September  30, 2005 |

Ignore call for culture war (Bob Shrum)

You've got to give Pat credit for consistency. He tells the battered Bush, the indicted DeLay, and the investigated Frist to save themselves by launching a culture war.  It's the same advice Pat gave the first President Bush after he lost a primary challenge to him in 1992.  Actually, he forced the advice on him, turning the first night of the Houston Convention into an anti-choice, anti-gay celebration of intolerance that drove Ronald Reagan out of prime time and drove Papa Bush's poll ratings even deeper into the ground. As a Democrat, maybe I should hope this Bush heeds Pat's counsel. A protracted battled over a Bush Supreme Court nominee far out of the mainstream might consolidate the hard line base — by the way, where else do they have to go? But it will leave Bush more isolated than ever in the right wing's amen corner while a rising tide of disaffection overtops the weakened levees of this Administration.

I don't assume Pat actually cares about Bush.  He just thinks that maybe on the way down and out, Bush will jerk the Court to the right, so that over time it will subvert individual rights and social progress with the same ideological fervor that led it to steal the 2,000 Presidential election.  A far right Supreme Court nominee is Pat's nostrum for every affliction that ails this Administration.  . The Iraq War is a quagmire; Hurricane Katrina hits; top Republicans in Congress are caught in scandals along with an assortment of ex-aides, k Street lobbyists and friends — in every case, Pat's solution is the same: Give me an extremist Justice. 

For the sake of the country, the Constitution and his own presidency, maybe Bush will heed his earthly father's advice and ignore Pat's clarion call to a culture war.

But Pat's latest blog is right about one thing: the DeLays and the Frists may be in too deep to get out.  I'm not sure Pat cares much about them either, but he does sideswipe the case against DeLay by repeating the standard Republican line that he was indicted by a "partisan prosecutor."  But the prosecutors only come in two types, Republicans and Democrats.  Do conservatives think only Republicans should investigate Republicans?  I can see why: with one party controlling both houses of Congress, the investigative process has been reduced to a game of partisan patty-cake.  The only exception is John McCain (sorry, senator, I don't really want to get you in trouble by complimenting you.)

I don't know whether Tom DeLay will be convicted or Bill Frist will go the way of Martha Stewart, who was prosecuted, or persecuted, on what may prove to be far flimsier evidence of insider trading. But I do know that history doesn't offer much comfort to Congressional leaders once they fall off the ethical ledge. Democrats Tony Coehlo and Jim Wright, Republicans Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston all learned that once the walls start closing in, the only way out is out.

Things, of course, could get even worse for the White House and the Republicans. But don't worry. If Karl Rove or Cheney Chief of Staff Libby have to face the legal music, Pat Buchanan will have the solution: Nominate a far right-winger to the Supreme Court.

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September  29, 2005 |

Broken Hammer? (Pat Buchanan)

With the indictment of Majority Leader Tom Delay and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist under investigation by the SEC for possible insider trading, the GOP has taken a punishing one-two punch this week.

The charges against Delay -- that he conspired to raise corporate cash in Texas, "soft money" that can't go to candidates, then had it sent to the RNC, and got in return "hard money" for Texas state legislative races, was brought by a partisan prosecutor whom most agree has it in for Delay.  If that D.A., Ronnie Earle, has smeared Delay and ruined his career as an act of retribution for Delay's triumphs in Texas politics, he, not Tom Delay, belongs in jail.  We will have to wait to discover what evidence Earle has for his charge.  

But there is no denying that given The Hammer's ethics problems -- three citations from the House Ethics Committee amid reports of many miles of first-class travel in the company of and courtesy of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, it is hard to see how Delay can again be the leader of House Republicans.  And given his reputation as a sometimes ruthless straw boss, not a few House Republicans commiserating with Tom in caucus are probably silently relishing his fall.

Frist's case is a simple but deadly serious one.  The sole question is:

Was he alerted by any member of his family, who also dumped shares of HCA, that a bad earnings report was probably coming in?   Frist has emphatically denied it.  Thus his integrity and credibility, not to mention career, are on the line.  He will need a clean bill of health from federal investigators to remain viable as a presidential candidate.

Neither President Bush nor his party needed all this.  The President already had ethics clouds swirling about his White House, with the Valerie Plame investigation about to wrap up, the Pentagon-AIPAC spy trial soon to begin, the procurement chief at the White House, David Safavian having just been arrested in connection with a land deal involving Abramoff, and charges of cronyism in naming "Brownie" and the boys to FEMA and in selecting the 36-year-old niece of General Myers to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  ICE is lodged under Homeland Security and Julie Myers is betrothed to the chief of staff to Chertoff, the head of Homeland Security.  All in the family.

Ethics clouds, cronyism, nepotism aside, Bush's approval rating is at the lowest of his presidency, his Social Security reform appears dead, by 2-1 Americans disapprove of him as war president, and half the American people think Iraq was a mistake and we ought to start drawing down troops if not pull out altogether. And the President is still playing catch-up on Katrina.

He needs to change the subject, select a field of battle where he has the high ground, and, as the Corleones used to say, "go to the mattresses."  As soon as John Roberts is approved as Chief Justice, Bush should go right in the face of his chortling enemies and name a visible Scalia-Thomas strict constructionist to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, and let Leahy, Biden, Kennedy and Clinton fulminate all they wish.  A national brawl over a Supreme Court nominee, with conservatives and the GOP behind Bush would be the kind of battle to rekindle faith in him as the strong decisive leader of post-9/11.  If Bush's nominee reeks of cronyism, or affirmative action for purposes of "diversity," or mushy moderation, it is hard to see when, where or how, he recovers the lost magic.

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September  23, 2005 |

Hunkering down in Beaumont ( David Shuster)

BEAUMONT, Texas — We’re at the Christus Hospital, which is one of the areas where some of the fire and police and rescue personnel are essentially taking shelter.  The crew and I on the side of the building.  Beaumont is in Jefferson County, which includes both Beaumont and Port Arthur.  In this particular area, the supply ships have already been tied down.  The rail cars have been moved away from areas that may get a storm surge. 

They have tried to move some of the equipment from the first-responders to areas that are high enough, so the storm surge won’t get them.  The refineries have been turned off.  And the evacuation here has now ended.  Even though 250,000 people live in this county, the fire and police say that, if you’re still here, that’s it.  They estimate as many as 10 percent may have decided to go ahead and stay and ride out the storm. 

But, earlier today, it was just a bizarre picture at the Beaumont Airport, when the last group of people to be evacuated was a group of elderly and infirm, some bed-ridden who were actually taken out on baggage-handling trolleys from the terminal to the C-130 military transport plane.  They were lined up like golf clubs would be on these trolleys.  Then, the people were put aboard these military aircraft.

The reason that the military aircraft were brought in is because this entire area was only under an optional evacuation just a couple of days ago.  Then, two days ago, they made it mandatory when it was clear that the storm was headed north.  They realized that a lot of equipment, the ambulances, the buses that would normally take the infirm and bed-ridden out of here had already been sent to south Texas.

