Thursday, Aug. 18, 2005
Home Course: For months, GOP leaders have insisted that indicted globetrotter Jack Abramoff is an aberration in the Republican Party. They could be right. After Gov. Bob Taft's ethics indictment yesterday, it's clear not every Republican is accepting all-expenses-paid golf trips to St. Andrews. Some are perfectly content to have their golf paid for even on courses in Ohio.
Taft comes from one of the longest political dynasties in America. His great-grandfather, William Howard Taft, was quite a golfer, too. When my grandfather was a boy, he watched President Taft play a round of golf on a course in northern Idaho. My grandfather came away impressed, not because Taft scored well, but because his stomach stuck out so far, he couldn't possibly see the ball he was swinging at.
The charges against Bob Taft aren't as colorful as those against Abramoff. As far as we know, none of Taft's playing partners were later gunned down in gangland-style killings. But the Taft scandal might end up doing more political damage, if it helps cost Republicans the all-important Ohio governorship.
After a week that began with the Abramoff indictment and ends with the Taft indictment, Tom DeLay might want to adjust his talking points. Forget all that talk about activist judges. It's time to warn the base about "grand jury overreach" and "prosecutorial oligarchy."
More Winners: Readers have flooded the Has-Been with suggestions on what to call the space-that-has-not-been-named between the public and private sectors.
Alan Leo suggests "the plutonic sector." Beating Frank Luntz at his own game, Elizabeth Grambling writes, "You say 'influence peddling.' … I say 'inspiration marketing.' "
Many of the names offered for the likes of Abramoff weren't appropriate for a family blog, but three stood out: "graft dodgers" (from Christopher Duggan); "Gulchers" (from Gucci Gulch survivor David Mott); and "skyboxers" (from James Stevens). The winners get a free round of golf with the governor, next time they're in Ohio. ... 6:01 A.M. (link)
Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2005
Boys Will Be Boys: After reading the hilarious profile of John Roberts in Tuesday's Washington Times, Dahlia Lithwick decided he's "too nice to be crazy." She argues that the cautiousness that kept him from sneaking off into the woods to smoke in high school "may be the same quality that keeps him from torching Roe v. Wade."
She's probably right. But the most interesting revelation in the Washington Times isn't that Roberts was a strait-laced proctor, or that his roommate and lifelong friend can't remember his date to the senior prom. The big news is that at least once in the past 35 years, John Roberts actually went public with a strong opinion on a controversial subject: writing an editorial for the school paper vehemently opposing coeducation at his all-boys prep school.
Here's what Roberts wrote in 1972 for the La Lumiere school paper, The Torch:
The presence of the opposite sex in the classroom will be confining rather than catholicizing. ... I would prefer to discuss Shakespeare's double entendre and the latus rectum of conic sections without a [b]londe giggling and blushing behind me.
That ought to alarm James Dobson: Not every 17-year-old can condescend in French and Latin. But conservatives can rest assured that whether or not Roberts is reluctant to overturn Roe now, he would never have voted for it in the first place. Anyone who dismissed all women as giggling blondes in 1972 certainly wouldn't have found a right to privacy in the Constitution in 1973.
Roberts wrote of his horror that girls would spoil the playing fields of La Lumiere: "Imagine the five cheerleaders on the sidelines, with block 'L's' on their chests, screaming, 'Give me an "L."!' Give me a break!" He'd better hope Sen. Lott doesn't put a hold on his nomination.
The sneers are hard to explain away, even three decades later. Perhaps the White House can defend Roberts' position as a research-based case for the merits of single-sex education, or the beginning of a lifelong love affair with Latin, or a pioneering show of interest in the abstinence movement.
Good Grief: The Washington Times story suggests a more self-serving possibility. In a school production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Roberts "was cast as Peppermint Patty and donned a dress for the production." In its role as conservative apologist, the Times guesses that Roberts got the part because of "his small build or a strong-natured willingness to endure ribbing from his classmates."
A real investigative newspaper—say, the New York Post—would have asked the tougher question: Since everyone was always mistaking her for a boy, why did Roberts play Peppermint Patty in a dress?
Don't get me wrong: I respect a man who's not afraid to put on a dress now and then. Let's just hope that wasn't the real reason Roberts opposed co-education. I'd hate to think he was simply afraid that when it came time to cast the next good part, some blushing blonde would give him too much competition. ... 1:23 A.M. (link)
** Update – He Was Only Acting: Peppermint Patty may have haunted John Roberts long beyond adolescence. The New York Times uncovers another possible instance of the Master Thespian resenting his competition.
As an associate counsel under Reagan, Roberts wrote a memo on whether it was legal to help a production of "This Is America, Charlie Brown" at the White House. Roberts OK'd the idea, but only after insisting that Reagan not appear with Charlie Brown and Snoopy in the final scene: "I must recommend against this proposed return to the president's previous career."
Legal advice, or thespian jealousy? Considering the roles he played in high school, Roberts had best not return to his previous career, either. ... 3:18 P.M.
