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Sunday, November 27, 2005

From Alito's Past, a Window on Conservatives at Princeton - New York Times

From Alito's Past, a Window on Conservatives at Princeton - New York TimesNovember 27, 2005
From Alito's Past, a Window on Conservatives at Princeton
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK

WASHINGTON, Nov. 26 - In the fall of 1985, Concerned Alumni of Princeton was entering a crisis.

The group's members at the time included Samuel A. Alito Jr., now President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court, although there is no evidence that he played an active or prominent role.

The group had been founded in 1972, the year that Judge Alito graduated, by alumni upset that Princeton had recently begun admitting women. It published a magazine, Prospect, which persistently accused the administration of taking a permissive approach to student life, of promoting birth control and paying for abortions, and of diluting the explicitly Christian character of the school.

As Princeton admitted a growing number of minority students, Concerned Alumni charged repeatedly that the administration was lowering admission standards, undermining the university's distinctive traditions and admitting too few children of alumni. "Currently alumni children comprise 14 percent of each entering class, compared with an 11 percent quota for blacks and Hispanics," the group wrote in a 1985 fund-raising letter sent to all Princeton graduates.

By the mid-1980's, however, Princeton students and recent alumni were increasingly finding such statements anachronistic or worse.

"Is the issue the percentage of alumni children admitted or the percentage of minorities?" Jonathan Morgan, a conservative undergraduate working with the group, asked its board members that fall in an internal memorandum. "I don't see the relevance in comparing the two, except in a racist context (i.e. why do we let in so many minorities and not alumni children?)," he continued.

By 1987, the group had sputtered out.

Mr. Morgan's memorandum and other records of Concerned Alumni are contained at the Library of Congress in the papers of William A. Rusher, a leader of the group and a former publisher of National Review.

Those records and others at Mudd Library at Princeton give no indication that Judge Alito, who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, was among the group's major donors. He was not an active leader of the group, and two of his classmates who were involved and Mr. Rusher said they did not remember his playing a role.

But in an application for a promotion in the Reagan administration in the fall of 1985, Judge Alito was asked to provide information about his "philosophical commitment" to administration policies and listed his membership in Concerned Alumni.

When the White House disclosed the application this month, liberal groups opposed to his nomination pounced on the connection. "The question for senators to consider and to ask is why Samuel Alito would brag about his membership in an organization known for its fervent hostility to the inclusion of women and minorities at Princeton," said Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way.

Steve Schmidt, a White House spokesman, declined to comment. But former leaders of Concerned Alumni say they do not remember the group objecting to the inclusion of minorities, only to the university's affirmative action policies.

Andrew P. Napolitano, a friend and Princeton classmate of Judge Alito, questioned the relevance of Judge Alito's association with the group. "His membership probably tells you that his social inclinations are conservative," said Mr. Napolitano, who became a leader of the group, "but he is so intellectually honest that he labored mightily to keep those inclinations from influencing his decisions on the bench."

As for how Judge Alito might rule as a Supreme Court justice, Mr. Napolitano, a former Superior Court judge in New Jersey, said, "Who knows what will happen?"

By 1985 Concerned Alumni had become well known in conservative circles. Financed in part by Shelby Cullom Davis, a member of the 1930 class and the ambassador to Switzerland in the Nixon administration, the group announced in an early fund-raising pamphlet that its goals included a less-liberal faculty and "a more traditional undergraduate population."

A pamphlet for parents suggested that "racial tensions" and loose oversight of campus social life were contributing to a spike in campus crime. A brochure for Princeton alumni warned, "The unannounced goal of the administration, now achieved, of a student population of approximately 40 percent women and minorities will largely vitiate the alumni body of the future."

In 1975, an alumni panel that included Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the current Republican leader and a 1974 Princeton graduate, concluded that Concerned Alumni had "presented a distorted, narrow and hostile view of the university that cannot help but have misinformed and even alarmed many alumni" and "undoubtedly generated adverse national publicity." (Mr. Frist could not be reached for comment.) In 1977, The New Yorker devoted 20 pages to a gently derisive history of the group's squabbles with the university.

By the 1980's, however, Concerned Alumni had added a new cause: the defense of the exclusive "eating clubs," where many upper class Princeton students took their meals, and especially the three all-male clubs. All now admit women.

As a student, Judge Alito had not joined any of the clubs, taking his meals at a dining hall. But the leaders of Concerned Alumni and the editors of Prospect regarded the clubs as pillars of the university's distinctive social life that were under attack by the Princeton administration.

When the administration proposed a new system of residential colleges with their own dining halls, Prospect denounced the idea as a potential threat to the system of eating clubs. The magazine charged that, like affirmative action, the plan was "intended to create racial harmony."

Prospect portrayed the proposal as an effort to end the de facto segregation of the campus in which black students were concentrated in one dormitory and mostly did not belong to the clubs. "Doubtless, there will be many who regard this as mere stalling, and prejudice by another name," an unsigned 1982 editorial argued in defense of the magazine's position. "If realistic approaches to problems must be called dirty names because we do not like them, well, there is no remedy for it."

The magazine's content also grew increasingly provocative under the editorship of conservative rising stars, including Dinesh D'Souza and later Laura Ingraham.

A March 1984 article by Mr. D'Souza told the story of a Puerto Rican first-year student whose mother sought to remove her from the school after learning that she was having sex with a male student and was receiving sex-education from the school. The magazine said the administration had increased the female student's financial aide to enable her to stay, and it accused Princeton of giving new meaning to the phrase "in loco parentis."

Hundreds of students signed a petition protesting the article as an invasion of privacy, and the campus debate received national attention.

Later that year, Concerned Alumni fund-raising letters to Princeton graduates charged that the director of the university's health clinic had "celebrated the fact that 31 out of 33 pregnant students had abortions after receiving counseling from Princeton's sex clinic."

In January 1985 - a few months before Judge Alito filled out his Reagan administration application - William G. Bowen, Princeton's president, issued a statement calling the letter "callous" and "outrageous."

In an interview, Ms. Ingraham said liberal groups were making too much of Judge Alito's membership. "Stop the presses!" she said. "Sam Alito, a conservative, was once a member of a conservative Princeton alumni group."

Mr. D'Souza said supporters of Concerned Alumni were motivated by a fear that "traditional values" at Princeton had come under attack, but their specific concerns varied from academic standards to the athletic program. Judge Alito's support for the group "might tell you something," he said, "but it is hard to know what."

Taipei Times - archives

Taipei Times - archivesTaiwan should tread carefully in flight talks
By Shih Hsiu-chuan
STAFF REPORTER
Sunday, Nov 27, 2005

With the scope of the cross-strait Lunar New Year charter flights getting broader year by year, the debate surrounding direct air links between Taiwan and China has again become the subject of much debate.

