John Paul’s contradictions

As the world’s most important unimportant person slides towards death, Spiegel has published a piece by Hans Küng looking at the contradictions of this papacy. While I hope that Catholics will begin to redress the many injustices it has perpetuated, I also note that no other religious organization in the world rates so much media attention.

We would do that for [any friend of Bush]

    I say baloney to any inference we red-carpeted any of this entourage,” an F.B.I. official said in a 2003 internal note. Another F.B.I. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said this week regarding the airport escorts that “we’d do that for anybody if they felt they were threatened – we wouldn’t characterize that as special treatment.”

That, in a New York Times piece about Saudis being flown out of the country while many flights were still grounded. According to documents “obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Justice Department by Judicial Watch, a conservative legal group,” the FBI provided escort even for members of Osama bin Laden’s family, and allowed them to “to leave the country without first being interviewed.”

    “From these documents, these look like they were courtesy chats, without the time that would have been needed for thorough debriefings,” said Christopher J. Farrell, who is director of investigations for Judicial Watch and a former counterintelligence interrogator for the Army. “It seems as if the F.B.I. was more interested in achieving diplomatic success than investigative success.”

Federalism and an imperial judiciary

In the latest round of events surrounding the prolonged case of Terri Schiavo, conservatives–not having gotten their way in court–are increasingly accusing judges of, as Terri Schiavo’s father put it, “running the country.” A Los Angeles Times story, noting that “Republicans have also taken the lead in recent years in championing the rights of states to resolve a wide variety of legal disputes without being second-guessed by the federal government,” recalls the Republican Party platform in 2004:

    “The sound principle of judicial review has turned into an intolerable presumption of judicial supremacy,” the [Republican Party platform] statement reads, decrying the effect of “scores of judges with activist backgrounds in the hard-left.”

But in a commentary published in the Los Angeles Times, Andrew Cohen, a CBS News Legal Analyst, argues that the Schindlers, Terri’s parents, had run out of good legal arguments. Resorting to bad arguments, the Schindlers, and the Bushes (both President George and Florida Governor Jeb), and Congress expected federal courts to supplant state courts.

    If accepted, it would have meant the end of state courts as we know them. No decision at the state level ever would be final, because every losing litigant at the state court level would be able to walk into federal court and declare a federal constitutional violation. State court trials thus would become like practice sessions and the federal courts, which are supposed to be of “limited jurisdiction,” resolving only certain kinds of disputes, would become free-for-alls.

In the end, the courts refused to accept the Schindlers’ claim that their daughter had been denied her constitutional rights.

    “The courts have consistently found that she did not want to be kept alive artificially,” said George Felos, the lawyer for Ms. Schiavo’s husband, Michael, who successfully petitioned to disconnect the feeding tube that had sustained his severely brain-damaged wife. “In that spirit, I hope the parents do not continue pursuing fruitless legal options until the end. I think their time would be better spent in reflection.”

The Schindlers and their allies are, in essence, claiming that their concept of justice should supplant the rule of law. This demands my attention, for in the past, I’ve argued that there is more to justice than law. Yet in this instance, it is law that finally calls an end to this saga. Justice, to the extent it is possible in such a tragic case, has long ago been served, and it is only law that has so prolonged it.

Ironically, it’s been Conservatives who have so long complained about “judicial activism.”

    “Congress’ desire to get a particular outcome led it to invite the courts to be activist, and the judges have properly refused,” said Douglas Kmiec, a professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University School of Law, and a former Justice Department official in the Reagan and first Bush administrations.

Others remark on an apparent bias in seeking to preserve life:

    “I could not imagine [House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay interrupting an Easter recess to come back for special legislation because there was a possibility that someone on death row was innocent,” said Louis Michael Seidman, a professor at Georgetown Law School in Washington.

So conservatives have gone against the majority in public opinion, undermined the consistency of their own complains about judicial activism, and thus threatened to intrude on the lives of countless Americans in similar situations, making painful decisions about the lives of their loved ones, all to curry the favor of the Christian right.

Will it be worth it?

Schindlers’ thugs

Some supporters of the Schindlers’ efforts to keep Terri Schiavo, in a persistent vegetative state and disconnected from a feeding tube a week ago, are giving out home addresses of Judge George Greer, whose ruling that the feeding tube should be disconnected has now been upheld in both state and federal courts, Florida senators who voted against legislation to reconnect the feeding tube, and Michael Schiavo, who has, for seven years, fought to have his wife’s tube disconnected.

A former leader of Operation Rescue, Rev. Pat Mahoney, a Presbyterian minister and the head of the Washington-based Christian Defense Coalition, claims to be unaware of any threats made against anyone, saying, “Some people might be compelled to pray in front of [Greer’s] house.” Prayer can take strange forms.

    “One person told me they hoped I died from cancer. Another said my family members should rot in hell,” [Nancy] Argenziano, one of nine Florida Republican Senators to vote against legislation to re-insert the feeding tube, said. “They are the most awful, venomous, un-Christian things you have ever heard.”

