Monday, March 13, 2006

'16 Blocks'

16 Blocks, the new Bruce Willis action thriller, is a surprisingly excellent film. It's theme is an important one: redemption. I don't have much more I want to say about it than that.

People can become better people. Regardless of past mistakes, one is always capable of taking a stand for justice. And that's a beautiful thing to see.

Exciting, emotional, and powerful, 16 Blocks is a film worth seeing.

Plugged In reviews the film here.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Oscars 2006: A year of message movies

Each year, the Academy Awards ceremony provides an opportunity for Hollywood to show how different than typical America it is. This year, more so than usual, the nominated films are "message" movies that promote the left-wing agenda.

Indeed, Hollywood loves anything that defies traditional norms and finds such material particularly "artistic." Instead of films that--though fictional--tell us true things about the real world and thus impact society in a positive way, the Academy prefers to glorify work that promotes falsehood (and that hardly anybody sees). This is what makes the Oscars seem so meaningless, and why the TV ratings have been relatively low in recent years.

I haven't seen any of the Best Picture nominees, of course--and I don't intend to--but my understanding of the competition is as follows: Brokeback Mountain has been the clear frontrunner for a long time (due to its attempt to normalize homosexuality, of course), garnering tremendous attention and even a little money, but Crash has been gaining momentum and could pull an upset. Brokeback--the "gay cowboy movie"--is about two adulterous men who tragically destroy their lives and the lives of those around them through their selfish indulgence of sexual desires. Yet the intention of the filmmakers is to legitimize such sinful behavior and to lament society's oppressive moral standards, which, the film seems to say, prevent the two main characters from being happy in their preferred lifestyle. The movie confuses actual "love" with lust, and undermines free will by promoting the idea that we can't help but succumb to our most animal-like tendencies. (Excellent takes on Brokeback here and here.)

But despite having the kind of story Hollywood worships, Brokeback may have "peaked" too early in the awards season to hold on to the top prize; there's a lot of politics and campaigning involved in this sort of thing, debunking any notion of fixed objectivity with regard to film quality (which many nevertheless imply to be the case, all the time).

Crash unrealistically portrays almost everyone as racist and boldly makes the point that, well, racism is wrong. And by soaking the film with lots and lots of profanity and sexual material--that is, "artistic elements"--they've ensured plenty of recognition from Hollywood.

Other Best Picture nominees include Capote (about a disturbing, selfish gay man), Good Night, and Good Luck (George Clooney's anti-McCarthy, pro-communist propaganda), and Munich (about the "cycle of violence" and the moral equivalence of terrorists and their victims). Brokeback's Ang Lee will likely win for Best Director.

More leftist propaganda films getting plenty of Oscar attention: Transamerica, The Constant Gardener, Mrs. Henderson Presents, and Syriana.

Best Actor will probably go to Philip Seymour Hoffman for his gay writer, with Heath Ledger's gay adulterer the runner-up. Other nominated characters include Terrence Howard's drug dealer/pimp and David Strathairn's communist sympathizer, but I would, of course, pick Joaquin Phoenix's brilliant portrayal of Johnny Cash.

Best Actress will, thankfully, likely go to Reese Witherspoon for her role as June Carter, but she may be upset by Felicity Huffman's man who wants to become a woman (how can Hollywood resist?). Also nominated is Judi Dench for playing a pioneer in nudity on stage.

Most disturbing about Sunday's ceremony is the prospect of Paradise Now winning for Best Foreign-Language Film. It's message is absolutely horrifying, especially for something meant to "entertain" us. (I wonder what kind of sick people are entertained by it? Academy voters, I suppose.) As Cal Thomas writes, Paradise is "well-produced propaganda for the Arab-Muslim-Palestinian side and a justification for people who blow themselves up and take innocent children, women and men with them."

As for me, I would've voted to award films like Walk the Line, Cinderella Man, King Kong, or Pride & Prejudice. Other favorites this year include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Island, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Batman Begins.

Some might ask the question: Why does the Academy seem to consistently discriminate against big-budget blockbusters that everyone likes? Phenomenal special effects and action sequences can greatly enhance a film; they don't automatically diminish it, as it almost seems Academy voters feel is the case. But it ought to be remembered that film quality is subjective, and Academy-types and red-state Americans are vastly different "subjects." Hollywood doesn't like to award blockbusters because normal, non-elitist Americans like them, and because they usually don't blatantly and intentionally defy societal norms/promote left-wing politics (which allows those normal, non-elitist Americans to like them). For Hollywood, it's not even about plain ol' good entertainment (e.g., Star Wars), much less entertainment that also conveys important truths. It's only about advancing unpopular social causes.