So, they called the military in to come in and help.  And they have evacuated a couple hundred people through these military aircraft.  Approximately 25,000 to 30,000 people may have remained in this county, where they expect a bulls-eye to come ashore – a very big concern.

You have got some 200 plants that are either chemical plants or oil refineries along the coast in this particular area; 30 percent of the nation’s jet fuel comes from this particular county, you have got economic concerns, but then you also have huge environmental concerns, because remember what happened in Louisiana…. 

When the refineries were split open, it caused huge swathes of land to be uninhabitable for people there.  As a result, there are very great concerns that some people may in fact not be able to return if there are huge problems with some of these refineries, as far as the storm surge coming and taking them out. 

E-mail: DShuster@msnbc.com

September 22, 2005 |

A divided house addresses Katrina
(Mike Viqueira, NBC News correspondent)

One look at the inaugural hearing of the House Select Committee on Katrina tells you all you need to know about the state of politics in your U.S. House.

If the committee room were an airplane, the captain would be on the overhead speakers asking passengers to please redistribute themselves throughout the cabin so that things would be more in balance. There are 11 House Republicans who dutifully showed up for the 10 a.m. start, along with a couple of dozen staffers. All of them are gathered on the west side of the room.

But Democrats, led by their leader Nancy Pelosi, have refused to participate, labeling the proceeding a "sham" and a "whitewash." They of course favor an independent, 9-11 style commission, not one that has majority Republicans in charge of investigating an administration run by one their own. Their side of the room is empty.

But wait! Two Democrats have shown up - at the invitation of Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) - even though they have not officially been named as members. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), who lost his home on Mississippi's gulf coast, and Charlie Melancon, D-La., whose southeast Louisiana congressional district is pretty much in ruins. Republicans are counting on their participation to give legitimacy to the proceedings and to put Pelosi in a tough spot: If the committee is good enough for these two with all they have seen and been through, then why isn't it good enough for Nancy Pelosi?

Both Taylor and Melancon are toward the middle of the spectrum, and it is therefore symbolically appropriate that they are seated immediately next to the Republican chairman.

"When you are pulling people out of the water and off of rooftops, there are no Republicans and no Democrats," says Melancon.

For their part, Republicans are emphasizing the role of state and local authorities in the Katrina debacle. "The weather service can lead officials to information, but they can't make them think," says Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.)

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September 22, 2005 |

No 'there' there in left's Roberts bashing (Ed Rogers)

The biggest problem Democrats have with John Roberts is that they have no problem with him, in truth.  There is no there there when it comes to the Left's portrayal of Roberts as reactionary-activist thug in strict-constructionist clothing, and everybody -- especially the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- knows it.  It was no surprise when the Democratic senators' questioning of Roberts devolved immediately to an exercise in homage to the activist groups on the Left who want to kill Roberts' nomination for one simple reason: he was nominated by a president they loathe.
 
All of official Washington is in on the joke. There is no Democratic insider in town who isn't laughing at the theatrics half daytime soap, half Shakespearian tragedy of the Democratic senators and the liberal special interest groups.

Senator Edward Kennedy became a caricature of himself during the hearings as he called Roberts clueless, mean-spirited, a beyond-the-fringe extremist, even as he became a symbol of the Democrats empty posturing on Roberts. The Left knows that their attacks on Roberts record and personal beliefs have no basis in reality, so they've gone for quantity of imprecation over quality of questioning.
 
Last week Howard Dean said, "This is a time for justice tempered with mercy and understanding.  There is no evidence of either in Judge Roberts' career. The president should be denied this nomination."
 
There is no evidence of cruelty or bigotry in Roberts' career, of course, but that won't make Ralph Neas happy. So Dean and his allies use reverse psychology to imply that there is. The old-fashioned term for this is lying.

But in what may be the best single omen for Roberts, the mainstream media is in mourning for his inevitable confirmation.
 
Barring the revelation of an outrageous scandal, Judge John Roberts is about to become the next chief justice of the United States, the Boston Globe reported with equal amounts of wistfulness and hope this week. The bottom line is that barring some last minute photo of John Roberts popping out of a cake at a KKK rally smoking crack, he's going to be confirmed, columnist Ellen Goodman wrote sadly, but not before allowing for the possibility that he could still be magically derailed.
 
Magically derailed? Goodman's despondent wish sums up the Democrats fondest dream. But it would take a supernatural feat to slime the man. And as with all magic tricks, the real action in the confirmation hearings took place behind the scenes. Pull back the curtain in the Judiciary committee room, and you'd find Ralph Neas, frantically trying to find a rabbit for Joe Biden or Chuck Schumer to pull out of a hat. 

It is a fine irony that John Roberts did not rise to the senators' bait, and that he was universally described as unflappable and understated in his testimony. Ultimately, it was the Left's failed fishing expedition for an ideologue where there was none that showed the country that John Roberts will be a chief justice who responds only to the Constitution, and not to any low dramatics.

Even Senator Leahy has decided to vote for the confirmation of John Roberts.  Maybe Leahy should find Ralph Neas and Senator Kennedy somewhere in the halls of the senate and pass on Vice President Cheney's now infamous admonition.

Ed Rogers is a Republican strategist and former aide to the first President Bush.

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September  21, 2005 |

Real world Vs. Bush's world (Mike Barnicle)

I am in aisle three of the supermarket, watching a woman choose between a box of store brand Frosted Flakes and the real deal sold by Kellogg. She is holding a child, maybe four years old, with one hand and a cereal box with her left.  And she is about to do something that Bush the president is either incapable of doing or figures isn’t necessary: make a budget decision based on common sense and economics.

The President clearly believes everything is possible. We can hemorrhage billions in Iraq, spend billions more to rebuild New Orleans and resurrect our very own Gulf, trim taxes and throw it all on a credit card someone else – our kids – will pay in the decades ahead. This guy, smiling in his rolled up shirtsleeves, has obviously never had to sweat while signing a check for college tuition, sneakers, groceries or to bail out a basement filled with water.

His fiftyish face is nearly wrinkle free because he has been blessed with a fortunate life and a “thanks dad” existence. He is charming and friendly, isolated and uncurious about the world that has come crashing down around him - not the political world. The real one; the universe filled with disasters large and small that ordinary folks navigate on a daily basis.

So, Katrina might be to George W. Bush what Tet was to the last president from Texas, Lyndon Johnson. In February 1968, the pictures from Vietnam resulted in LBJ’s administration joining the casualty list despite the fact that the North Vietnamese suffered a true military defeat. Yet it reality didn’t matter. Impressions won the day.

And the technology of television in the 21st Century brought something into living rooms that has long been ignored: poor people and bureaucratic incompetence. That combination, seen clearly on MSNBC and other venues, shocked and embarrassed Americans who have been fed a steady electronic diet of car chases and celebrity.

The TV shots were like a national MRI, exposing cultural symptoms – poverty, race and class – that have been pushed to our back pages by terrorism and affluence and the desire by both networks and newspapers alike to reach the home delivery, I-Pod listening, cable-ready, suburban living, disposable income spending set.

And the event itself – a hurricane – was something that not even Karl Rove could spin. The White House couldn’t dodge and weave behind information leaked from intelligence briefings because everyone is familiar with rain, wind and storm damage.

