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.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Scooter Scoots

Many people say it is a sad day for America and nothing to gloat about when “Scooter” Libby, an Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the Vice President, has to resign his office because he is indicted for obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements, all in an effort to conceal his centrality to the story of the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

To me, it is a happy day. I have been accused before of “not being happy until everybody is unhappy”, a charge which misses the point about the source of my happiness. I believe with all my heart in the value of truth and in having that truth learned by those who have believed the lies. As Prosecutor Fitzgerald said in his press conference today announcing the indictment, telling the truth is a fundamental value of our American government. Libby is a liar in an administration built on lies, designed by the “Chief Architect”, Karl Rove, and nominally headed by George W. Bush, though some day the truth may be revealed that Dick Cheney is actually running the show. I am happy today, because our American government is finally starting to legally expose the lies this administration has been telling the American people.

Libby’s lies were part of a foolish coverup attempt. The indictment against him seems to confirm a Bush administration mentality similar to that of the Nixon administration at the time of Watergate. Though Prosecutor Fitzgerald has indicated there will be further inquiry, he has also said his investigation is limited in scope. Republicans cite the 22 month length of the Fitzgerald investigation as very extensive, but they fail to mention that Libby’s obstruction and perjury are the main reasons the investigation took so long.

The Republican Congress is not likely to investigate the CIA leak matter at all, unless the American people or the families of soldiers killed in Iraq effectively demand an investigation like the families of 9/11 victims did. The Fitzgerald press conference was jam packed with reporters. Meanwhile, only a handful attended an appearance by Cindy Sheehan at the National Press Club, where the activist mother of a soldier killed in Iraq reminded us that it took 4 years to reach 2,000 American deaths in Vietnam, but only 2 ½ years in Iraq. The sooner the truth comes out about how the Bush Administration lied us into invading Iraq, the happier all Americans should be, if we in fact value the truth as we say we do.

In reluctantly accepting the Libby resignation, George Bush, who had told the American public he wanted to learn the truth about the CIA leak, did not seem happy that the truth had come out when he today praised Libby and then quickly scooted away to a spin planning session at Camp David, ignoring the reporters asking questions on behalf of the American people.

Miers Withdraws

As Harriet Miers withdraws back into the relative oblivion of her job as White House Counsel, she becomes only the 10th U. S. Supreme Court nominee in history to withdraw from the confirmation process. By all appearances, she was given a failure grade before even taking the test. But appearances can be deceiving.

The Reactionary Right largely labeled her a failure, because she did not meet their litmus test of
being a sure vote against Roe, gays, poor people and separation of church and state. Democrats and moderate Republicans thought she should be given a chance to take the real test - appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Bush sent the message to the Reactionaries that he knew Harriet’s heart and she was OK. Bush also said Harriet was the most qualified person in America to sit on the Court and she would show it at the hearings. Then this incompetent coward showed his true colors by backing down from the Reactionaries and pulling the rug out from under Harriet by either making or letting her withdraw, and trying to cast blame for the withdrawal on the bipartisan request of the Judiciary Committee for information on her service at the White House.

I was looking forward to the Miers hearings, so I could judge for myself how well I thought Miers did on the true test. Now we will have to wait for a new test taker to be nominated.

One Year of Sense

One year ago today, Sense from Seattle hit the Net. The Introduction to this blog was fairly generic and I think has turned out to be an adequate description of what has been published in this last year. The Topical Index, available by link on the left sidebar, shows a diversity of coverage, but by far the greatest attention has been paid to the Bush Administration's failings.

In July, I published a Sense Report Card, which I have just reviewed. The only recommendation I followed faithfully from that report was to add pictures to the postings. Shorter, more frequent postings, including some in a lighter vein and maybe new questions for readers are tasks which have eluded me, but which I will reconsider.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bursting Bubbles

It is quite satisfying to see many more Americans waking up to the reality that George W. Bush is unfit to be President and that the Republicans are taking America in the wrong direction. Almost daily there seems to be something new reported about Republican misfeasance or malfeasance, bursting yet another of their bubbles filled with the hot air of deception.

