American Elephants

Hooray for the Irish! by The Elephant's Child

Let’s hear a cheer for the Irish! We dance an Irish jig! We thunder on our bohdran! The Treaty of Lisbon, which we have written about before, is intended to be a new constitution for the European Union. The Constitution was turned down earlier by the French and the Dutch. Well! EU Bureaucrats were offended, and to prevent a replay of such rejection, the bureaucrats turned the constitution into a treaty, so that no one would have to bother their little heads about anything so unnecessary as an actual vote. Subject governments quickly approved the “treaty” except for the Irish where the people were guaranteed a vote, by law. Today the Irish rejected the treaty.

This is an American view of something that is admittedly, none of my business. But, to an American mind, giving up your national sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable bureaucracy should at least be put to a vote.

The French minister for European affairs told LCI television that “The most important thing is that the ratification process must continue in the other countries and then we shall see with the Irish what type of legal arrangement could be found”. So there. Andrew Duff, British MEP said ” I think the Irish prime minister, Brian Cowen, will have to explain himself at the summit.” The New York Times quotes French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner saying: “It would be very, very troubling that we would not be able to count on the Irish who counted a lot on Europe’s money.”

The striking economic growth of Ireland’s economy was due, not to EU subsidies, but to radical tax cuts and deregulation which have boosted the Irish to genuine prosperity. That the Irish might not want to subject their economy to the vast corrupt bureaucracy of the EU. seems more a matter of common sense than rebellion.

Tim Russert Dead at 58 by American Elephant
June 13, 2008, 8:04 pm
Filed under: News, Politics, Pop Culture | Tags: , ,

Tim Russert

I was shocked and saddened to hear of Tim Russert’s sudden death today. I have long thought that of all the liberals in media,  Tim Russert worked the hardest, by far, to be fair and balanced. An interview by Russert was dependably one of the toughest grillings in the business, for Democrats or Republicans.  He was respected and feared, but as the tributes pour in from both sides of the aisle and throughout the industry, it is clear that he was liked and loved very much as well.  He always came across as a very likeable man. His untimely death is not only sad, but a definate loss to journalism.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, son, and many loved ones.

Disaster relief here, there and elsewhere. Be very glad to be an American. by The Elephant's Child

Cyclone Nargis aftermath

When Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar (Burma) on May 2 with winds up to 120 mph, the US Navy sailed to offer aid, as did the world’s major relief organizations. Estimates of the number of dead ranged from 77,000 to 110,000, with as many as 220,000 missing and 2.4 million severely affected. The inability of farmers to plant rice seeds in time for the growing season is a major concern. Losses of cattle and water buffalo suggest future famine. The military junta ruling Myanmar has been reluctant to accept any aid, provoking deep frustration from relief organizations.

Nearly a month after the cyclone hit, fewer than one in three victims of the storm had been reached with aid. There were reports of supplies confiscated by the government and re-labeled to show that they came from the Myanmar government. The government did allow a limited number of U.S. Air Force C-130s to fly in supplies from Thailand. They have allowed 116 flights of water and other relief supplies to Yangon. By June 10, the Government of Burma reported granting visas to 911 relief workers and authorizing 569 to work in affected areas, and issued guidelines to follow. Some organizations reported being turned away at police checkpoints, and lack of access continues to prevent needs-driven approaches to relief operations.

The junta is particularly sensitive to allowing U.S. helicopters, which would highlight the American effort in a country where the people have been taught that the U.S. is a hostile aggressor. Washington has been a leading critic of the junta for its poor human rights record. Stories deeply critical of that record seep out from many sources.

It’s worthwhile to think back to a January 2, 2005 report by a Dutch diplomat who traveled to Banda Aceh to see the reality on the ground following the Asian tsunami on December 26, 2004.

The US military has arrived and is clearly establishing its presence everywhere in Banda Aceh. They completely have taken over the military hospital, which was a mess until yesterday but is now completely up and running. They brought big stocks of medicines, materials for the operation room, teams of doctors, water and food. Most of the patients who were lying in the hospital untreated for a week have undergone medical treatment by the US teams by this afternoon. US military have unloaded lots of heavy vehicles and organized the logistics with Indonesian military near the airport. A big camp is being set up at a major square in the town. Huge generators are ready to provide electricity. US helicopters fly to places which haven’t been reached for the whole week and drop food. The impression it makes on the people is also highly positive; finally something happens in the city of Banda Aceh and finally it seems some people are in control and are doing something. No talking but action. European countries are until now invisible on the ground. IOM staff (note; this is a USAID-funded organization) is very busy briefing the incoming Americans and Australians about the situation. (emphasis in original)

The US, Australia, Singapore and the Indonesian military have started a “Coalition Co-ordination Centre in Medan to organize all the incoming and outgoing military flights with aid. A sub-centre is established in Banda Aceh.

The US Navy finally sailed away from Myanmar on Thursday June 5th. leaving behind an offer of 22 helicopters and including an offer to allow Myanmar officials aboard all helicopters to monitor their routes and to unload relief supplies.