And anyone who works for a living, pays taxes, has kids, a mortgage or rent due at the end of each month knows with a solid certainty that a broken or bloated budget means potential family disaster. You don’t have to be Alan Greenspan to figure out that – in the real world where George W. Bush does not live – even the future can be foreclosed by a few wrong choices.

Maybe that’s why the woman in aisle three went for the store brand Frosted Flakes at a savings of .89 cents. It all adds up and choices have to be made.

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September  20, 2005 |

Bush:  Ideology and incompetence (Bob Shrum)

Pat and I both believe in the power of speeches because, after all, we’ve each written so many of them. But sometimes speeches are of little avail against the tide of events. In 1968, Lyndon Johnson couldn’t overcome the reality of a deepening quagmire in Vietnam no matter what he said or how well he said it; what were Americans going to believe – Lyndon Johnson’s words or what they were seeing with their own eyes every night on television? So it was with Richard Nixon and Watergate; we heard the tapes, and it didn’t matter that he said: “I’m not a crook.” (Pat, did you write that line?) No speech could undo the damage.

So it is with George W. Bush now.  What Pat in effect describes as “not a great speech” but an adequate one, was eerily lit by White House Advance men who got their giant generators to New Orleans far faster than FEMA delivered food, water and rescue to those trapped in the disaster. The Bush tableau couldn’t erase or make up for the images – and the reality—that shocked the nation and the world. Katrina blew away the facade of compassionate conservatism and the false front of the Bush Administration’s competence.

First in Iraq and now in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, the Bushies have manifested a lethal combination of ideology and incompetence. Ideology led them to fight the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Incompetence led to failures in diplomacy, planning, and provision for our troops that have left us stuck chin deep in the big muddy of the Tigris and the Euphrates. Ideology led the Bush Administration to downgrade FEMA and turn it into a parking lot for political hacks.

The President was right, but not in the way he meant it, when he said, in a line that will probably make it into the next edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations: “Brownie, you’re doing a  heck of a job.” The truth is it was a hell of a job, bungled on a historic scale, proving that those who are ideologically anti-government don’t do very well at running government.  Look at the unforgettable images, day after day, of the carnage in New Orleans, much of it due to the incompetence of our own government. The Bush Administration promised to bring democracy to Baghdad and succeeded in bringing Baghdad to the United States.

The President offered a solution in his night-time sermonette –massive federal spending
He also gave people in need a hotline number to call; when they dialed it, it was jammed. The Bush Administration couldn’t even answer the phone. A lot of the spending Bush wants reflects an impulse to use Katrina as an excuse to advance right-wing rostrums like school vouchers. But they’ll spend on public works on a scale we haven’t seen since the New Deal. George W. Bush is desperate to salvage something, not just of New Orleans but of his water-logged Presidency; even with Karl Rove overseeing the effort (what has he ever run but campaigns?), public relations won’t be enough. In desperation, the Administration has been driven to big, federal programs and investment in infrastructure –previously reserved for Iraq.

Ironically, under George W. Bush, the era of small government is over.

What Pat obviously hopes to salvage is a Supreme Court that will roll back fundamental rights and overturn Roe v. Wade. If that happens, red states will turn blue and the era of Republican competitiveness in national politics will be over.

Compounding Bush’s problems, as Pat acknowledges, is that other area of ideology and incompetence – Iraq. It could, as he admits, destroy this Presidency and generate a Category 5 defeat for the Republicans in the 2006 election. So Pat, isn’t it time for George W. Bush to do what he finally and grudgingly did after Katrina: admit he was wrong, take responsibility, and change course?

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September  19, 2005 |

Bush at low tide (Pat Buchanan)

As the petty carping from Senators Reid and Kerry indicates, President Bush’s speech from Jackson Square was a success.  Again, he accepted responsibility for the torpid response of federal authorities.  He showed empathy for the victims and recognition the poor had borne the brunt of the New Orleans disaster.

He came prepared with a credible agenda of action.  And the biblical allusions fit well with Southern and religious folks, black and white.  Not a great speech, but Gersen did the job, put the President out front and center as Big Boss in the rebuilding of New Orleans.

Also, New Orleans and Louisiana officials, Democrats though they may be, are unlikely to keep attacking a fellow who is going to decide how $65 billion is spend in their back yard.  After mishandling the crisis, the president has been on top and out front for two weeks.  While the memory of his stumbling and bumbling will be part of his legacy, the worst is behind him, the story now gets better with the recovery and rebuilding of New Orleans, a story Americans will like. 

Media and Democrats who continue to snipe will soon appear to be what many are: inveterate Bush-baiters and Bush-bashers. Nevertheless, there is no denying that George W. Bush is now at the nadir of his presidency.  The aura of 9/11 is gone.  His approval is at 40%.  Iraq appears an insoluble mess with the real potential for a strategic and economic disaster.  Gas prices are biting.  The immigration situation—and the president’s inexplicable refusal to protect the border—is killing him with his populist base. 

While the Roberts appointment was a coup, the Scalia constitutionalists will still have, when he becomes Chief Justice, only three solid votes of nine.  It is difficult to exaggerate the criticality of the nominee to replace Sandra Day O’Connor.  It has to be a nominee who will rally the Republican-conservative base -- or Bush’s strongest supporters will start leaving the stadium. Those imploring Bush to name a “centrist” to the court, to avoid a bloody brawl, the “Can’t-we-all-just-get-along-crowd?” -- should have their pundit’s licenses pulled for malpractice. 

But those, like my friend E. J. Dionne, who wrote, “The Bush era is over,” are expressing hopes, not describing reality.  Bush holds the most powerful office on earth -- and will for the next three years and four months.  He draws up a federal budget of $2.4 trillion, can veto bills, appoint Supreme Court Justices, attend summits, negotiate treaties, go on national TV virtually at will, and pull out or send in troops to Iraq. 

Ask the Syrians if they think, “The Bush era is over.”  The people writing Bush off today were calling him a success six weeks ago when he got CAFTA and the highway and energy bills.  He is going through a rough patch, but nothing like Iran-Contra in Reagan’s second term or Hurricane Monica in Clinton’s.  Moreover, he is eternally blessed in his opposition.  Jackson, Sharpton, Pelosi & Reid is not an all-pro Front Four.

The real problem for the President -- and for us -- is Iraq.  How do we pull out of there without having it collapse in chaos or a civil war that could draw in Turks, Iranians and Sunni volunteers.  And if we can’t get out, how does the president continue to take casualties fighting a war that a majority of Americans now believe should never have been begun and should be ended. 

Like Prometheus, Bush is chained to the rock with the vulture gnawing at his liver.  His presidency is riding as much on Iraq as LBJ’s was on Vietnam. As for the GOP, it would be facing a Category 5 election in 2006 if the opposition were not a portrait of mediocrity.

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September  16, 2005 |

Reading Roberts: Notes from the Roberts Hearings(Pete Williams)

Before the hearings for John Roberts began, staff aides to senators from both parties predicted a party-line vote of approval from the Judiciary Committee.  But after listening to Roberts for a third day, two committee Democrats said -- surprisingly -- they hadn't made up their minds.

