Wednesday, July 06, 2005

July 5, 2005

American Justice: Passing Mullah Muster
President Bush would like everyone to just calm down. He wants us to stop stirring up emotions over his pending appointment of one, and likely two, Supreme Court justices.

I’m sure he would. When you are about to change the form of government the nation has enjoyed for 229 years the less attention it attracts the better.

That’s just what is about to happen. And within that giant truth is a giant irony. The kind of government George W. Bush would create, if he has his way, is the very kind of government he condemns in Iran. Let me explain.

By replacing moderate justices, Sandra Day O’Conner, and the conservative (while not crazy-conservative,) Chief Justice William Rehnquist, with young ultra-right-wingers he will effectively neuter for at least a generation moderate forces on the high Court. After that moderate opinions will become always minority opinions, voices crying out in a rightwing wilderness. Remaining moderate justices will become little more than window dressing that conservatives point to when accused of stacking the court.

If that comes to pass the Supreme Court, which has been the court of last resort for nearly every progressive social struggle in our history, will be gone for the foreseeable future. In its place will be what in Iran is called the Guardian Council, that nation’s last word in law, currently led by ultra-conservative, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene.

The effect on American democracy would be transforming. Gone would our founders three co-equal branches of government. And with them the checks and balances they were created to ensure. While the three branches would be remain in form they would be gone in function. Suddenly one branch would be more co-equal than the others.

The Supreme Court would be come; in effect, America’s Supreme Council. The Court will sanctify laws that fit the conservative mold while those that do not will be nixed. Pleas by citizens or groups seeking protection from or redress for oppression or discrimination will be weighed by Justices who keep thumbs on the on the scales of justice.

If that comes to pass then here, as in Iran, democracy will become a fa├žade, a hallow tree. Legislators will still be able to pass laws; some of those laws will even be allowed to stand, if they pass Mullah-muster. Those that don’t fit the court’s rightwing ideology will be struck down and any efforts by lawmakers to reinstate them will be struck down as well.

Presidents as well will see their co-equal powers whither. They will still be able to propose legislation and use executive powers. But it will be the Supreme Court that will decide which executive actions stand and which are disallowed – just like Iran’s elected President.

This is what the Iranian people have now and would love to get rid of. But, if George W. Bush has his way with Supreme Court appointments, it’s what we are about to get here. How’s that for irony? (And this for a Court that already has decided it has the power to decide a national election.)

While we cannot know today just whom George W. Bush will try to appoint to the court, we know the kind judges he likes. More than once Bush has said that Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia are the justices he respects most. If either of those two men moved one notch further to the right they'd to goose-step to bench.

If Bush is successful in shaping the Supreme Court in his ideological image, America will face 30 to 40 years of rightwing Supreme Court rule. The result is as predictable as George is. A Bush Court’s would roll back some of the court’s most important progressive rulings over the past half century. They would likely begin by limiting women’s reproductive rights. And don’t be surprised if they also allow religious-minded pharmacists to become America’s drug gatekeepers, deciding which legally prescribed medicines they will or will not dispense to patients, based entirely on their own religious belief.

So, am I being hysterical here? Maybe. But, I feel about this the same way I feel about the debate over whether global warming are real and poses a threat. I would rather not find out. Because the answer we get – in both cases – may not be reversible, or for that matter, even survivable.

In the case of global warming I don’t want the last recorded words of the human race to be, “Oh shit!”

Likewise, I don’t want to find out if my predictions justified about a Bush Supreme Court, stacked with pious wing nut conservatives.

I don’t want the final sentence of some future history of American democracy to end with the words, “Nice try, but it was over ruled!”

Memo to George:
Kyoto is not what a Japanese geisha wears
This week George Bush will be forced to listen to the heads of the other seven G8 nations lecture him on global warming. They are trying – once more time -- to get oilman Bush to understand that the science on global warming is real, as is the threat and get him to reconsider his rejection of the Kyoto Protocols.

Of course, “listen” is the wrong word because; Bush will be paying about as much attention as an 8 year-old on the last day of school. He has no interest in the subject, whatsoever. To Un-curious George any proposed energy source described as “alternative,” ranks right up there with clothing made of hemp, vegetarianism and crystal cures. Alternative anything, including lifestyles, are highly suspect to George. And at the top of his suspect list is alternative energy.

But there’s a fly in George’s oil-ment. Well actually it’s more a dinosaur than fly. A growing number of independent oil experts are warning the world is about to run out of oil, soon.

That’s the conclusion of veteran oil analyst Mathew Simmons in his new book, “Twilight In The Desert.” Simmons has studied claims by the Saudis that they still have enormous untapped oil reserves and found them wanting. He says that the Saudis are in fact sucking less and less oil out of their fields. While old fields run low, he says, the Saudis have found no significant new reserves since the 1960s.

Due to the secrecy of the that sandbox nation we can’t know for sure whether the Saudi Princes know they are running out of oil and are lying about reserves in order to keep Uncle Sam on their hook, or whether, like Saddam and his WMDs, they are just being told what they want to hear by underlings.

Either way, it doesn’t matter, because the results will be the same. Since Saudi Arabia currently supplies just a bit over a quarter of the world’s crude, this is hardly an incidental piece of news. It would be alarming even if China and India were not growing like tumors and demanding their own share of oil. But now that they are trying to catch up with the industrialized West the demand for oil has gone right off the charts. (Which why gas prices remain high and are going higher and why China is willing to pay nearly $20 billion in cash for Unocal Corp. Duh.)

There are going to be those out there who say to all this; “Good! The sooner we run out of oil the better.” And, I would agree, but only if the folks running this country understood what’s about to happen and begin spending the time and money it takes now to begin converting to alternative sources of energy.

The threat oil-scarcity poses to our modern way of life and economy is as great as any external military (or terrorist) threat we have ever faced. Yet this administration refuses to even consider halfway measures, such as raising gas minimum mileage standards on cars and trucks, to reduce our oil consumption.

But even higher CAFE standards would be only a stopgap solution. What is needed, and very soon, is a federal commitment to alternative energy on a scale at least the size of our World War II Manhattan Project. Our leaders would also need to articulate the kind of commitment to alternative energy that President Kennedy made when he declared in September 1962 that America would put a man on the moon before the end of that decade.

It will take money, genuine commitment and national resolve. But this administration has shown zero desire to go there. Instead they want to “stay the course,” by finding more oil and gas reserves to burn it up. Because, they say, it would be too expensive and disruptive to force businesses to reduce their oil consumption and convert to alternative fuels.

“Too expensive.” Chew on that for a moment.

How’s that for plumbing new depths measuring what George’s dad used to refer to as “the vision thing?”

Memo to Democrats: Make energy independence a centerpiece of your 2008 platform. Layout a clear plan to achieve it, complete with a realistic timetable and genuine, no BS cost/benefit analysis. Then preach it, believe it, sell it. We desperately need alternatives – certainly for our energy and, depending on what you folks do, maybe that goes for a new political party as well.

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