The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Supreme Mediocrity

October 21, 2005
Harriet Miers, to hear her friends speak, is one of the great legal minds of this nation, as well as a God-fearing Christian. She supposedly makes John Roberts look like a bum in a cheap wool suit. To hear her friends speak, she is not one of the most mediocre individuals to ever be nominated to the Supreme Court.

When Miers first heard that she was being considered for the court, she told the administration “thanks, but no thanks.” If she had stuck to her initial reaction, critics might have looked back a year from now and applauded her good judgment in refusing a position for which she was not fit. But the Bush administration, sticking to its trend of shooting itself in the foot, chose to force the nomination of a woman whose most important credential is that she became a prominent lawyer in manly John Wayne Texas. By those standards, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Katie Hnida—the first female to score a point in Division I-A college football—could have been potential candidates.

President Bush gave Miers his highest recommendation, telling the nation to trust him on this one, because, “I’ve known Harriet for more than a decade. I know her heart. I know her character.” He gave the same speech about Vladimir Putin before Russia rediscovered its love affair with internal repression.

This is not to say that Miers would assuredly be a bad justice. But we should never have to be in a situation where an unqualified nominee—in a nation full of great legal and civic intellectuals—is being considered for a job in which the most basic requirement is the ability to interpret the Constitution.

Miers is no doubt a talented lawyer and currently holds a difficult job as the White House legal counsel—keeping track of Karl Rove must be quite the headache—but there is no reason why she should be confirmed by the Senate simply because she was nominated. David Brooks reviewed old opinion articles by Miers and came away unimpressed, saying, “the quality of thought and writing doesn’t even rise to the level of pedestrian.”

In Miers’ own rather simplistic words, “more and more, the intractable problems in our society have one answer: broad-based intolerance of unacceptable conditions and a commitment by many to fix problems.” Justice Harriet Miers is an unacceptable condition.

The worst-case scenario is that her confirmation occurs due to Republican “rally ‘round the flag’” mentality, making Clarence Thomas look qualified in comparison. The best-case scenario, and the one that would well serve the Supreme Court as an entity, sees her rejected by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans who refuse to accept the president’s word that Miers is qualified.

The Supreme Court garners its credibility from the respect accorded the abilities of each justice. It is fair for us to expect each justice to have a sharp and proven intellect and to be beholden to no politician. The nomination of Miers displays one of the Bush administration’s greatest weaknesses—its blindness to the negative side effects of cronyism when the crony in question isn’t equal to the task. For reference, see “Michael Brown, former head of FEMA.”

President Bush does not deserve to be taken at his word when he tells America to trust him about Harriet Miers. The long and short of the situation is that a mediocre candidate has been nominated to a lifelong position on the most powerful court in the land. In such a situation, mediocrity is unacceptable.

We should demand nothing less than greatness in an individual who is being considered for a position on the Supreme Court of this land. Let us push and prod the Senate to have the cojones to fix the problem.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Ferrer - the fleas that live on my dog's back are smarter

I don't care if you are a democrat or a republican. You have to realize that Ferrer is an idiot:

"Fernando Ferrer called upon Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg yesterday to divulge in
greater detail the information that led him to increase subway security last
week, making his sharpest comments yet on terrorism and security. In a statement
released after Mr. Bloomberg told reporters the threat had passed, Mr. Ferrer,
the Democratic candidate for mayor, said, "Now that we are no longer on high
alert, it is appropriate for the mayor to tell us what he knew about the threat,
when, and why he chose to act in the way he did." Mr. Ferrer said he thought the
city should take "every threat seriously." But his campaign was trying to
capitalize on suspicions voiced by some New Yorkers that the mayor's
announcement of a plot to bomb city subways last week was politically timed to
interrupt a run of bad publicity over his decision to skip a debate at the
Apollo Theater in Harlem."