"I, for one, have woken up in the middle of the night thinking about it, being unsure how to vote," said Senator Charles Schumer of New York.  Added Diane Feinstein of California, "I don't really know what I'm going to do with respect to voting for you or voting against you."

Two factors appear to have produced their hesitation to opposing President Bush's first Supreme Court nominee: no one on the committee questions that John Roberts has the intellectual ability to handle the job, and he has come across as less of a doctrinaire conservative than his Reagan-era memos made him appear.

His answers on Wednesday suggest he does not share the judicial philosophies of the court's most conservative members, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.  He said, for example, that he believes the Constitution provides a right to privacy, and he agreed with the Supreme Court's application of the privacy right in cases striking down state laws against contraceptives. 

Those rulings form part of the foundation of Roe v Wade.

He also said he finds it useful to review legislative history in interpreting ambiguous laws, and he said he was not an "originalist" in reading the Constitution.

"I depart from the views of original intent in the sense that some people view it as meaning just the conditions" at the time provisions in the Constitution were adopted. "I think you need to look at the words they used, and if the words adopt a broader principle, it applies more broadly," he said.

On Thursday, Roberts was repeatedly pressed about what kind of justice he would be.

"Would you restrict freedom in America, or would you expand it?" asked Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois.

To find the answer, Roberts said, "look at what kind of judge I've been," by reading the 50 opinions he wrote on the federal appeals court in Washington, DC.

"I don't think you can read those opinions and say these are the opinions of an ideologue."
Roberts was careful not to tip his hand on how he would vote on potential cases involving abortion, civil rights, and the other issues he discussed in his memos as a Reagan administration lawyer.

But, says Prof. Steven Wermeil of American University's Washington College of Law, "He did convey the sense that he's not going to show up at the Supreme Court with a copy of Reagan-Bush political agenda in his jacket pocket."

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September  15, 2005 |

Contempt of Congress
(Steve McMahon, Democratic Strategist and Longtime Dean Advisor)

The most stunning revelation of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s recent hearings on the John Roberts nomination is how utterly meaningless and irrelevant these hearings have become in recent years.

In the course of four days of hearings, the American public has learned almost nothing new about Judge Roberts’s views, or how he would interpret the constitution.  Democrats who promised to grill Judge Roberts about those views have been essentially filibustered or largely ignored.  And the White House, which never really regarded the “advice and consent” clause of the constitution as anything more than a minor irritant, has been rewarded once again for its arrogance-arrogance amply demonstrated by its refusal to provide committee Democrats with legal documents, written by John Roberts, in which he actually did what he would be asked to do on the highest court in the land: interpret and apply the law.

But rather than provide those documents, what the White House provided instead was a careful, calibrated, and calculated display of John Roberts as the judicial equivalent of a “Stepford Wife.”  Legitimate questions about his views on women’s rights, voting rights, civil rights, or access to America’s courts, were largely ignored.  What senators were treated to instead was a nominee for the High Court who gamely played along with the White House wish that he say as little as possible, in as many ways as possible, without really saying anything at all.  It’s a game that will continue until the senators run out of time, tire of asking questions that will never be answered, or simply give up and go home.

And the irony isn’t just that the White House will get away with it.  The painful political reality is that at the conclusion of the hearings, with little or no new information, Democratic Senators will have a difficult choice to make: They can vote for a man they know very little about, which would likely please the majority of voters who believe Judge Roberts should be confirmed-absent a new revelation that the White House has ensured will never come.  Or they can cast a vote in opposition, which would please a Democratic political base that is becoming increasingly hostile to the President and his agenda, and increasingly vocal in expressing its frustration with Democrats who don’t oppose everything the President is for. 

Such is the new world Democrats increasingly find themselves in: caught between partisan activists who fund the party, determine party (and presidential) nominees, and make the party work, and a larger bloc of voters who aren’t particularly partisan but determine who wins and loses on election day. 

It’s a tough place for Democrats to be. But if the president’s recent approval ratings are any indication, there’s never been a better time to take this president on.

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September  13, 2005 |

Small steps towards progress (David Shuster)

NEW ORLEANS — The Louisiana Health Department reports the death toll had climbed to 423 people, up from 279 people on Monday.  The numbers are rising.  Two days ago, Memorial Hospital said that there were 45 patients who died essentially right after the storm, in part because the temperatures soared to 110 degrees.  There was not additional care that was available.  There was no power in this hospital.  So, you have got that number. 

The numbers now coming in reflect the search-and-recovery teams that are able to go back to some of the locations where they first identified bodies, but could not retrieve.  The bodies are now being retrieved and processed as the New Orleans area dries out.

As for the town itself, if you take Canal Street all the way towards the lake, there, off to the side streets, there is still a little bit of water.  But, for the most part, it is drying out.  The water line up to the first level, five or six feet, is just decaying.  This rotted wood is not going to be able to be replaced.  People are going to have to essentially build from scratch in some of these spots just in part because of the decomposition.

The Military has tried to secure the downtown area, the financial district and the tourist district.  But they have also taken a major step in that direction by opening the airport today: Three flights came in; two flights went out.  On one of the flights out, they only had two passengers.  But, nonetheless, even supervisor of the airport declares this a very symbolic day.  They are sending a message that businesses are going to be welcomed back in New Orleans,  that there is going to be something for people to return to in this city. 

E-mail: DShuster@msnbc.com

September  13, 2005 |

Let’s play Hardball, not baseball! (Chip Reid)

It was an awkward moment, but believe it or not "Hardball" got a plug at the Roberts hearings today -- sort of.  Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware started off his questioning by saying "As Chris Matthews says 'let's play baseball.'"  Oops.  He meant Hardball and, in fact, he was the toughest questioner of the day (with Kennedy a close second.)

Biden tried to pin Roberts down on where he stands on Roe v. Wade -- whether he'll vote to overturn the case that established a constitutional right to abortion.  As everyone predicted, Roberts refused to say, arguing that he was following the "Ginsburg rule" -- referring to Ruth Bader Ginsburg's refusal at her Supreme Court hearings to gave hints about how she would rule on specific issues.  He wouldn't go any farther than to say that (1) there is a right to privacy in the constitution, and (2) Roe is settled precedent. 

That refusal to answer got Biden worked up (which is not hard to do), and he repeatedly interrupted Roberts, sometimes sarcastically, at one point saying Roberts could continue to not answer the question.  Chairman Specter, who's a stickler for treating witnesses with respect (some would say with the exception of Anita Hill) chastised Biden for interrupting, to which Biden blurted out that he had a right to interrupt -- because Roberts' answers were misleading.  Specter replied that his answers may be misleading, but they're his answers, and he should be allowed to speak. 

Biden quieted down and Roberts continued.  But the frustration on the part of Biden -- and other Democrats -- was evident.  In fact, I've been told by Democratic committee staffers that if Roberts refuses to avoid direct answers on big issues like abortion, all eight committee Democrats might vote against him.