While some consider the annual charter flights for family reunions during the holidays as a good basis for normalizing cross-strait relations, some experts are concerned that Taiwan will lose important bargaining chips in the negotiations on direct cross-strait air links.

Since the first Lunar New Year charter flights in 2003, the original agreement has been extended significantly for both this year and next year's schedules.

Reviewing the progress made over the last three years, Tung Chen-yuan (童振源), an assistant professor at the Sun Yat-sen Graduate Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities of Chengchi University, lauded the success as creating a pragmatic model for future negotiations.

"The negotiations on Lunar New Year charter flights have established an important model which both sides of the Strait can use when negotiating other issues in the future," he said.

Lunar New Year charter flight details
2003
Direction:
One-way (from China to Taiwan)
Service suppliers: six Taiwanese airlines
Stopover: Required (in Hong Kong or Macau)
Flights: Total of six flights
Destinations:
In China -- Shanghai; In Taiwan -- CKS and Kaohsiung International Airport
Period: 14 days

2005
Direction:
Two-way
Service suppliers: Six Taiwanese airlines and six Chinese airlines
Stopover: Non-stop
Flights: Total of 48 flights
Destinations:
In China -- Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou; In Taiwan -- CKS and Kaohsiung International Airport
Period: 23 days

2006
Direction:
Two-way
Service suppliers: Six Taiwanese airlines and six Chinese airlines
Stopover: Non-stop
Flights: Total of 72 flights
Destinations:
In China -- Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Xiamen; In Taiwan -- CKS and Kaohsiung International Airport
Period: 25 days
"Under the model, the governments of both sides will gradually realize that putting aside political differences and seeking consensus on issues and people's interests are realistic ways in which many other cross-strait problems can also be solved," he added.

With the increasing numbers of Taiwanese people living in China and the extent of economic integration between the two sides becoming ever deeper, the opening of direct air links has been pushed for by the business community, which says it will enhance the competitiveness of all Taiwanese businesses.

The president of a China-based Taiwanese business association, who wished to remain anonymous, said that he felt unenthusiastic about the annual charter flights.

"I don't deny the convenience of shorter traveling times when returning home for family reunions, but what we really need are normalized air links that can reduce transportation costs and enhance logistics capabilities for our firms," he said.

He cited the government report that reviewed the implementation of this year's Lunar New Year charter flights as saying that actually many Taiwanese businesspeople are not very fond of these `ceremonial services.'

"The average occupancy rate was only about 50 percent and thus the airlines didn't make a great profit, which was why the government has decided on a more comprehensive program for the Lunar New Year charter flights next year," he said, noting that he didn't think the extensions are an indication that direct air links will start soon.

Alexander Huang (黃介正), director of the Graduate Institute of American Studies at Tamkang University, however, struck a more positive note when considering the implications of the extensions.

"After Lunar New Year charter flights become normalized, it is not unreasonable to expect that regular cross-strait charter flights for passengers and cargo will eventually become a reality," Huang said.

The issues of cargo and passenger charter flights have already been negotiated under the table, but both have failed to reach any conclusions because of disagreements about the arrangements.

Huang said that the government has to be cautious when conducting the negotiations on passenger charter flights, as it might lead Taiwan to lose bargaining chips.

"The opening of direct air links has been a useful chip for Taiwan to use with China when bargaining over political issues. Now, China is planning to act alone and wants to start passenger charter flights during weekends, from Friday to Monday, terming them direct air links. If the weekend plan for passenger charter flights is adopted during the negotiations, Taiwan will lose all its chips," he said.

Meanwhile, Shih Cheng-feng (施正鋒), a professor of politics at the Department of Public Administration of Tamkang University, criticized the Lunar New Year charter flight scheme as a kind of "real direct air links" under the guise of "indirect charter flights."

"The purpose of implementing these charter flights is to pander to certain people who value good relations with China and forget the dignity of the nation," he said.

Citing that China turned down Taiwan's suggestion of using Jeju Island and Okinawa as the third place for stopovers rather than Hong Kong in the negotiations for two years running, Shih said that China's actual intention is to define the Lunar New Year charter flights as domestic routes in order to degrade Taiwan's national status.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Even Supporters Doubt President as Issues Pile Up - New York Times

Even Supporters Doubt President as Issues Pile Up - New York TimesNovember 26, 2005
Even Supporters Doubt President as Issues Pile Up
By KATE ZERNIKE

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Nov. 22 - Leesa Martin never considered President Bush a great leader, but she voted for him a year ago because she admired how he handled the terrorist attacks of 2001.

Then came the past summer, when the death toll from the war in Iraq hit this state particularly hard: 16 marines from the same battalion killed in one week. She thought the federal government should have acted faster to help after Hurricane Katrina. She was baffled by the president's nomination of Harriet E. Miers, a woman she considered unqualified for the Supreme Court, and disappointed when he did not nominate another woman after Ms. Miers withdrew.

And she remains unsettled by questions about whether the White House leaked the name of a C.I.A. agent whose husband had accused the president of misleading the country about the intelligence that led to the war.

"I don't know if it's any one thing as much as it is everything," said Ms. Martin, 49, eating lunch at the North Market, on the edge of downtown Columbus. "It's kind of snowballed."

Her concerns were echoed in more than 75 interviews here and across the country this week, helping to explain the slide in the president's approval and trustworthiness ratings in recent polls.

Many people who voted for Mr. Bush a year ago had trouble pinning their current discontent on any one thing. Many mentioned the hurricane and the indictment of a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, which some said raised doubts about the president's candor and his judgment. But there was a sense that something had veered off course in the last few months, and the war was the one constant. Over and over, even some of Mr. Bush's supporters raised comparisons with Vietnam.

"We keep hearing about suicide bombers and casualties and never hear about any progress being made," said Dave Panici, 45, a railroad conductor from Bradley, Ill. "I don't see an end to it; it just seems relentless. I feel like our country is just staying afloat, just treading water instead of swimming toward somewhere."

Mr. Panici voted for President Bush in 2004, calling it "a vote for security." "Now that a year has passed, I haven't seen any improvement in Iraq," he said. "I don't feel that the world is a safer place."

A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll in mid-November found that 37 percent of Americans approved of Mr. Bush, the lowest approval rating the poll had recorded in his presidency. That was down from 55 percent a year ago and from a high of 90 percent shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.

An Associated Press/Ipsos poll earlier in the month found the same 37 percent approval rating and recorded the president's lowest levels regarding integrity and honesty: 42 percent of Americans found him honest, compared with 53 percent at the beginning of this year.

