Bizarro Cabinet

November 13, 2008

The NYT has a fun page that lets you pick the Obama cabinet and compare your choices with those of others. I had a good laugh over some of the names that were within the top 20 for various positions, including the following, which would make for some freakishly awesome cabinet meetings:

  • Defense: Arnold Schwarzenegger (18th)
  • State: Noam Chomsky (16th)
  • Homeland Security: Ron Paul (8th)
  • Attorney General: John Edwards (8th) or Eliot Spitzer (14th)
  • Treasury: Ralph Nader (17th)

I think I can say with confidence that none of these individuals are actually in consideration for these positions. The #1 choices are Robert Gates, Bill Richardson, Richard Clarke, Janet Napolitano and Paul Volcker, as of this writing.


What I’ll Miss About President Bush

November 3, 2008

I’ll make my entry to this brief: I’ll miss the fodder for jokes.


Daniel Craig on keeping fit

November 3, 2008

“I am not an athlete, although I have always enjoyed keeping fit between bouts of minor alcoholism.”

(Full article on the run-up to Quantum of Solace.)


I’m Going Down to Bonobo’s for a Few Beers After Work

July 29, 2007

I’ve long been a big fan of the bonobo, a species of great apes that is notable for making love, not war (literally — the leaders of groups perform sex acts on each other to diffuse tensions that, in other species, would lead to violence). This is an example of the really practical knowledge I gained from going to college.

Anyway, I mention this because there’s a huge article on bonobos in this week’s New Yorker, and it’s absolutely delightful if you’re looking for some Sunday summer reading. The opening paragraph disappointed me, though, because I’ve always had this idea of opening up a bar and calling it “Bonobo’s.” It turns out that is already the name of a vegetarian restaurant in New York City.

On a Saturday evening a few months ago, a fund-raiser was held in a downtown Manhattan yoga studio to benefit the bonobo, a species of African ape that is very similar to — but, some say, far nicer than — the chimpanzee. A flyer for the event depicted a bonobo sitting in the crook of a tree, a superimposed guitar in its left hand, alongside the message “Save the Hippie Chimps!” An audience of young, shoeless people sat cross-legged on a polished wooden floor, listening to Indian-accented music and eating snacks prepared by Bonobo’s, a restaurant on Twenty-third Street that serves raw vegetarian food. According to the restaurant’s take-out menu, “Wild bonobos are happy, pleasure-loving creatures whose lifestyle is dictated by instinct and Mother Nature.”

I recommend reading the whole thing, along with Samantha Power’s excellent essay on counterterrorism policy after Bush in the NYT book review.


Pack, Impeach or Cry?

July 26, 2007

With a month to reflect on the Supreme Court term most recently concluded, articles are coming out about the Court’s rightward movement and what liberals can do about it. I think Emily Brazelton summarizes things efficiently here.

The legal left is taking the summer to think. In the next few weeks, the American Constitution Society and the YearlyKos Convention will host panels on the Supreme Court’s future and what the left can do about it. The short answer, of course, is cry. And then try to win the next election.

But is there something else we can do in the here and now to avoid such bad terms as the one gone past? Lest we forget,

In one full term, this Court has severely curbed local efforts to promote racial diversity in schools, upheld a right-wing ban on a necessary medical procedure for women, curbed students’ free speech rights, crippled Congress’ ability to keep corporate money out of political advertising, prevented taxpayers from challenging the constitutionality of Bush’s faith-based initiatives, made it almost impossible for women to prevail on claims of longterm sex discrimination . . . and they’re just getting started.

In Thursday’s New York Times, author Jean Edward Smith actually suggested the possibility of the next Congress packing the Supreme Court by increasing the number of justices. Following a discussion of the history of such measures, Smith concluded:

If the current five-man majority persists in thumbing its nose at popular values, the election of a Democratic president and Congress could provide a corrective. It requires only a majority vote in both houses to add a justice or two. Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative colleagues might do well to bear in mind that the roll call of presidents who have used this option includes not just Roosevelt but also Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and Grant.

That certainly sounds like a drastic measure that would be quite difficult to pull off politically, and nothing the cautious Democratic leadership would be willing to pursue any time soon from the looks of things.

Roberts and Bush

Is there some lesser option? The trouble is that the system is designed to protect judicial independence, which leaves us all largely at the mercy of bad justices, barring impeachable offenses. Congress does seem to be looking for alternatives, though, as Politico reported yesterday.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) plans to review the Senate testimony of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel A. Alito to determine if their reversal of several long-standing opinions conflicts with promises they made to senators to win confirmation.