Incidentally, Brokeback Mountain--with its syrupy trailer and famous lines ("I wish I could quite you..."), not to mention the actual subject matter--has spawned dozens of spoof trailers, some of which are hilarious. Go here and here. "Brokeback to the Future," "Broke Mac Mountain," and "Brokeback Hour" are all good, as well as this non-Brokeback Star Wars spoof.

To see trailers and clips of the nominees, go here.

Also see:
Ann Coulter's Oscar predictions
Chuck Colson on the Oscars
Cal Thomas on why Jews will be the big losers
Oscars & the New Hollywood Triviality
Breathing humanity into Brokeback
On-screen romances and Brokeback

Plus, more movie stuff.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Ports and politics

"“The entire case against the Dubai Ports deal is built on nonsense."” -- Larry Kudlow

The Bush administration has come under fire for allowing a British company to sell the management of several ports in the U.S. to a company from the United Arab Emirates. Is there anything at all wrong with such a deal? No, it doesn't look like it. Even Tom Friedman says so.

Indeed, the administration thought it so obvious--and all experts agreed--that this deal was entirely acceptable, even desirable (e.g., the UAE is an important ally in the war on terror that we should support, not discriminate against, when they want to do business with us), that the president wasn't even informed until recently when it became necessary. Given that the deal has nothing at all to do with national security (which remains fully in the hands of Americans), why have Democrats and Republicans alike blindly and savagely denounced it as a threat to our homeland? Politics. Democrats see a chance to make the president look like he doesn't care about our safety (while making Democrats look like they do), and Republicans 1) can't let the perception of GOP strength on defense issues be diminished, and 2) see the political benefit of openly disagreeing with the president. Both groups look like idiots.

Granted, as Oliver North points out, the Bush administration has a long history of communication failure, not properly framing issues and failing to get out their message. This Arab port deal is an issue that can be easily demagogued for political gain, and the administration shouldn't have been caught off guard when it happened. Now the demagogues have the rhetorical advantage, and Bush, though right on the issue, is suffering.

Not that Bush's opponents think they themselves are right on the issue, which, of course, they're not; they're just trying to take down a president by any means necessary. (Or, rather than being evil, they could just be stunningly ignorant or stupid, as I hope is the case with Republicans like Tom DeLay and Bill Frist. What possesses someone to make a grand statement when he knows absolutely nothing?)

It's a shame politics works this way.

More on the Dubai ports deal:

Tony Snow: It's time for cooler heads to prevail
James K. Glassman: Good for America
Wall Street Journal: Ports of Politics
Tim Chapman: Finally, bipartisanship comes to Washington
Mark Alexander: The port of public opinion--derailing this deal might be threat to national security.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Pakistan and the U.S. (op-ed piece)

This piece was published in The Wake under my alternate (read: real) name, with a few minor alterations/mistakes and an entirely inappropriate title. Click here to read it.


As the United States and much of the world fretted over elections in Palestine and Iran’s growing threat, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz visited the White House Jan. 24. Aziz used American airtime to say all the right things, pledging to fight both “terrorism in all its forms” and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, U.S. President George W. Bush hailed the U.S.-Pakistani relationship as “strategic” and “a vital friendship for keeping the peace.”

Vital, certainly—but this “anchor of regional peace and security,” as Aziz boasts of his country, remains far from a dependable ally in the war on terror.

Granted, Pakistan is undergoing positive political and economic reforms, attempting to make peace with India, and has allegedly arrested 700 al Qaeda members. But in spite of Aziz’s claim to an “unwavering” commitment to counter-terrorism “despite its cost and risks,” the country very much retains its weakness for radical Islam.

Indeed, ABC News recently reported, “Al Qaeda and its former protectors—the Taliban—are in the midst of a powerful resurgence” in Pakistani tribal areas such as the Waziristan Province, where “the Pakistani army is barely seen.” Al Qaeda videotapes obtained from the area show members plotting attacks at targets across the Afghan border, “open recruitment for the jihad, or holy war, to kill Americans and their allies,” and beheadings. Additionally, ABC reporters “have confirmed that Western aid organizations have been forced out, their headquarters burned, schools shut down, teachers and journalists killed, and music banned.”

Given this situation, the Jan. 13 CIA air strikes should come as no surprise. Directed at an al Qaeda target inside a remote Pakistani village, it is uncertain whether the strikes eliminated any key al Qaeda figures, as initial reports indicated. Instead, at least 13 civilians were killed.