Several of those interviewed said that in the last year they had come to believe that Mr. Bush had not been fully honest about the intelligence that led to the war, which he said showed solid evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

"I think people put their faith in Bush, hoping he would do the right thing," said Stacey Rosen, 38, a stay-at-home mother in Boca Raton, Fla., who said she voted for Mr. Bush but was "totally disappointed" in him now. "Everybody cannot believe that there hasn't been one shred of evidence of W.M.D. I think it goes to show how they tell us what they want to tell us."

Mark Briggs, who works for Nationwide Insurance here, said he did not want to believe that the president "manipulated" intelligence leading the country into war, but believed that, at least, Mr. Bush had misread it.

Still, however much he may disagree with Mr. Bush's policies, Mr. Briggs said, he admires the president for standing by what he says.

"There is the notion of leadership and sticking with the plan, which I believe in," he said. "George Bush is clear and consistent. He made a tough decision to go to war - and others voted for it, too. And I think he's right: those people may be trying to rewrite history."

Kacey Wilson, 32, eating lunch with Ms. Martin, said she, too, had concerns about the death toll from the war, but she felt that Mr. Bush spoke the truth, even if it might not be what the country wanted to hear. "I like his cut-and-dry, take-no-prisoners style," Ms. Wilson said. "I think people are used to more spinning."

Others, though, saw arrogance in that approach.

"We need to not be so stubborn," said Vicky Polka, 58, a retired school principal in Statesboro, Ga., who voted for Mr. Bush and described her support for him as "waning." "Something's not going right here. We need to resolve this. I hate to say it, but I think Iraq is going the way of Vietnam."

Few people said they were following the leak scandal, which led to the indictment of I. Lewis Libby Jr., Mr. Cheney's former aide. Some who could cite main characters and events dismissed it as little more than political theater. Even fewer said they had paid attention to other scandals preoccupying Washington: the indictment of Representative Tom DeLay, the powerful Texas Republican, and the guilty plea by his former spokesman.

But several people said that the leak scandal had left them with the sense that the president was not leveling with the public about his involvement.

"He has to give us more information," said Phil Niemie, 51, an elementary school principal eating lunch with his family in Columbus. "The longer it goes without closure, it begins to trigger those Nixon Watergate years. I felt the same way with Clinton."

But for Mr. Niemie, who voted for Mr. Bush, and others, the leak scandal raised the biggest doubts about Vice President Cheney.

"A lot of problems tie back to some of Cheney's shenanigans," Ms. Martin said. "It just seems like he could have done better for vice president the second time around."

In Atlanta, Selena Smith, a director at an advertising agency, echoed others when she said she thought too much time had already been spent on the investigation.

"The war is more important to me now," said Ms. Smith, 46. "What's the plan? Give us something to hang our teeth on. What's really top of mind for me is how many people are getting killed across the creek, and how are we going to get them home?"

Here in Ohio, the most hotly contested state in the 2004 election, the heavy toll on a local Marine battalion had played out on television and in newspapers throughout the summer's end, and the majority of two dozen people interviewed here said they wanted to see the troops come home.

Some, though, faulted Americans as having short attention spans.

"Anything that takes more than a couple of months, we get bored with," said Rich Canary, 35, an information technology specialist here. "Progress has been made. The Iraqis have a constitution. They're actually creating their own country. When you hear the soldiers talk, they feel what they're doing is important."

And there was much division about how to end the war. Some military families said it was important to finish the task the troops had begun; others said they resented accusations of being unpatriotic when they criticized the war. Some who said their approval of the president had not wavered nevertheless argued for a quick end to the war, while some of Mr. Bush's strongest critics said it would destabilize Iraq to withdraw the troops anytime soon.

"Too many people would get hurt," said Laurence Melia, 28, a salesman from Newton, Mass., who campaigned against President Bush last year. "There has to be a last foot on the ground in the end, and there might be more problems if we run away too fast."

In Houston, Geoff Van Hoeven, an accountant, said he thought the war in Iraq had aggravated the terrorist threat by creating "a breeding ground for Al Qaeda." Still, Mr. Van Hoeven said a quick withdrawal was not possible, "because America's going to be perceived as extremely weak and unreliable coming in, and when the going gets rough, they pull out."

Even those who voted against Mr. Bush a year ago saw little satisfaction in his woes.

"Part of me enjoys watching him squirm," said Shirley Tobias, 46, sitting with a colleague from Netscape at a coffee shop in Grandview, a suburb of Columbus. "But he's squirming on our behalf. We're all in this together."

Reporting for this article was contributed by Cindy Chang from Los Angeles; Bill Dawson from Houston; Brenda Goodman from Atlanta; Kelli Kennedy from Boca Raton, Fla.; Gretchen Ruethling from Chicago; and Katie Zezima from Boston.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

New York Daily News - News

New York Daily News - News No place like home

The heart & hope of the world
beats louder here than anywhere

Thirty years ago I moved to New York and have been thankful for that choice ever since, even on my very worst days and nights in this town. I can think of no better place to live and do not even feel completely alive if I am any place else for too long.

New York always wins, because of the nature of the human factor that rises up to and goes over the top with more surprise, charm and vitality than any other place of which I am aware. That does not make Paris or Rome or London or Nairobi less than what they are, but none of them can compete with the urban heart of the world that is New York City, where everyone's ultimate metaphor for city life is the nature of the subway at rush hour. Everyone becomes accustomed to moving over so that at least one more can squeeze in.

New York is where one gets used to other people and comes to witness how other people become used to this town. Being from Los Angeles, I was very familiar with the Mexican population that came right up over the border. For the past 10 years or so, Mexicans have been coming to New York after having ventured up to Chicago and all points east. But they are not the same Mexicans in New York that they were in Los Angeles because this town remakes everyone who comes here.

Once a newcomer takes on the rhythms and realities of New York, that newcomer knows how to handle the pace and the demands and the overwhelming indifference that this city projects when everyone is in a rush. They are in a rush to get to work or to do the job that will keep the income coming in or will make possible the promotion or the betterment of the private business.

That is only the hard part, which means that you have to have heart and stamina to stand up to the madness if you are going to live here. But the hard part is not the only part, or none of us could stand this town. The reason we can stand it is because its millions of people, its millions of apartments and businesses and lights and streets all add up, finally, to the mighty throb of the human factor that will not be denied. New York may beat you up, but if you are strong enough, as most of us continually show that we are, it will never beat you down. That is why New York is, like the line goes in the blues, "a lighthouse on the dark sea."

When it comes down to it, as I will never cease reminding those who so easily forget, New York showed the world how to spontaneously maintain compassion and courage on Sept. 11, 2001. That was the day when sex, race, class and religion were all secondary to whether or not one was in danger. Then this city of the supposedly too self-involved stepped up and continued to step up. That kind of unrehearsed bravery made it very clear why we should all be thankful to call ourselves New Yorkers. We represent the heart and the hope of the world.

