartson, primarily represents international business corporations.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Secret Trade Negotiations with Iraq

With Iraq in war damaged shambles, with ongoing insurgency, a devastated economy and excessive unemployment, two officials of the interim Iraqi government met with American Undersecretary of State Robert Zoellick for two days behind closed doors and on Sunday signed several agreements having to do with the Iraqi economy and future American economic involvement in Iraq. Because Iraq is so dangerous, the meeting had to be held in Jordan.

The Press was excluded from the meetings, and news coverage of the agreements seems almost non-existent. An account in the Jordan Times indicates the meeting participants had input from business interests, but there was no indication of any input received from labor, environment, consumer or human rights advocates. Presumably President Bush gave authorization to Zoellick on how to negotiate, but I am not aware of any significant public discussion of this agenda in Congress. The source of authorization for the Iraqi officials apparently is just as vague, since there does not seem to have been any significant public discussion of the agenda in Iraq either. But then, what passes for the current Iraq government is barely one step removed from its status as an American puppet.

The Iraq official who co-chaired the meetings was Ali Allawi, a former Iraqi exile and nephew of Ahmad Chalabi, who many say was the primary source of false information about Iraqi WMD. Many Americans might be surprised to learn that Chalabi is currently serving as Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq. The Iraqi exile community planned for a long time how to get America to overthrow Saddam, and now that America has complied, the plan seems to have moved into the stage of using Iraq to enrich businessmen with the right political connections. Robert Zoellick’s background shows he keeps the interests of corporate America foremost.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Watergate Deja Vu?

The investigation into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame is getting very interesting. You will recall that she is the wife of Joseph Wilson, who was publicly critical of the Bush Administration for continuing to allege, in support of the decision to invade Iraq, that Iraq sought uranium from Niger, in spite of the fact that Wilson’s investigation at the request of the CIA showed that was not true.

Wilson contends the outing of his wife was done as retaliation for him challenging the Bush Administration and that the Administration used the outing to chill other potential critics. Knowingly disclosing the identity of an undercover CIA agent is a crime, and because of the concern of the public at the time, a Special Prosecutor with a reputation for honesty and toughness, Patrick Fitzgerald, was appointed to investigate and possibly prosecute.

Fitgerald has been working through the secret process of the grand jury to gather evidence. As part of that process he subpoenaed reporters to disclose their confidential sources for the leak of Plame’s identity. The reporter who first published the identity was Robert Novak, who apparently satisfied the grand jury either by giving the name of the “two senior administration officials” he reported as his sources, or by claiming the Fifth Amendment. Two reporters, Cooper and Miller, refused to disclose their sources and were threatened with jail time. Cooper has now disclosed that one of his sources was none other than Karl Rove, aka “Bush’s brain”, a Bush deputy chief of staff and political strategist whose tactics are often less than forthright.

Watergate brought down Nixon, not because of the crimes committed by his subordinates, but because of his encouragement and support of efforts to coverup the crimes. Those of us who believe the Bush administration is founded on the principle that the end justifies the means are not surprised that Rove is involved in the outing and coverup and we also expect it may very well be shown that Bush himself is involved, if not in the crime then at least in the coverup.

When the outing story initially got hot enough and would not go away, the White House finally said they would cooperate fully with the prosecutor and would fire anyone involved in the outing. At the weekly press briefing today, Press Secretary Scott McClellan adopted a Watergate type stonewalling when questioned about Rove and the firing possibility. Rove has “lawyered up”, as all these trial-lawyer bashing Republicans are quick to do. His lawyer is saying Rove did not know Plame was undercover and he did not use her actual name, but just said she was the wife of Wilson. It looks like Rove may have had a brain lapse when he rushed to retaliate against Wilson. He apparently determined she was influential enough at the CIA to recommend her husband for this important job, but did not stop to think she might also have been serving at the CIA in a covert role. Apparently he also failed to grasp that telling to whom an undercover agent is married might facilitate determining the identity of the agent. Or maybe he did grasp these matters but thought he could get away with it.

Bush is as big a hypocrite as Nixon was. Nixon used to say things like, “Pat and I were just reading in the Bible last night”, but when the Supreme Court finally forced the release of transcripts of the tapes of the Nixon conversations in the Oval Office, it was the overwhelming number of “[expletive deleted]” entries in Nixon’s language that finally showed his diehard believers that he was a phoney and not morally or mentally fit to continue as President. I always thought the inadvertently recorded comment Bush made in Indiana during the 2000 campaign, pointing out to Cheney an “asshole” New York Times reporter, did not get the consideration it deserved, for showing the hypocrisy of the “born again” Bush. [“Born Again”, by the way, was the title of the book convicted Watergate White House Counsel, Charles Colson, wrote about his religious rebirth in prison.]