Some Pakistani officials complained about the U.S. intervention (and others like it), claiming the ability to manage “security” within their own borders. Meanwhile, thousands of Pakistanis protested the act, and liberals like James Cogan decried America’s “imperialist arrogance and outright gangsterism.” But there’s only one reason the U.S., whose troops are not permitted inside Pakistan, occasionally uses drones to target terrorist activity across the Pakistan-Afghan border: Pakistan isn’t getting the job done.

Some nevertheless condemned the “slaughtering” of innocent Pakistanis, but attempts to take out mass murderers will nearly always be of great cost. Though unfortunate, civilian casualties will be present in any war, and there can be little doubt that this particular action was morally justified.

It was, of course, part of a worldwide struggle against the murderous, theocratic, Islamic militants sometimes called Islamofascists. One such man, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has garnered the spotlight again after Al-Jazeera released his latest sermon on audio tape, possibly demonstrative of some kind of desperation or an effort to reassert his prominence. The message, apparently targeted toward the American media and potential supporters in Iraq and Afghanistan, relied heavily on the talking points of U.S. liberals. Appealing to poll results and American casualties, Osama joined leading Democrats in opposing both a moralistic U.S. policy intent on spreading freedom and the stubborn willingness of America to defend its people from being murdered by foreigners.

But a bold, world-changing vision—one that challenges the roots of the Islamofascist worldview—is necessary in today’s world. And, for better or for worse, Pakistan plays a crucial role in that vision.

Prime Minister Aziz’s inability (or unwillingness) to crack down on al Qaeda in certain areas of the country—and America’s growing impatience with such failure—threatens to unravel a tenuous alliance, as Aziz seeks to walk the line of appeasing an Islamic population largely sympathetic to terrorism while assisting America in its anti-terror efforts.

Of course, President Bush has said, “We will not distinguish between terrorists and the states that harbor them,” though pragmatic considerations must be taken into account. With regard to Pakistan, how (or the degree to which) America chooses to implement Bush’s principle is certainly a matter for debate, but the fate of U.S.-Pakistani relations rests primarily with the Pakistani government. Indeed, America won’t be altering its full-fledged opposition to Islamofascism any time soon (at least not before 2009), so the important point, as Dr. Walid Phares of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies says, is clear: “Either Pakistan considers al Qaeda as an enemy or it doesn't…either it considers the US an ally or not in this war.”

So it’s really that simple. And now we can fret about Iran.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The State of the Union, Bush, Hillary and the Democrats

The state of the union is pretty good.

And President Bush's speech was pretty good, too, and well delivered. The first half - on his bold and brilliant foreign policy - was excellent. But the second half, on domestic issues, was much more worrisome.

The president is certainly a "big-government conservative," and now he wants to spend more on education and a few other endeavors. But it's now gotten worse in that some of his main conservative goals - namely, social security and tax reform - have faltered and are essentially out of the picture. So his domestic ambitions are more subdued now. Still, his strong support for making the tax cuts permanent and (hopefully, a least to a small degree) seriously cutting back on wasteful spending are encouraging. [Update: The president's economic policies continue to be effective, with the unemployment rate going down even more. But it'd be even better if we restrain spending, which is also probably politically necessary to keep the tax cuts that made this success possible in the first place. More: Low Jobless Rate Leaves Workers Too Tired to Shop.]

Robert Novak: Conservatives disappointed in Bush (for domestic policy reasons)
Cal Thomas: State of the union is good, but could be much better
Linda Chavez: President strong on defense and foreign policy
Hugh Hewitt: A "great speech," powerful on crucial war on terror issues
Larry Elder: What Democrats heard the president say

The most interesting part of the speech was when the president noted Congress' failure to save social security - and the Democrats cheered and applauded. It was pathetic and revealing. (Tony Blankley: "Their collective decision to cheer the failure of the body politic to provide for sufficient revenues to pay the [Social Security] benefits was an act of historic shame for the Democratic Party.") Speaking of the Democrats, Blankley writes much more about the state of the Democratic Party, which is largely reflected in that Social Security moment. He includes this interesting observation: "“Until George Bush became president, the Democrats, for better and for worse, were a liberal party. Deformed by hatred of the current president, the Democrats have become a nihilist party."” This explains the current hypocrisy and inconsistency in the things they say and do. Democrats are no longer attached to a certain set of beliefs; rather, they are simply opposed to President Bush. That is their platform. They advocate nothing else.

