Monday, October 31, 2005

The Fallacy of Fortress America

I had a commander in the Air Force once who taught me a valuable lesson. I learned it too late to make much of an impact on my military career, but it has served me well in my later years when I have become slightly more mature. The boss pointed out to me that while it is indeed valuable to note the nakedness of the emperor occasionally, it is more beneficial to the situation if you provide some alternative clothing. In other words, the benefit of coming up with solutions will be appreciated while the continual pointing out of shortcomings is likely to alienate those whom you wish to impress. We all know what’s “wrong” but the winners are those who can tell you what to do to correct it.

Simple, yes. But let’s look at the American political situation. We’ve got a two party system for better or worse. And these days it looks like much worse. There is a dim bulb at the end of the tunnel here in Texas where the independent candidacy of Kinky Friedman for Governor next year seems to be gaining momentum. (Seriously!!!) Nationally though, we see the two tall dogs in the fight nipping at each other and perpetuating animosities with little positive occurring. It’s easy to see why people get depressed and cynical about government. The Bush administration is fighting daily to keep their heads above water and the opposition is piling on with continual finger-pointing regarding what is wrong.

Yet, if we step back from most of the arguments, we should be able to come to agreement where things could be improved and further agreement on where things could have been better. Fault is independent of party. Example: hurricane relief. Were there failures? Absolutely. Were there successes? Of course. Could things have been done more efficiently? Should the feds have been in quicker? Could the locals have prepared better? Could people have saved themselves by planning ahead? We’ve seen three hurricanes in a very short period and seen one total debacle, one serious traffic jam, and one major power outage with minimal injuries. Three levels of disaster, each with some level of blame and some level of competence displayed.

Maybe the biggest issue for the national government today is the global war on terror. To isolate it to Iraq is popular shorthand, but a foolish economy. The war is global and it will be expensive in both blood and treasure. On this big issue, I’ll argue strongly that the administration is right.

The opposition, that would be the Democrats, bemoans the loss of life and the cost. They point at failures and seem to overlook the despotic regimes that have been replaced in Iraq and Afghanistan. They don’t notice the impact of the effort on other areas in the world—Libya denouncing WMD research, North Korea sitting down in six-party negotiations, Israel withdrawing from Gaza, etc. They don’t seem to care that there’s a constitution in Iraq, free elections, an emerging democracy in the Middle East. They simply reiterate, “quagmire” and “exit strategy” and “skyrocketing death toll” and “roll back the tax cuts”. They seem to be very good at pointing out exaggerations of problems, but they don’t seem very adept at proposing solutions to the situation.

The philosopher Santayana gave as the cliché quote about failing to learn lessons and condemnation to repetition. There’s a lot of truth to it. So, what has happened in the past when the US attempted to stay home, guarded by our coastal oceans while the rest of the world rolled around in the mud?

Remember (I know you didn’t live it, but you might have read about it,) World War I? The Triple Alliance and Triple Entente dragged into hostilities over a simple little assassination of a low-level royal in the Balkans. We tried to stay home. Did pretty well from 1914 to 1917, but we couldn’t hold out forever. We got dragged in and during the process demonstrated the fact that America was finally going to be an international player. We had no choice.

Remember World War II? No, it didn’t start on December 7, 1941. I know you think it did, but a little historical research will leave you thinking that 1931 might be a start date in Asia, or maybe 1937 in Europe, or at least 1939 during the Battle of Britain. Pearl Harbor demonstrated pretty clearly that we couldn’t sit out a war on the sidelines. Bertold Becht was responsible for the famous anti-war quote about “what if they gave a war and nobody came?” The next line is overlooked by the pacifists, “then the war will come to you”!

Remember Berlin and the blockade? What if we had stayed home? Korea and the invasion by the North? What if we had allowed the communists to invade without reaction wherever they wished around the world? There’s be no Kias or Hyundais on the road today.

