Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Can we trust the nomiinations?

There is plenty of reason to mistrust many of the controversial judicial nominees now awaiting Senate review of their fitness for the appellate circuit courts. Another question to ask is, can we trust the reasons for their initial nomination? Can we trust the process by which the President selected these nominees? The proponents of the nominee argue that the simple fact that he selected them means that they are qualified. Is this true? We can answer this question by looking first at the nominees and then at the general decision-making inclinations of the administration.

The work on the nominees has been done on the educational website associated with this blog. Check it out for yourself. The general picture that emerges is clear: these nominees tend to:

  • Be inconsistent in their rulings
  • Be ready to put personal agendas ahead of legal precedent and democratically-produced law
  • Have certain conflicts of interest that will significantly bias their legal decisions

Why did the administration nominate such obviously dubious candidates to play such an important role in our democracy? I support many things President Bush has said and I believe that he is a good man at the bottom; I think I would like him, were we to meet. But there can be no question that his administration has a record of putting personal ideology ahead of important facts about the public good. This may explain why he sees no problem with judges who do the same. Today’s morning paper illustrates this tendency in the administration and the Congressional leadership in three separate articles about otherwise unrelated stories.

1. We learn today, in a big story, that a White House official has been repeatedly editing government climate reports to hide the causal connection between greenhouse-gas emissions and global warming. This is lying, plain and simple. It is simply a fact that the vast majority of qualified people – scientists and their policy-making partners – agree that global warming is happening. They agree that it is happening as a direct result of these emissions, and they agree that the consequences will be dire if we do not act now. This is what makes the falsification of these reports so dangerous: global warming is a global crisis that will kill a lot of people, including Americans, and ruin whole countries (by the way, don’t terrorists tend to come from ruined countries, like Afghanistan?).

What’s worse is that the man the administration asked to edit scientific reports is not only unqualified; he, in fact, has a vested interest in denying the scientific data. He is a lawyer, with no scientific training. His qualification for this job, rather, was his previous job was as “a lobbyist, at the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade group representing the interests of the oil industry.” This puts special interest ahead of the general good of our country; it puts a personal agenda ahead of the facts we need to make crucial decisions.

(A related fact is that William Myers III, one of the controversial nominees, has been nominated for the 9th Circuit Court. What is his qualification for sitting on the court, whose jurisdiction is over an huge part of the country, including Alaska, that has an immense amount of public, federally-protected land? Well, he’s never actually been a judge. Rather his professional background has been as a grazing and mining industry lobbyist.)

2. The second story concerns the “recently disclosed British government memorandum that said in July 2002 that American intelligence was being ‘fixed’ around the policy of removing Saddam Hussein in Iraq.” Everyone already knows what happened in the Administration’s campaign to convince Americans to go to war in Iraq – the deceit, the mistakes, the failure to prepare. This article is just a reminder of the fact that the administration forced intelligence analysts to tell the story that the administration wanted to hear about Iraq. These analysts were coerced into saying that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, when he did not. They were coerced into saying that American soldiers would fight a 10-day war and be welcomed as liberators; that was more than two years and 1,600 American deaths ago. Again, the administration ignored and altered the facts in order to push its personal agenda onto the American people. Again, with disastrous consequences.

3. The third story is not about the President, but rather the Republican leaders in the House of Representatives. Allegations of Tom DeLay’s ethics violations are also well know. But what’s new in today’s paper is that the person in charge of investigating DeLay’s behavior – the Chairman of the House ethics committee – has a close personal and financial relationship with exactly the same firm that DeLay is accused of conspiring with. How can Doc Watson (WA-R), the Chairman, be expected to treat this case objectively when his own personal interests are wrapped up in the center of it? Two Republican members of the ethics committee have already recused themselves because they contributed to DeLay’s legal defense fund. But the man who controls the entire process will not recuse himself, despite the fact that he is beholden to DeLay’s conspirators? Again, personal agendas ahead of truth and the well-being of the country.

Remember, this is just a random collection of news for the morning of June 8. Yet so pervasive is the theme of personal agendas, conflicts of interest, and altering of facts that it shines in your eyes like a spotlight.

This isn’t just a question of ignoring or altering substantive facts, though that would be bad enough. The even more important question is this: what are the consequences of this cavalier attitude to the truth and this willingness to change facts to serve narrow interests? The answer: They do serious damage our decision-making process, and people suffer as a result.

Scientists warn that “the administration's procedures for vetting reports on climate could result in excessive political interference with science.” They speak of a chilling effect on scientific discovery and exchange. This in a world where science holds the key to ending so much human suffering, like disease, malnutrition, and the effects of climate change; where the government must be able to understand the challenges and respond to them. The chilling effect is also well known from the lead-up to the Iraq war. Intelligence was faulty and people died, because the administration’s desire to go to war made objective appraisal of the evidence impossible, or at least something you would get fired for trying to do. What resulted from the way this insistence deformed strategic decision-making? Well, General MacArthur had a plan for the occupation of Germany two or three years before WWII ended. The Bush administration hadn’t begun talking about what to do after the fighting in Iraq two months before the invasion. This is why the fighting is still going on.

The controversial nominees came from this same decision-making process. Unfortunately, they demonstrate similar corruption in the process. They indicate the administration’s desire to place narrow political agendas over the rule of law for all Americans. They confirm his willingness to elevate members of special interest groups precisely to decide contests between that same interest group and another party. This is a shame.

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