Along those lines (being unprincipled), I've always gotten the sense that Hillary Clinton is not so much a principled left-wing radical as she is someone who's capable of taking any position in order to advance her political career. Indeed, I think this is obvious. (Or perhaps she is principled, but feels that extensive lying is necessary to get her into a position to fully advance those principles, which, of course, do not include honesty.)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

33 years of a glorious 'right'

Today is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that invented a Constitutional "right" to have one's unborn child bloodily dismembered. It was a classic act of judicial tyranny, completely undermining our system of government. But more importantly, it resulted in the legality of a barbaric practice that undermines the respect for human dignity upon which this republic was founded (in large part). [Update: President Bush: "Our Nation was founded on the belief that every human being has rights, dignity, and value."]

In the U.S., well over 40 million innocent human beings have been legally slaughtered since 1973. This is our generation's "slavery." Courageous abolitionists must speak out.

La Shawn Barber on the March for Life and Blogs4Life Conference (update). Plus, here's a post about an interesting recent abortion discussion on Stand to Reason's blog.

And as a resource, the fairly new site is quite impressive in its breadth, addressing pretty much every abortion-related issue or question.

Update: President Bush's remarks to the "March for Life" crowd. The president:
You believe, as I do, that every human life has value, that the strong have a duty to protect the weak, and that the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence apply to everyone, not just to those considered healthy or wanted or convenient. These principles call us to defend the sick and the dying, persons with disabilities and birth defects, all who are weak and vulnerable, especially unborn children.

With the Judiciary preventing us from banning abortion, what can we do? A lot of the same things we should be doing anyway:
We're vigorously promoting parental notification laws, adoption, teen abstinence, crisis pregnancy programs, and the vital work of our faith-based groups. We're sending a clear message to any woman facing a crisis pregnancy: We love you, we love your child, and we're here to help you.


National Sanctity of Human Life Day Proclamation.

Photos from the Walk for Life in San Francisco, which include all sorts of pro-abortion counterprotesters. Clearly, the sickest and craziest people in the world live in San Francisco.

Good news from Ann Coulter: "Both The New York Times and The Washington Post have recently run op-eds by liberals calling for Democrats to abandon their single-minded devotion to Roe v. Wade."

She observes, "One by one, the Democratic Party keeps having to abandon all the insane positions that have made it the funny, silly party we've come to know and love." Indeed, I think this country is in many ways moving in a saner direction.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Osama, Democrats in agreement

A taped message from al Qaeda leader and mass murderer Osama bin Laden was aired Thursday on Al-Jazeera. In it, bin Laden demonstrated impressive familiarity with the talking points of U.S. liberals. As Mark Alexander writes, the tape "sounded as if it had been excerpted from recent anti-American rhetoric from Ted Kennedy, Harry Reid and other Demo-gogues." Indeed, Osama and leading Democrats seem to express the same foreign policy goals, opposing both a moralistic U.S. policy intent on spreading freedom and justice and the stubborn willingness of America to defend its people from being murdered by foreigners. They both rely on death tolls, opinion polls, and plenty of misleading claims and outright lies in order to influence Americans to give up on freedom in Iraq and surrender to terrorists. Also, they both like to say that President Bush is evil. Never has a political alignment of this sort been more predictable.

But Osama's message, directed at the American media, seems curious to me. One interpretation is that it does, indeed, demonstrate some kind of desperation. Certainly, al Qaeda has been seriously crippled since 2001, and they've been further set back by democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, Alexander says that Osama's label as "leader" of al Qaeda should be used tentatively, "because when you are living in a rat hole, and the National Security Agency can detect, in real time, any electronic communication between you and your terrorist cadre, while the CIA, DoD and a few other folks are on the ground capturing or killing anyone associated with you, leadership can be, well, a problem."

Interestingly, bin Laden added a plug for William Blum's anti-American book Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower into his comments, prompting the book to shoot up the sales charts at Blum expressed appreciation for the famous terrorist's endorsement and said he was glad that Osama "shares those views" with him. Again, it's a predictable political alignment.

Incidentally, in response to bin Laden's apparent Oprah-esque power to influence book sales, Scott Ott has this hilarious piece of satire at ScrappleFace, called "Bin Laden Starts Book Club, Vows to Crush Oprah."

An excerpt:
"My mission is to make this the biggest book club in the world and get people reading great books again,"” said Mr. Bin Laden on a reel-to-reel tape recording released today. "This is the first step in our ultimate plan to crush the billionaire imperialist infidel Oprah Winfrey, Allah be praised, and to take the reins of power myself as America's media darling."