What, does he want to wait for a few explosions and a few hundred dead commuters before the alarm is sounded? Yeah thats the kind of guy I want as my mayor.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Rangel Needs a Wakeup Call

Charles Rangel compares President Bush to an anti-civil rights police commissioner from Alabama saying "George Bush is our Bull Connor"
From the New York Sun:

"Mr. Rangel's metaphoric linkage of Mr. Bush to the late Theophilus "Bull"
Connor--who in 1963 turned fire hoses and attack dogs on blacks, including
Martin Luther King Jr., demonstrating in favor of equal rights--met with wild
applause and cheering at a Congressional Black Caucus town hall meeting, part of
the organization's 35th Annual Legislative
Conference. . . .
Mr. Rangel, a Democrat who has represented Harlem for almost 35 years, spent his portion of yesterday's forum reminiscing about the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, and calling on his audience to undertake similar action today, inciting them to "revolution" after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina and particularly its impact on indigent blacks in the Gulf Coast region.
The storm, he said, showed that "if you're black in this country, and you're poor in this country, it's not an inconvenience--it's a death sentence." Denouncing Mr. Bush for waging "a war that we cannot win under any stretch of our imagination" instead of providing for those devastated by the hurricane, Mr. Rangel left his audience with a parting thought.
"If there's one thing that George Bush has done that we should never forget, it's that for us and for our children, he has shattered the myth of white supremacy once and for all," the congressman said."
On the one hand this is simply rediculous. It is true that Federal response to Katrina was far too slow. But this is proving to be true because of institutional and structural failures with in the federal system (Bush's reorganization of Federal emergency management resources under the dubious DHS was not well thought out and was poorly implemented) and, even more telling, because the Governor of LA failed to act quickly and was found second-guessing herself at every turn - clear signs of poor crisis leadership. If this disaster had happened any where else, save perhaps NY and DC, I predict that similar results would have ensued. To claim that racism is at the heart of our failure to respond to Katrina is specious and irresponsible.

But Rangel's comments bother me for another reason. They demonstrate just how out of touch he is, and indeed many of his fellow leaders are, with the political realities of today. Inciting his audience to a "revolution," and claiming that being black and poor in this country is a death sentence, is not the way to gain popular support for the African American community. It does not in any way appeal to the majority - it only wrongly condemns them as racist and cold.

As the Wall Street Journal mentions
"The civil rights movement succeeded--with great difficulty at
that--because it appealed to the consciences of white Americans. This was a
matter of practical necessity: In a democracy, you cannot bring about change
without appealing to the majority. But it was also a matter of the uncomplicated
rightness of the desegregationist cause. Winning equal rights for black
Americans required overcoming a lot of history, prejudice and fear, but it
didn't require overcoming any compelling arguments on the other side, for there
were none. By contrast, issues of race and poverty in America today are far more complicated, involving questions of personal responsibility, governmental ineffectiveness and corruption, and the racial attitudes of blacks as well as those of whites. "

Support for Rangel's argument is not widespread among the majority of this country. It is true that Blacks were hit disproportionately hard by the effects of Hurricane Katrina. It is something that must be addressed. But rather than sitting down and discussing why this is the case, and how we can better prepare communities in urban areas for disasters in the future, Rangel chooses the path of hate mongering and unsubstantiated vitriol. He is not doing the African American community a favor.

"If after 40 years blacks remain disproportionately poor and alienated from American society, surely it is time to ask if this approach has been a failure. "

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Required Reading

From Barack Obama's diary (posted on his Senate website) :: ::

There is one way, over the long haul, to guarantee the appointment of judges that are sensitive to issues of social justice, and that is to win the right to appoint them by recapturing the presidency and the Senate. And I don't believe we get there by vilifying good allies, with a lifetime record of battling for progressive causes, over one vote or position. I am convinced that, our mutual frustrations and strongly-held beliefs notwithstanding, the strategy driving much of Democratic advocacy, and the tone of much of our rhetoric, is an impediment to creating a workable progressive majority in this country.

According to the storyline that drives many advocacy groups and Democratic activists - a storyline often reflected in comments on this blog - we are up against a sharply partisan, radically conservative, take-no-prisoners Republican party. They have beaten us twice by energizing their base with red meat rhetoric and single-minded devotion and discipline to their agenda. In order to beat them, it is necessary for Democrats to get some backbone, give as good as they get, brook no compromise, drive out Democrats who are interested in "appeasing" the right wing, and enforce a more clearly progressive agenda. The country, finally knowing what we stand for and seeing a sharp contrast, will rally to our side and thereby usher in a new progressive era.

