Justice For Sale

The Los Angelese Times published a story today proving that, contrary to popular belief, justice is not just not blind, but that it’s got 20/20 vision when checking out the balance on it’s own personal checkbook. Today Justice is officially for sale–and at the nation’s highest court, no less.

We discover this because under a federal ethics law, the justices of the Supreme Court were forced to reveal high-priced gifts they received. The greediest justices from 1998 to 2003 were, in order: Clarence Thomas ($42,200 in gifts); Sandra Day O’Connor ($5,825 in gifts, and an another $18,000 "award" that she listed as income); and Chief Justice William Rehnquist ($5,000, which was an "award" from Fordham University that, unlike O’Connor, he categorized as a gift). Those are the conservatives on the court, okay?

The liberals? Ruth Bader Ginsburg recieved a mammoth $100,000 from a foundation but gave it all to charity. Justices Breyer and Souter turned down all gifts.

Notice a contradiction here? Conservatives are the first people to jump up and down and scream and call people immoral and unethical but when it comes to themselves, it’s merely a "a bizarre effort to over-ethicize everyday life." That’s according to John Yoo, a former clerk of Justice Thomas. Yoo was both defending his former boss from the indefensible, and commenting on an ABA effort to tighten ethics rules so that judges couldn’t accept any expensive gifts.

Let’s apply to the ABA proposal a legal concept that will be familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of basic law: The Reasonable Person test. In light of the extracurricular income the conservative justices on the court are depositing in their bank accounts, would a reasonable person believe that tightening the ethics rules to prevent such gifts to be, well…reasonable?

Of course they would. Even lower court judges make a lot of money. Good for them; I’m all for making a lot of money but not at the expense of fairness in the legal system.

This story perfectly illustrates the values conservatives and liberals hold.

The conservative ethos is fundamentally and inherently self-centered. Their creed is built partly on individualist philosophies such as Libertarianism, especially the aspects of that philosophy that deal with the role of government and property ownership. Put simply, conservatives want to reduce the role of government as much as they can so that they can own more things.

Now, I have lots of things myself and I’m very fond of them. And there are lots more things that I want to get and once I get them, I’ll be very fond of those, too. I like stuff, I like getting stuff, and I like keeping stuff. So, I’m all for acquisitiveness, for what it’s worth. Call me old fashioned, but in my book, it’s not worth Justice.

Notice that the liberals on the court either declined gifts entirely or they gave their gifts to charity. That illustrates more differences between the two philosophies. Conservative philosophy causes Justices Thomas, O’Connor, and Rehnquist to favor their own enrichment over their official duty to impartiality (Duty: there’s another supposed "conservative" value), while the Liberal justices recognize the harm done to all of us by destroying their impartiality. Steeped in their individualist philosophies, conservatives are seemingly incapable of protecting those interests we all share–such as a system of justice that is blind.

But, hey: Expect more of the same. Bush believes he will have the opportunity to appoint at least two Supreme Court justices and his administration and the conservative Congress are doing everything they can to pack the lower courts with not merely conservative (lower case C), but extreme right-wing justices and judges.

At least I’ll know who to pay if I ever find myself before the Supreme Court.

Kerry Winning!

With the Packers leading the Washington Redskins 20-7 in the third quarter, it looks like Senator John Kerry will defeat the incompetent George Bush. Thank gawd.

Why Tim Russert Sucks

There are so many reasons why Meet the Press host Tim Russert sucks; this is merely the most recent:

This Sunday Russert had former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. As the mayor of New York City, Giuliani was by necessity and in fact, a liberal Republican. Sadly, he has since turned sharply partisan and that was on full display on this Sunday’s Meet the Press.

Russert’s trick is to capture a quote which puts his guest in a box and try and see him wriggle out of it. This is supposed to demonstrate Russert’s tough questioning, but, since everyone knows this is his tactic, they’re prepared for it. And since Russert does it every week, it has become a merely a pretense of tough questioning. The charade was on display again today when Russert reiterated Giuliani blaming the troops for not securing the missing explosives in Iraq:
"No matter how you try to blame it on the president, the actual responsibility for it really would be for the troops that were there," Giuliani said on NBC’s "Today" show. "Did they search carefully enough? Didn’t they search carefully enough?"