Usama's Book Club, like Oprah'’s, will specialize in books "not usually sold as fiction,"” such as The Rogue State, and works by Richard Clarke, Michael Moore and Sen. Hillary Clinton. The club will also help al Qaeda strengthen its database of "friends who share our ideas on politics, theology, underground living and how to roast a cave rat in wild herbs until it tastes almost as good as a goat."

From another ScrappleFace piece:
Mr. Bin Laden, who insisted that the U.S.-led global war on terror has done nothing to hinder his "“21st-century jihad", said he prefers audiotape to video, not because he'’s "“cowering in caves, cut off from technology and frantically on the run 24/7, but rather so that the infidel can listen to my lectures in the car, at work or on the go."

Update: Bin Laden's message is said to reveal that his organization is in tatters.

Also, al Qaeda's #2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has joined Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid in calling President Bush a "loser." More evidence of the compatibility of their respective ideologies?

Friday, January 20, 2006

A wayward Christian soldier

Charles Marsh writes a piece in the New York Times today criticizing evangelicals who have supported the war in Iraq. Says Marsh: "In the past several years, American evangelicals, and I am one of them, have amassed greater political power than at any time in our history. But at what cost to our witness and the integrity of our message?"

Marsh claims that the desire for political power is the reason evangelicals have adopted what he considers to be the wrong position on the war. I find this extremely insulting. I, for one, take the position I do solely because I believe it's the right one.

One thing we all seem to agree on is that while it's not wrong (on the contrary, it can be obligatory) for leading evangelicals to speak out (like Marsh does, and like prominent anti-war evangelical Jim Wallis does all the time) on important moral issues that God cares about, like war, the Church shouldn't officially align itself with a particular political party. But Marsh apparently thinks evangelicals have aligned themselves somehow (in order to gain political power).

The pro-war evangelicals he accuses would no doubt respond that there is no political alignment (no blind loyalty to President Bush), merely individuals speaking out on important issues. And, again, we're not sacrificing principle to increase political power - we actually think we're right on the issue. We think our position on the war is right and entirely biblical.

Marsh is simply an evangelical saying that most other evangelicals are wrong about the war (more than enough to get published in the New York Times). I would beg to differ. But there's nothing new about that debate.

He also seems to mischaracterize the evangelical pro-war arguments in the lead up to war. And saying that our stated main reason for supporting the war was this: "our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned that God's will is for our nation to be at war against Iraq, we shall gloriously comply" - that's just a tremendous insult.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hollywood values

Most of last night's Golden Globe winners came as no surprise. In the Movie Drama category, "gay cowboy" film Brokeback Mountain took Best Picture and Best Director, while Best Actor went to Philip Seymour Hoffman for his portrayal of gay author Truman Capote (with Heath Ledger, as a homosexual adulterer in Brokeback, apparently a very close second) and Felicity Huffman received Best Actress for her "gender-bending role as a man preparing for sex-change surgery." It was a good day for Hollywood to showcase its values.

The suddenly uncontrollably-political George Clooney opened the show with a tasteless joke about corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff's name, but Huffman's comments later in the show were much more intolerable: "I think as people our job is to become who we really are, and so I would like to salute the men and women who brave ostracism, alienation and a life lived on the margins to become who they really are."

There wouldn't be a problem with that if being "who we really are," in this case, didn't simply mean embracing our sinful desires to the fullest. (Does Huffman's praise apply to serial killers, pedophiles, and rapists who "brave ostracism, alienation and a life lived on the margins" to be "who they really are"?) We should strive to become the person we were made to be, not allow ourselves to be controlled by desires . In other words, we're human beings, not amoral animals. We're inclined to do many different things that we consider wrong, and we have the free will to choose what to do with those inclinations.

Felicity Huffman apparently thinks otherwise.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Shopping4Life, Blogs4Life

I like to visit before I go shopping. From what I can tell, it's an excellent resource for learning what companies not to buy from.

And now we have, where a good percentage of your purchases goes to the pro-life cause. I like it. (HT: Choose Life via Pro-Life Blogs)

And while I'm on the subject of human life, I'll mention that Blogs4Life, the first annual conference of pro-life bloggers, is coming up on January 23 in Washington D.C., and it'll feature NRO Blogger Kathryn Jean Lopez. Go if you can - more info here.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A 'sick sideshow,' stare decisis revisited

Ann Coulter:
For fun, we ought to replace all the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee with "American Idol" contestants (assuming they wouldn't object to serving on a committee that includes a degenerate like Teddy Kennedy). Democrats would still not be able to persuade a single normal American that Sam Alito is "out of the mainstream."

