June 2004
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Month June 2004

Bush Unscripted on Ireland’s RTE ONE

It’s hard to really understand how scripted and controlled White House press coverage is without a standard for comparison. Fortunately, Carole Coleman, the Washington correspondent for Ireland’s RTE, was given an exclusive interview with President Bush prior to his visit. It’s worth watching because you can see how Bush responds when asked hard-nosed questions by someone who was believes that’s what journalists do. Bush immediately becomes testy and upset, asking that he be allowed to finish his answers rather than moving on to a new question. The look on his face in several instances is distinctly angry.

In my personal opinion, Coleman wasn’t disrespectful, as has apparently been claimed. She tried to ask questions and follow-ups, and Bush gave long, rambling answers to every question, and disliked having an interviewer control the interview. I’m the wrong person to ask, of course, because I’ve never been impressed with the President’s public speaking abilities, but it does seem to me that he got ruffled and irritated quickly given tough questions.

A commenter on Indymedia.ie (Benny), said:

Wow…the way Bush handled himself was impressive, if folks in the US saw this interview they would naturally side with the president and be impressed with how the commander in chief handled the barrage of interjections and emotionally charged rhetoric. The fact that he did this interview was a HUGE courtesy to the people of Ireland. This wasn’t shown in the US, so it wasn’t to chase after Irish-american votes, however if they do see it, it won’t do his prospects any harm at all.

I couldn’t disagree more. I think people on both sides of the aisle would find Bush’s performance rude and undignified, unbecoming of our leader and chief representative on the world stage.

Is it just me, or are Bush and Cheney losing patience with critics?

Here’s the RTSP link for the interview (RealPlayer). If it doesn’t work clicking directly on the link, copy the shortcut and open it within the File menu of the RealPlayer. The interview starts at 20 minutes 40 seconds into the broadcast, and continues to 31:25 minutes. Indymedia Ireland also has an MP3 of the interview posted.

“Flooding the zone”: is the early handover of sovereignty meant to drown out the Supreme Court?

I was so interested in the Court’s trifecta of enemy combatant opinions this morning that I didn’t even think about the fact that sovereignty was handed over to Iraq two days early. But Jack Balkin brought up the connection today:

The Bush Administration handed sovereignty over to the Iraqi government two days early, on the same day that the Supreme Court was about to announce whether it supported key aspects of the President’s policies. By moving the handover forward, the Administration not only avoided security problems, it also upstaged the Supreme Court.

Conicidence? I think not. It’s called flooding the zone, folks.

Not having the “insider” experience, I have no way to tell how credible such notions are. But given how carefully the news cycle is managed by every White House, not just the current one, I guess Balkin’s claim is plausible.

If it is, it’s too bad, because having read all the opinions now….the Court kicked some power-grabbing, liberty-trampling Administration ass today. Anytime I find myself cheering while reading a Scalia opinion, you know the world’s gone topsy-turvy.

Civil Liberties Upheld in Enemy Combatant Cases

The Court issued opinions in the “Enemy Combatant” cases today, and the outcome wasn’t what I expected. Nevertheless, at first reading the outcomes seem good. The Court issued a substantive opinion in the case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, agreed that Guantanamo detainees have a right to habeas proceedings in Rasul v. Bush, and took the “jurisdiction” route in Padilla v. Rumsfeld.

In the case of Yaser Hamdi, Justice O’Connor writes:

We hold that although Congress authorized the detention of combatants in the narrow circumstances alleged here, due process demands that a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decisionmaker.

On the face of it, the Hamdi decision would seem to uphold the Commander-in-Chief’s ability to detain enemy combatants, but require that whenever such detainees are citizens and held in the United States, due process will apply. I’ll be interested in reading more knowledgeable analysis of the decision, but it would seem that the Court is cognizant of the dangers involved in unchecked Executive power, and willing to place limits while still allowing Executive freedom during war. I am encouraged, however, by O’Connor’s recognition of the terrible dangers involved in trampling due process:

Striking the proper constitutional balance here is of great importance to the Nation during this period of on-going combat. But it is equally vital that our calculus not give short shrift to the values that this country holds dear or the privilege that is American citizenship. It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our Nation’s commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.

O’Connor goes on to say that “neither the process proposed by the Government nor the process apparently envisioned by the District Court below strikes the proper constitutional balance…” and goes on to reject the government’s assertion that separation of powers mandates a limited role for the courts:

We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens (Youngstown Sheet & Tube). Whatever power the United States Constitution envisions for the Executive in its exchanges with other nations or with enemy organizations in times of conflict, it most assuredly envisions a role for all three branches when individual liberties are at stake.