Originally published on November 23, 2005

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Still Searching for a Strategy Four Years After Sept. 11 Attacks - New York Times

Still Searching for a Strategy Four Years After Sept. 11 Attacks - New York TimesNovember 23, 2005
News Analysis
Still Searching for a Strategy Four Years After Sept. 11 Attacks
By ADAM LIPTAK

Four years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the government has yet to settle on a consistent strategy for holding and punishing people it says are terrorists. Its efforts remain a work in progress, notable for false starts and a reluctance to have the executive branch's broadest claims tested in the courts.

Last year, three Supreme Court decisions turned back the administration's boldest positions. Government lawyers do not seem eager to give the justices a vehicle for elaboration, at least not one that involves Jose Padilla, an American citizen captured on American soil.

Mr. Padilla's lawyers filed an appeal in the Supreme Court last month, asking a fundamental question: "Does the president have the power to seize American citizens in civilian settings on American soil and subject them to indefinite military detention without criminal charge or trial?"

The administration says there is no need to answer that question just now. President Bush, in a directive signed on Sunday and made public yesterday, ordered the Defense Department, which had been holding Mr. Padilla as an "enemy combatant," to transfer him to the Justice Department "for the purpose of criminal proceedings against him."

That move, the administration says, renders Mr. Padilla's appeal to the Supreme Court moot.

The Supreme Court has already accepted one case this month concerning the scope of the president's power to fight terror. That one involves whether he has the authority to try detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for terrorist offenses before military commissions there. The administration had vigorously urged the court not to hear the case.

Last year, in three cases involving detainees accused of terrorism, the court ruled that people held at Guantánamo and those designated by the president as enemy combatants had the right to challenge their detentions in the courts or before a "neutral decision maker."

The question of how that should work has engaged all three branches of the government. The lower courts have offered varying answers to the administration's narrow interpretation of the decisions. Congress, too, may add its voice, through pending legislation that would limit some detainees' access to the federal courts.

The Padilla case illustrates the seemingly improvised and reactive nature of the administration's strategy. The government initially held Mr. Padilla as a material witness, after detaining him at a Chicago airport in May 2002. When it feared that a federal judge would determine that indefinite detentions of material witnesses were unlawful, it designated him as an enemy combatant in June of that year.

Yesterday, after Mr. Padilla spent more than three years in a Navy brig, the government decided to charge him as a criminal.

The accusations against Mr. Padilla have changed, too. He was initially held on suspicion of planning to detonate a radioactive device in the United States. But the charges unsealed yesterday concerned supporting terrorism abroad.

That progression was a natural one, said John Yoo, a former Justice Department official who played a central role in formulating the administration's approach.

"Whatever benefits would have been gained by interrogating him are now gone," said Professor Yoo, who teaches law at the University of California, Berkeley.

The timing of the government's decision to charge Mr. Padilla is nonetheless suggestive.

"They obviously saw that their position is untenable," Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University who has consulted with Mr. Padilla's legal team, said of the government.

Jonathan M. Freiman, a lawyer for Mr. Padilla, said his client would continue to seek Supreme Court review even though the government's position was that the enemy combatant case was now moot.

The government could redesignate Mr. Padilla as an enemy combatant if he was found not guilty at his criminal trial. As long as the government does not disclaim that right, Mr. Freiman said, the case is, in the legal jargon, "capable of repetition yet evading review" and so not moot. He added that the government refused to rule out that possibility yesterday.

"It's a power they claim to have not only over my client, but every American citizen," Mr. Freiman said. "They can seize anyone, anywhere."

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., ruled against Mr. Padilla in September, reversing a trial judge who had ordered him freed. The court framed the issue in a different way.

"The exceedingly important question before us," Judge J. Michael Luttig wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel, "is whether the president of the United States possesses the authority to detain militarily a citizen of this country who is closely associated with Al Qaeda, an entity with which the United States is at war."

The answer, Judge Luttig said, was yes, citing the powers granted to the president by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Professor Yoo said that the government necessarily had to react to decisions from the courts. "You do see a lot of uncertainty," he said, "with a lot of people scrambling to see what the federal courts will do."

Geoffrey R. Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago, said the administration's decision to charge Mr. Padilla with a crime, after he had been held "incommunicado" for this long, was a momentous one.

"The most interesting question now is whether the government will finally permit Padilla to say whatever he has to say," Professor Stone said, "both about his own culpability and about what's happened to him over the past three years."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: China has a chance to turn things green

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: China has a chance to turn things greenChina has a chance to turn things green

Now could be the time for China to throw its weight around for the good of the world and come out an ecological hero of epic proportions.

This is far from impossible. The necessary elements are right there. The Chinese giant could clean up its image, get the best available propaganda and prove itself an irrefutable world leader of unexpected vision and resourcefulness.

This could come at just the moment that we have become grimly aware of how well China has manipulated capitalist investment in order to get the money necessary to finance its totalitarian state. That need not be the whole story, however. In fact, I wonder how long it will take those Chinese to figure out that they should use the power with which they are now familiar and reverse the relationship of this entire planet to the oil industry.

How could China do this and why would it care to? Well, China has had pollution problems for many years and is no more in need of a larger amount of filthy air than any other country. If a very bright and charismatic member of the party were to think about it, he could come to the conclusion that it is time for that huge nation to use its impressive power and push the car industry to step away from big oil, which we know is both poisoning the planet and keeping us all in hock to the Middle East.

If such a person were to appear and be so influential, China could offer the car manufacturers of the world entry into a market of 1.5 billion people, only 10% of which is 150 million cars! But that entry would only be allowed if automobiles that did not use gasoline were developed.

This would be an ecological strategy driven by greed. If the Chinese have learned only one thing from the West, it is that the flag of greed almost never hangs at half-staff. It is flapping at the top of the pole and can be seen from miles away. There are few who believe that car manufacturers would turn down a chance for their share of millions of customers in exchange for making big oil happy. With the chance to break into the Chinese market, the auto industry would start working on alternate forms of fuel immediately.

This is where totalitarian forms of government have a small advantage over liberal democracies. They do not have to wade through oceans of words or prepare themselves for the influence of lobbyists on every issue. Things begin to happen almost as soon as a decision is made.

That is exactly why we should not be surprised if we were to see good policy come from the strangest places every now and then.

Originally published on November 21, 2005

Ariel Sharon, as the Centrist - New York Times

Ariel Sharon, as the Centrist - New York TimesNovember 22, 2005
Editorial
Ariel Sharon, as the Centrist

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel offered up several tantalizing morsels yesterday to explain his decision to dump the Likud Party. He said he wants to "lay the foundation" toward "the permanent borders of the state." That, of course, hints that he is willing to engage in the territorial compromise necessary for achieving peace with the Palestinians, something members of the right wing of Likud can't get their heads around. He said he has "no intention of allowing anyone to miss" the "historic opportunity" brought by Israel's withdrawal from Gaza last summer. Again, another hint at territorial compromise.