I think this perspective misreads the American people. From traveling throughout Illinois and more recently around the country, I can tell you that Americans are suspicious of labels and suspicious of jargon. They don't think George Bush is mean-spirited or prejudiced, but have become aware that his administration is irresponsible and often incompetent. They don't think that corporations are inherently evil (a lot of them work in corporations), but they recognize that big business, unchecked, can fix the game to the detriment of working people and small entrepreneurs. They don't think America is an imperialist brute, but are angry that the case to invade Iraq was exaggerated, are worried that we have unnecessarily alienated existing and potential allies around the world, and are ashamed by events like those at Abu Ghraib which violate our ideals as a country.

It's this non-ideological lens through which much of the country viewed Judge Roberts' confirmation hearings. A majority of folks, including a number of Democrats and Independents, don't think that John Roberts is an ideologue bent on overturning every vestige of civil rights and civil liberties protections in our possession. Instead, they have good reason to believe he is a conservative judge who is (like it or not) within the mainstream of American jurisprudence, a judge appointed by a conservative president who could have done much worse (and probably, I fear, may do worse with the next nominee). While they hope Roberts doesn't swing the court too sharply to the right, a majority of Americans think that the President should probably get the benefit of the doubt on a clearly qualified nominee.

A plausible argument can be made that too much is at stake here and now, in terms of privacy issues, civil rights, and civil liberties, to give John Roberts the benefit of the doubt. That certainly was the operating assumption of the advocacy groups involved in the nomination battle.

I shared enough of these concerns that I voted against Roberts on the floor this morning. But short of mounting an all-out filibuster -- a quixotic fight I would not have supported; a fight I believe Democrats would have lost both in the Senate and in the court of public opinion; a fight that would have been difficult for Democratic senators defending seats in states like North Dakota and Nebraska that are essential for Democrats to hold if we hope to recapture the majority; and a fight that would have effectively signaled an unwillingness on the part of Democrats to confirm any Bush nominee, an unwillingness which I believe would have set a dangerous precedent for future administrations -- blocking Roberts was not a realistic option.

In such circumstances, attacks on Pat Leahy, Russ Feingold and the other Democrats who, after careful consideration, voted for Roberts make no sense. Russ Feingold, the only Democrat to vote not only against war in Iraq but also against the Patriot Act, doesn't become complicit in the erosion of civil liberties simply because he chooses to abide by a deeply held and legitimate view that a President, having won a popular election, is entitled to some benefit of the doubt when it comes to judicial appointments. Like it or not, that view has pretty strong support in the Constitution's design.

The same principle holds with respect to issues other than judicial nominations. My colleague from Illinois, Dick Durbin, spoke out forcefully - and voted against - the Iraqi invasion. He isn't somehow transformed into a "war supporter" - as I've heard some anti-war activists suggest - just because he hasn't called for an immediate withdrawal of American troops. He may be simply trying to figure out, as I am, how to ensure that U.S. troop withdrawals occur in such a way that we avoid all-out Iraqi civil war, chaos in the Middle East, and much more costly and deadly interventions down the road. A pro-choice Democrat doesn't become anti-choice because he or she isn't absolutely convinced that a twelve-year-old girl should be able to get an operation without a parent being notified. A pro-civil rights Democrat doesn't become complicit in an anti-civil rights agenda because he or she questions the efficacy of certain affirmative action programs. And a pro-union Democrat doesn't become anti-union if he or she makes a determination that on balance, CAFTA will help American workers more than it will harm them.

Or to make the point differently: How can we ask Republican senators to resist pressure from their right wing and vote against flawed appointees like John Bolton, if we engage in similar rhetoric against Democrats who dissent from our own party line? How can we expect Republican moderates who are concerned about the nation's fiscal meltdown to ignore Grover Norquist's threats if we make similar threats to those who buck our party orthodoxy?

I am not drawing a facile equivalence here between progressive advocacy groups and right-wing advocacy groups. The consequences of their ideas are vastly different. Fighting on behalf of the poor and the vulnerable is not the same as fighting for homophobia and Halliburton. But to the degree that we brook no dissent within the Democratic Party, and demand fealty to the one, "true" progressive vision for the country, we risk the very thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas that are required to move this country forward. When we lash out at those who share our fundamental values because they have not met the criteria of every single item on our progressive "checklist," then we are essentially preventing them from thinking in new ways about problems. We are tying them up in a straightjacket and forcing them into a conversation only with the converted.