Interestingly, Scalia’s dissent rejects even the compromise proposed by the majority: either you charge someone with a crime, or you suspend the writ of habeas corpus. Congress did not suspend the writ in the Authorization for Use of Military Force, as everyone agrees. Scalia believes that this means criminal prosecution is the only avenue constitutionally open to the Executive branch. He disagrees with the majority position, but only because he believes Hamdi must be charged with a crime or released.

The Hamdi precedent may help Padilla in further proceedings, since one can easily surmise that any conclusions reached in Hamdi would apply to Padilla given proper jurisdiction and venue for the hearing.

The compromise position in Hamdi isn’t an unqualified success for defenders of civil liberties, as Scalia’s dissent would be if it were the majority opinion. Nonetheless, all three “Enemy Combatant” cases would seem to represent a strong statement by the Court about civil liberties, the central place of habeas corpus in protecting due process, and the limits to Executive power. It will be interesting to see how constitutional scholars interpret the rulings, however, since I’m just an interested amateur.

Reactions to Fahrenheit 9/11

Like many, I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 this weekend. I liked it, and at the same time hated it.

I liked it because it’s an amazing piece of propaganda and electioneering. And unless you obsessively follow the news, there was something in the movie that you didn’t know before. The audience cheered, the audience booed, the audience occasionally gasped when they learned something new. The musical choices were simply brilliant and had the audience in stiches. If anything can galvanize support among voters on the fence, let’s hope Moore can.

I hated it because increasingly it takes stunts like Moore’s movie to make us aware of the facts. Fahrenheit 9/11 would be pointless if the majority of people didn’t believe that Iraq and al-Qaeda were linked, or if we were knowledgeable about the Middle East, Iraq, and Afghanistan. On average, however, we aren’t. A functioning democratic republic requires informed citizens, and increasingly we’re not.

Moore tasked himself with creating a concise but entertaining lesson in recent American and Middle Eastern history, and succeeds brilliantly.

Was he “fair”? Hardly — many of the issues discussed are more complex than he portrays. Did he succeed in educating us? That depends strongly on whether his audience follows up by expanding what they read and listen to in the coming months. I’d like to believe that we can read, talk to each other, and come to our own conclusions. But I’m willing to let satire, humor, and invective take the place of more sober forms of learning. And Moore is simply the master at driving the Democratic message using all three.

Rene Rostaing Cote Rotie 1984 Cote Blonde

In a mixed case bought at auction awhile back, I ended up with Cote Roties from Rostaing, from 1981 and 1984. Neither is well-regarded, but the bottles have been well stored, the corks are in good shape, and given the other wines in the case, I really paid little or nothing for them. The 1984 is still nicely red, with a bit of brown around the edges, but a spicy and roasty Cote Rotie nose when first poured. I doubt the wine will last long in the glass, which is why I’m having it with dinner rather than at a tasting. After about 15 minutes, I’m tasting tiredness — a bit of soy sauce and iron, and a muting of the spiciness when first opened. It’s fading fast. There’s not much here but historical interest, but sometimes that’s enough.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the “Four Freedoms”

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression-everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way-everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want-which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear-which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor-anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

To that new order we oppose the greater conception-the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.”

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, State of the Union Address, January 6, 1941

If there is a basis for security and prosperity in the post-Cold War era, it strikes me that FDR’s words prior to the Cold War still point in the right direction.

Something I’ve been pondering lately is the extent to which politics in my lifetime has been, and continues to be, a struggle by Democrats to preserve FDR’s legacy and by conservative Republicans to dismantle it now that no depression exists to call into question the efficacy of the “invisible hand” of the unrestrained and unregulated market.

Although hardly a novel observation, I think there is a great deal of truth in it. I also think it accounts for the lack of innovation that many liberals, progressives, and Democrats feel. We’re not doing anything new — our job today is to fight to hold ground, not extend the territory covered by Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms,” not to mention his “Second Bill of Rights.”

But I feel a welcome ferment on the rise. Some progressives are exploring market-oriented approaches to New Deal-style social justice, eschewing bureaucracy and “welfare state” style approaches. Here I’m thinking especially of the example provided by Matt Miller and his book, The Two Percent Solution, which should be required reading for Democrats and progressives of all descriptions.