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September 12, 2005 |

Same old song and dance (Joe Solmonese, Guest blogger)

I wish the Bush Administration would put on a new record. John Roberts' pending Supreme Court hearing, like so many major debates over the course of the last six years, will likely feature the same old song and dance by the White House. With its refusal to release information and tell us the full story, the progressive community has to evaluate those documents we have at hand.  And the evidence is clear: this is a nomination we must oppose. 

While there are scores of documents this administration continues to keep hidden, common sense should guide our way.  Do we seriously think that these hidden documents would make Roberts more or less palatable to the American people?  Employing some old fashioned common sense makes that an easy question to answer.

A few weeks ago, the Human Rights Campaign joined the growing chorus of those speaking out in opposition to the Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts. For those Americans who believe that our highest court in the land is the place where every citizen should have a chance to argue for freedom and liberty, opposing Judge Roberts' nomination was the only option.  Now, after learning that he would join the court as its Chief Justice we feel even more resolute in our belief that John Roberts is the wrong person for the job.

After researching more than 20 years of judicial opinions, writings and speeches it became crystal clear that President Bush was making good on the promise he made to his right-wing base in the 2000 and 2004 elections. Judge Roberts would be a Chief Justice in the image of Justices Scalia and Thomas -- two of President Bush's "favorites."

Roberts' judicial philosophy -- evident in the documents released from the Reagan administration as well as the decisions he made as a federal judge - is one that has such a narrow view of what the Constitution can and should do for the American people it's amazing he even wants the job. That philosophy translates into a big problem for every fair-minded American. 

A close look at his record reveals:
-- He dismisses the "so-called right to privacy" and by doing so not only threatens reproductive freedoms but also threatens the legal underpinnings to Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned laws that effectively labeled gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans as criminals
--He believes that court-stripping bills that would deny millions of Americans their day in court are constitutional;
-- He questions Congress's authority to enact laws that would protects us from employment discrimination and hate crimes;
-- And he urged President Reagan not to tell the American people that children couldn't spread HIV through casual contact -- contradicting centers for disease control guidelines on the subject.

It is up to Roberts to refute this troubling record--unlike the right to privacy, which we know is fundamental to every American and protected in our Constitution, there is no "right" to become Chief Justice of the United States. 

Yet, after all of this, some continue to call for restraint and tell us that we should withhold our opposition until after the Senate hearings.  I disagree. I believe when civil rights are in jeopardy, there can be no delay in standing up for the freedom of the American people. 

It's time for us to stand up and say: enough is enough. This is no time to give the benefit of the doubt to an administration that has attempted to write discrimination into our Constitution. Others might call it restraint. I call it fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

Joe Solmonese is the president of the Human Rights Campaign, America's largest gay and lesbian organization.


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September 12, 2005 |

"Senatorial Consistency" -- an oxymoron? (Ben Ginsberg, Guest blogger)

My, aren't the Democratic Senators in an interesting place.  Especially the ones on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  And aren't they placing their fellow Democratic Senators, especially the ones from Red States, in an even more interesting position?

Here's what I mean.  The liberal special interest groups are in a frenzy to show their relevance and try to stop John Roberts -- especially since his elevation to Chief Justice nominee -- by saying whatever they have to.  And truth be told, the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are far more liberal than Senate Democrats as a whole - and, therefore, the most likely to heed the siren song from the Left. 

That means several things.  First, the Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Judge Roberts is likely to be close (shut your eyes and imagine Senators Schumer, Kennedy, Biden, Leahy, Kohl, Feingold, Feinstein and Durbin backing a Bush Supreme Court nominee without kicking and screaming).  Second, the liberal special interest groups expect those Democratic Senators to listen to them -- no matter how well qualified the Senators might admit in their private moments John Roberts is to be on the Supreme Court.  Third, the rhetoric and inconsistency by Judiciary Committee Democrats is going to make a lot of other Democratic Senators feel just a tad uncomfortable.  And fourth, look at the way even those Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats are having to, uhm, "revise and extend" what they've said in prior Supreme Court confirmation proceedings.

My friends at Progress for America continue to find great examples of that Senatorial Consistency.

"The Gins will set you free"  - "Part Deux"
Additional research reveals that Justice Breyer received the same fair treatment as Ginsburg.

As in the case of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer was advised to avoid prejudging by Senators from both sides of political spectrum.

Judiciary Chairman Joe Biden (D-Del.) informed Breyer that "I'm not looking for you to give me an answer how you'd rule in any one case." Similarly, Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) instructed Breyer that "...if there are any that you feel it would be improper to answer, well, you say so." (Committee On The Judiciary, U.S. Senate, Hearing, 7/12/94)

Justice Breyer responded by declining to answer questions related to a myriad of issues, including abortion, the separation of powers, home schooling, religious freedom, and equal protection. Breyer was confirmed by a vote of 87 to 9 in the U.S. Senate on July 29th, 1994 - 76 days after his nomination.

Breyer's Refusal to Prejudge is Noted by the Media

--"Harmony, not rancor, dominated the hearing, even when the nominee declined to provide much insight into his views on issues such as abortion or the death penalty. Any jostling over philosophy between Judge Breyer and committee members was friendly and typically accompanied by bipartisan expressions of support for [Breyer]." (Steve McGonigle, "Opening Day Of Hearing Goes Well For Breyer," The Dallas Morning News, 7/13/94)

--"Breyer politely but firmly declined to give his personal views on most of the issues he was asked about." (Tony Mauro, "Breyer Uses His Head To Talk About His Heart And Soul," USA Today, 7/14/94)

--"Breyer repeatedly declined to answer questions on specific cases ... saying he did not want to prejudice future decisions." (Marc Sandalow, "Despite His Best Efforts, Breyer Sounds Brainy," The San Francisco Chronicle, 7/14/94)

Example: Judge Breyer Declined To Comment On Abortion:

SEN. THURMOND: "Judge Breyer, it is likely that Justice Blackmun is most widely known to the public as the author of Roe v. Wade. What was your impression of his majority opinion in that landmark decision? In particular give us your thoughts on where he draws the line at different points during pregnancy as it relates to the state's interest in the regulation of abortion-related services. For instance, do you agree that the first trimester of pregnancy is distinctive and that the state should not be able to prohibit abortion during that period?"

JUDGE BREYER: "You're asking questions, Senator, that I know are matters of enormous controversy. The case of Roe v. Wade has been the law --"

SEN. THURMOND: "Speak a little bit louder -"

JUDGE BREYER: "Oh, yes. The case of Roe v. Wade has been the law for 21 years, or more, and it was recently affirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of Casey. That is the law. The questions that you're putting to me are matters of how that basic right applies, where it applies, under what circumstances. And I don't think I should go into those, for the reason that those are likely to be the subject of litigation in front of the Court." (Committee On The Judiciary, U.S. Senate, Hearing, 7/12/94)

But what is Chuck Schumer saying now, as the head of the Democratic Senatorial Committee tries to mollify his fundraising base on the Left?  ''Apparently "prejudging" has a different definition if its a Republican Presidents nominee: -- Washington Post

"If Judge Roberts repeatedly resorts to the so-called 'Ginsburg Precedent,' it will sound less like a principled refusal to answer and more like a variation on the Fifth Amendment: 'I refuse to answer that question on the ground that it may incriminate me. Answering may reveal my actual views about constitutional law and cause me to lose votes."