Indeed, it's gone very well for Judge Samuel Alito. Of course, the baseless attacks of certain senators have gone way too far, clearly exemplifying the sorry state of today's Democratic Party. And while pathetic, the Dems' shameful behavior is very hurtful to some (Alito's wife, for instance, broke into tears yesterday) and offensive to many (apparently everyone who knows Judge Alito). Paul Zummo at Confirm Them says that the hearings have "become a sick sideshow all for the glorification of people who aren’t worthy to lick Samuel Alito’s shoes." Strong, but probably true.

Meanwhile, Sen. Brownback gave an impressive presentation yesterday on why Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

Plus, Terence Jeffrey wrote an excellent column yesterday on stare decisis, which I spent a lot of time on in a recent post. " How many times does someone have to repeat a falsehood before it becomes true?" Jeffrey asks. Of course, a falsehood never becomes true. He continues:
Now, the confirmation hearings for Associate Justice-nominee Samuel Alito, demonstrate that for Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter there is a second question that must be considered when it is indeed the Supreme Court that has repeatedly declared a falsehood.

The question is: How many times must a majority of the court repeat the falsehood before it becomes binding on all future justices?

The falsehood repeated by the Supreme Court that Specter would like to preserve is not that lead is gold. It is that the 14th Amendment created a right to kill an unborn child. This so-called “right” was first discovered by seven members of the Supreme Court in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. It was immediately exposed as a falsehood by the late William Rehnquist, then an associate justice, who pointed out in a dissent that the abortion-limiting laws of 21 states, including the Texas law specifically addressed in Roe, had been in force before ratification of the 14th Amendment and had remained in force for more than a hundred years after ratification.

The main question, it seems, is whether "stability" is more important than being constitutional. The majority in Casey said just that:
Specter quoted a remarkably cynical statement Justices O’Connor, Kennedy and Souter made in Casey. “After nearly 20 years of litigation in Roe’s wake,” they wrote, “we are satisfied that the immediate question is not the soundness of Roe’s resolution but the precedential force that must be accorded its holding.”

In his hearings, Judge Alito has, disturbingly, spoken of something similar - a two-step process of first looking at stare decisis and the value of precedent, and then, if necessary, reevaluating the actual issue.

But a judge's ideal method seems obvious to me: If a past decision is clearly incorrect (e.g., Roe), one should vote to overturn it. If it is not clear, one should - according to stare decisis - let the original ruling stand. But the Constitution always comes first. After all, that's the document a justice swears to uphold.

Update: Good commentary on the hearings:

Liberal Former Alito Clerk: Don't "F" Alito - "By opposing Alito, my fellow liberals and I run the real danger of shooting ourselves in our own left foot."
Dems Sinking to New Low - "In the Alito confirmation hearings, Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have forsaken facts and truth in the name of political victory."
Who has an agenda?
Shooting Blanks at Alito
In the Alito confirmation, it all comes down to ideology
Judging the judge's judges

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Dear Jane: Brains are just possessions

Recently, I talked with a teenage relative of mine who was busy nervously comparing her standardized test scores with those of other people. Sure, such behavior is normal and not exactly worrisome, but afterward I realized what I wish I had said - to her or to anyone else thinking less of themselves because of their intelligence level, physical appearance, athletic ability, etc. Thus the following letter:

Dear "Jane,"

What are you made of?

No, seriously. I'll put it simply: I think that you, Jane, as a human person, could theoretically be divided into two different kinds of stuff. There's the material stuff - your skin, heart, blood, bones, brain, etc. (i.e., your body) - and there's the immaterial stuff. Which category of stuff, do you think, is more essential to you as a person? Could you get rid of one type and still be you?

It seems crystal clear to me, Jane, that it's conceivable that you could exist apart from the material stuff (your body). That is, your body isn't essential to who you are; it's constantly changing, but your identity isn't. So what makes you you? The immaterial stuff is, in fact, what defines you, Jane - namely, a single immaterial substance (i.e., a "mind" or "soul").

Which leads me to think about you and your SAT score. Though you're very intelligent, Jane, intelligence in no way defines you. Intelligence is a function of your brain, which is a part of your body and which is therefore not essential to your identity. Indeed, your body basically amounts to material stuff that you - an immaterial substance - currently possess.

