Thoughts of an American Centrist

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Promising Research on Stem Cells

Reuters reports:

WASHINGTON - Genetically engineered stem cells can help rats’ severed spinal cords grow back together, according to a study published Tuesday.

Rats given the treatment, using stem cells taken from rat embryos, could move their legs again after their spines were severed in the lab, said the researchers’ report in the Journal of Neuroscience.
For opponents of stem cell research, the favorite argument of "we can't even be sure any cures would be found" is getting thinner every day. This is some of the most auspicious experiments yet when it comes to repairing debilitating spinal injuries. American people to US Senate: "Expand funding for stem cell research now!"

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Political Buzzword Watch: "Moving the Goalposts"

Well it seems the new online political catchphrase of the week is "Moving the goalposts." A pretty nice analogy once, but I'm getting a bit sick of it. Check out this story from conservative Powerline regarding SCOTUS confirmation:
Moving the Goalposts

That's what the Democrats are trying to do, on several fronts, in connection with President Bush's Supreme Court nominations...

Or this cartoon from Wa Po's liberal Tom Toles based on the potenial firing of Rove:

From the liberal News Hounds (again concerning Rove):
Alan Colmes introduced the discussion by playing a clip of President Bush saying on Monday that he would fire anyone who broke the law by disclosing CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity to reporters. Colmes followed that by two earlier clips of Bush saying he would fire anyone involved in the leak. Then he asked Bennett why the administration keeps moving the goalpost.
It's even entered into the world of fishing news!

Although O'Brien's prize would be the fish of a lifetime for any fan of Salvelinus fontinalis, the state standard for brookies has been eclipsed frequently because the Department of Environmental Conservation keeps moving the goal post.

For 46 years, from 1945 until 1991, the DEC recognized an 8-pound, 8-ounce leviathon from Sullivan County's Punchbowl Pond as the state's biggest brookie. That one was retired from the record book because there was no proof it existed.

Help fight this senseless abuse of an unimaginative metaphor! Keep your goal posts firmly in place!

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Justifications for Nuclear War

Thank you to The Yellow Line, for posting an amazing discussion on the ethics (if you can call it that) of Nuclear war. The discussion spawned from the comments made by Representative Tom Tancredo, where he said:
"Well, what if you said something like -- if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites." When the host asked him if he meant ''bombing Mecca," he said, ''Yeah."
It is my position that this policy would be absolutely immoral and wrong. There is by no means a consensus, however, even among the moderate community. The argument for Trancredo's proposition is most succinctly put by Michael Reynolds (The Mighty Middle) in both the comments section and his own blog:
I am confident that the people of Hiroshima were not all supporters of Tojo. Certainly the many innocent children who were incinerated were not at fault. Likewise the children of Berlin, many other cities we effectively obliterated.

And, as others have pointed out, we stood ready to exterminate virtually all life in the old USSR for a good forty years. Deterrence is a nasty thing. So is war.

It is absurd to pretend that threats like this can be relied on to work against Al Qaeda. However, it is equally absurd to pretend that they could not work against Pakistan. Pakistan is not doing all it can in this war, it is doing all that Musharraf finds politically expedient. Ditto Saudi. Ditto Syria. Should a threat to vaporize Mecca be seen as a serious threat by these governments, the equation of expediency might change very significantly. IT might focus their minds a bit and stiffen their spines.
An interesting point. My views diverge from Michael's, however, given the fact that the bombing of Japan actually saved more lives than it cost.

Upon hearing the statistics on that, Rob Jackson stated "Well, okay I guess...still turns my stomach." I believe that sentiment very succinctly describes all war. We get so wrapped up in lauding the bravery and honor of the cause for which our greatest generation fought that we forget that the actual 4 years (more if you're not from the US) that were World War II were pure misery for all involved. The Civil War, the American Revolution, and Napolean’s march through Russia, to name a few, we most likely even harder on the soldiers than was WWII. As far back as history has been recorded, war has been the most arduous, painful, costly, and insane of all human endeavors.

As far as Hiroshima and Nagasaki are concerned, I believe that the bombs were indeed justified. Our invading forces would have lost, by conservative estimates of the time, between 100,000 and 200,000. The losses of Japanese military would be even higher. The culture of honor over life would have pushed casualties of rock-throwing, sharp-stick-bearing Japanese civilians over 1 million. The absolute horror that was the world's only nuclear attack was very dramatic, but it was the preferable option to the long, drawn out, classical invasion that necessarily would have followed. Pulling the trigger on a lesser horror to prevent one greater; that is war.