It's getting fun now.  Will the Democratic Senators follow the precedent they established for their President's nominees?  Or will they follow the shrill dictates from the People for American Way, Alliance for Justice and MoveOn (which had a NARAL moment this week over an ad they were apparently about to air) and throw consistency out the window?  And if you're a Democrat Senator from a Red State, how uncomfortable are you with your party's public voices on the Judiciary Committee?

Stay tuned.

Progress for America advisor Benjamin L. Ginsberg was Bush/Cheney 2000 and 2004 National Counsel and regular MSNBC Commentator.

Questions/comments: hardblogger@msnbc.com

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September 12, 2005 |

John Roberts -- A fight for the majority (Hilary Rosen, guest blogger)

The White House and Republican response to discontent with John Roberts is basically “too bad, we won so we can nominate anyone we want.”  What an arrogant and completely bogus analysis for a responsibility as important as the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice.

In evaluating John Roberts, it shouldn’t matter who won. The President, whether he chooses to accept it or not is the President of all the people. And a majority of the people, Democrats and Republicans alike believe that the radical Christian right wing has too much political power. And they do not want to see this country turned upside down to satisfy this movement’s growing demands:  MAKE ABORTION ILLEGAL IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES EVEN IF A WOMAN”S LIFE IS IN DANGER; KEEP THE GAY PEOPLE AT BAY BY DEHUMANIZING THEIR FAMILIES AND UNDERMINGING THEIR PATRIOTISM; PROTECT WHITE GUY JOBS BY MAKING SURE WOMEN AND MINORITIES HAVE NO EQUAL ACCESS IN THE WORKPLACE; IGNORE MEDICAL SCIENCE AND HAVE CRISTIANITY RULE OUR REGULATORS ON RESEARCH AND DRUG APPROVALS; AND MAKE SURE YOUR RUN THE SENATE UNDER RULES THAT FAVOR OUR WAY OF DOING THINGS REGARDLESS OF CONSTITUTIONAL PRINCIPLES.

The American people want balance on the important social issues of the day. In every poll on the above issues they come out in favor of balance. In favor of fairness. In favor of individual rights. That is why Sandra Day O’Connor was popular. People actually believed she cared about the impact of her decisions, not that she was there on some political mission after pledging fealty to “one side”.  Pat Robertson’s lawyer, Jay Sekolow and others have been giving such assurances to the radical right wing for almost a year now about John Roberts. When right wingers like Pat Robertson, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Jerry Falwell all praised him THE DAY HIS NOMINATION IS ANNOUNCED even though his record was little known to the rest of the public, you can be sure that they were given plenty of upfront assurances that the above agenda would be held true by this nominee.

Polls show the President has significantly less than a majority of Americans supporting his Presidency.  It has taken a long time for it to register with most of the American people that the men running policy in this country are not the friends of the majority rather they are the friends of the minority. A minority of radical conservatives, a minority of selfish business interests, and a minority of arrogant politicians. The majority of politicians in Washington, Democrats and Republicans by the way think that these folks have too much power but they don’t really want to talk about it.

Well I understand why the Republicans don’t want to talk about it, but my Democratic friends, now it’s your turn.

Former Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, a great friend, coined that term the “Teflon President” for Ronald Reagan.  Technology improves so for a while we have had the completely impermeable “All Clad” version of Teflon covering our current President.

It is time for Democrats in Washington to lead instead of trying to figure out new and inventive ways to message their way out of taking a tough stand on controversial issues.

And finally my friends, there is no reason to be so afraid. The Teflon is cracking.

This President is not impermeable. His top aides are under investigation, the war in Iraq is proving to be an unnecessary disaster, gas prices are at an all time high (as are oil industry profits) his social security plan died on the vine, and we have an unfortunate crisis in the south of our own country that only highlights how the President and the agendas of his friends have drained the resources of the American people.

Unmasking is possible. Start with the hearings.  These hearings are a teaching moment for America. Use regular language. Avoid playing to the lawyers in the crowd. Through your questions highlight the issues before the Supreme Court that affect everyday lives and American families. The people do not want the right wing controlling the government or the Courts and did not believe that President Bush would take this country backwards. These hearings must demonstrate that he has and will continue to do so unless the people speak.

The President has not offered another nominee for the O’Connor seat. This confirmation should be a package deal. It is not enough to say that we have a conservative replacing a conservative. Until we know that the balance of the Court will be honored, John Roberts can and should be opposed and you can do it with grace, determination and the support of the American people.  And YES, why not oppose as many nominees as it takes to hold this president accountable -- finally.

Hilary Rosen is a regular contributor to MSNBC’s Hardball. She is the former Chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America and serves as a media consultant and Democratic political pundit. She has a column in Capitol File Magazine and on TheHuffingtonPost.com

Questions/comments:  hardblogger@msnbc.com

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September 9, 2005 |

Thank Katrina for Roberts' ascension (Bob Shrum)

Pat The truth is that, in acting so fast, before Chief Justice Rehnquist was even buried, the President was trying to remove his personal stamp from the slow and shameful response to Hurricane Katrina.  He will be permanently identified with the inattentiveness, the incompetence, and the indifference -- the manmade disaster -- of a government that made the natural disaster of an historic storm far worse.  So when Bush got his first chance to distract the nation's attention last weekend, he took it.  Maybe the press and the public would re-focus, at least a little, on his elevation of Roberts rather than his choice of the fired head of the Arabian Horse Association -- "Brownie," as Bush calls him - to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

Thus John Roberts became the first Chief Justice ever to be appointed by a hurricane.
Pat's probably right that if he's confirmed, Roberts for Rehnquist won't re-weigh the juris prudential balance of the Supreme Court.  But there was a lot wrong with Rehnquist despite his defense of the judiciary's independence.  He was an activist, results-oriented judge who, if he had his way, would have rolled back the right to privacy, blocked efforts to achieve racial equality, and upheld the execution of 16-year olds.  Too often, he did have his way, leading to Court, for example, to limit the rights of the disabled.  But history will remember him most of the judicial coup that stole the 2000 Presidential election from the voters -- and Al Gore -- and handed it to George Bush.  Pat says Rehnquist "had a good sense of humor."  So does Pat Buchanan, but I wouldn't put him on the Supreme Court.

I don't harbor a lot of hope in that selecting his next nominee, Bush will look to the broader interests and unity of the country instead of his hard-line base, the religious right and the fervent majority of Americans who believe in Pat's "culture wars."  Pat declared that war at the 1992 Republican Convention, and helped to sink the first Bush Presidency.  This Bush, unfortunately, isn't up for re-election anymore or he'd be beaten, too.  Now Pat proposes that he make the Supreme Court all right wing all the time.  But a stubborn, ideological course - on Court appointments or in Iraq - now threatens to leave the post-Katrina Bush administration floundering in its own failures, ineffective and incompetent.