Giuliani dodged the question and went on to spread, unchallenged by Russert, a long-winded rhetorical smear against Senator John Kerry that was short on facts and full of fear-mongering.

Russert, seemingly oblivious to the lies being spread on his program, next asked Giuliani if the next president could bring the nation together after such a divisive campaign. Yes, Giuliani said, and it’s essential that whoever wins move to the center, reach out, appoint Administration members from the other party, etc.

It apparently didn’t occur to Russert to question Giuliani drastic change in temperment and tone from the previous moment.

You sure are tough, Russert; you go on belieiving that.

Rep. Mark Kennedy Vs. Patty Wetterling

I’ve got two pieces on the Kennedy/Wetterling race in Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District at my Minnesota politics site:

  • Running Against A Symbol discusses how hard it is for Representative Mark Kennedy to run against Patty Wetterling when you consider that she is the perfect cultural fit for this moment in American history, when a parent’s biggest fear is the abduction of their child.
  • When Candidates Attack discusses Mark Kennedy’s attack ad against Wetterling and her devestating response. The Congressman is in trouble.

An Early Halloween For Senator Mark Dayton

Senator Mark Dayton continued to explain himself on Friday on Minnesota Public Radio’s Midday program, where he took calls and defended his decision to close his office due to potential terrorist attack.

My first reaction to the news that Dayton would close his DC office, was that he had just provided supporting evidence for those who are already inclined to believe that Democrats are weenies. My second reaction was to search for a political angle. I’m still looking.

If you set aside the fact that Dayton is a US Senator, his actions are eminently reasonable and prudent. Fact: DC has been attacked by terrorists before, so the threat is not unprecedented. Fact: It is not merely reasonable, but the responsibility of any employer to take steps to remove their employees from any known or reasonably likely danger.

But when you put the fact that Dayton is a US Senator back into the equation, you have to account for the fact that his actions have the potential to be symbolic. Oh, yeah, and add to all of this the fact that not another senator or representative have closed their office–not one–and you’re left with a big ?!?

On Thursday, the editorialists at the Star Tribune took Dayton to task for the office closing. They seem to think that Dayton is trying to make a political point, saying:

"Take it as political theater, it is farcical — and counterproductive" and If
Dayton’s purpose was to underscore a legitimate issue of national security —
how much remains to be done to ensure Americans’ safety from terrorist attack —
he could have chosen many a better way of making the point…Instead of pointing
out the emperor’s startling nakedness, Dayton has cast himself as the lone
little chicken who claims the sky is falling."

But if this were simple political theater, wouldn’t Dayton be anxious to make his political point? He hasn’t. The Strib is just guessing. Dayton’s sticking to his story that it would be irresponsible for him, knowing what he knows, to return to Minnesota while his staff members faced the danger he believes they could face in DC.

The stories about the Dayton’s office closing mention that the Senator is upset with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist for failing to discuss with all the senators the threat they face. The implication, then, seems to be that Dayton is trying to make a point with Frist. But if that’s the case, why hasn’t Senator Dayton explicitly connected the two? To make such a political point, you must be overt.

So I’m left with the only logical conclusion: Dayton is not trying to make a political point and actually is only concerned about his staff’s safety. It’s a rather stunning conclusion when you consider that Dayton had to have thought about the political ramifications yet disregarded them.

I’ve said it for years and I’ll say it again: Reality is nine-tenths perception. The reality is that Senator Dayton is the only member of Congress to close his office due to the threat of terrorism. The perception is that he cut and ran.

Two years is an eternity in politics, but still, this is the stuff of which political advertising is made.

Clinton Speaks

God, it’s fun to be a state in play. When you’re in play, you can watch the presidential race unfold from your doorstep.