That being said, it is completely fallacious to compare today’s atomic arsenal to fat man and little boy. The strength increases of today’s atomic bombs over those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are measured by orders of magnitude. The cold war situation was completely different: mutually assured destruction. The question of whether such a policy was immoral is completely irrelevant. We had no choice. It was either point our weapons back at the USSR, or accept a Soviet empire.

That, perhaps, is what makes war so barbaric: when faced with the enemy, survival must, of necessity, trump any and all morals.

That is my thinking on the bombing of Japan and the cold war. I see no acceptable parallels between those two events and the bombing of Mecca. We bombed Japan to end a war. We threatened to bomb the Soviets to keep one from starting. Bombing Mecca would neither be a deterrent to terrorists, nor a final defeat to Jihad. It would merely be the angry response of a nation gone insane.

Historical Homonyms

Recently, I clicked on a link to a Newsweek article titled "San Diego's Pole Tax," wondering what an old Jim Crow tactic was doing in sunny San Diego. It turns out, the title was alluding to the illegal campaign contribution a strip club gave to the city's mayor and two city council members in order to revoke the "no touch" policy. Not quite what I was expecting, but I love that title. Historical Homonyms rock!

Roberts needs to be Confirmed

For the love of all that is sacred and good about our Constitution, John Roberts must be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

The American Centrist maintains that President Bush pulled a Political Rabbit out of his Hat 'o Nominations last week with the nomination of John Roberts. The man is definitely a conservative of the old guard, but at the same time he has been described many times as affable, and not driven by ideology. He fits the President's judicial philosophy, but can still play nice with others.

I like that.

For those hoping that the President would nominate someone who hung Pat Robertson posters on his bedroom wall, this is still only a partial disappointment. Even though the man is not associated with the Christian Coalition, his "strict constructionist" philosophy may very well steer many decisions in their favor.

For those hoping that the President would nominate a moderate, or even a closet progressive to the bench, this was a wakeup call. This is a conservative president who has promised all along that he would nominate a conservative Justice. Given the circumstances, Judge Roberts seems to be as good as we're going to get. A hard-fought protracted battle on this nomination is simply a vituperative acknowledgement that some special interest groups deny the right of any solid conservative to serve on the Bench. That is an argument that I cannot respect.

Disrespect to the Office of the President
Protesting the Roberts nomination would be the height of disrespect to both the Office of the President, and to the Supreme Court itself. Eleven years ago, Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed without any serious objection, and she is much more of an ideologue than Roberts is. The president gets to choose who he (or she) wants to put on the Bench, and barring some disqualifying characteristic (see John Bolton), a President's nominee should pass. If John Kerry had won November's election, we would have seen a very different type of nominee who would have been met with just as much opposition from the opposite side of the political battle lines. But Kerry did not win, and the People for the American Way and the ACLU need to get used to that idea.

The Ideological Balance
As a Centrist, my biggest lament about this whole fiasco is that Sandra Day O'Connor, perhaps the greatest SCOTUS Justice of the 20th Century (a century that had a lot of good ones), is the one retiring. As far as the ideological balance is concerned, however, I think that this nomination may actually pull the court further to the center. "But Mr. Centrist," you say, "a moderate is being replaced by a conservative. How does that pull the court further to the center?" "Well," I reply, "the court was actually a hair to the left before O'Connor left."

In case you haven't noticed, the general makeup of SCOTUS decisions of late have trended left for the past 10 years. Issues such as church state separation, partial birth abortion, and the death penalty have all been decided with a progressive reading of the 'Tute. There is a reason for that; the court is currently composed of 4 liberals (Stevens, Souter, Breyer, and Ginsberg), and 3 conservatives (Scalia, Thomas, and Reinquist) with O'Connor and Kennedy in the center. A Roberts nomination will most likely move one centrist seat to the conservative side, so our mix would be 4:4:1. Add to the mix that O'Connor, though moderate, trended slightly conservative anyway, there is a slightly perceptible shift towards parity.

