Thursday, September 15, 2005

Senate's Kabuki Dance With Roberts

By William Fisher

After three days of hearings on the confirmation of Judge John G. Roberts to be the seventeenth Chief Justice of the United States, what the public has learned is that the nominee appears to be as much Talmudic scholar as jurist.

In the relatively few questions he did not duck altogether by saying they related to issues likely to come before the Court, or by claiming the views he wrote were those of the administrations he has worked for in the past, Roberts responded even to most specific questions with an "on the one hand, on the other hand" approach.

The result, as put by Sen. Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware, is that, "You have managed to convince Sen. Brownback that you're on his side, and you have managed to convince Sen. Kennedy you're on his side."

Brownback is a conservative, Kennedy a liberal.

"We're rolling the dice with you, judge," Biden said, "because you won't share your views with us. You've told me nothing in this Kabuki dance. The public has a right to know what you think."

"You've being less forthcoming with this Committee than any nominee who has ever come before us," said New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer. "This process is getting more and more absurd," he added.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the committee's ranking Democrat, said on CNN, "If the nominee had been more forthcoming, we'd be done by now."

Questions put by Sen. Leahy, illustrate the point.

Leahy raised the issue of increasing government secrecy, asking whether the media should have access if "it thinks the government screwed up" in its handling of Hurricane Katrina.

Roberts responded: The media is in a position to make information more widely available to the public, but there must be a balance between the government's interest and the public interest.

Leahy then turned to the issue of capital punishment, asking whether a prison inmate on death row was entitled to a hearing if he claimed he had new exculpatory evidence to present.

Roberts asserted it would be unconstitutional to execute an innocent person, but added that questions might arise if the prisoner had already filed multiple appeals.

Leahy recounted the story of a man who had been on death row for 16 years and filed multiple appeals, before a group of journalism students from Northwestern University found new evidence that caused the prosecutor to dismiss the charges.

Leahy quoted from Roberts's testimony during his previous confirmation hearings for appointment as a federal appeals court judge. "You said 'That shows the system is working'. That really worries me," Leahy said, adding he thought it was evidence that the system was broken.

Senators continued to try to lure the nominee into answering direct questions directly, but without much success.

Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Sam Brownback of Kansas, two of the committee's most conservative members, questioned Roberts on the seemingly ever-present abortion issue.

Coburn, an obstetrician, asked the nominee if he agreed that if death is the absence of a heartbeat and brain activity, then life must be their presence. Brownback asked for Roberts's view on when life begins.

Roberts declined to answer both questions, saying the issues might well come before the Supreme Court.

That has been his response to a long litany of questions for the past three days. The questions involved such issues as civil rights, end-of-life decisions, HIV-AIDS, Congressional power, terrorism, freedom of information, abortion, guns in schools, the Geneva Conventions, affirmative action, separation of church and state, detention of alleged terrorists, and dozens of others.

Democrats were frustrated. Conservatives, including those who failed to get answers to their questions, were lavish in their praise of the nominee.

Arguably, the only exception among the Committee's Republicans was the chairman, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, a former prosecutor knowledgeable about Constitutional Law.

Specter has been visibly angered by a recent Supreme Court ruling that appeared to question the reasoning powers of members of Congress. "We don't like being treated like children," he told the nominee.

"I don't think the court should be the Congress's taskmaster," Judge Roberts said, declaring that the Constitution is the true taskmaster.

The issue of congressional versus judicial power was a strong theme underlying much of the proceedings.

It was often expressed as anger against "judicial activism", by which senators mean "legislating from the bench", thus usurping congressional authority.

But this issue was buried in contradiction. For example, while Sen. Coburn said he was concerned about "activist judges", he was also pressing for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that affirmed a woman's right to have an abortion.

Thursday, the Committee will hear from private individuals and organisations that are supporting or opposing Roberts's confirmation.

Roberts is currently a judge on a federal court of appeals -- a position to which the same Senate committee confirmed him two years ago. He was chosen to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court, but then nominated to be Chief Justice upon the death of Chief Justice William H. Renquist.

Barring a major misstep or some new and shocking revelation, Roberts is widely expected to be confirmed. Democrats may be saving their bigger guns for Pres. George W. Bush's next Supreme Court nominee, who will replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and who may well be the "swing vote" on a closely divided court.