So brains are really just possessions. And some people are richer than others. But why should you worry about that? If one is born into poverty, that doesn't make him any less of a person than someone with a privileged upbringing, does it? Why should you, Jane, be concerned with what type of stuff you happen to have been given? You had no choice in the matter, and to have been given such a body at all is actually a tremendous blessing.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: Material possessions have no bearing on us as persons. They have absolutely no effect on our worth and dignity.

And that's the kind of mind-body dualism they ought to teach you in school.

P.S. - No, Jane, I'm serious.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Alito talks 'stare decisis'

Senator Schumer's question segment today in the Alito hearings was very entertaining. Schumer wanted Alito to say flat-out whether the Constitution included a right to abortion, but the judge properly and repeatedly declined to give an answer to that constitutional issue. Schumer spent a long time on stare decisis, and he attempted to show that, although Alito professes respect for the doctrine, the phrase is used so differently by different people that Alito's "respect" doesn't necessarily mean he won't hesitate to overturn numerous rulings if he so wishes.

In particular, Schumer noted Clarence Thomas, who claimed to have great respect for precedent but has voted to overturn numerous rulings, prompting fellow justice Scalia to say that Thomas essentially doesn't believe in stare decisis. And as Schumer also mentioned, former nominee Robert Bork, whom Alito praised in the late 80's, also dismissed the doctrine as not all that important.

This is interesting because it may be stare decisis that distinguishes one praiseworthy (i.e., "conservative" or "originalist" or "strict constructionist") judge, like Justice Scalia, from another, like Justice Thomas. While Thomas (and probably Bork), it seems, will rule on an issue based solely on its constitutionality and without regard to past rulings, judges like Scalia, the late William Rehnquist, and - I suspect - Sam Alito seem to at least leave open the possibility of upholding a past ruling they know was wrongly decided simply out of respect for the importance of precedence and stability in our legal system. That's stare decisis, and I think it should be invoked very cautiously - if at all (I may be with Thomas: stare decisis sucks) - when a bad precedent is involved (Rehnquist eventually, and perhaps reasonably, did it with the Miranda ruling). Roe v. Wade, for instance, is one pathetically bad precedent that hasn't done anything but create turmoil, and even the most stare decisis-obsessed justice should vote to overturn it.

For more, see yesterday's Alito post, CNN's coverage, Townhall's "Alito Central," and more on Alito himself.

Update: David Limbaugh has a good column on the Alito issue.

Plus, Andrew at Confirm Them: "When utterly convinced of former error, isn’t a Supreme Court Justice bound by oath to discard a previous misinterpretation of the Constitution? The answer should be extremely obvious."

Andrew links to Professor Matt Franck on NRO, who defines stare decisis for us: "Stare decisis means taking precedents seriously as representing the best thought of the past on similar questions once again before the Court; it also means following those precedents when possible, especially in doubtful cases, for the sake of stability. It...cannot mean prizing stability over a considered judgment, free of doubt, about the meaning of the Constitution."

So if you're certain that a past ruling was incorrect, you vote to overturn it; otherwise, you let it stand. Franck's definition seems perfect to me.

More from Franck (on Roe v. Wade and precedent). And here's an interesting critique of Alito's performance today.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Kennedy comes out lying

The confirmation hearings for Judge Sam Alito began today with opening statements, which were interesting to watch. Alito himself was excellent, and I was impressed with most of the Republican senators and their attempts to counter liberal talking points.

Schumer, Biden, Feinstein, and the other Democrats were mostly predictable. If you paid enough attention, you probably noticed that these senators essentially voiced policy concerns (a political matter) rather than speak of Judge Alito's commitment to the rule of law (a judicial matter), which is the main issue at hand. One senator said something like, "A judge must advance freedom," which is a bizarre claim. Ideally, the legislature will advance freedom with their laws, but a judge is bound to the Constitution and the rule of law, whether it ensures freedom or not. If the Constitution needs to be changed (for instance, to guarantee a woman's right to vote), it contains within itself a mechanism for such change. But judges have nothing to do with that.

The worst part of the first day was Ted Kennedy, who made at least one explicit lie in his unfounded attack on Alito.

Previous posts on Alito and the judiciary.

Meanwhile, Chuck Colson writes today about Roe v. Wade and stare decisis. Obviously, there must be respect for precedent, but bad precedent oftentimes must be overturned. Fidelity to the Constitution is what matters most.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Looking ahead in U.S. politics

Pundits are making their political predictions for 2006 and beyond, and none are doing a better job of it than R. Emmett Tyrrell. Tyrrell writes, "In the media the [Republican] party is depicted as being in danger of losing to the Democrats in the off-year elections next fall. That probably will be the case, unless the Republicans have to run against the Democrats. Against the Democrats they could win with Warren Harding in the White House."