Specter, who championed their confirmation, said Tuesday he will personally re-examine the testimony to see if their actions in court match what they told the Senate.

“There are things he has said, and I want to see how well he has complied with it,” Specter said, singling out Roberts.

The Specter inquiry poses a potential political problem for the GOP and future nominees because Democrats are increasingly complaining that the Supreme Court moved quicker and more dramatically than advertised to overturn or chip away at prior decisions.

Making decisions contrary to testimony at confirmation hearings is not going to rise to the level of impeachment either, and the Specter probe is aimed at informing Congress on possible changes to its confirmation process (I thought the largely ceremonial hearings were a sham at the time, but that’s another topic). Perhaps this sort of thing will shame Alito and Roberts into being more moderate, but then again, we are dealing with two justices who willfully misled the Senate in hearings, so maybe they are impervious to being shamed.

If there’s any other course of action that might keep the Court from eroding individual rights so brazenly the next term, I would be interested to hear it. For now, crying and trying to win elections looks like the only viable option — along making sure 87-year-old John Paul Stevens has good enough medical care to make it through the next 18 months.


Bush’s Arguments on Libby Make No Sense

July 4, 2007

Instead of that more straightforward statement, Adam Liptak’s NYT article on the subject goes under the headline of “Bush Rationale on Libby Stirs Legal Debate.” Here is a part of it:

Given the administration’s tough stand on sentencing, the president’s arguments left experts in sentencing law scratching their heads.

“The Bush administration, in some sense following the leads of three previous administrations, has repeatedly supported a federal sentencing system that is distinctly disrespectful of the very arguments that Bush has put forward in cutting Libby a break,” said Douglas A. Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University who writes the blog Sentencing Law and Policy.

Perhaps inadvertently, Mr. Bush’s decision to grant a commutation rather than an outright pardon has started a national conversation about sentencing generally.

“By saying that the sentence was excessive, I wonder if he understood the ramifications of saying that,” said Ellen S. Podgor, who teaches criminal law at Stetson University in St. Petersburg, Fla. “This is opening up a can of worms about federal sentencing.”

Yes, I wonder. Based on watching his comments today, I have a feeling Bush might not be so conversant in the federal sentencing system. (Nice touch being at Walter Reed to discuss this.) Tony Snow did his best to obfuscate matters at the press briefing too. Rather than “stirring a legal debate,” I would refer to the White House actions as disingenuously putting forth a bogus rationale for political payback and stonewalling on the important questions about this disgracefully corrupt decision. But hey, I don’t get to write the headlines.

Keith Olbermann thinks Bush and Cheney should resign. Dan Froomkin asks “what is more corrupt than using the powers of the presidency for personal benefit?” And the Daily Kos front page is even giving impeachment a full discussion. Just when you think it can’t get any worse…

ADDENDUM: I am reproducing David R. Dow’s letter to the New York Times, and then I’m done with this story.

To the Editor:

When George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he presided over more than 150 executions. In more than one-third of the cases — 57 in all — lawyers representing condemned inmates asked then-Governor Bush for a commutation of sentence, so that the inmates would serve life in prison rather than face execution.

Some of these inmates had been represented by lawyers who slept during trials. Some were mentally retarded. Some were juveniles at the time they committed the crime for which they were sentenced to death.

In all these cases, Governor Bush refused to commute their sentences, saying that the inmates had had full access to the judicial system.

I. Lewis Libby Jr. had the best lawyers money can buy. His crime cannot be attributed to youth or retardation. He has expressed no remorse whatsoever for lying to a grand jury or participating in the administration’s effort to mislead the American people about the war in Iraq. President Bush’s commutation of Mr. Libby’s sentence is certainly legal, but it just as surely offends the fundamental constitutional value of equality.

Because President Bush signed a commutation, a rich and powerful man will spend not a day in prison, while 57 poor and poorly connected human beings died because Governor Bush refused to lift a pen for them.

David R. Dow
Houston, July 3, 2007

The writer is a professor at the University of Houston Law Center who represents death row inmates, including several who sought commutation from then-Governor Bush.


How Low Can He Go?

July 2, 2007

With the baldly political act of keeping Scooter Libby from prison time — the kind of thing you normally see in the final days of a presidency, when there are no more elections one can affect — it looks like Bush is shooting for Nixon’s 23 percent national polling record after all. Soft on crime, indeed.

Meanwhile, lots of good pardon/clemency background info is here. Roger C. Adams should be expecting a busy Fourth of July, I suspect.

UPDATE: Or maybe Adams is purely superfluous; Bush made the Libby decision without even consulting the Justice Department.