Should we have stayed home from Vietnam. You might argue in favor of that, but you would be ignoring the long term economic impact on the Pacific rim of rampant communism. China today is most definitely a capitalist economy. Japan remains a powerhouse and S. Korea is a pretty good outcome as well. Even Vietnam is much more capitalist than communist economically. Commerce is good for peace and communism didn’t really enhance global trade with the free world.

Had we not followed Kennan’s recommendation for containment, Truman’s doctrine on alliances to resist communist expansion, Dulles’ view of dominos, and eventually Reagan’s policy of strong deterrence and defense, the Soviet Union would never have collapsed and the world would still be poised on the brink of nuclear holocaust. We had an obligation to come to the party and to play hard. The results are hard to dislike.

Would it make the American left happy for us to fold our tents and slip quietly out of the sandbox of the Middle East? Sure. Would it let us live peacefully at home, secure in our lives and insulated from the 21st century world? Hardly. Can we let the jihadists fight among themselves, push Israel into the Mediterranean, bomb the occasional disco in Indonesia and derail transit in central Europe knowing that we are safe behind our oceans? No way!

I’m willing to entertain the arguments of the left. Tell me what’s wrong in the Middle East and what the cost of US intervention is. I’ll listen. But be sure to tell me what the alternative is. Tell me how withdrawal is going to solve the problems. Tell me how we will be safe from future 9/11 tragedies. Tell me how our economy will thrive with a hostile Middle East throttling the oil pipeline to Europe, Russia and the Far East even though we have enough of our own oil to meet our needs. Tell me your solution. I know what the problems are.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Ignore the Man Behind the Curtain

Jimmy Breslin wrote about the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. They were a ragtag, bumbling bunch who ineptly tried to commit crimes while displaying a level of incompetence that made them more absurd than threatening. I’m increasingly viewing the Valerie Plame investigation as another incarnation of the gang.

In a nutshell, we’ve got a case which purports to revolve around the malicious disclosure of a CIA secret operative’s identity. That would be undeniably bad. Illegal even. But who publicly disclosed Ms Plame’s surreptitious occupation? Robert Novak, syndicated columnist is the guy who printed the name and job description. Anybody see him being called to testify? Any charges? Nope.

Then, we’ve got New Yawk Times writer (I hesitate to call her “reporter”,) Judith Miller. She goes to jail for months for refusing to disclose the name of her secret source. Commendable, I suppose. Except the secret source, VP Chief-of-Staff “Scooter” Libby apparently sent her a detailed email saying he authorized the disclosure. The excuse we get from Ms Miller is that she read between the lines that when he said “yes” he really meant “no” and besides, who’s going to get a Pulitzer nomination for giving up someone who doesn’t mind being given up?

Then, when she finally decides that “yes” meant yes, she testifies that her notes really don’t pin the naming on Libby at all. Miller even misspelled the name she might or might not have gotten from Libby. All of this amid disclosures that her reputation at the Times was of a loose cannon with well-lubricated carriage wheels. When even notorious anti-administration pundit Maureen Dowd says Miller is squirrelly, you ought to begin discrediting her. Dowd on Miller

Now, just for a moment to play lawyer…I’m not one and I didn’t even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night…let’s examine the elements of the crime which may not have been committed, but if it was it was done by Robert Novak. The info had to come from classified sources. It had to name the name of a covert agent. It had to be done knowingly. Was Plame a CIA employee? Yes. Covert agent at the time of the disclosure? No!

The entire Washington community is in high palpitation mode awaiting indictments. The independent counsel has launched a Web site! What kind of jurisprudence is this? A bloody Web page? No indictments, no crime, no smoking guns and very questionable sources but we’ve got a prosecutor initiating a public relations campaign regarding his work?

The latest is that Libby and presidential advisor Karl Rove may or may not have disclosed that “a CIA employee” who may or may not have been named “Flame” or Plame according to Miller’s garbled notes, but it might also have been other sources. And, it may or may not have been the Vice-President who might have introduced the name to Libby or Rove to tell Miller who might somehow get it to Novak to publish it.