A stunning observation! Tyrrell reasons that "the Democratic leadership is fractured and dominated by people who are hysterical, abusive and oblivious. The things they have called George W. Bush this past year are as excessive as anything Joe McCarthy ever called his opponents, but without the charm or, for that matter, the factual basis. Not only that but they are feeding on their own. They have now made Sen. Joe Lieberman controversial and among the Democrats' left-wingers, objectionable."

Indeed, Sen. Lieberman grows more likeable every day! What accounts for this?
His transgression is to treat a war as a serious matter and demur from criticizing the government in a way that might encourage our enemies. He is also consistent. As a Democrat, he has stood by the principles outlined by Harry Truman in the Truman Doctrine. In sum: "I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." President Truman enunciated that principle before a joint session of Congress on March 12, 1947, after which he defied the last of America's isolationists and sought appropriations to take up the position of faltering Great Britain in Greece and Turkey.

Sure, there can be sincere disagreements and debates among politicians - but today's Democratic leaders have apparently lost all sense (and all sense of civility and rational discussion - e.g., see Howard Dean), their minds warped to a dangerous degree.
I think what is at the heart of the Democratic leadership's rants and partisanship is a refusal to admit the opposition's good motives. Second there is a refusal to understand the opposition's policies. As the Republicans' policies, both domestic and in foreign policy, are adaptions to the way the world is, that leaves the Democratic leadership in denial of the way the world is. It is this denial that will ensure the party's continued decline. The Democrats do have an alternative. Joe Lieberman is from the same wing of the party as Penn Kemble, and he is equally civilized. My guess is that the Democratic rank and file will in the years ahead side with Lieberman. That is the intelligent future for the party and there are still plenty of intelligent Democrats. It is just that they are not numbered with the likes of [Harry] Reid.

Speaking of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and his lunacy, Tim Chapman reports that he'll be joining ultra-left wing bloggers at a convention this summer - the "Yearly Kos" convention, designed to bring together the Daily Kos blog's community of liberals. Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, of course, was the guy who said "screw them" after four American civilians were murdered in Iraq.

Across the aisle, one of the biggest problems for the Republicans, in my mind, is their shameful deviance from small-government conservatism. Fiscal conservatives in the GOP base are alienated, and the Democrats will use the GOP's irresponsibility against them (but only because the Democrats simply oppose whatever the Republicans do, not because they actually take issue with such behavior). In light of this Republican failure (some might call it a betrayal), Scott Ott has a list of what President Bush's New Year's resolutions should be.

Indeed, in this opinion piece, Chapman says the GOP has "strayed from core conservative principles and fallen prey to many of the trappings of power." Still, Chapman agrees with Tyrrell that Democrats continue to shoot themselves in the foot. Top Dems are now advocating surrender to terrorists in Iraq (which seems to be an ill-advised policy position). The party reached a new low when, as Chapman explains, "In an interview with a San Antonio radio station, [DNC Chairman Howard] Dean said the U.S. would not win the war in Iraq. The 'idea that we are going to win the war in Iraq is just plain wrong,' said Dean. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman could not have written the script better if he tried."

Again, the question is whether the Democratic Party will join the apparently-sane Joe Lieberman, or continue on its present course. Chapman writes that
Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman stands virtually alone in the Democratic Party right now as a voice of moderation and reason. While his colleagues are bashing the war effort, he actually went to Iraq to see for himself the work being done by our troops on the ground. What he found, he liked. Lieberman's message: “Stay the course, have patience, we are doing the right thing, don’t politicize this effort…” Lieberman is certainly a lonely man in the party of Moveon (a name that is more apt now than ever before).

Along with the Iraq issue, the Alito nomination stands out as another example of Democratic insanity: They'll do anything (seriously) to stop the confirmation of a well-qualified judge with the proper judicial philosophy.

By overreaching first on the Iraq issue, and soon after on the nomination of Alito, Democrats have left behind the passive observer stance that had played well for them politically. Now, they have become the aggressor and unfortunately for them, the policies on which they have become aggressive -- immediate Iraq withdrawal and abortion litmus tests for judges -- are anything but mainstream.

This is a political implosion that was purely self-made. The Democrats have nobody to blame but themselves.

Though it's tremendously important, and often tremendously upsetting, politics is still always fun.

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