But perhaps his most telling comment was that Likud, which Mr. Sharon himself helped create, "is unable to lead Israel toward its national goals." It is astounding to hear those words coming from the man who has embodied Likud for the past three decades. But while Likud has stayed largely the same in those decades, Mr. Sharon has evolved, like the nation he has helped to shape.

In the 1950's, he trained and led the commandos who were so quick and deadly at reprisals. In 1973, he led the crossing of the Suez Canal that helped end the Yom Kippur War. In 1982, he led Israel's invasion of Lebanon, and later was found indirectly responsible - by an Israeli commission of inquiry - for the massacre by Christian militiamen of Palestinians in two refugee camps. In 2000, he detonated the Palestinian intifada when, surrounded by hundreds of policemen and soldiers, he visited the plateau in Jerusalem that the Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and the Jews call the Temple Mount.

Yet in 2005, Mr. Sharon, the architect of Israel's settlement policy, did what no other Israeli leader has ever done: in withdrawing from the desert Israel seized 38 years ago, Mr. Sharon unilaterally ceded land that Palestinians claim for their future state. Mr. Sharon was resolute in the face of condemnation from right-wing members of Likud, and the Gaza withdrawal is what brought Mr. Sharon to the podium yesterday for that press conference, in which he announced to the world his disengagement from Likud. Alongside the election of Amir Peretz as the new leader of the Labor Party, the events of the last two weeks have brought Israelis to a stark choice about their country's direction.

The coming national elections will bring many issues into relief. Will the country capitalize on the Gaza withdrawal to forge ahead in peace talks with the Palestinians? Will Israel finally talk seriously about abandoning the settlements in the West Bank, which it must leave for a Palestinian state - and peace - to be a realistic outcome?

Polls say Mr. Sharon has popular good will in Israel today, and without the baggage of Likud he certainly has the credibility to push Israel in the direction it needs to go. Whether he chooses to do so remains to be seen. But one thing is clear. Mr. Sharon couldn't lead Israel toward its national goals as long as he embodied Likud.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Plank

The PlankWHO'S THE NEW DEEP THROAT?:

What to make of today's big revelation in the Washington Post that Bob Woodward has completely screwed up Patrick Fitzgerald's chronology by revealing that a government official not named Scooter told him Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA in mid-June 2003? Well, at least, unlike the unmasking of Deep Throat, the Post and Woodward didn't get scooped on their own story.

But I suppose the bigger issue here, besides all the questions that are sure to be raised about Woodward's conduct, is: who was Woodward's source? Presumably, the source is sympathetic to Libby and came forward--approaching Fitzgerald a week after Libby was indicted--with the hope of bolstering Libby's defense. (After all, as one of Libby's lawyers, William Jeffress Jr told the Post, "If what Woodward says is so, will Mr. Fitzgerald now say he was wrong to say on TV that Scooter Libby was the first official to give this information to a reporter? The second question I would have is: Why did Mr. Fitzgerald indict Mr. Libby before fully investigating what other reporters knew about Wilson's wife?")

Is it crazy to think that Woodward's source might be Dick Cheney? Fitzgerald's indictment says that by June 12, 2003, Cheney had learned--apparently from the CIA--that Wilson's wife worked at the agency. Woodward surely was talking to Cheney for his book Plan of Attack, possibly in mid-June. Maybe Cheney said something to Woodward about Wilson's wife. And maybe Cheney, realizing there was probably no harm now in telling Fitzgerald he told Woodward about Wilson's wife, came forward earlier this month in an effort to help Libby. The fact that Woodward's source only released the reporter to testify to Fitzgerald but wouldn't allow him to discuss their conversation publicly sounds a whole lot like a deal Cheney would strike.

Anyway, that's all completely unfounded speculation, but it's been a while since we've been able to do that here. And it actually feels kind of good.

UPDATE: Or maybe not. Today's Note reports: "The Washington guessing game on (2)--fairly or not--already includes Vice President Cheney, although a senior Administration official, speaking to ABC News' Jessica Yellin, 'laughed' at the suggestion that Cheney was Woodward's source. (Note Note: we wonder if that was one of those laughs like Senator Clinton laughs when asked reportorial questions)."

UPDATE II: Another strike against the Cheney theory. As Ryan Lizza helpfully points out, Woodward, in a statement, says that on June 23--which was some time after his source told him Wilson's wife worked for the CIA--Woodward told Libby he was going to send him an "18-page list of questions I wanted to ask Vice President Cheney." That makes it sound as if Woodward had not already interviewed Cheney (unless he had 18 pages of follow-up questions).

--Jason Zengerle

Friday, November 18, 2005

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Resist China's hold

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Resist China's holdResist China's hold

U.S. must spurn the lure of huge market
& restore ethics to capitalism

The conventional leftist analysis is that Marxism is the solution to the corruption of capitalism, right? But the case of China seems to prove that the evils of Marxism can be supported by capitalism.

That is why there was an element of the absurd to seeing President Bush "covertly" warning China about human rights abuses, as if anyone in the single party there cares what any country outside of China says about anything. The party's top dogs have discovered that a market of 1.5 billion people inspires so much outside greed that the multinational roar of capital profit drowns out the much softer sound of international compassion.

Ours is a monstrously interesting moment because, once upon a time, the Chinese could only be threatened by the atomic bomb. About 20 years ago or so, the Chinese realized that their endless waves of troops meant nothing in the nuclear age and began to adjust. Now, with much pilfered Western technology, they are as prepared to set off the chain reaction of doom as any other superpower.

The Chinese have learned, as a friend of mine in Harlem always loves to say, that "Marx told us that the capitalist will sell the very rope intended for his hanging."

Of course, contempt for the profit-obsessed businessman, or merchant, is older than Chaucer. But the point holds and sticks a gritty fact in our faces. China has been able to make big business concerns heel to its rules.

Even the supposedly all-powerful Internet, which is supposed to liberate through the free flow of information, has been put on permanent hold. The big dogs in the party know that the Soviet Union fell, at least partially, because the reality of the world was able to get into the country electronically, where it contradicted so much of what the people were told. Consequently, Google and Yahoo, for instance, filter out the information that China does not want its population to see. Beyond that, China has built one of the biggest and most effective firewalls in the world so as to block out all unwanted computer information. The Iron Curtain has become electronic.

Perhaps the most impressive piece of high-level chess-playing brought off by the Party was its admitting businessmen into its midst, whom it absorbed into an ever more wealthy structure that allowed for individual profit as long as one genuflected before the unbending "dictatorship of the proletariat."