Why, you may ask? Well it was an alleged conspiracy to discredit a man who needs no discrediting, managing quite well on his own to besmirch his credibility. Joe Wilson, who should be embarrassed that he required his wife to get him a job, was sent to Niger to investigate sales of yellowcake uranium to Iraq. Qualifications, notwithstanding, he got the job. His report, largely ignored as incompetent and meaningless by the CIA and the administration, is supposed to be a “causus belli” for the administration. It’s the linchpin of a rush to war with Iraq based on that nation’s possession of WMD. Disregard the other twenty-five or so reasons given for the war in Colin Powell’s address to the UN prior to initiation of hostilities.

Gimme a break. Wilson was and is no friend of the administration. Plame was no covert operative. The Wilson report certainly wasn’t critical to the war decision. Yet, we’ve got all of this posturing about resignations of high members of the administration being necessary. The talking heads mutter about Rove and Libby “doing the right thing” and casting Cheney as the mad monk of the White House manipulating the President.

Is there no one who can see the humor in this whole fiasco? How can we keep giving credence to the likes of Miller who can’t even get support from the left-wingers of the NYT? Does the long established cry of “resign” under indictment—despite the concept of presumed innocence—now extend to mandatory resignation when even threatened on the basis of no evidence for no crime with a non-indictment? Soon it will be expected that administration functionaries will quit on demand from the opposition anytime there is disagreement.

We’re well into the world of Oz here. Don’t look behind the curtain. And don’t bother ducking; the gangs out there can’t seem to shoot straight. But, we should consider laughing at it all.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A Wonderland World

The Queen of Hearts was fortunate in that she could say whatever she chose and she ascribed to herself the power to have it mean whatever she intended for it to mean. That’s flexibility with language that those of us in the real world aren’t privy to. We’ve got to be satisfied with the language as it is commonly understood. But, what are we to make then of the continual wailing with regard to appointment and confirmation of a Supreme Court justice who will refrain from “legislating from the bench”? How are we to deal with this aversion of the ultra-conservatives for anything but an embracing of “original intent”?

The goal seems to be an overturning of Roe v. Wade, the keystone Supreme Court decision that provided for legalized abortion. The argument regarding abortion has been addressed in these pages before. It’s a thorny question; whether on one hand the government can interfere with a woman’s right to have control over the processes of her own body, or on the other hand whether the requirement of the government to protect the helpless (AKA “unborn”) from death should prevail. Both sides of the issue make strong arguments and there isn’t a clear majority of the electorate that would establish a mandate for policy at one extreme (abortion-on-demand) or the other (total prohibition of abortion under any circumstances.)

Now we have one side demanding a cessation of “legislating from the bench.” They want it stopped right now! That implies that it must be a bad thing. Yet, they also want the appointment of a justice who will be sure to overturn Roe v. Wade! This demand is without a case in question—although most surely one would appear in short order. And, without any knowledge of the details of such a case that would differ from the existing precedent of Roe. And, maybe most importantly, with more than 30 years of no evidence that the political process demands “legislating from the legislature”! If we can’t get our way through the standard political route, let’s see if we can fix a solution in a smaller number agency. Five justices would be easier to manage than uncontrollable majorities in both houses.

I’ve listened to Rush waxing ineloquently about the sanctity of the Constitution and the deeply inscribed intentions of the Framers. He, and most Americans, seems oblivious to the many ways that the basic document changes continually. We don’t like to acknowledge it. We think of the Constitution as some sort of inviolable document that only gets modified through amendment. Only twenty-seven times has the document changed…

Really? Nah! The Constitution has only been amended 27 times, but it has changed thousands of times. The legislature changes the Constitution each time they pass a law. The laws are subject to Constitutional review, but they add nuance, definition, elaboration and interpretation to the basic document. The First Amendment starts with a clause about “Congress shall make no law…” but they’ve made thousands of laws abridging those freedoms, haven’t they?