Yes, yes, I know. No culture is any better than any other. All must be considered equal.

ADDENDUM: The excerpt is from the account by the Chief Diplomad who observed the tsunami aftermath from Banda Aceh, and reported his daily observations at It is a wonderful website to browse around, in January of 2005, to get a glimpse of disaster relief and how it works or not.

Roberts and Scalia Slam Activist Majority by American Elephant

Supreme Court of the United States of America

Welcome Political Machine readers! We hope while you’re here you’ll have a look around and tell us what you think.

Most people don’t read Supreme Court opinions, I think assuming them to be written in dry, indecipherable legal gobbledygook. The opinions of Chief Justice Roberts and Antonin Scalia are anything but. They are exceptionally eloquent and erudite. A pleasure to read — completely accessible to the little guy, like me. I wish more people knew this, because it is a great educational opportunity.

Yesterday’s decision by a bare majority of the liberal justices joined by the erratic Justice Kennedy, who authored the opinion, can be read here.

But I want to present key excerpts from Chief Justice Roberts’ and Justice Scalia’s scathing dissents, compiled by Ed Whelan at National Review’s Bench Memos .

Both make crystal clear just how activist the decision was. They point out step by step the precedent the majority ignored, the tradition they trampled, the constitutional principles they violated and the powers they usurped.

Chief Justice John Roberts

Starting with excerpts from Chief Justice Robert’s dissent (joined by Scalia, Thomas and Alito):

Today the Court strikes down as inadequate the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants. The political branches crafted these procedures amidst an ongoing military conflict, after much careful investigation and thorough debate. The Court rejects them today out of hand, without bothering to say what due process rights the detainees possess, without explaining how the statute fails to vindicate those rights, and before a single petitioner has even attempted to avail himself of the law’s operation. And to what effect? The majority merely replaces a review system designed by the people’s representatives with a set of shapeless procedures to be defined by federal courts at some future date. One cannot help but think, after surveying the modest practical results of the majority’s ambitious opinion, that this decision is not really about the detainees at all, but about control of federal policy regarding enemy combatants.

It is grossly premature to pronounce on the detainees’ right to habeas without first assessing whether the remedies the DTA system provides vindicate whatever rights petitioners may claim.

Simply put, the Court’s opinion fails on its own terms. The majority strikes down the statute because it is not an “adequate substitute” for habeas review, but fails to show what rights the detainees have that cannot be vindicated by the DTA system.

The only issue in dispute is the process the Guantanamo prisoners are entitled to use to test the legality of their detention. Hamdi concluded that American citizens detained as enemy combatants are entitled to only limited process, and that much of that process could be supplied by a military tribunal, with review to follow in an Article III court. That is precisely the system we have here. It is adequate to vindicate whatever due process rights petitioners may have.

The Court today invents a sort of reverse facial challenge and applies it with gusto: If there is any scenario in which the statute might be constitutionally infirm, the law must be struck down.

[In the majority’s view,] any interpretation of the statute that would make it an adequate substitute for habeas must be rejected, because Congress could not possibly have intended to enact an adequate substitute for habeas. The Court could have saved itself a lot of trouble if it had simply announced this Catch-22 approach at the beginning rather than the end of its opinion.

So who has won? Not the detainees. The Court’s analysis leaves them with only the prospect of further litigation to determine the content of their new habeas right, followed by further litigation to resolve their particular cases, followed by further litigation before the D. C. Circuit—where they could have started had they invoked the DTA procedure. Not Congress, whose attempt to “determine—through democratic means—how best” to balance the security of the American people with the detainees’ liberty interests, has been unceremoniously brushed aside. Not the Great Writ, whose majesty is hardly enhanced by its extension to a jurisdictionally quirky outpost, with no tangible benefit to anyone. Not the rule of law, unless by that is meant the rule of lawyers, who will now arguably have a greater role than military and intelligence officials in shaping policy for alien enemy combatants. And certainly not the American people, who today lose a bit more control over the conduct of this Nation’s foreign policy to unelected, politically unaccountable judges.

Justice Antonin Scalia

And Justice Scalia’s dissent (joined by Roberts,Thomas and Alito):

Today, for the first time in our Nation’s history, the Court confers a constitutional right to habeas corpus on alien enemies detained abroad by our military forces in the course of an ongoing war…. The writ of habeas corpus does not, and never has, run in favor of aliens abroad; the Suspension Clause thus has no application, and the Court’s intervention in this military matter is entirely ultra vires.

The game of bait-and-switch that today’s opinion plays upon the Nation’s Commander in Chief will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed. That consequence would be tolerable if necessary to preserve a time-honored legal principle vital to our constitutional Republic. But it is this Court’s blatant abandonment of such a principle that produces the decision today. The President relied on our settled precedent in Johnson v. Eisentrager (1950), when he established the prison at Guantanamo Bay for enemy aliens.