Bush spent the first part of the year tromping around the country, appearing before screened groups of shills, trying to sell a snake oil mislabeled “Saving Social Security by Private Accounts”, while the AARP pointed out his bottles really contained something which more correctly should be labeled “Foolishly Undermining Social Security”. Old folks quickly saw the fraud and then younger folks began to realize that the quack who would try to screw their grandparents might also be trying to screw them.

Escalating prices at the gas pump, even before Hurricane Katrina, have irritated most Americans, who rightly see it as gouging by Arabs and American oil companies. The Bush administration’s use of the high gas prices to weaken environmental protections, without putting any pressure on the gougers to lower prices, is reminding many more Americans that Bush and Cheney are oil men with strong oil producer ties, especially to the oil rich Saudis.

That Iraq is a military quagmire and a political mess into which we should not have entered has become obvious to the majority of Americans. The extent to which Bush continues to misrepresent the situation was confirmed by the ineffectiveness of his most recent speech to shore up support for the war.

The ongoing story of the effort to discredit Joe Wilson for his pointing out one of the intentional misrepresentations by Bush in the lead up to the war has now included some White House characters, Rove and Libby. Bush at first said anyone in the White House who leaked the identity of Wilson’s wife as a covert CIA agent would be dismissed, but he since has flip flopped in public to change it to “anybody convicted of a crime will be dismissed”.

The Bush flip flop on the CIA agent outing was mirrored in the House by the Republicans trying to keep the indicted Tom Delay in power. Embarrassed by the bad publicity over their changing the rule requiring indicted leaders to step down, the Republicans reinstated the rule and Delay grudgingly stepped down. But Delay’s continued functioning in the House leadership role in spite of his having no official position has exposed the Republican House leadership as deceitful and hypocritical.

On the Senate side, Bill Frist finds himself answering to investigators about his fortuitous sale of health care stock before its fall in value. Denying he got inside information from his corporate executive brother, Frist points out the stock was held in a blind trust - but the blindfold apparently had some peekaboo holes. Doctor Frist says he was trying to avoid conflicts questions in voting on health related matters coming before the Senate, something that has not seemed to concern him during his previous eleven years in the Senate.

The fumbled Katrina response showed Bush to be the non-leader that he is. His obvious lack of personal concern, while he vacationed at “the ranch”, had been demonstrated by his motorcade regularly speeding by Cindy Sheehan, who wanted to have a word with him about her son who died in Iraq. Remaining on the ranch while people clung to roofs in New Orleans, and then clearing the rescue helicopters out of the way so he could get a flyover view from Air Force One, further showed America how much Bush did not care.

The Miers nomination has affirmed serious weaknesses in unity among formerly strong Bush supporters and has caused many marginal supporters to wonder what is going on, as Bush defends her one day as the most qualified lawyer in America, and then another day says her religion is her best qualification. Many women are left to wonder why the right wing wanted Bush to nominate a woman but insists she make it clear she is going to take away a woman’s right to choose, and why their pundits vilify Miers as a female neanderthal in spite of the fact she is likely more intellectually capable than most of her critics.

It is no longer necessary for people like me to try to burst the Bush bubbles. Bush and his allies are doing it for us. If you did not click on the links in this article, you missed some good materials from a variety of sources. If you just want the fun of bursting bubbles, try this downloadable free trial of the game “Bursting Bubbles Deluxe”.

Monday, October 10, 2005


My brother and I were stumped. We couldn’t figure out what it was. It wasn’t that big, maybe 2 inches by 7 by 10, but it was quite heavy. On being shaken, it did not give any clues, other than that it was rock solid. I don’t recall Aunt Dottie previously sending presents ahead of time, but that Christmas in 1953 her present somehow showed up a few days early. I can’t speak for Larry, but I think this was the only time I snuck a peek at a Christmas present ahead of time.

Fingering through the seam of the wrapping paper only added to the mystery, revealing a finely pebbled burgundy surface so dark it looked black to me. Still not able to guess, we had to open the wrapping paper even more to get to the 2 inch edge, which is when we realized that it was exactly what I had asked for - a dictionary. It was the 1953 “Thin Paper Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary”. I was 12 years old at the time and discovering new aspects of girls in the seventh grade. My brother was 15 and in transition from his childhood nickname of Butch as part of being a sophomore at O’Dea.