Monday, Aug. 15, 2005
Arms and The Man: You'd think conservatives would be rejoicing now that they control all three arms of government. Instead, they're trying to saw one of those arms off. The Timesreports that at yesterday's "Justice Sunday II" telecast in Nashville, conservative Catholic leader William Donohue proposed requiring a unanimous vote of all nine justices for the Supreme Court to overturn as unconstitutional a law passed by Congress.
Note to Democrats: Take the deal! While conservatives are still sore at the Supreme Court for rulings in the '60s and '70s on abortion and school prayer, the current court has spent the last decade overturning or limiting laws like the Brady Bill that assert the national government's role in solving national problems.
One of Democrats' greatest fears about Judge Roberts is that his vote will cramp the court's view of the Commerce Clause still further. That concern is shared by many business groups, which prefer national laws to a patchwork of 50 state laws.
Tony Perkins, who organized the event, said, "We pray for Judge Roberts that he would, in fact, be a justice who would honor the Constitution." But most speakers seemed more interested in throwing Article III over the side.
The Few, the Proud: Why are social conservatives so willing to saw the judicial branch out from under themselves? Fundamentalists claim they don't want their morality handed down from nine lifetime government employees in Washington. Tom DeLay denounced the court as "judicial autocracy." The right's spiritual leader, James Dobson, called it "an oligarchy" and "government by the few." If you closed your eyes, you might think they were congressional Democrats complaining about the House rules committee.
In truth, social conservatives are perfectly comfortable with autocracy—provided they can push it around. Dobson said yesterday, "It doesn't matter what we think. The court rules." Donohue explained the strategy: "It's time we move from the center of the bus and that we take control of the wheel."
In other words, the groups' real beef with the court is that unlike Congress and the White House, they can't get bombard it with blast faxes and mass e-mails. The most they can do is hope justices take time out from watching the PGA to tune into the Trinity Broadcasting Network. ... 9:01 A.M. (link)
Friday, Aug. 12, 2005
Say No More: The trouble with most Presidential candidates is that they'll say anything just to get elected. The trouble with Supreme Court nominees is that they'll say nothing just to get confirmed.
The Post reports that in 1981, John Roberts sent a memo to Sandra Day O'Connor advising her to plead the 5th if asked about her views on legal questions. Roberts warned that answering questions would raise the "appearance of impropriety" and prejudice her views in future cases before the Court.
Roberts has an excuse: It was his first job. But if it's improper for future Court justices to discuss specific legal questions and precedents, why do we need law schools?
In a few weeks, thousands of first-years will raise their hands for the first time in Civil Procedure class and begin compromising their futures as blank-slate Supreme Court justices. Pity the 1-L who shows up unprepared for class and tries to convince the professor that answering any questions would raise an "appearance of impropriety."
With profound understatement, the Post says: "The memo appears to raise the possibility that Roberts will himself be reluctant to be pinned down on specific cases during confirmation hearings." The lawyer's lawyer declines to comment on advice of counsel.
Channel Surfing: On Tuesday, the New York Times explained why Westchester County district attorney Jeanine Pirro agreed to run for the Senate against Hillary Clinton: "Even in defeat, Ms. Pirro has told friends, her resulting fame could pave the way for another statewide office, or, perhaps, give her a greater role on television, where she has been a legal analyst for Fox News."
Although by no means impartial, The Has-Been considers it a breakthrough when a Senate race is now just a stepping stone to Fox News. In the past, prime seats at Fox and elsewhere were reserved for true has-beens looking for something to do after leaving Congress. Newt Gingrich, John Kasich, Martin Frost, and Susan Molinari are among the former members who have gone on to be part of the Fox family.
Skipping Congress to go straight into punditry has its advantages. Governing can be boring work. Fox pays better and earns higher ratings than C-SPAN, especially in the 18-44 demographic prized by advertisers. Besides, what can freshmen possibly get done, anyway?
Of course, Rick Lazio, the last guy to run against Hillary Clinton, went on to a brief stint as a guest host on Fox. But he did it the hard way, as a washed-up congressman.
Jeanine Pirro will never get as much airtime on Fox as Hillary Clinton. But if Pirro's strategy works, she'll pioneer a lucrative new career path for up-and-coming has-beens: like low-budget Disney sequels, we can bypass theaters and go straight to DVD and video.
Kiss and Make Up: Pirro will face stiff competition from conservative idol Rep. Katherine Harris, who announced her own Senate candidacy in Florida this week. Harris says she's deeply hurt by how press coverage of the 2000 recount misled the nation into thinking she was shallow, partisan, and obsessed with makeup. To dispel that impression, she staged an announcement that was shallow, partisan, and obsessed with makeup.
In her announcement speech, Harris called herself "conservative but progressive, pro-small business, pro-economy, and anti-tax." She attacked Sen. Bill Nelson as "one of the most liberal" Democrats in the Senate. Harris told reporters, "I'd like to say I trail by an eyelash" and recalled her childhood as a time "when blue eyeshadow was quite the fashion."
No one could fault Harris for wanting to change her image from 2000. But those crocodile tears are smearing her mascara. Harris knows that in this race, as in her election to the House, her 2000 image is all she has going for her. Her website says as much, boasting that Harris "already benefits from tremendous residual name I.D."