Indeed. It seems they turn now even against themselves: “‘[Florida Governor Jeb Bush] raised the family’s hopes but he still hasn’t acted,’ said a furious Randall Terry, [founder of Operation Rescue] and a spokesman for Schiavo supporters outside the Pinellas Park hospice where Schiavo is dying. ‘This, in our opinion, is reprehensible.'” But Bush has apparently continued to press for legislation rejected by the Florida Senate, specifically blaming those nine Republicans in the state Senate. “‘You get some of these people excited and they kill people. You can hear it in their tone. It’s been proven in the past,’ Argenziano said, referring to past abortion clinic bombings and shootings.”

    “I promise you that if she dies, there’s going to be hell to pay with pro-life, pro-family Republicans who have used pro-life, pro-family conservative rhetoric to get into power and then when they get into power, refuse to use it,” said Randall Terry, who founded the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. “You can bet there will be people who just might lose their jobs after this is over.”

The Blair is falling, the Blair is falling…

It has looked like this before. British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to support Bush in the war on Iraq has been more hotly controversial in Britain than Bush’s decision has been in the United States. Blair has been accused countless times of being Bush’s lapdog–something even the Canadians have refused to stoop to. The claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes was probably “sexed up,” and at least two official inquiries have whitewashed the matter.

I’ve been watching this because I’ve felt that if Britain withdrew, or Blair was forced to resign, this would strip away the last veneer of “international support” for Bush’s invasion. At this point, though, probably most people who can be intelligently influenced on the matter are already well aware that all the weapons of mass destruction claims have proven utterly unsupportable. After two years, we still have found absolutely no evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed the proscribed weapons.

Which means that our rationale for invading Iraq without UN support is further undermined — there was no imminent threat to the United States (not that there was, anyway). Therefore the invasion was illegal.

Apparently British Attorney General Lord Goldsmith may have thought so too, at the time. This emerges in “the resignation letter of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a legal adviser at the Foreign Office, in which she said the war would be a ‘crime of aggression’.”

    The critical paragraph of her letter, published yesterday under the Freedom of Information Act, was blanked out by the Government on the grounds that it was in the public interest to protect the privacy of the advice given by the Attorney General. But last night the contents of the paragraph were leaked, and Tony Blair was facing fresh allegations of a cover-up. There has long been speculation that Lord Goldsmith was leant on to switch his view, and to sanction the war – and confirmation of that would be devastating for the Prime Minister. The Wilmhurst letter stops short of explaining what caused Lord Goldsmith to change his mind.

At the very least, it seems Blair justified his decision on rather limited legal advice:

    In a further twist, only two weeks ago it emerged that, aside from his one-page reply to Parliament, there was no other formal advice from the Attorney General on the legality of war.

    That admission, from the head of the home civil service Sir Andrew Turnbull, caused bafflement and bemusement. It prompted MPs to remark that Britain had invaded Iraq on the strength of a single piece of paper. Today’s revelation demonstrates how divided the Government’s own lawyers were on the issue.

More significant advice seems not to have been used:

    On 17 March, the Attorney General stated unequivocally that the use of force would be justified under international law. He set out his reasons in a one-page long parliamentary answer to MPs and peers

    But only 10 days before, Lord Goldsmith produced a fuller document for Tony Blair in which he stopped short of giving a definitive view on whether war would be legal, and said it might be safer to secure a second UN resolution.

What now? “Foreign Secretary Jack Straw turned down the demand [to publish ‘the entire paper trail’ of Attorney General Lord Goldsmith’s advice to ministers that the war against Iraq was legal] from shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve, saying publishing such advice would have “very grave” implications for good government.”

Good government? Like government that participates in illegal invasions?

Do not hold your breath

After Congress passed emergency legislation giving Terri Schiavo’s parents, the Schindlers, standing in federal courts, U.S. District Judge James Whittemore of Tampa questioned the constitutionality of that law and rejected the Schindlers’ claim that Terri had been deprived of due process in at least seven years of proceedings in state courts, wherein Florida Circuit Judge George Greer concurred with medical experts that Terri is in a persistent vegetative state. The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld Whittemore’s ruling, and the Schindlers have vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court, which has turned them down before.

    “Congress’ overreaching flies in the face of our entire system of checks and balances, trashes the partial sovereignty of the states and flouts the protections our laws afford state adjudication from drive-by attacks by those disaffected with the results,” says Laurence Tribe, a Harvard University law professor.

Still, there was a fresh move in the Florida Legislature to reinsert the feeding tube:

    “I understand that we only need one vote in the state Senate to save my daughter,” [Terri’s mother] said as she stood outside Schiavo’s hospice. “Please senators, for the love of God, I’m begging you, please, don’t let my daughter die of thirst.”

Mercifully, she didn’t get that vote.