One of my dear friends is currently working in Iraq. From time to time, I receive emails updating me on the situation there. Following is the latest.

Dear Bill,

Bush Team has shown its incompetence yet again these last few days. I
watched in amazement at the goings on in New Orleans and other cities of
the Gulf Coast, it was deja vu. Denial and deception. Everything is hunky
dory. But the good news is that Bush Team could not win this battle,
because finally the press put on its boxing gloves and reported as they
should. We have given Bush Team a pass on everything, from Iraq, the
environment, cheating by Halliburton, on and on and on, and finally
something happened, too bad it had to be this terrible, that exposed their
moral corruption and carelessness.

Yesterday, was a bad day. The father of a staff member died of cancer.
The nephew of another was shot in Baghdad - a 16 year old who is now
paralyzed. Somehow someone got him to the US military which has agreed to
try to help (even though he was not shot by US soldiers). One of our NGO
partners was killed in a firefight in Mosul. And finally, if all that was
not enough, the Director General of Extension, a close friend and good
colleague was assassinated as he left his office in Abu Ghraib. I wrote
yet again a heart breaking condolence letter on behalf of our team. Tears
are flowing in our offices today, because this was a particularly good guy,
decent, peaceful, and talented. All he wanted to do was make farmers
better off, but because he is government, he was targeted.

The US and Iraqi forces are going after Tel Afar yet again. Dreamy Jaafari
states with all the boldness he can muster that this is the last time, they
will take the city back and keep it. Of course, none believes this. There
are not enough soldiers to hold the city, small as it is, and at the same
time continue to fight elsewhere. I am wondering if the US is starting to
adopt the "inkspot" theory for a victory in Iraq. If so, they will fail at
that too because that is an expensive strategy, and Bush Team insists on
doing everything on the cheap.

Meanwhile, the ambassador finally relented, the constitution will be
presented to the Iraqi population as was decided about 10 days ago. There
is a problem, though. The national assembly never voted on the draft, and
most of the key decisions were made by political leaders and not by the
drafting committee. As the situation becomes more dire, the embassy's
wheels only spin faster and without effect. The embassy crowd is yet again
trying to determine the best way to reconstruct the country. Committees of
people, many of them parachuted in from DC for a limited period of time,
talk amongst each other and not with Iraqis about the best way to fix the
electricity, or turn on the water, or get more oil, or fix the food ration
system. They are baffled at how ineffective they are, but they will never
admit that they are not qualified to make decisions. They still have a CPA

But, for all the changes made last year to give security more money, guess
what, security has grown worse and more and more Iraqis have been killed,
not to mention US soldiers

Leavin' on A Jet Plane, Don't Know If...

Lindell Singleton was among millions impacted by Hurricane Katrina. This is his account.