And, the Executive has modified the Constitution. Each agency in the Executive branch writes libraries of regulations and those have the power of federal law. They change the basics of our Constitution as well.

And, of course, each time the courts rule, they are adding to the body of law that governs the land. Supreme Court cases, in particular, change our Constitution.

How did Roe justify abortion? I’d have to bet that most of those demanding a reversal haven’t read the opinion. They’d be demonstrating a level of understanding if they could tell you it is based on a “right of privacy”. They would really be showing off if they went a step further and said that there’s no mention of “right of privacy” in the Constitution. The right was “derived” by the justices writing the opinion.

How big a stretch was that derivation? It’s spelled out pretty clearly. It comes from the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments. That’s a pretty hefty collection I think. Do they guarantee privacy?

Well, the First lets me speak what I wish and associate with whom I choose. That’s a right to some private actions I would think. The Fourth guarantees me security from search in my home and person. That sounds like privacy. The Fifth protects me from self-incrimination and extends protection over my most trusted confidants—my spouse, attorney, doctor and clergyman. Seems pretty private. The Ninth isn’t often invoked, but it lets me retain every right that isn’t specifically delegated to the Federal government. And, the Fourteenth guarantees me equal protection with all other citizens so that my state or local government can’t reach any further than the Feds in denying my rights.

So, I have a tough time despite any desire I might have to decrease the number of abortions balancing the need for a supporter of original intent with an overturning of Roe. I can’t quite see the distinction between those nasty liberal judges exercising that “legislation from the bench” stuff and a properly conservative justice applying some morally defensible but constitutionally questionable reasoning to gut the rights described by Roe’s opinions. That looks like the same sort of legislating from the bench that has been so universally decried. A conundrum I’m sure that only the Queen of Hearts could unravel.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Make My Day

It’s a bright, sunny day in Texas and my outlook improved drastically over the second cup of coffee when I found Steve Chapman’s column displayed in the Dallas Morning Fishwrap. Common Sense Prevails

There may be hope for the mainstream media yet. When a Chicago Tribune columnist can write a column extolling the values of an armed citizenry it’s noteworthy. I grew up in Chicago when the Trib was still owned by the McCormick’s and it was the neo-fascist voice of the Republicans in the boss-run Democratic bastion of Richard J. Daley’s machine. The Trib was the newspaper that declared Dewey the winner in ’48, probably setting the precedent for the entire current crop of left-wing print media which report the news they wish was rather than that which actually exists.

Chicago is a leader in anti-gun legislation. They’ve embraced the philosophy of disarming the citizenry by convincing the masses that if they don’t own guns the police will be there to protect them. You can’t own a gun in Chicago. Do you suppose that means that the gargoyles of the streets don’t have any guns? Ahh, but I digress once again.

The Dallas Morning News is a pretty good newspaper. They report a lot more national and international detail than I was accustomed to in Colorado Springs. They pick the scabs off Dallas municipal scandals with aplomb. They name names and dig into the dirt of City Council almost daily. But, when it comes to the editorial page, particularly the selected publication of letters to the editor, they really don’t measure up. Rather than challenge the “conventional wisdom” of the undiscerning masses, they seem delight in reinforcing the ignorance and misunderstanding of the man on the street. There’s a lot of dumb on display in those contributions.

Yet, Chapman’s truth was right there on the opinion page in black and white—and only one day after it ran in Chicago. Maybe someone on the DMN editorial staff was napping when a low-level functionary chose to publicize such heresy. Why, there’s this columnist suggesting that the Brady bunch is wrong in their studied mischaracterization of Florida’s laws. He dares to imply that telling the citizenry that they don’t have to cower and flee when threatened with serious bodily injury isn’t a bad thing. He dares to point out that there’s a big difference between being attacked maliciously and having someone raise their voice in disagreement. He even goes so far as to suggest that an obligation to flee may not be practical for many folks when threatened.