Perhaps it is time for America to recollect that our capitalism has, at its best, been about bringing together the profit motive, ethics and morality. That would lead to isolating China from the world market unless it begins to treat its people better. There could be no bigger job for world leaders than convincing their business communities of that, which is something that President Bush might realize the minute he starts to seriously think about it.

Originally published on November 17, 2005

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Helping hands

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Helping handsHelping hands

Bx. school leads by example, teaming students with mentors

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein last week lauded 100 Black Men as the future of public education because the organization is now sponsoring the Eagle Academy in the Bronx, the first all-male school in New York City in more than 30 years. One of the most important aspects of the school is that it provides mentors for the young men in order to make sure that the boys become accustomed to seeing and knowing successful men who are not corrupt or corrupting and with whom they can talk and from whom they can get advice.

Joining Klein at the philanthropic gala celebrating 100 Black Men's 42 years of service was Eagle Academy Principal David Banks, who came onstage with his students and gave a rousing speech. His point was one of the most important ones that can be made in our time. Hard work, quality education, changing value systems, celebrating intellectual achievement and mentoring are of the utmost importance in the elevation of those at the bottom.

Sean (Diddy) Combs, whom some might have mistaken for a play gangster in his dark glasses, actually gave an interesting acceptance speech after being awarded Entrepreneur of the Year. He thanked his mother and the women in his family for encouraging him, but he also pointed out how important men in the business such as Quincy Jones had been in mentoring him toward success.

It was somewhat ironic that Combs was followed by jazz great Wynton Marsalis. It was ironic because Marsalis made a point that was not aimed at Combs in particular, but rather at the ugly facts of the pop music business.

Marsalis told the audience that it was important to keep its cultural awareness in line with the goals of the organization because black American culture, which once produced so many musicians of worldwide importance, is being debased and now pumps out trash that pollutes and weakens the community.

Marsalis said that it was important to salvage the greatness of black American culture because of its human importance beyond all lines of color, sex, religion or nationality. Jazz, he said, represented not just the triumph of a single ethnic community; it represented the triumph of the human spirit, which was why it had spoken so clearly to lovers of art around the world.

The address Marsalis gave was much more well received than those given by the other speakers. But what was most important about the evening is that all of the men, having come from the bottom to the tops of their professions, symbolized everything that 100 Black Men, like every serious effort in this nation, is trying to do. Each of those men knew that he did not get where he is alone, quick to acknowledge mentors as the answer in sustaining the human virtues of a culture in academic, economic and artistic terms.

Originally published on November 13, 2005

Voters Showed Less Appetite for Tax Cuts - New York Times

Voters Showed Less Appetite for Tax Cuts - New York TimesVoters Showed Less Appetite for Tax Cuts
By JOHN M. BRODER

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 14 - Has the American voter's ardor for cutting taxes and shrinking government cooled?

Voters in California, Colorado and Washington State rejected ballot measures this month that would have rolled back tax increases or limited state spending. Some say the votes could mark a turning point in a decades-old revolt against high taxes that got its symbolic start in California in 1978 with Proposition 13, which sharply limited property tax increases for homeowners and cut deeply into state services.

It may be, some analysts suggested, that after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and this year's Gulf Coast hurricanes, Americans saw the value of government investment in infrastructure, public safety and other services and are now more willing to pay for it.

"It looks like that to me," said John G. Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California Law School. "The public sector did a lot of belt-tightening during the last recession, and the public now appears to be letting it out a few notches. I think we saw that in Washington State and Colorado."

On Nov. 1, Colorado voters approved a ballot proposition that would allow the state to keep a projected $3.7 billion in tax revenue over the next five years rather than return it to taxpayers.

In California last Tuesday, voters resoundingly defeated Proposition 76, supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The measure would have limited state spending and given the governor broad new powers to cut spending when state revenue lagged.

And in Washington, an initiative put on the ballot by antitax groups failed last week by a six-point margin, letting stand a 9.5-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax passed by the Legislature.

In California, Mr. Matsusaka said, voters ignored Mr. Schwarzenegger's appeals to give him more power to cut state spending and tuned out television advertisements warning that the rejection of Proposition 76 would mean a big tax increase next year.

In New Jersey, which has the highest property taxes per person in the nation, voters elected Senator Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat, as governor last week, even though he promised a more modest reduction in property taxes than his Republican opponent, Douglas R. Forrester.

"People are still concerned about spending, but it's not a front-burner issue for them," Mr. Matsusaka said. "They're more concerned about wanting to put money in for education."

Advocates of cutting taxes and limiting public spending said, however, that the three ballot results were responses to specific situations and did not mark the beginning of some sort of backlash.

"I don't see it," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and one of the nation's most vocal tax opponents. "I would be very sensitive to it and sweating over it if it were happening."

California voters, Mr. Norquist said, were in a sour mood over the special election last week when they voted down the spending cap and all seven other measures on the ballot. Washington voters succumbed to warnings that roads and bridges were crumbling and that the gas tax was needed to avert disaster.

And, he said, Colorado voters were hoodwinked by a "traitor" Republican governor, Bill Owens, into voting for a huge tax increase. (Governor Owens's argument was that limits had locked spending at levels that were far too low to handle the state's increasing population and cost of services.)

"All trends start with small sets of data points," Mr. Norquist said when asked if the three votes could mark a major shift in public opinion. "But if you flesh in the picture for the year, that's not the case at all."

Mr. Norquist pointed to a proposal in Oklahoma in September that would raise gasoline taxes to pay for highway construction and maintenance. It was defeated by 87 percent to 13 percent. He said that while Colorado residents voted to lift the spending cap, they also turned down a $2.1 billion bond issue for transportation. Voters in West Virginia also rejected a big bond issue to underwrite the state's pension funds.

Mr. Norquist said he was working with tax-limitation groups in Maine, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma and Oregon to put spending limits before voters in 2006. He said lawmakers in several other states were also considering new caps on state spending, using a variety of formulas involving population growth and inflation.

Kim Rueben, a public finance economist at the Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute, said the outcome of the votes this year was not sufficient to establish a trend. But Ms. Rueben said that for the past several years voters had been willing to increase taxes or approve bond issues when they were designated for tangible improvements.

On Tuesday, voters in Maine, New York and Ohio approved bond issues totaling nearly $5 billion to pay for transportation projects, water systems, college buildings and research programs.

"Starting in the late 1990's, there has been more emphasis on the state of state infrastructure, and effort to get new money in and new things built," Ms. Rueben said. "I think in general people want roads and are happy to fund them. But they are less willing to just turn over money to the state and let officials decide how to spend it."