One day, in the aftermath of a flurry of successful prosecutions of operatives like Rove and maybe some Cheney aides, we may see Bush boarding the helicopter on the White House lawn leaving in disgrace after having resigned the Presidency, as Nixon did.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Celebrating Independence

I just put up the flag to celebrate the Fourth of July. Right next to it, I put up a Kerry/Edwards campaign poster which includes an American flag, to make it apparent that by flying the flag I do not endorse George W. Bush, who tried to usurp the meaning of the Fourth by saying we should fly the flag today to “thank the men and women defending our freedom”, his way of attempting to bolster support for his now unpopular invasion of Iraq.

On July 4, 1776, the American colonies declared independence from England and George III. Among the freedoms that came with that independence, after it was confirmed with victory in the hard fought Revolutionary War, was religious freedom. The most important aspect of American religious freedom is not the right to worship as we choose, otherwise we would all be spending the Fourth in some church listening to the drone of a patriotic cleric and singing God Bless America [and by implication, no one else], rather than shattering the peace with fireworks and gorging ourselves at the picnic table.

The religious freedom we celebrate is actually the freedom from a government endorsed religion. That is why we celebrate the Fourth in a non-religious way. To this day, the Church of England still has a say about such important personal matters as how Chuck, the future King, can properly marry the woman with whom he committed adultery. Of course that is no problem for a Church that was founded out of frustration with a Pope who had problems with Henry VIII being a serial groom. What is a problem for the Church of England is whether gays can be Bishops. But at least they have women priests, something the Pope still cannot abide.

Tony Blair and George II are two self-proclaimed born again Christians on a Crusade apparently to substitute democracy for Islamic controlled government. True, Saddam did not impose a government religion, but he was a brutal dictator, and he was not a Christian. Now the Sunnis and the Shia, who disagree about who was the rightful successor to Mohammed about 1,300 years ago, are free to continue their disagreement by blowing each other up in the name of Allah.

In the US, we resolve religious controversies through the rule of law, such as the two decisions last week by our Supreme Court regarding the place of Ten Commandments monuments on government property. By 5-4 votes the Court allowed one monument and nixed the other, the difference being the unacceptable one was sincere and the acceptable one was to promote a Cecil B. DeMille movie.

Does anyone believe that 229 years from now the Iraqi people will be celebrating the day the Christian Coalition freed Iraq? If so, then you probably were also one of the people who bid on the autographed picture of Jesus on E-Bay.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Justice O’Connor Resigns

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor just announced her retirement from the U. S. Supreme Court, effective on the approval of her successor. The first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, she was appointed by Ronald Reagan with hopes that she would be very conservative. Though she is considered relatively conservative in her views, she has evolved into being a swing vote on a Court that has issued a significant share of 5-4 rulings.

The present members of the Court have served together for 11 years, the longest period without a new Justice in U.S. History. Here are their names and the names of the President who appointed them, from the oldest appointment to the most recent: Rehnquist by Nixon (elevated to Chief Justice by Reagan); Stevens by Ford; O’Connor by Reagan; Scalia by Reagan; Kennedy by Reagan; Souter by Bush; Thomas by Bush; Breyer by Clinton; and Ginsburg by Clinton.

Justices are appointed for life and work in their own version of an ivory tower, where their personalities and intellects all affect one another and contribute to the shaping of their opinions. As Justice O’Connor points out in her book, The Majesty of the Law (which is a very good book for non-lawyers to read to learn more about the Court and the law), the American judicial system wisely frees judges from political influence by lifetime appointments and guaranteed payment of salaries without control by the power of the purse.

Intellectual stimulation by the other Justices has been known to change a Justice appreciably, one notable example being ex-KKK member and southern prosecutor Hugo Black, who though appointed by FDR as a southern progressive in an era of dire segregation, was influenced by Jewish Justice Frankfurter to open his mind further and then became the most liberal member of the Court.

Of the current Justices, five have philosophies about like the Presidents who appointed them, the two Clinton appointees being somewhat moderate liberals and Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas being consistently conservative. The other four Justices, all appointed by Republicans, have turned out to be more liberal than expected, especially so in the case of Justice Stevens.

I used to chuckle in law school when I read a Supreme Court decision which turned on what a reasonable person would do, and the Court split 5-4 on deciding - which seemed to indicate the 5 thought the 4 were unreasonable. But where the legal line should be drawn is often a close call, especially in cases important enough to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

I am in the camp of those who predict a battle royal over the appointment of a successor to Justice O’Connor. In spite of the spirit of the bipartisan 14 Senators who worked out the filibuster compromise, I expect George W. Bush to pick a strong conservative, probably fairly young, likely a woman and possibly of color. The Democrats will threaten filibuster and the Bush Administration will tell the moderate Republican Senators that the Democrats have reneged on the compromise. The Nuclear Option will again be threatened to ban the filibuster.