I’ve got to admit, that now that I’m a more seasoned citizen, my time in the 100 yard dash is extended considerably from even the outrageously slow numbers that I posted in my warrior prime. I’ve always been slow and now I’m not even that. But, I’m also a CCW holder and I practice regularly. I can’t flee from a handful of aggressive young thugs who would like to commandeer my vehicle, steal my wallet, attack my family or enter my dwelling. But, I undeniably can do some very serious deterrence to the thugs that remain standing after the first three or four are dropped.

The gun control argument is filled with clichés. Both sides resort to oversimplification of the issue. They make assumptions that aren’t supportable to bolster their arguments. History and the data are pretty supportive however of the cliché that “an armed society is a polite society.” A cursory review of areas with high incidence of violent crime seems to correlate with draconian gun control measures while a check of those states and regions with “shall issue” legislation for concealed carry and high percentages of gun owning citizenry look pretty safe for both persons and property. Who’da thunk it?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Chicken Little Go Home

There’s a reason I read the Wall Street Journal. It isn’t my investments. I’ve long said that I’ve got all of my money in commodities and utilities—I buy groceries and pay the light bill. No, I read the Journal because there is calm amidst the sea of hysteria that is the remainder of the media. There apparently are thinking folks there. One of the best is Holman Jenkins. (Unfortunately, the editorial that prompted this lurks behind a subscription gate, so you’ll have to seek it out on your own if so inclined—“There’s Something Catching in Washington” from the 12 October edition.)

I was nearly atwitter with fears of dying before Christmas from the bird flu epidemic. Why, I saw it in the papers, heard it on CNN and even saw the President being questioned by some “stuck on stupid” media mavens on what he’s doing about it and whether anyone at FEMA had been put in charge of pre-positioning body bags. Words like “pandemic” become necessary addenda to everyone’s vocabulary. Consultants are saying “it’s not if, but when” the virus mutates. I even saw some dire forecaster stating that it’s going to be so bad that time henceforth will be measured as “before” and “after” we got the bird…flu that is.

But then, there’s this: World Health Organization opinion

So, to get to the basics of what we know so far: sixty people have died worldwide. SIXTY! And, they were predominantly handlers of diseased birds in third world countries. The virus does not infect humans. Only birds get it. Here’s where Chicken Little should be afraid and Turkey Lurkey as well.

It might mutate. And, then look out. It might—that’s the operative factor. It also might not. But Holman Jenkins really puts the issue into perspective, and in the process takes a mighty jab at the intelligent design boobacracy.

Sure, the virus might mutate. But, it might mitigate considerably if, not when, it does. Sure it might mutate, but if it is to create this global catastrophe it will probably have to insure that its hosts live long enough to infect others. High and prompt mortality isn’t conducive to global travel and “Typhoid Mary” cruises. Ever wonder why ebola isn’t rampant? It might mutate into something that looks a lot like something we’ve already built up immunity toward. Ever notice how last year’s flu vaccine won’t work against this year’s mutation, but you still seem to survive anyway? Jenkin’s real point is that nature reflects a lot more UNintelligent design than ordered architecture.

Yet, we’ve got the New Yawk Times screaming that we’ve got to start stockpiling anti-flu vaccines—despite the fact that an as yet unmutated virus won’t be responsive. The NYT wants to prepare quarantine materials, activate the military, stockpile blankets to later dispense to indigenous natives and generally spend an extra couple of billion dollars to “do something” and do it now. We were slow on Katrina and Rita, so let’s not fall behind on Ducky Lucky and the falling sky.