Pat quotes a Master of Balliol College at Oxford counseling those about to inherit the British Empire: "Never complain, never explain, just do it -- and let them howl."  Soon there was no empire to inherit -- and if this President takes Pat's advice, the Bush administration will inherit the wind.  But if Pat gets his way on the culture war, as he writes, "who cares?"  After all, it's just another Bush Presidency. 

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September 8, 2005 |

Guard units go door-to-door (David Shuster)

Today I tagged along with the U.S. Army National Guard.  They went door-to-door in a light-armored vehicle trying to convince remaining New Orleans residents to leave. 

A unit that is based in Lincoln, Nebraska actually got the order to come out here five days after the hurricane hit.   Nonetheless, as part of their preparations, each day starts with Black Hawk helicopters taking to the skies over New Orleans and then essentially taking pictures that are then brought down and shown to various commanders.

This morning, for example, a lieutenant briefed the crew.  Then he would brief the firefighters that would go along and the New Orleans Police, because the New Orleans Police know the streets better than these guys from Lincoln, Nebraska.  So, in any case, they go through the preparations. 

The sweep went through an area of east New Orleans where they haven’t had many rescue vehicles go so far.  There was an initial sweep-through last week, but the idea today was that they would go into an area that was covered with water where they thought there might be some elderly and disabled folks who might be hanging out or haven’t been able to reach people. 

This particular unit is useful because their light armored vehicle can take water up to six or seven feet.  Cars or large chunks of debris underneath the surface level pose many obstacle sin terms of maneuvering. 

After going through this particular neighborhood for a couple of hours, they did not find anybody home or alive.  They didn’t find anybody who wanted to be rescued or even visible.  So, on the way back, the unit picked up some people on the highway.  

E-mail: DShuster@msnbc.com

September 8, 2005 |

Don’t expect confirmation fireworks (Chip Reid)

August is a quiet, lazy time on Capitol Hill -- unless you have the misfortune of being a lawyer (there are dozens of them) with the Senate Judiciary Committee. For them, this August was a time of wishing they had taken that Evelyn Wood speed-reading course, the better to wade through thousands of tedious pages by and about John Roberts. And most frustrating for Democratic staffers: no smoking gun. Yes, lots of fodder for tough questions (his reference to a “so-called” right to privacy; his angling to the right of other conservative Reagan Administration lawyers on issues like voting rights and affirmative action.) But for Democratic researchers hoping for that “eureka” moment, hoping to find that incriminating needle in the haystack -- it never happened.

Recently, with the hearings about to begin, the press was briefed by committee staff-- first by Democratic staffers, then Republicans. The superficial differences were so stereotypical they were almost comical. The Republicans started right on time; they dressed in suits, with ties tied tight; one even aggressively chomped on a fat unlit stogie, like some chairman of the board; their tone was business-like, the pace was fast. The Democrats on the other hand started late; dressed in jeans, no ties; the tone was casual and friendly; and no cigars.

But on some key points the R’s and D’s were in lock-step. For example, that there’s no reason to postpone the hearings. So, is there any reason they should be? Well, maybe, if you buy into the argument that a key function of these hearings is to educate not just the Senate, but the American people on who John Roberts is, and what he believes in. If the devastation from Hurricane Katrina continues to get the amount of ink and airtime it’s getting now, the Roberts hearings could get buried -- seriously diminishing the educational value of the hearings.

But both Republican and Democratic aides simply shrugged their shoulders at the question of postponement. Republicans, perhaps because of the enormous pressure they’re under (from the White House) to get Roberts confirmed in time for the Court’s new term (first Monday in October). And Democrats because they can’t control the schedule anyway -- it’s up to Chairman Arlen Specter.

Speaking of Specter, he’s going to be one of the most interesting people to watch. Fiercely independent -- a Republican who supports abortion rights, and who has driven the White House and conservative Republican Senators batty in the past. Specter has already sent letters to Roberts warning him he’ll be asking tough questions about what Specter believes is conservative judicial activism by the Rehnquist Court.

Other Senators to keep an eye on:

--Dems Schumer and Kennedy, who are likely to (loudly) take the straight liberal line -- probably demanding specific answers on issues like abortion;

--Dems Biden and Feingold, positioning themselves for 2008;

--Repub Graham, easily one of the Senate’s most brilliant questioners -- never dull;

--Repubs Brownback and Coburn, both extremely conservative, both ardently opposed to abortion. Might one or both join liberal Dems in trying to pin Roberts down on abortion?

Of course Roberts himself will be the star -- and that’s part of the problem, if you’re looking for fireworks. If you’ve read transcripts of any of his oral arguments, or his testimony before the Judiciary Committee in 2003 (when he was up for the federal court of appeals), you know he’s cool, composed, unruffled, never strident, extreme or obnoxious. No, if you’re looking fireworks, fuggedaboutit. About the most you can hope for is a repeat of that fine moment at the 2003 hearings -- when Sen. Schumer pressed Roberts for specific answers, prompting Sen. Orrin Hatch to accuse Schumer of asking “dumb-ass questions.”

Questions/comments:  hardblogger@msnbc.com

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September 6, 2005 |

With next pick, Bush must be conservative (Pat Buchanan)

With his nomination of John Roberts as Chief Justice, passing over Antonin Scalia, President Bush has moved to put his personal stamp on the Supreme Court.  He wants the court for the next three decades to be known as the Roberts Court, a creation of George W. Bush. 

But a critical question is as yet unanswered.  Will Bush's legacy be a Roberts Court, or a court dominated by switch-hitters like Tony Kennedy where John Roberts is in the minority. This is what liberals are praying for -- at last those few who do not believe prayer should be outlawed.  

First, a personal note.  Bill Rehnquist was a friend, a gentleman, a scholar and a principled conservative who comported himself for more than thirty years on the bench with dignity.  He had a fine sense of humor.  He has been a credit to the court since the day a partisan Senate confirmed him after his appointment by Richard Nixon.  Reagan made an inspired decision the day he elevated Rehnquist to be Chief Justice and filled his empty chair with Antonin Scalia.  

Some of us hoped Bush would name Scalia as Chief Justice on the grounds of brilliance and his proven philosophy of judicial restraint.  But presidents get to make those calls and Bush believes his nomination of Roberts has already proven wise and politically astute.
However, even if -- as almost all believe -- Roberts is confirmed as Chief Justice, the strict constructionist bloc on the court will have, at most, three members: Roberts, Scalia and Thomas.  And the President now faces an even more important choice than Roberts: whom to name to fill the seat being vacated by Sandra Day O'Connor. For without two more nominees of the same judicial philosophy as Roberts, there will never be a Roberts Court.  Even with Roberts' confirmation, we are still two seats away from victory -- the O'Connor seat, and one more.

Mr. Bush is being admonished by editorialists (see Financial Times) to name a "centrist" to replace O'Connor in the wake of the trauma of Katrina.  '"Bring us together!" the liberals are pleading.  "Can't we all just get along?"  These same individuals are even now preparing to use Katrina to break the Bush presidency.

But naming a centrist means betraying the President's commitment to remake the court into a constitionalist institution, selling out his most devoted followers, and dishing the Christian conservatives, so the court can remain the last bastion able to impose a repudiated liberalism, without the consent of the people. 