But now Florida Governor Jeb Bush “and the state’s social services agency say they have filed a petition with a Pinellas County trial court seeking to take custody of Mrs Schiavo.” According to the New York Times, they have found an expert, “Dr. William P. Cheshire, a neurologist in Jacksonville, … [who] is the director of a laboratory at the Mayo Clinic branch in Jacksonville that deals with unconscious reflexes like digestion, and a fellow of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, a nonprofit group founded by ‘more than a dozen leading Christian bioethicists,’ in the words of its Web site.” He says, without having conducted an examination, that Terri might indeed be in a minimally conscious state. “Later, state lawyers appeared before Judge George W. Greer of Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, who ordered Ms. Schiavo’s feeding tube removed last week, and asked for the second time in a month to intervene in the case…. Judge Greer did not rule on the state’s request immediately, but he granted a request from Ms. Schiavo’s husband, Michael, to bar the state’s Department of Children and Families from taking custody of her, from removing her from the hospice where she has gone six days without her feeding tube and from providing her with nutrition or hydration.”

Despite a series of polls supporting Michael Schiavo in his battle to let his wife die, a great many very powerful politicians are pulling out all the stops, pandering to the Christian right, figuring they’ll remember, and everyone else will forget.

    “Their gamble is that the general public will be divided on the issue and will not vote on the subject come 2006, but that the Republican-base … group of conservative Christians will remember this vote forever,” says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

But as Joseph Dolman put it in Newsday:

    I think it’s also possible that [Sen. Bill] Frist [of Tennessee] and [Rep. Tom] DeLay [of Texas] have seriously misread their Red State base. For one thing, the pollsters and political scientists I know say the Schiavo case is unusual. Even in the South, voters could ultimately resent the intrusion of zealots into family affairs.

They may have even misread their own party:

    “This is a clash between the social conservatives and the process conservatives, and I would count myself a process conservative,” said David Davenport of the Hoover Institute, a conservative research organization. “When a case like this has been heard by 19 judges in six courts and it’s been appealed to the Supreme Court three times, the process has worked – even if it hasn’t given the result that the social conservatives want. For Congress to step in really is a violation of federalism.”

States’s rights aren’t the only rights at stake:

    “This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy,” [Representative Christopher] Shays [of Connecticut] said. “There are going to be repercussions from this vote. There are a number of people who feel that the government is getting involved in their personal lives in a way that scares them.”

But an article in the New York Times suggests there is more to this than federalism or a right to die. “Conservatives, already disdainful of the way judges have handled subjects like same-sex marriage and abortion, say the court treatment of the Schiavo case illustrates a judiciary that is willing to ignore the will of the public and elected officials.” There you have it: this as “Richard Viguerie, the strategist behind conservative direct mailings, said, ‘could be the opening shot in the Supreme Court nomination battle that we expect sooner rather than later.'” Speaking of Michael Schiavo, who has battled to have his wife’s feeding tube removed, “‘Just because there is a judge somewhere in the world who would give an estranged husband like that the time of day tells you how bad the court system is,’ the Rev. Jerry Falwell said.

Doug Thompson, publisher and founder of Capitol Hill Blue, weaves it all together, noting the sheer dishonesty which has become so pervasive with Republicans, now in control of the White House and both houses of Congress:

    [President] Bush, who lies every time he opens his big mouth, tries to claim the issue is “about life,” but it isn’t. It’s about political power, greed, corruption and avarice. It’s about seizing any opportunity to advance the repressive causes of Bush and his party of power-mad despots.

That quote is more extreme than great; but it’s in what Thompson calls his rant. Perhaps without meaning to, he points to an imbalance in mainstream media news coverage, which has all too often referred to this whole pathetic episode as if it were about “saving” Terri’s life, and, all too often, failed to adequately challenge the misinformation Bush and Republicans have been putting forth, on this and on so many other issues.

With a lapdog press, there is no particular reason at all for Republicans to bother with truth. The consequence is that we don’t have a government run in any way for the benefit of the country on the basis of empirical evidence. Thompson suggests, we don’t even have one run on the basis of ideology, but one which instead capitalizes on an extreme right wing ideology to sustain power. Thompson calls it treason.

Treason, indeed. It certainly demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice principle for power:

    The Republican Party has long associated itself with limiting the power of the federal government over the states, though this is not the only time that party leaders have veered from that position. Most famously, in 2000, it persuaded the Supreme Court to overturn a Florida court ruling ordering a recount of the vote in the presidential election between Al Gore and George Bush.

Many who voted for George Bush in 2004 said they knew where he stands. Certainly, we know where many in the Republican Party stands now–wherever it takes to maintain power.

Following up on the follow up to the follow up: that CBS report on Bush

So you remember the part about how CBS News broadcast a story on 60 Minutes II about Bush using family connections to avoid risking his own neck in Vietnam by joining the Texas Air National Guard, while, as one of his professors recalls, he strongly advocated the war? And how conservative bloggers jumped on the dubious documents CBS used in its report?

The trouble with all this is, and was, that the basic information in the CBS report was well known and, in fact, had previously been reported. But because CBS used these documents and the documents were discredited, the accusation against Bush — even when it came from sources that didn’t rely on these documents — was discredited. Even when the typist who would have typed these documents, but said she didn’t, nonetheless corroborated the information.

CBS retracted the story based on a flawed analysis, as articles in both the Columbia Journalism Review and the New York Review of Books attest. But Bush has been re-elected. And the smears against any who dare to challenge his administration continue.