Can’t we spend our time better talking about whether or not Harriet Miers ever said she was for or against abortion?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Feed on Greed

You haven’t bought a lottery ticket in at least five years. You’re intelligent and capable of weighing the odds and when the small print at the bottom of the ticket says, “odds of winning 1 in 75 million,” you figure you’d be better off walking the golf course holding up a five iron to attract lightning twice in a row. So, why is it that some twit floods the world’s email inboxes with notices that the recipient has won and all they need to do is click on the link and give the info requested so that the check can be sent? Do a lot of folks do this?

Is it even slightly plausible that out of nearly 300 million Americans you, and you alone, have been chosen by the widow of the deposed minister of finance of Nigeria, Liberia or Lower Slobovia to help recover the hundreds of millions he salted away in tax-exempt accounts prior to his death? Do people really respond to these scams? Or, is it merely that the first iterations of the spam somehow entered a cyber-nursery where they were nurtured and cross-pollinated so that they have taken on a life of their own forever to repeat in a new and slightly modified format until the end of time?

If you don’t have a Pen-Pal account, never sold a thing on E-bay, and have no money in City Bank, why would you click on a link to update your account information? Does anyone respond to these “phishing” ploys?

When you get a message that informs you, “here is the information you requested,” but you’ve never heard of the sender and it’s addressed to someone that only has one or two letters in common with your email address, do you eagerly click on the link to check it out? And, what benefit does the idiot who sent this crap derive from his malice?

I know, we all know, that these spams, scams, worms, and Trojan horses are a cost of living in the digital age. But, increasingly they seem like the graffiti which festooned the New York City subway cars a few years back before Rudy Giuliani came along. It isn’t “art” or “self-expression” and it isn’t really going to get some “genius” programmer identified so that Bill Gates can offer him a million dollar a year programming job. They should not be tolerated and the dim-witted perpetrators should be uncovered and suffer the penalties that can be properly imposed by an intolerant society. Personally I think flailing is pretty good, although the old business with tying the limbs to four wild horses has a certain attraction.

What causes this tirade against the obvious? It’s the blogging life and my part of it. I blog to be read. It’s that simple. There is a choice in how the blog is set up regarding the posting of reader comments. I choose to allow folks with something to say about my musings to offer their opinion. There aren’t many takers and thought could be someone’s way of telling me that there aren’t many readers. That’s fine. I still like the idea of allowing comment.

Recently, I’ve been getting comments on some posts. Great, I thought until I read them. It seems that the creativity of the spammer, scammer and adolescent programming misfits extends to automatic blog commenting. Commenters note that they love the blog and, by the way, they have bargains on insurance, a great page on multi-level-marketing opportunities, an outlet for deep discount sex aids, and the lowest prices on imported illegal pharmaceuticals. Sorry, but that’s not the political dialog that I wanted this site to generate.

There’s a solution however. It’s a minor inconvenience, but it appears to be necessary if I want to keep the comments option open. Should you wish to comment, you’ll be asked before posting to use a simple word verification window. The blog server will present a distorted word graphic and you will be required to type in the letters displayed. Supposedly this confounds automated comment posting software and should minimize the amount of trash generated in the comments section. Let’s give it a try.

Now, I’ve got to go get my credit card and bank account numbers because I need to help out a surviving nephew of the Defense Minister of Kuala Lumpur who needs assistance in getting his money freed up. I’m going to get a pretty good commission out of this…

Monday, October 10, 2005

JCS Football Rules Announced

Great satire always has a lot of truth in it. Here's a wonderful item describing how the US military handles the rules for a football game. Those with some insight into the machinations of the JCS as they fight for their parochial piece of pie will recognize the truths:

Joint Chiefs Issue Inter-service Football Rules

Friday, October 07, 2005

Reap The Whirlwind

I love baseball. While the rest of the athletic world is filled with explosive violence, baseball stands aloof as a respite of intellectual challenge. It’s a chess game played with bat and ball. There is strategy and drama. There’s surreptitious communication. There’s feint and parry. There’s the ballet-like skill of the 6-4-3 double play. Occasionally there’s madness like Billy Martin’s tantrums or Mark Fydrich conversing with the ball between pitches. There’s time to enjoy the blue sky, the green grass and discuss the merits of putting the mustard on a hot dog before or after the onions. There’s cold beer.