I am not sure why I love words so much. We hardly had any books around the house growing up. Mom had to drop out of school after the seventh grade, to work and help support the family, but she seemed as literate as any high school graduate. Our despised stepfather had even less schooling and it definitely showed. The Catholic schools we attended were inner city and the students were from lower middle class working families. Our grade school did not even have a library until my last few years of attendance. The one field trip we took to a public library was my only visit, until I was in college.

While arguments can be made that I was drawn to words because of nurture by the nuns or as a reaction to our illiterate stepfather, I am confident that love of words comes naturally to me. The power of words is ironically underestimated in the childhood retort about sticks and stones. Names do hurt, as every victim of verbal abuse can attest. Name calling historically has not been limited to children. Political leaders of today still use names to degrade those with whom they disagree and to inflame animosity in order to hold onto power. George W. Bush is a glaring example, always talking about evil, brutal, dictatorial and tyrannical regimes. The far right has no valid ideas to offer, so instead they have worked for years to frame a false picture of America and to attack people with progressive ideas, using words and phrases in lieu of sticks and stones.

Though I spend a fair amount of time at the computer, I don’t use an electronic dictionary. In my office I use the burgundy book inscribed, “Tommy and Larry from Aunt Dottie”. In the living room, on an antique book stand, I use a huge dictionary I bought at a thrift store years ago, because it reminded me of the one they had at my grade school - the one that impressed me because you could find every word in it, except for the words you would not say in front of your mother. The “Webster’s Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language”, dated 1939, is fun because it contains “contemporary” (pre-World War II) examples in connection with some of the definitions. After the latest Bush speech to bolster support for the quagmire in Iraq, I looked up “dictator”, which four years of Latin at O’Dea taught came from the Latin word for “speak”, as does the word “dictionary”. The second definition was, “One invested with absolute authority, often for the time being only or during an emergency; as President Castro was declared dictator of Venezuela”.

The Webster people add new words to their dictionary every year, based on sufficient usage by the public. Here is a list of some of the words added in 2005. New senses in which words are used are also added by Webster. The way senses of a word change over time is often precipitated by manipulation of language, done by individuals who have access to the public ear. Creative language manipulation by poets and others for artistic impact is deservedly celebrated. Whether to celebrate language manipulation by demagogues seems to depend on the extent to which one agrees with the political goal being sought by the manipulator.

In an 1881 weekly newspaper Ambrose Bierce started writing what would become “The Devil’s Dictionary”, with satirical definitions such as this one for the word “dictionary”: A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary [Bierce’s, which is now free on line], however, is a most useful work.” Perusing my copy of this book always brings sly chuckles.

My “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” [an early edition is free on line] tells me Samuel Johnson wrote in the 18th Century that, “Dictionaries are like watches; the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true.” I guess I agree with old Sam, about dictionaries, but not about watches - I don’t wear one. Nevertheless, I know it is time to end this post.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Take my lawyer - please

So Bush nominated his personal White House lawyer, Harriet Miers, to take the O’Connor seat on the Supreme Court, asserting that she is a top notch lawyer and a conservative whose heart he knows, though he does not recall ever discussing the subject of abortion with her. I don’t believe anything Bush says, so will wait to see how much of her heart Miers reveals in her confirmation hearings. The only opposition to Miers so far comes from some conservatives who are mad as hell because she is not a card carrying member of the right wing reverse Roe bar association, and they feel Bush has reneged on a promise to them because he is afraid of naming someone the Democrats will fight.

After a little research on Miers, I look forward to watching her handle herself before the Senate Judiciary Committee. She has a background more similar to that of most lawyers than to the new Chief Justice. She practiced law for many years in the same firm, doing the everyday office and trial work lawyers do. She also has been active in the administration of the law firm and in the Texas State Bar Association, serving as its President in 1992.