I would like to preface this post by explaining that I am far off-center these days because of the state of the world. My middle son, Ryan, who is attending college in Central Mississippi, was trapped for several days with no water, no electricity and little food to speak of. On Tuesday, I called the airlines and AMTRAK to get him out-- no one was operating. Then, I called the 'Dog," Yes, Greyhound....Leave the driving to us." I'm thinking: "It'll be an eight hour bus ride home, but hey it'll be an adventure for the kid. Every college students needs a trip on Greyhound. It's a chance to see a slice of America that you don't normally see...blah, blah, blah."
The lovely-voiced Greyhound Representative told me matter-of-factly, "We're not operating in Mississippi. We've got no equipment (buses) and no diesel fuel."
"Oh," I said, as the Sprint cell phone fell from my hand. That is when I knew Katrina/Katerina was something not of this world, a product of some greater evil... When the 'Dog' stops running, 'bad' has left the station, all that remains comes under the heading of catastrophic.
I'm not a real hurricane person...being from L.A., one grows up thinking it's about Earthquakes. February 9, 1971 is the day that will live in infamy for Angelenos. So, I didn't take this Katrina/Katerina thing too seriously because I've never seen or been in a hurricane. You catch the aftermath on the Weather Channel and they look bad and all-- but, I ain't never seen one, up close and personal, so to speak. With my son stranded in Central Mississippi, and no way to get him out, I began to get a creeping feeling in my stomach about Katrina/Katerina.
I decided to drive to's only eight hours from Texas. I can do that in my sleep. I've driven to L.A. from Dallas twenty times...if you've crossed the bowels of West Texas on I-20, a trip to Mississippi is a 'piece of cake.' I started getting ready to go. My neighbor, whose father was trapped in Jefferson Parish, snapped me back to reality. He said, "What are you going to do for gas. You can't buy any gas there. Are you going to just carry a bunch of five gallon cans in the trunk?"
"Damn," I though, "No gas," Sure enough, he was right. There was no gas to be purchased. No wonder Greyhound wasn't operating.
Ryan was uncomfortable-- no electricity, food, nor water. But, at least he wasn't swimming around avoiding dead bodies floating in a toxic soup of benzene, fomaldehyde and fecal matter.
If only I had known this was, to quote Jesus," the beginning of sorrows."
I am stunned at what I've seen and heard. A young basketball player-- from Dillard-- that I met at a camp this past summer called two days ago to say he'd escaped New Orleans with his life...and, nothing else. No shoes, no money, not even a basketball. His car, his apartment and everything he owned was in nine feet of water. A basketball player with no that is tragedy in my book.
My friend Tina-- an executive at a Fortune 500 company-- looked at me on the Tuesday following Katrina/Katerina and said this, "I lived not too far from then airport, As I left on a relief flight, I looked out the window and saw my house under water. I lost everything." And she was one of the lucky ones. Where have we come as a country where a person who has lost every photograph, every piece of furniture, every love letter, every cup, every DVD, and every piece of underwear is "lucky." Yet, Tina describes herself as one of the lucky ones. Now, I understand that she was right in her self-analysis.
On yesterday, I was interviewed for a Cable TV show-- the camera operator has just returned from Houston.
He spent two days filming inside the Astrodome and offered this. "The first day when I finished shooting...the stories from the people...the horror and can't believe what I heard, Kids, old people, you name it. So, me and the producer stopped at Starbucks before going back to our hotel. We ordered, then sat outside at one of those little round tables. A couple was sitting next to us. They were feeding their two dogs. We started talking and you know what, they were New Orleans. I asked were they 'OK.' They said they it was 'terrible what had happened,' but they'd jetted out on Saturday afternoon and would just hang out in Houston until they decided whether go back again."
I would write more, but I just got a call from a Communications Director at a nearby city...she said they're housing 80 people in three separate motels not far from here and they've got neither food, nor gasoline vouchers. She's wondering if I can get anyone to make donations of canned food and fruit cups...stuff that doesn't need to be cooked... and, do I know of anyone that'll donate mens clothes, size 44 or larger.
I wonder why these 80 people didn't 'jet out to Houston on Saturday before the storm." Maybe all the flights were oversold or something. Damn airlines, overbooking those flights.
Thursday, September 08, 2005 at 23:21 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)
You've Got Michigan! spent the past few days working at hotel ballroom that's been turned into a Hurricane Katrina Relief Aid center. 671 people were here who'd escaped the floods, shootings, thirst, hunger, stench, and fear gripping the Big Easy.
Note to self: The next time I hear someone complain to a waiter that there their filet 'isn't quite pink enough,' or that a traffic signal at the corner of Bush and Clinton roads just seems to last too long, I'm just going to reach over and slap the SKABLA out of them. No comment from me, just a open-handed slap.
If you're reading this, you have nothing to complain about. The people who I met this weekend have real problems-- of Baghdad-like proportions. Cecil B. DeMille was called in to direct this show. It's larger than life...yet, it is life.