Steroids are the danger and the lack of leadership by Bud Selig and Don Fehr in combating the problem is a conspiracy, but the real crack in the integrity of the game is the designated hitter. There, I’ve said it. I hadn’t thought about such a weighty problem for a year or two, preferring to dwell on more solvable crises like the war on terror, the decline of morality and the inability of science to cure the common cold. But, today I read an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that focused on the American League MVP debate. (I know, today is Friday and WSJ readers will point out that the piece ran on Wednesday.)

Frankly, I don’t care for the American League. I grew up on the north side of Chicago, so I was a Cubs fan. I got to a few White Sox games, since my college was right next door to Comiskey, but the real deal was on Addison in the “Friendly Confines.” (Damn those lights!) Over the years, I’ve usually lived in a National League city and for the last twenty I’ve felt as comfortable rooting for the cellar-dwelling Rockies as I ever did for the Cubbies.

But, Allen Barra writes in the Journal about the argument over whether Alex Rodriguez or David Ortiz should be the MVP. It’s classic conflict, Yankees versus Red Sox. It’s a hot discussion because of the emphasis that the rivalry attracted last year as “the Curse” was shattered. It’s topical because of the ongoing play-offs with both the Yanks and the Bosox in the running for the AL pennant. And, it got my attention because all of this week I’ve been on a baseball marathon, exposed to three games a day of playoffs.

Barra wants to know, as do I, why a hulking, overweight gorilla should even be in the running for the MVP nomination against an athlete. It’s the designated hitter at its ugliest—I’m speaking here of the concept/rule, not of Mr. Ortiz’ physiognomy. The Ortiz supporters tout his hitting prowess and his incredible RBI stats. He rouses his bulk from the bench every three innings or so and then clubs the ball somewhere they ain’t. Result is runs scored and quite often team wins.

A-Rod, on the other hand, plays shortstop. He hits about as often as Papi. His on-base percentage is similar. But, he also runs bases and often advances by stealing them. Since he plays defense he is forced to think on the run, make choices and execute remarkable athletic feats. He seldom hits into double plays since he is fast enough to challenge the fielders, unlike Mr. Ortiz who blots out the sun in his passage, but takes nearly as long as that sun to transit the horizon.

The American League, and unfortunately all of the lower echelons of baseball, adopted the DH ostensibly to increase offense and scoring thereby making the game more interesting to the fans. Statistically that hasn’t panned out as we routinely see higher scores and better batting in the other major league.

Do designated hitters contribute to the steroid problem? It’s hard to know for sure, but since the majority of them appear to be pretty bulky types it isn’t a great reach to accept that conclusion. What is possible to know for sure is that the DH has changed baseball and not for the better. If we find Papi to be the most valuable player in the American League, what does that say for the hundreds of thousands of kids growing up in America today aspiring to be good baseball players? Should they try to learn the nuances of a complex and intellectual game? Should they hone skills in throwing, fielding, running and positioning? Should they seek to develop hand/eye coordination and the judgment to know when to make that break for second on a pitcher’s give-away move to the plate? Or should they simply bulk up, put on fifty extra pounds and lift a lot of weights? Yeah, aspire to be David Ortiz, that’s the ticket.

I hope that A-Rod gets the nod and Ortiz gets realistically over-looked in the MVP choosing. But either way, I sincerely wish for something I know won’t happen—a re-examination of the DH rule.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Downside of Diversity

The Supreme Court is very loosely defined in the Constitution. It is authorized, but not much information is offered regarding exactly how it is to be composed. The number of justices is unspecified—there have been as few as seven and as many as fifteen although the current quota of nine has been in place long enough to insure that will be the size for the future.