Beyond that, by applying such tests, we are hamstringing our ability to build a majority. We won't be able to transform the country with such a polarized electorate. Because the truth of the matter is this: Most of the issues this country faces are hard. They require tough choices, and they require sacrifice. The Bush Administration and the Republican Congress may have made the problems worse, but they won't go away after President Bush is gone. Unless we are open to new ideas, and not just new packaging, we won't change enough hearts and minds to initiate a serious energy or fiscal policy that calls for serious sacrifice. We won't have the popular support to craft a foreign policy that meets the challenges of globalization or terrorism while avoiding isolationism and protecting civil liberties. We certainly won't have a mandate to overhaul a health care policy that overcomes all the entrenched interests that are the legacy of a jerry-rigged health care system. And we won't have the broad political support, or the effective strategies, required to lift large numbers of our fellow citizens out of numbing poverty.

The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives' job. After all, it's easy to articulate a belligerent foreign policy based solely on unilateral military action, a policy that sounds tough and acts dumb; it's harder to craft a foreign policy that's tough and smart. It's easy to dismantle government safety nets; it's harder to transform those safety nets so that they work for people and can be paid for. It's easy to embrace a theological absolutism; it's harder to find the right balance between the legitimate role of faith in our lives and the demands of our civic religion. But that's our job. And I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.

Let me be clear: I am not arguing that the Democrats should trim their sails and be more "centrist." In fact, I think the whole "centrist" versus "liberal" labels that continue to characterize the debate within the Democratic Party misses the mark. Too often, the "centrist" label seems to mean compromise for compromise sake, whereas on issues like health care, energy, education and tackling poverty, I don't think Democrats have been bold enough. But I do think that being bold involves more than just putting more money into existing programs and will instead require us to admit that some existing programs and policies don't work very well. And further, it will require us to innovate and experiment with whatever ideas hold promise (including market- or faith-based ideas that originate from Republicans).

Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of "framing," although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It's a matter of actually having faith in the American people's ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.

Finally, I am not arguing that we "unilaterally disarm" in the face of Republican attacks, or bite our tongue when this Administration screws up. Whenever they are wrong, inept, or dishonest, we should say so clearly and repeatedly; and whenever they gear up their attack machine, we should respond quickly and forcefully. I am suggesting that the tone we take matters, and that truth, as best we know it, be the hallmark of our response.

My dear friend Paul Simon used to consistently win the votes of much more conservative voters in Southern Illinois because he had mastered the art of "disagreeing without being disagreeable," and they trusted him to tell the truth. Similarly, one of Paul Wellstone's greatest strengths was his ability to deliver a scathing rebuke of the Republicans without ever losing his sense of humor and affability. In fact, I would argue that the most powerful voices of change in the country, from Lincoln to King, have been those who can speak with the utmost conviction about the great issues of the day without ever belittling those who opposed them, and without denying the limits of their own perspectives.

In that spirit, let me end by saying I don't pretend to have all the answers to the challenges we face, and I look forward to periodic conversations with all of you in the months and years to come. I trust that you will continue to let me and other Democrats know when you believe we are screwing up. And I, in turn, will always try and show you the respect and candor one owes his friends and allies.

What is wrong with affirmative action today

How long before affirmative action becomes colorblind? A friend of mine just got married a few months ago. Her husband is from serbia and does not speak english as his first language. He learned while working as a janitor at a sports bar and helping in a local car mechanics shop. He grew up not only poor but destitute in serbia and is working now on minimum wage while caring for a new daughter. He just got his GED by taking classes at night, while working two jobs 7 days a week, and performed extremely well. After studying with SAT books and CDs that I gave to him last year, he scored somewhere in the high 1200s and applied to an undergraduate business school near where he lives. His neighbor accross the street applied to the same school having just graduated from highschool with a C- average and much lower SAT scores. The kid accross the street got in. My friend's husband did not. Why? He was not an underrepresented minority. How many times does this kind of thing have to occur before congress gets the idea? I understand the need to "even the playing field," to give inner city kids a chance, to set things right, but there are plenty of poor, indeed economically destitute, people out there who need help just as much, who just happen not to be black or latino. Say a prayer for my friend's husband, he is trying for another college in the next city over. Hopefully they well have enough sense to let a talented guy like him into their school.