That was how Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington, a Democrat, went about trying to save the gasoline tax increase that barely passed the Legislature on the last day of the session in May.

After the tax bill squeaked through, opponents quickly gathered 400,000 signatures to put a measure on the Nov. 8 ballot to repeal the increase, which will take effect in increments over the next three years. The money is dedicated to the repairing and seismic retrofitting of the state's highways, bridges and tunnels.

Governor Gregoire said in an interview that two rockslides that closed the Interstate 90 pass through the mountains of eastern Washington and the damage along the Gulf Coast from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita helped her cause, by showing what can happen when state infrastructure is in poor condition.

"Their levees are our bridges," Ms. Gregoire said, referring to New Orleans. "People here were skeptical, but Katrina brought the message home loud and clear."

She added, "People here who have been antitax for a number of years now said: 'We're not going to leave our safety at risk; we're not going to leave this to our kids. We're going to invest.' "

The repeal measure was voted down by 53 percent to 47 percent, but a look at a map of how Washington residents voted is revealing.

Twenty-nine of Washington's 39 counties voted to repeal, many of them by margins of 20 or even 30 percentage points. The measure failed because the heavily populated, more liberal counties around Seattle and two college towns in eastern Washington voted against it.

In other words, when it comes to taxes, Americans are still divided.

Monday, November 14, 2005

About.com: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/12/AR2005111200170.html

About.com: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/12/AR2005111200170.htmlwashingtonpost.com
Debunking Cosby on Blacks

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, November 13, 2005; F01

Was comedian Bill Cosby right when he criticized poor blacks for not appreciating and thus capitalizing on the path people such as civil rights icon Rosa Parks paved?

It's fitting, as many reflect on Parks's life and her decision not to move to the back of the bus, that we also examine the current economic state of black America. So this month for the Color of Money Book Club, I'm recommending "Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?" by Michael Eric Dyson (Basic Civitas Books, $23).

During a ceremony last year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, Cosby contrasted the achievements of civil rights activists such as Parks with the current generation of "lower-economic and lower-middle-economic people" who he said have not been holding up their end of the deal.

Cosby said they are squandering what Parks and others fought for.

They are "fighting hard to be ignorant," he said.

Poor blacks are bad parents because they waste what little money they have buying high-priced, brand-name shoes, Cosby chided.

"All this child knows is gimme, gimme, gimme," Cosby said, according to a transcript of the speech. "They are buying things for the kid. $500 sneakers. For what?"

Cosby was lauded by white conservatives and some blacks for being brave enough to speak out. But like the price of sneakers that Cosby got wrong, he was incorrect about much of what he said. And Dyson proves as much in his well-researched book.

Dyson begins most chapters with Cosby's own words and then methodically dissects the comments, showing just why the comedian was rattling off nonsense much like his Fat Albert character Mushmouth. "Cosby's remarks are not the isolated ranting of a solo rhetorical gunslinger, but simply the most recent, and the most visible, shot taken at poor blacks in a more-than-century-old class war in black America," Dyson writes in the book's preface.

Dyson, a professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, deftly demolishes the stereotypes Cosby let loose.

Let's take Cosby's assertion that lower-economic and lower-middle-economic people are pathological consumers throwing their money away on overpriced consumer goods.

Dyson counters with research by anthropologist Elizabeth Chin. In her book "Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture," Chin concluded that black youths are not brand-crazed consumer addicts any more so than other youths. In fact, the children Chin studied more often than not made good purchasing decisions.

"The point of Chin's book is to dispel the sort of myths perpetuated by Cosby and many others, black and white," Dyson writes. "The perception that the meager resources of the poor are somehow atrociously misspent on expensive consumer items is far out of proportion to the facts of the case."

It smacks of elitism that poor blacks are held to standards that most Americans aren't, Dyson said in an interview. He reminds readers of what President Bush asked Americans to do after Sept. 11, 2001.

He asked us all to go shopping. And many did and are still shopping till they are now dropping from financial exhaustion.

"It is interesting that Cosby expects poor parents, and youth, to be more fiscally responsible than those with far greater resources prove to be," Dyson writes.

But what about the oft-repeated assertion that poor blacks can't afford to be spendthrifts?

"There is a cruelty to such an observation," according to Dyson. "Not only is the poor parent, or child, at a great disadvantage economically, but they are expected to be more judicious and responsible than their well-to-do counterparts, with far fewer resources."

Dyson's book is a stinging indictment of upper-middle-income blacks who have benefited from the civil rights movement but now feel justified to criticize poor black folks who haven't ascended to the same financial success.

By no means does Dyson absolve impoverished blacks of personal responsibility. Instead, he documents why we all "must never lose sight of the big social forces that make it difficult for poor parents to do their best jobs and for poor children to prosper."

This isn't a book that just black folks should read. It's a book that will challenge everyone to examine his or her stereotypical views of the underclass.

If you are interested in discussing this month's book selection, join me online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/ at noon on Thursday. Dyson will be my guest and will take your questions.

To become a member of the Color of Money Book Club, all you have to do is read the recommended book and chat online with the author and me. In addition, every month I randomly select readers to receive a copy of the book, donated by the publisher. For a chance to win a copy of "Is Bill Cosby Right?" send an e-mail to colorofmoney@washpost.com . Please include your name and an address so we can send you a book if you win.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Democrats and Judge Alito - New York Times

The Democrats and Judge Alito - New York TimesNovember 13, 2005
Editorial
The Democrats and Judge Alito

Judge Samuel Alito has been working hard to win over moderate Democratic senators. But just as it would be irresponsible to reject his nomination to the Supreme Court without giving him a full hearing, it is unwise to embrace it - or rule out the possibility of a filibuster - until more is known.

The Alito nomination is a defining moment for the country, and for the Democratic Party. Given the sharp divisions on the court, the next justice could decide the scope of reproductive freedom, civil rights and civil liberties, and environmental and workplace protections that Americans will live with for years. Although many questions remain to be answered, there is reason to believe that Judge Alito could do significant damage to values Democrats have long stood for.

Conservative Republicans demonstrated that they have a clear idea of what they want for the Supreme Court. They proved that once again with their insurrection against Harriet Miers. Now Democratic senators have to show their supporters that they are no less willing to fight for their vision.

Judge Alito has tried to reassure Democratic senators by talking about his respect for Supreme Court precedents, including Roe v. Wade. It would be unwise to put too much stock in such reassurances. Even justices who value precedent, as most do, sometimes overturn existing case law with which they disagree. It should give Democrats pause that after Judge Alito's meetings with senators, both sworn opponents of Roe and fervent supporters have emerged reassured.