There is some mention of original jurisdiction limits and a notion of ultimate appellate authority, but it took Chief Justice John Marshall to give the Court its real power, that of judicial review. It isn’t specified in the Constitution, but since Marbury v. Madison, we’ve come to agree that the Court has the authority to declare acts of the legislature and executive as unconstitutional, creating the ultimate check in the scheme of checks and balances. The balance, of course is in the power of the President to appoint justices and the requirement of the Senate to consent to those appointments. We’re getting another opportunity to see how the process has degenerated.

You don’t have to search your daily fish-wrapper to find plenty of analysis of the President’s latest appointment, Harriet Miers. There is input from the conservative side of the house, which isn’t sure what she will be about and whether she is appropriately reactionary for their taste. There is wailing from the liberal side of the aisle that she doesn’t have a judicial record to evaluate. In a rare moment of insight, I see that Chuck Schumer said something I can agree with—he announced that “I don’t know enough.” I’ll take that as his personal recognition of a short-coming he has displayed proudly for quite a while rather than a comment on the bio of the appointee.

Yet, there is something in the background here that needs to be mentioned. It’s the “affirmative action” factor. Unintentionally we’ve created a Supreme Court Quota System which seems to be generating its own influence on the checks and balances.

When Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the Court by Lyndon Johnson, it was a moment whose time had come. The civil rights movement in the United States in the ‘60s had clearly highlighted the fact that a white court was not representative any longer. Marshall was a leader of the civil rights movement and a capable judge. He was the Jackie Robinson of the Supremes. Was he the best qualified of all available at the time? No one can say. But, it was time and it was right and it happened.

When Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed by Ronald Reagan, it was a moment whose time had come as well. For too long the court had been a male reserve. We can ask a similar question—was she the best qualified of all available at the time? And we get the same answer.

But—there’s always a but—when Marshall left the Court, it wasn’t a matter of replacing him with the best qualified. It was a given that the seat on the bench which Marshall had held was to be viewed as a black seat. An African-American on the court had become a requirement. The appointment needed to be black. And, that gave us what became the debacle of Clarence Thomas. The law of unintended consequences intervened and the demand for a black replacement for the Marshall seat hadn’t considered the possibility of a black conservative. The left-leaning Senate of the time was faced with a conundrum—how to oppose a member of a core constituency who just happened to have the wrong political ideology. The result was the innuendo laced campaign to discredit Thomas. Did Thomas sexually harass Anita Hill? I don’t think we will ever know for sure. What we do know is that his tenure on the court has been curiously quiet, largely as a result of the character assassination he experienced in confirmation.

Now, as we review the run-up to the Miers appointment we witness demands for diversity on the court. Bush bucked the trend by choosing John Roberts as the O’Connor replacement. He might well have been considering the health of Chief Justice Rehnquist and hedging against the immediate need for a replacement there. But, he resisted the demand to keep the O’Connor seat as a woman’s quota.

Still, there was pressure. Even Laura Bush went on record as advising the President that a woman should be high on the options list. And, we began to hear the demands for a Hispanic justice. Is this a good thing?

When society’s evolution leads to equality for ethnic minorities and women, it is right and proper to provide increased opportunity. Marshall and O’Connor were the right appointments at the right time. But, now that we’ve opened those doors, is it good to institutionalize the percentages? In a nine member court, can we have a proportional representation of women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, etc? Once the discrimination barrier has been broken, should we expand the categories and allocate reservations of seats on the Court? Clearly the answer is no. We don’t get good government by a quota system just as we don’t get good government with a discriminatory selection process. An all-white, all-male court was not appropriate, but a diversity score-card on a nine-member panel is similarly wrong.

All that being said, is Harriet Miers a good choice? From what I’ve read this morning, it looks as though she is qualified, experienced, and capable. She’s been a leader in local and national organizations ranging from City Council to state bar associations to the right hand of the President. Now, we’ll see what the Senate circus does.

Bring in the clowns.