Not only would we now have an even balance of conservatives and liberals, the remaining moderate - Kennedy - has traditionally trended left, and has been one of the focal points of the recent conservative ire with the American Judical system. Hey, anyone who Tom Delay wants to impeach can't be all bad in my book!

So, is John Roberts a Conservative?
Of course, all this posturing on the Roberts nomination may be for naught. There is a disturbing trend for conservatives wherein conservative nominees "go all liberal" once they get on the bench. After all, how else can we get a SCOTUS where liberals out-number conservatives when 5 of the last 7 Presidents have been Republican? Two of those liberal members were appointed by Republican Presidents: Stevens by Ford, Souter by Bush I. Kennedy was supposed to be a reliable conservative voice on the court, but now he is center left (O'Connor's perfect balance). The late Harry Blackmun was supposed to be a Nixon conservative, but he ended up writing the Roe decision. The LA Times has an easy to read article about Conservative justices who end up liberal. Will John Roberts be the next Earl Warren?

Whatever the Case, Roberts deserves Confirmation
Whether John Roberts adds to the progressive majority on the court, or brings more balance as a conservative, time has yet to tell. Two things remain certain however. John Roberts is well qualified for the job, and he is the President's pick. By all that was envisioned by the founders when they drafted a nominating process, Roberts deserves his robe.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Chicken Hawks

A special "Thank you" to Donklephant for debunking the argument that only active military personel have the the right to support a war. Read the post!
Every blogging supporter of the U.S. military in Iraq seems to be getting a similar pack of comments and e-mails recently. In effect they say, in tones of supreme snarkiness, “You support the war, so why don’t you go over there and fight it, or else shut up?”

The essence of it is, “People who advocate for some exercise of government power have no legitimacy unless those people endure the greatest burden of that exercise of power.”

So by that measure only property owners can approve school budgets based on real estate taxes, if you defend free speech you should become a porn star, and only firefighters can pull fire alarms.

Very succinct. Thank you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Lets not jump to Conclusions on Rove

What did he know, when did he know it, and (we'll add to the list) who did he tell?

I won't even bother with a link to the Rove story; it's on every blog in the world. OK, here's one to the original Newsweek piece that broke the story.
It was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized the trip.
And from this, the Left Hemisphere of blog world has errupted with calls of "treason" and "fire him... hard."

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. I'm no fan of Bush or Rove, but so far we know surprisingly little about what Rove did or didn't say to Time Journalist Matthew Cooper. We know for certain that Rove indicated that it was Plame who commissioned the Niger report.

It is entirely possible that Rove, a veteran of domestic policy disputes knew nothing of Plame's "other" job at the CIA. You have to admit, a desk job at the CIA seems like pretty thin cover for an operative at the CIA. If Rove himself did not know she was an agent, then he must be immediately absolved of any criminal wrongdoing. After all, you can't leak information you don't have.

There are soooo many questions still swirling around the Rove-Cooper relationship, that it's way too premature for the press corps to begin chanting "fire him, fire him, fire him!"

We really don't know what Rove actually said or didn't say to Cooper. We don't know if he identified Plame by name (a very trivial matter, but relevant because Rove speaks of not using her name), we don't know if he implied she was an undercover agent, or - as stated before - if he even knew she was an agent.

We don't know what other reporters, if any, Rove spoke to. Remember, Judith Miller went to prison protecting her source, while Cooper got Rove's waiver. If Rove were the source for both, why would he let Cooper blow his cover but not Miller? If Rove did speak to reporters, did he say anything more to them than he did to Cooper? For that matter, did Rove have any discussions with Cooper regarding Wilson and Plame that we don't yet know about?

I am perfectly open to the idea that Rove may be innocent of any wrongdoing in all this. However, the quick bottling up of the White House's information spigot does not portend well for Karl's case. If Rove is to rove what may turn out to be the most difficult political needle of his career, he needs to come forward with full disclosure. Karl, if you're innocent, prove it to us. Seeing as you've been caught in a lie (the "I had nothing to do with it" bit), the burden of proof now lies on you. If you're guilty, well, best of luck to you, but we're gonna getcha.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

You've been our Greatest Friend, now it's time for us to be yours.

A Qualified Delegate at the UN

Hey Folks, it looks like we actually do have someone supremely qualified running things at the UN for us already. Lets hope Ann Patterson can get some great stuff accomplished before Bolton is confirmed and tries to get her fired!