My law career started five years before Harriet’s, but the opportunities for women in the law were about as limited in her early years as they were in mine. My law school class at the University of Washington started with about a half dozen women out of well over 100 students. In our first year, I was fortunate to be assigned an appellate moot court case to handle as a partner with one of those women. She did very impressive research and contributed much more to our cause than I did, yet she did not return for the second year of school. In fact, as I recall, I think our third year graduating class only included three women - and no minorities, the one black and one Asian having dropped out after the first year.

Miers did not attend a top tier law school, but instead got her Bachelor’s and Law degrees from Southern Methodist. Her Bachelor’s was in mathematics, a field in which at that time as I recall, there were even fewer women than in the law. As for her cognitive skills, I don’t think there are many dummies with math and law degrees. I agree with Senator Reid that having a lawyer with much practical experience as an advocate and litigator should be healthy for the Court. I am sorry that her litigation experience has been basically representing corporations, but that is what most law firms do and that is what you have to expect in a nomination from a Republican President. I also agree with Senator Reid that the lack of Judicial experience can be a plus, as it has been for many Justices in the past.

Where Harriet stands ideologically is not clear. She has always been a Christian and for the last several years has attended an evangelical church, but she has left no trail of pronouncements of her personal positions on issues. She seems to value her privacy, which may be part of the problem conservatives have with her - they want someone who shoves her religious views on other people like a Jehovah’s Witness. They also seem to want someone better looking according to Keith Olbermann on MSNBC, because the website of Progress for America doctored her picture to remove the bags under her eyes.

Miers personally demonstrated her commitment to term limits, not running for re-election after one term on the Dallas City Council. When she got hooked up with Bush through her law firm, she worked on going through his background to spot potential problems for his intended political career, which included advising him on keeping his Maine drunk driving arrest under wraps. [Check out this interesting Newsweek article on how Alberto Gonzales helped keep the secret].

After he was elected Governor, Bush put Miers in charge of the State Lottery Commission, supposedly to clean it up through purge, though as this NPR piece on Miers at the Commission says, some Democrats say it seemed more to purge Democrats than corruption. The Lottery job was on the side, while she continued to practice law, but when Bush went to the White House, Harriet joined his team full time. Since her long time law firm had just merged with another and doubled in size, with Harriet serving as one of the managing partners, I wonder if her decision to join Bush was as much a decision to get out of practicing law and managing the new firm as it was to be a part of White House politics.

There has been flap over Miers, as President of the Texas Bar, writing a letter to the American Bar Association in 1992, urging them to back off their position of support for Roe, but her letter should be considered in context. The ABA had been going through much controversy about to what extent it should endorse Roe, which was then under attack, and the ABA position had just gone from neutrality to one supporting Roe. The letter from Miers urged the ABA to go back to the neutral position and to take a member poll on the issue before purporting to speak for the membership. In the few years, well before 1992, when I was a member of the ABA, I often resented the organization purporting to speak for me without polling me on my opinion.

What is hard for many non-lawyers to grasp is that lawyers in general, and especially judges, in the performance of their duties cannot let their personal views on issues affect how they do their job. It is fine for a lawyer to personally believe in the righteousness of the view of the client, but even if a lawyer doesn’t agree with that view, the lawyer has an ethical duty to fully represent and put forth the view of that client. Likewise, a judge has a duty to fairly apply the law, regardless of whether the judge personally agrees with the law. I fully expect that Harriet Miers understands these duties quite well and will so demonstrate to the Senate.

Miers has never been married, causing some to speculate about her sexual preference. I expect such speculation is something Harriet has been overhearing for many years, so perhaps it may be cause for her to be particularly appreciative of personal privacy rights. The fact is Harriet Miers may have, in effect, been married to the law, which is understandable for a dedicated female lawyer with a career of her tenure.

As with Rogers, I doubt the Senate will learn much about the personal legal views of Harriet Miers on specific issues, but it will be interesting to see how sharp she is and how adept at fielding challenges, especially since, unlike John Roberts, she may also get some from the Republicans. From what I have read, she was a tough litigator, so I expect she will handle herself quite well. It will be interesting to follow the hearings and see the outcome of the votes in the Judiciary Committee and in the full Senate.