Such was the case yesterday, when both vice presidential candidates dropped in for Labor Day: Dick Cheney visited the State Fair on the last day of the fair and John Kerry‘s running mate, John Edwards, addressed the annual Labor Day rally on St. Paul’s Harriet Island.

Campaign Strategist Clinton

Did President Bill Clinton plan the timing of his clogged arteries? You gotta smile because it sure seemed like the news of his heart bypass surgery was designed to try and flatten some of President Bush’s post-convention bounce. Bush gives his convention speech Thursday night and by midday Friday, the news is not the deconstruction of Bush’s performance, but instead the TV is filled with hilarious pictures of Clinton chowing down on fast food with the talking heads commenting on his weakness for junk food.

But that’s not the only way the former president dominated the news. His name increasingly popped up in coverage of John Kerry the campaign brought on Clintonites, most notably former Clinton press secretary, Joe Lockhart. The talent the Kerry campaign most glaringly lacked, was a quick-response artist and as Clinton’s former spokesman, Lockhart fits the bill.

Though Kerry has tried to downplay the Clinton influence in his campaign, it was most obviously on display yesterday through both the Democratic presidential candidate himself, and during his running mate’s speech in St. Paul.

Clinton called Kerry to offer campaign advice (from his hospital bed!!, reporters noted) and suggested that he focus not on Iraq but on domestic issues, specifically the economy (stupid) and health care.

In St. Paul, Edwards told his audience of 12,000: "If you believe in millions of Americans losing their health care, millions of Americans falling into poverty, millions of Americans who are struggling every day just to pay their bills, family incomes down, if you believe that that’s the right track for America, you ought to vote for George Bush. But if you don’t, we have to have President John Kerry."

That is exactly the spin that Clinton consistently used throughout his political career: Focus on issues that directly effect ordinary individuals, say if you’re for all the bad things, vote for the other guy. If you don’t like bad things, vote for me.

But Edwards is clearly the more accomplished speaker of the two running mates and many people believe he is also the most accomplished retail politician. So maybe my point is a bit of a stretch?

Consider this: In West Virginia yesterday, John Kerry equated the W of GW with a moral value: Wrong. "The ‘W’ stands for wrong. Wrong choices, wrong judgment, wrong priorities, wrong direction for our country," Kerry said.

It is a label that President Clinton used to describe Bush’s tax credit when he was on Larry King on February 6, 2003. Discussing Bush’s tax cuts with King and Tom Joyner, host of the Tom Joyner Morning Show:

KING: He keeps including us [King and Joyner], i’m not affected by tax cuts.
You’re not effected by the tax cuts, you don’t need it.
CLINTON: Joyner, shouldn’t get one either.
KING: Joyner, don’t need it either.
CLINTON: We shouldn’t. We should spend it to send these
kids to school. Put police on the street. It’s wrong. [My emphasis]

Clinton speaks, and the words come out of Kerry and Edwards’ mouths. Beautiful.

Maureen Dowd

New York Times columnist and unofficial Bush family psychologist Maureen Dowd is out selling her new book, Bushworld. I saw her on Real Time with Bill Maher and, man does she look uncomfortably out of her element; she seems very awkward and almost at pains to answer interview questions. For someone who has been reading her clever and elegant writing for years, her interviews are an abrupt and startling contrast.

Dowd’s interview presence, however, is not the point of my present musings. Rather, it is who I discovered is reading Dowd’s book and what that may mean for the presidential contest.

On Saturday I found myself hanging out with a guy I have had drinks with on occasion and who is not in the least bit political. He’s a normal blue collar guy who voted for Jesse Ventura in 1998 because Jesse "told it like it is" and who rarely talks politics, and certainly doesn’t bring it up on his own accord.

On Saturday, however, I was fascinated to hear him bring up the fact that he’s reading Dowd’s new book on GW. Dowd’s readership are by and large liberal-leaning political junkies, not this friend of mine. Further, he was also talking about how he was trying to "turn" co-workers to vote for John Kerry.

It is yet another anecdote that would seem to indicate the President Bush is creating new Democratic voters.