Residue Is Destiny: Harris has herself to blame for partisan scars from 2000. If she wants a second look, she'd do better to highlight an area where she has a right to be angry: the concerted efforts by an ungrateful White House to keep her out of the race. GOP strategists continue to hold out hope for a better candidate, just as they maneuvered to pave the way for Senator Mel Martinez in 2004.
The only comment from Gov. Jeb Bush, who put Harris in harm's way in 2000 and was still recruiting someone to run against her a week ago, was: "I hope Congresswoman Harris runs a strong campaign." With friends like that, who needs makeovers? ... 10:09 A.M. (link)
Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2005
Room 101: For years, the greatest philosophical difference between the two parties has been over the role of government. Democrats tend to trust government; Republicans don't—except on the question of security, where many Republicans tend to embrace government and some Democrats don't. Liberals live in fear of Big Brother; conservatives live in fear of Big Government.
Fear not: Washington has found a way to deliver both.
The 9/11 commission just announced that it is looking into yesterday's New York Times report that a year before Sept. 11, a classified military intelligence unit used "personal data-mining" to identify four of the hijackers—including Mohammed Atta—as likely members of al-Qaida. As Mickey Kaus points out, if the story is true, it should provide a boost both for the data-mining business and for Orwellian fears about data-mining.
But high-tech sleuthing is the least-surprising part of the Times story. Most Americans already know that Big Brother is alive and well and running a credit-card-verification business somewhere in South Dakota.
The more interesting twist is what allegedly happened to the information after military intelligence uncovered it. Agents prepared a chart on the "Brooklyn cell" and recommended sharing it with the FBI, but higher-ups rejected their advice, perhaps out of reluctance to share intelligence that would have been illegal to gather if the targets of the investigation had been citizens. Even Big Government is afraid of Big Brother.
One source for the Times story, Rep. Curt Weldon, R-PA., says that he learned of the operation after Sept. 11 and passed the information on to Stephen Hadley, who is now Bush's national security adviser. The article goes on to quote a spokesman for the military denying the existence of the operation and a spokesman for the 9/11 commission confirming that members were briefed about the operation but not told that it had turned anything up.
Today's Papers and others have cast doubt on the Times story. Too bad, because as a study in the inner workings of government, it's too good not to be true.
Threat Elevated: The Department of Homeland Security should use the Times account to develop a color-coding warning system on which arm of the bureaucracy poses the greatest threat to American security.
The "Pentagon cell" is extensive, unpredictable, and highly encrypted. According to the Times, the "Able Danger" team was an offshoot of the "Land Information Warfare Assessment Center," which is now known as the "Information Dominance Center." Able Danger agents were rebuffed by the "Special Operations Command," whose spokesman says no one at the command now has "any knowledge" of the program.
The "intelligence cell" is also widespread and difficult to penetrate. As the Times recounts, the CIA identified only two of the 19 hijackers as potential threats before the summer of 2000, and it waited until the spring of 2001 to tell the FBI, which did little with the information. If the Times account is accurate, the Pentagon's failure to act on Able Danger operatives' findings spared FBI operatives the embarrassment of failing to act on those findings.
The "White House cell" is elusive and prefers to operate in secret. Even high-ranking Republican congressmen cannot explain its intricacies.
Of course, the entire flap could be an exercise in bureaucratic infighting. In today's story, a Pentagon spokesman says "it would be irresponsible for us to provide details in a way in which those who wish to do us harm would find beneficial," but he fails to say whether he's referring to the FBI, the CIA, the White House, or Congress.
Kean and Able: On the other hand, the story could be a perfect snapshot of the progress we've made since Sept. 11. Has-Been-of-All-Has-Beens Donald Rumsfeld said, "I've never heard of it until this morning." Has-Been-Turned-Matinee-Idol Tom Kean said, "Somebody should be looking into it." Apparently, the revelations were even news to the director of national intelligence.
Sept. 11 isn't just the greatest intelligence failure in history. It's the intelligence failure that keeps on failing.
Ironically, the Times story suggests another danger that Orwell missed: Big Brother and Big Government have a tendency to cancel each other out. Even when the government knows everything, there's no telling whether anyone in government knows it. ... 1:24 P.M. (link)
Hush Money: Alert readers Kevin and Teri Berg point out that Rafael Palmeiro gave $4,000 to the Bush campaign in 2003-04, the most the law allows. Bush doesn't call his top fundraisers "Rangers" for nothing.
Palmeiro's finger-wagging denial under oath is now well on its way to being ESPN's Ultimate Highlight. That's good news for the previous major-league leader in denials, Barry Bonds, who holds single-season records for home runs, walks, and most times saying "Dude, whatever" in grand jury testimony.
Bonds has been sidelined all year with a knee injury. Just as the Palmeiro story broke, he announced that he probably won't return this season. On Thursday, his San Francisco Giants began promoting the aptly named "Barry Bonds Clubhouse Collection." The website offers "hand-signed" shoes for $2,000 and gloves for $5,000.
Coming soon: hand-signed subpoenas from the Rafael Palmeiro House Committee Collection. ... 9:37 A.M.