[I]n response [to the Court’s 2006 ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld], Congress, at the President’s request, quickly enacted the Military Commissions Act, emphatically reasserting that it did not want these prisoners filing habeas petitions. It is therefore clear that Congress and the Executive—both political branches—have determined that limiting the role of civilian courts in adjudicating whether prisoners captured abroad are properly detained is important to success in the war that some 190,000 of our men and women are now fighting….What competence does the Court have to second-guess the judgment of Congress and the President on such a point? None whatever. But the Court blunders in nonetheless. Henceforth, as today’s opinion makes unnervingly clear, how to handle enemy prisoners in this war will ultimately lie with the branch that knows least about the national security concerns that the subject entails.

What drives today’s decision is neither the meaning of the Suspension Clause, nor the principles of our precedents, but rather an inflated notion of judicial supremacy. The Court says that if the extraterritorial applicability of the Suspension Clause turned on formal notions of sovereignty, “it would be possible for the political branches to govern without legal constraint” in areas beyond the sovereign territory of the United States. That cannot be, the Court says, because it is the duty of this Court to say what the law is. It would be difficult to imagine a more question-begging analysis.… Our power “to say what the law is” is circumscribed by the limits of our statutorily and constitutionally conferred jurisdiction. And that is precisely the question in these cases: whether the Constitution confers habeas jurisdiction on federal courts to decide petitioners’ claims. It is both irrational and arrogant to say that the answer must be yes, because otherwise we would not be supreme.

Putting aside the conclusive precedent of Eisentrager, it is clear that the original understanding of the Suspension Clause was that habeas corpus was not available to aliens abroad, as Judge Randolph’s thorough opinion for the court below detailed.…It is entirely clear that, at English common law, the writ of habeas corpus did not extend beyond the sovereign territory of the Crown.

Today the Court warps our Constitution in a way that goes beyond the narrow issue of the reach of the Suspension Clause, invoking judicially brainstormed separation-of-powers principles to establish a manipulable “functional” test for the extraterritorial reach of habeas corpus (and, no doubt, for the extraterritorial reach of other constitutional protections as well). It blatantly misdescribes important precedents, most conspicuously Justice Jackson’s opinion for the Court in Johnson v. Eisentrager. It breaks a chain of precedent as old as the common law that prohibits judicial inquiry into detentions of aliens abroad absent statutory authorization. And, most tragically, it sets our military commanders the impossible task of proving to a civilian court, under whatever standards this Court devises in the future, that evidence supports the confinement of each and every enemy prisoner. The Nation will live to regret what the Court has done today.

If for no other reason, this election is essential. It is imperative to the future of the nation, to the rule of law, that we tip the balance of this court to the strict constructionists who understand judicial restraint, and believe the constitution means what it says. John McCain, despite his many flaws, has promised to appoint just such justices, and with the excellent conservative judicial advisers he has picked to work for him, I believe he will.

Any number of justices may retire during the next four years. One at least, likely two, maybe more. Justice Kennedy, the only remaining “swing” vote, might retire — and these people are all getting up there. Justice Scalia is 72, Justice Kennedy will be 72 next month. Some other members of the court are older. God forbid anything should happen to any of them, but it could.

And while some people argue that McCain wouldn’t be able to get his nominees through anyway — I think he probably can. McCain has a long-nurtured image of getting along with the other side that will buy him political capital in this regard. But even if he doesn’t get his first choices through, McCain’s second and even third choices will be far better than anyone Obama would nominate. Who knows how much damage Obama could do to the judiciary if he were there for four years, let alone eight! He will undoubtedly appoint more Ruth Bader -Ginsburgs — he has named her specifically as the type of justice he would nominate — perhaps even Hillary Clinton. One thing is for certain, Obama’s nominations would devastate judicial restraint in America in ways that would have repercussions for generations.

Remember that when you hear people say they could never vote for McCain. As distasteful as it may be to some proud conservatives, the best interests of the nation require it, don’t they?

(h/t Bench Memos)

UPDATE: John McCain has come down forcefully against the decision, calling it, appropriately, “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” Good. It is!

Cool Site of the Day by American Elephant
June 13, 2008, 6:13 am
Filed under: Domestic Policy, Foreign Policy, History, Politics | Tags: ,

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, Red Room, The White House, 1983

The official White House Museum website. Fascinating stuff for history buffs! History and pictures, paintings and illustrations of every room in the house, from the official residence to the private residence and both the East and West Wings — all as they were during different presidencies. Information about different visitors, foreign dignitaries and heads of state.

Lots of fun facts too. For instance, I knew the Bushes changed the carpet in the oval office when they moved in, but I laughed out loud when I learned that they put in new wood floors as well. From bowling alleys to bunkers, construction to conflagration. I knew there had been dramatic changes in the past, but there have been dramatic changes recently too. Lots of conclusions you can make about different presidents and first ladies based on what they did with, and to, and in, the White House, but I’ll let you draw those for yourselves.

Friday 13th not more unlucky, study shows by American Elephant
June 13, 2008, 2:55 am
Filed under: Humor, Movies, Pop Culture | Tags: , ,

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Unlucky for some? Dutch statisticians have established that Friday 13th, a date regarded in many countries as inauspicious, is actually safer than an average Friday.

Yeah, tell that to the kids at Camp Crystal Lake!

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