Friday, April 14, 2006

Sandra Day O'Connor warns against dictatorship

This is about a month old (March 9), but I just came across this. Former US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor suggests US citizens be on guard against signs of dictatorship. Here is the transcript from Raw Story, derived from the original NPR piece:

Supreme Court justices keep many opinions private but Sandra Day O’Connor no longer faces that obligation. Yesterday, the retired justice criticized Republicans who criticized the courts. She said they challenge the independence of judges and the freedoms of all Americans. O’Connor’s speech at Georgetown University was not available for broadcast but NPR’s legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg was there.

Nina Totenberg: In an unusually forceful and forthright speech, O’Connor said that attacks on the judiciary by some Republican leaders pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedoms. O’Connor began by conceding that courts do have the power to make presidents or the Congress or governors, as she put it “really, really angry.” But, she continued, if we don’t make them mad some of the time we probably aren’t doing our jobs as judges, and our effectiveness, she said, is premised on the notion that we won’t be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts. The nation’s founders wrote repeatedly, she said, that without an independent judiciary to protect individual rights from the other branches of government those rights and privileges would amount to nothing. But, said O’Connor, as the founding fathers knew statutes and constitutions don’t protect judicial independence, people do.

And then she took aim at former House GOP leader Tom DeLay. She didn’t name him, but she quoted his attacks on the courts at a meeting of the conservative Christian group Justice Sunday last year when DeLay took out after the courts for rulings on abortions, prayer and the Terri Schiavo case. This, said O’Connor, was after the federal courts had applied Congress’ onetime only statute about Schiavo as it was written. Not, said O’Connor, as the congressman might have wished it were written. This response to this flagrant display of judicial restraint, said O’Connor, her voice dripping with sarcasm, was that the congressman blasted the courts.

It gets worse, she said, noting that death threats against judges are increasing. It doesn’t help, she said, when a high-profile senator suggests there may be a connection between violence against judges and decisions that the senator disagrees with. She didn’t name him, but it was Texas senator John Cornyn who made that statement, after a Georgia judge was murdered in the courtroom and the family of a federal judge in Illinois murdered in the judge’s home. O’Connor observed that there have been a lot of suggestions lately for so-called judicial reforms, recommendations for the massive impeachment of judges, stripping the courts of jurisdiction and cutting judicial budgets to punish offending judges. Any of these might be debatable, she said, as long as they are not retaliation for decisions that political leaders disagree with.

I, said O’Connor, am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning. Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O’Connor said we must be ever-vigilant against those who would strongarm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

change of plans

Looks like travelling plans for Easter have changed. White-out conditions on the Highway to Penticton. Just as well. I can kick back and relax the next few days.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Blues go anti-Green

Going away for Easter weekend. In the meantime, check this out. I was shocked to hear about it on the radio. It would seem that in spite of their minority status in Parliament, they're not going for the subtle approach.

OTTAWA (CP) - A scientist with Environment Canada was ordered not to launch his global warming-themed novel Thursday at the same time the Conservative government was quietly axing a number of Kyoto programs.

The bizarre sequence of events on the eve of the Easter long weekend provided an ironic end-note to the week in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced his first piece of legislation - aimed at improving accountability and transparency in government.

The day began with what was supposed to be the low-key launch of an aptly titled novel, Hotter than Hell.

Publisher Elizabeth Margaris said that Mark Tushingham, whose day job is as an Environment Canada scientist, was ordered not to appear at the National Press Club to give a speech discussing his science fiction story about global warming in the not-too-distant future.

"He got a directive from the department, cautioning him not to come to this meeting today," said Margaris of DreamCatcher Publishers.

"So I guess we're being stifled. This is incredible, I've never heard of such a thing," she said.

Margaris had driven to Ottawa from New Brunswick to attend the speech, where Tushingham was expected to talk about his novel and the science he based it on.

The novel imagines a world where global warming has made parts of the world too hot to live in, prompting a war between Canada and the U.S. over water resources.

"Due process for this event was not followed and that's why it was cancelled," said Ryan Sparrow, a spokesman for Environment Minister Rona Ambrose .

Publicity for the planned book launch identified Tushingham as an Evironment Canada scientist, Sparrow said, "and it was assumed that he would be representing the position of the department.

"We would not have objected to Mr. Tushingham's appreance if he had been referred to as a private citizen."

Harper says he was not aware of the details, but his government was elected on a platform that included developing a new plan to deal with climate change.

"I obviously not only hope, but expect, that all elements of the bureaucracy will be working with us to achieve our objectives," Harper said at an appearance in Wainright, Alta., Thursday.

The prime minister's comments might be seen as a clear warning to public servants thinking of straying from government orthodoxy.

Harper has been criticized for the tight control he wants to exercise on what cabinet ministers and civil servants say in public. He also opposes the Kyoto protocol, which many scientist believe could help slow global warming.

The scientific, or literary, muzzle was put on Tushingham just as the Tory government was preparing to quietly confirm it is killing off over a dozen research programs related to the Kyoto protocol.

Late Thursday afternoon, on the eve of a long weekend when governments traditionally dump bad news for the least possible public exposure, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn issued a news release saying 15 programs were being eliminated.

Lunn said the programs had run their course.

"The new government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper is committed to putting an end to the massive increase in (greenhouse gas) emissions that Canada has seen over the past decade," said a release.

"To do that, we need a new approach to addressing climate change that is effective and realistic for Canada."

Harper said the Conservative governing platform "will include measures we're going to develop over the next year or so to deal with both pollution and greenhouse gases."

But cabinet documents obtained by the Globe and Mail suggest the cuts won't stop at 15 programs.

The newspaper reported Thursday that the Conservatives will cut 80 per cent of programs aimed at curbing global warming at Environment Canada.

Budgets in other government departments aimed at climate change will be slashed by 40 per cent, the newspaper reported.

Liberal MP Scott Brison was crying foul Thursday.

"It is clear the Conservative government has no plans to listen to expert advice from their own department and is willing to sacrifice sound environmental policy to partisan ideology," said Brison.

Under the Kyoto treaty, Canada is committed to a six per cent cut in emissions from 1990 levels by 2012. Yet emissions have risen by 30 per cent. Harper has said the target is impossible to meet.

Leading environmentalists from across Canada say the opposition parties should defeat the government if it abandons the effort to meet Canada's Kyoto commitments.

Canada can meet its emissions-cutting target under the Kyoto Protocol despite government claims to the contrary, activists from eight environmental groups told a news conference Wednesday.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Sy Hersh on Iran Plans.

Sy Hersh has written for the New Yorker that a military attack on Iran is in the planning stages. Here are a couple of excerpts:

One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.” He added, “I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, ‘What are they smoking?’ ”

But those who are familiar with the Soviet bunker, according to the former senior intelligence official, “say ‘No way.’ You’ve got to know what’s underneath—to know which ventilator feeds people, or diesel generators, or which are false. And there’s a lot that we don’t know.” The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. “Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap,” the former senior intelligence official said. “ ‘Decisive’ is the key word of the Air Force’s planning. It’s a tough decision. But we made it in Japan.”

Crooks and Liars also has a clip of Hersh talking on CNN about the article, and of Scott Ritter explaining why Iran wouldn't be close to developing nuclear weapons.

See also this piece by Christopher Hitchens.