For Bush to do this would be political folly and politically fatal.  He would get a grudging nod from Ralph Neas or Shrummy, but would pay with the lost esteem of millions of his supporters.  Bush should await the confirmation of Roberts before naming a successor to O'Connor, then name an Edith Jones or Michael Luttig.  This is what he has pledged to do, and he needs a fight to rally his constituency.  Will the liberal pundits, pols and special interests rail against him?  Sure.  But who cares?  As the late Master of Balliol used to admonish his pupils who were to inherit the empire, "Never complain, never explain, just do it -- and let them howl!"

Questions/comments:  hardblogger@msnbc.com

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September 5, 2005 |

Vet's precious papers survive flood (David Shuster)

BILOXI, Miss. —We first met 75-year-old George Rockwell at Biloxi‘s largest shelter.  

In the shadow of Keesler Air Force Base, his entire identity, including papers, proving his status as a 25-year veteran who served in Vietnam, have been washed away. 

Rockwell said they were left in a briefcase.  He was hopeful any wet documents could be dried Video: Rebuilding out for safe-keeping.

So we invited Rockwell to ride with us to his home for a look.  At his house, a simple trailer, he pointed to his Katrina escape route.  

As his home flooded, he kicked out a window to swim through, scrapping himself on broken glass on the way to safety.  Rockwell grabbed onto a plastic swing set sticking out of the water.  He clung onto this perch for three hours.  He couldn‘t see much out of his glasses because they were covered in mud.  When the water finally receded, a neighbor invited Rockwell over to stay.  He took shelter for there two nights with six other people and a dog. 

Inside his trailer we saw the floating couch that kept Rockwell above the storm surge.  The crew and I helped him look for the missing briefcase storing the precious papers.

We finally found the briefcase among the wreckage, covered in mud and water.  The documents will make rebuilding George Rockwell‘s life a little easier.  Now with his briefcase, this survivor is moving on and looking ahead.

E-mail: DShuster@msnbc.com

September 2, 2005 |

Wanting more than a visit from the president (David Shuster)

BILOXI, Miss. — The president's motorcade came by here just a few minutes ago. He spoke to reporters in Biloxi's Point neighborhood, which was the most impoverished and hardest hit of the entire area by Hurricane Katrina. All of the homes there were completely leveled, so if he was looking to get an eyeful, he certainly did by touring that neighborhood.

A few miles away from where the president spoke today, one of Biloxi's largest shelters is actually at a junior high school. We went over there this morning and we were told by a police officer providing security at the shelter that in the fifth day that people have been living at the shelter, nobody has seen a single government official or representative of any disaster relief agency.

They do have supplies now, food, water and even laundry detergent. But all of this was brought in by private organizations -- the Red Cross, churches, groups in Florida who saw the devastation and decided to come here on their own. So today, when we informed many people in the shelter who don't have electricity that the president was in town, they were not exactly thrilled to hear that that the Commander and Chief was here, when they had not actually seen any government officials to this point at their shelter. It is safe to suggest that the anger runs deep at the shelter.

In addition to all the debate over relief efforts and the debate over whether relief has been fast enough, we are now getting some grim news about casualty figures here. According to law enforcement and medical technicians who have been involved, they now expect that the casualty number here in Biloxi will reach over 1,000.  The reason they say the current number -- which right now is about 150 -- is much lower than that is that the coroner's office is completely overwhelmed.

E-mail me at DShuster@msnbc.com

September 1, 2005 |

Relief efforts get started - finally! (David Shuster)

BILOXI, Miss. — Well, tonight, a police officer says that the death toll here in Biloxi is going to be in the hundreds and that the reason the official tally is well behind that is because the coroner here is so overloaded.

Bodies, as they’re being found, are simply being left there, with the idea that medical technicians will get the bodies in a couple of days. In the meantime, as far as the survivors are concerned, this day was something of a milestone, something of a breakthrough, because people here are now starting to taste and see the concern of their fellow Americans.

Today in Biloxi, the aid trucks started arriving and the distribution began. For many of these residents, the delivery could not come soon enough.

Here on Division Street in Biloxi, we visited at one of the main distribution centers in Biloxi, and all these folks tell us, this is the first aid that they’ve been getting since the storm. They’re getting water. They’re getting ice. Eventually, they’re going to get some food.

The relief effort already involves volunteers from more than a dozen states, outsiders who are helping to clear away debris, unload ice, or provide security. One man drove his truck through the night from Orlando.

The country is also behind the grim effort to recover the dead. One task force came from Indiana, more than 30 Hoosier volunteers searching the massive debris fields.

As survivors start to see their basic needs being met, there is a new concern tonight. Medical experts warn that debris fields such as the one being searched by the group from Indiana, which stretch for miles and miles, that these may be a biohazard. Medical experts are warning anybody who works down here, whether it’s a rescue worker, a member of the media, or even residents, to be awfully careful with what you pick up from the ground and that you absolutely wash your hands with soap and water before you eat anything. And that, of course, assumes that residents have actually soap and aware.

The story is not evolving here, the way it is evolving in New Orleans. I mean, clearly, it is a problem when people go a couple of days without food and water, but at least it is starting to come in. There’s still an effort, of course, to try to find people who may not have the needs or are so injured that they can’t get to the distribution centers.

But it is not the sort of mass chaos or fluid situation that you have in New Orleans. Here, they’re starting to try to clear up the debris. At least they’re trying to make a dent in it. They’re able to get food to the shelters. People that we talked to today, when we went to a shelter and when we walked around some of the streets, they said at least we’re starting to get things and we know that more is on the way. And we can build on that.

But there’s not the sort of anger, the sort of fury that we have seen in some of those pictures from New Orleans. I think what is so crucial about Biloxi and the Gulfport area is that they’ve been able to clear the roads. I mean, remember, the water receded a couple of days ago. So, since then, the challenge has been, well, let’s just get the debris off the road, so we can get to these people. And that, of course, was a huge task, but they did it, whereas, in New Orleans, they still can’t get to a lot of those people. And I think thats the crucial difference.

E-mail me at DShuster@msnbc.com

Now I'm about a quarter-mile from the beach.  Everything from here back down to shore is utter destruction.  All the beachside houses are destroyed. There’s nothing left. The people in this neighborhood who did survive did so because they were on the second story or on rooftops of buildings that were farther inland.

But we did have an opportunity this morning to drive around.  You could just see the total destruction of cars and parking lots smashed into one another, houses destroyed, trees uprooted, power-lines down — just a scene of utter devastation.

Because of the storm surge, it went not only here, close to the beach, but as far as a half mile in.  You had a storm surge of 25 feet, with waves on top of that of 15 to 20 feet.  So even houses that we saw a half-mile inland were destroyed.

One of the most horrifying stories in Biloxi is with an apartment building along the beach.  This morning, I talked to a homeowner whose house was right next door to the complex.  The homeowner came back and saw that his house was totally destroyed.  He says the people in the complex tried to ride out the storm and haven’t been heard from again.

E-mail me at DShuster@msnbc.com

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