A black guy named Devin sat in a chair staring at one the columns that, I guess, was holding up the building.
The room, at least seventy yards deep, was filled, on one side, with tables. The tables contained clothes. Clothes racks were along one entire wall. On the other side of the room were round tables. People were chatting, were watching Sponge Bob, and volunteer workers were dishing out pizza and bottled water. Outside, about four black kids were playing basketball on the half-court. One black kid, about nine, was playing soccer with a girl who was barefoot and wearing a jean skirt.
People kept driving up in Toyota Sequoias and gold Jags. Every now and them, a Jeep Cherokee or a Hummer would stop. Fresh-faced, eager white people-- young and old-- would exit the cars with bags of clothes and supplies.
But Devin just stared at the column. He didn't blink. He didn't move. He just stared. I watched Devin and finally decided to go over to where he was sitting.
I started a conversation. (And yes, I actually said the stupid things that I'm about to write...I won't even bother editing my words....)
Me: Damn, man. Are you alright?
Devin: Not really. But I still need to be thankful to God. I got out, me and my family.
Me: What happened. I mean, what was it like?
Devin: (shaking his head, looking at the floor) Last Saturday I was at home playing with my kids...watching TV, thinking about how good it was to be off work. It ain't even been a week and I'm in Texas now with the clothes on my back, not knowing where my next meal is coming from. My Mom-- she's in Houston. I don't know where my seven year old son is. Say, how far is Houston from here?
Me: Four hours driving...I mean, if you drive the speed limit.
Devin: Four hours, huh. I've just been sleeping all day....staying in my room. I can't do anything.
Me: How long you will be here?
Devin: They said we gotta be outta here by Thursday...maybe even Wednesday.
Me: Leave? Where are you goin'?
Devin: They say I've got to go to Michigan. I don't know anything about Michigan. Where is Michigan?
Me: Why do you have to go there?
Devin: They told me I gotta go there, because we can't stay here.
Me:( I just stare, looking stupid.) What about getting a job. What did you do out there in New Orleans?
Devin: Construction. I want to get a construction job, but I got no place to live, no money--plus, I got little kids to take care of. Do you know of any jobs?
Me: I think there is a job fair tomorrow.
Devin: I'll give them the phone number in the room. I guess they can call me there.
Me: Yeah, give them the phone number in your room. That's a really good idea.
His girl walked up. Her skin was the color of chocolate milk. She carried two clear shopping bags filled with clothes and disposable diapers. He reminded her to get some bottled water to take back to their room. She asked me if I knew of any jobs she could get babysitting. I looked stupid and said, "No."
Devin shook my hand and left. I started looking at the column and thought about the movie, Hotel Rwanda. These people were living Hotel Rwanda, without the machetes, thank God.
My dream sequence got interrupted. A lady wearing a pair of jeans walked up to me and asked, "Do you know if the Greyhound bus goes from here to Passaic, New Jersey?"
I thought: Here, like from Grapevine, Texas.
She went on: "Do you know how long it would take on the Greyhound to get out to New Jersey?"
"Three, maybe four days I guess," I said.
"I've got a third cousin who lives up there and she said I could stay with her for two or three weeks," she said.
I thought: What is she gonna do after three weeks. I didn't have enough courage to ask.
"OK," I said.
The volunteers scurried about sorting the size 10's from the size 12's. They were putting the boys 'husky' from the boys 'slim.' A guy wearing a name tag from a local church asked my son how high the flood waters were before he left.
My son looked at him and said, "I don't know, I've never been to New Orleans."
The guy said, "Oh, you look like one of the people from down there."
Ryan, who think he's Chris Rock, didn't respond. I was proud of his restraint.
A pretty girl with braids walked up to me and started a conversation.
"Do you know where Section Eight is," she said. I started looking around, thinking there would be numbers or signs on the wall. Then, my brain engaged. She means the housing organization, Section Eight, not an area of the hotel. Of course, I had no idea where it was.
"We can go look it up in the phone book or something," I said. I was trying be helpful, but I just sounded stupid. She looked at me matter-of-factly. "I was told that I could help with housing through Section Eight. Can you help me get over there?"
"I don't know where it is,' I said.
" I was told that there is a Section Eight office in Dallas. This is Dallas, isn't it?"
"Actually," I said, "this is Grapevine. Dallas is about 20 or 25 miles from here. Depending on where in Dallas you're going."
"Well, I'm trying to get to Section Eight. Can you take me there? I have no other way."
Normally, this kind of abruptness would offend my suspicious Scorpio nature...but, there was no cause for me to get upset. This young woman, in the space of less than 100 hours had lost home, clothes, belongings and family. She was entitled to be direct or abrupt.
I excused myself for a moment to look for a map, or a volunteer who knew about the location of the Section Eight office. I learned that it's on Hampton Road, near Interstate 30. But when I got back, the girl with the braids was gone. Perhaps, she too, is going to Michigan.