Even if Judge Alito does stand by important precedents, there is still reason for concern. Under Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the Supreme Court perfected the art of reaffirming precedents in areas like criminal procedure while poking enough holes in them to render them almost unrecognizable. Judge Alito showed as a federal appeals court judge - when he voted to uphold a Pennsylvania law requiring women to inform their husbands before getting an abortion - that abortion rights can be severely diminished even within the framework of Roe. The same thing could be true in other areas.

One group that clearly does not believe that Judge Alito will be a slave to existing Supreme Court precedents is the far right. Many of the same groups and individuals who waged a fierce campaign against Ms. Miers, President Bush's previous nominee for this seat, appear to be lining up in support of Judge Alito. Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican who strongly opposes abortion, and other rights the court has recognized over the years, declared after meeting with Judge Alito, "This is the type of nominee I've been asking for."

The confirmation hearings, which are scheduled to start in early January, should shed light on whether he is in the mainstream of the law or outside it. Democrats should put a heavy burden on Judge Alito to show that he would not do damage to the Constitution, and to Americans' cherished rights.

The Alito nomination comes at a critical moment for the Democratic Party. With President Bush's poll numbers plummeting, Democrats are finding a new optimism about their chances in 2006 and 2008. But to capitalize on the Republicans' weakness, the party needs to show that it has an alternative vision for the country. As the Democrats refine their message for next year's elections, the first thing they need to be able to say to the American people is that they did not sit by idly while the far right took over the Supreme Court and began dismantling fundamental rights and freedoms.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Thou Shalt Not Destroy the Center - New York Times

Thou Shalt Not Destroy the Center - New York TimesNovember 11, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Thou Shalt Not Destroy the Center
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Dear God in Heaven: Forgive me my sins, for I have been to China and I have had bad thoughts. Forgive me, Heavenly Father, for I have cast an envious eye on the authoritarian Chinese political system, where leaders can, and do, just order that problems be solved. For instance, Shanghai's deputy mayor told me that as his city became more polluted, the government simply moved thousands of small manufacturers out of Shanghai to clean up the air.

Forgive me, Heavenly Father, because I know that China's political system is hardly ideal - not even close - and is not one that I would ever want to emulate in my own country. But at this time, when democracies, like India and America, seem incapable of making hard decisions, I cannot help but feel a tinge of jealousy at China's ability to be serious about its problems and actually do things that are tough and require taking things away from people. Dear Lord, please accept my expression of remorse for harboring such feelings. Amen.

Well, you get the point. At a time when we are busy lecturing others about the need to adopt democratic systems, ours and many others seem to be hopelessly gridlocked - with neither the left nor the right able to generate a mandate to tackle hard problems. And it is the yawning gap between the huge problems our country faces today - Social Security reform, health care, education, climate change, energy - and the tiny, fragile mandates that our democracy seems able to generate to address these problems that is really worrying.

Why is this happening? Clearly, the way voting districts have been gerrymandered in America, thanks to the Voting Rights Act and Tom DeLay-like political manipulations, is a big part of the problem. As a result of this gerrymandering, only a small fraction of the seats in the U.S. Congress and state legislatures are really contested anymore. Therefore, few candidates have to build cross-party coalitions around the middle.

Most seats are now reserved for one party or the other. And when that happens, it means that in each of these districts the real election is the primary, where Democrats run against Democrats and Republicans against Republicans. And when that happens, it produces candidates who appeal only to their party's base - so we end up with a Congress paralyzed between the far left and far right.

Add to this the fragmentation of the media, with the rising power of bloggers and podcasters, and the decline in authority of traditional centrist institutions - including this newspaper - and you have what the Foreign Policy magazine editor Moisés Naím rightly calls "the age of diffusion."

"Show me a democratically elected government today anywhere in the world with a popular mandate rooted in a landslide victory - there aren't many," said Mr. Naím, whose smart new book, "Illicit," is an absolute must-read about how small illicit players, using the tools of globalization, are now able to act very big on the world stage, weakening nations and the power of executives across the globe. "Everywhere you look in this age of diffusion, you see these veto centers emerging, which can derail, contain or stop any initiative. That is why so few governments today are able to generate a strong unifying mandate."

This is a real dilemma because a vast majority of Americans are just center-left or center-right. Many surely feel disenfranchised by today's far-left, far-right Congress. Moreover, the solutions to our biggest problems - especially Social Security and health care - can be found only in compromises between the center-left and center-right. This is doubly true today, when the real solutions require Washington to take stuff away from people, not give them more.

But our politics no longer rewards good behavior. Ronald Reagan, the most overrated president in U.S. history, lowered taxes and raised government spending, triggering a huge spike in the deficit. But because he did it with a sunny smile and it happened to coincide with the decline of the Soviet Union, he is remembered as a Great Man. The senior George Bush raised taxes and helped pave the way for the prosperity of the 1990's. He also managed the actual collapse of the Soviet Union without a shot being fired, using unsmiling but deft diplomacy. Yet the elder Bush is somehow remembered - including, it seems, by his own son - as a failed president.

Add it all up and you can see that we have put ourselves in a position where only a total blow-out crisis in our system will generate enough authority for a democratic government to do the right things.

Let us pray.

Playing With Fire - New York Times

Playing With Fire - New York TimesNovember 12, 2005
Editorial
Playing With Fire

It certainly is a relief that the Senate is finally getting around to doing the job it so shamefully refused to do four years ago, after the 9/11 attacks: requiring the administration to follow the law and the Geneva Conventions in dealing with prisoners taken by the military and intelligence operatives.

But what started as an admirable attempt by Senator John McCain to stop the torture and abuse of prisoners has become a tangle of amendments and back-room deals that pose a real danger of undermining the sacred rule that the government cannot just lock people up forever without saying why. On Thursday, the Senate passed a measure that would deny foreigners declared to be "unlawful enemy combatants" the right to a hearing under the principle known as habeas corpus, which dates to Magna Carta.

Instead, the measure would mandate an automatic review by a federal court of the status of the inmates now at Guantánamo Bay and any future prisoners of that kind. It would exclude coerced confessions from that review, and place important new controls over Guantánamo operations.

These safeguards, proposed by Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who has shown real courage in condemning prisoner abuse, are long overdue. Mr. Graham, a former military lawyer, also proposed the exemption to habeas corpus, arguing that it had never been meant to apply to prisoners of war, let alone to foreign terrorists. He says Guantánamo inmates are clogging the courts with petitions that hamper efforts to get vital intelligence.

Mr. Graham is a careful and principled senator who argues eloquently for his measure. The Senate should adopt his proposal for a federal court review of detentions, preferably by a huge margin, and the House should follow suit. We'd love to see Congress then defy the inevitable veto threats from the White House, driven by Vice President Dick Cheney, who is still skulking around Capitol Hill trying to legalize torture at the C.I.A.'s secret prison camps around the world. But we cannot support Mr. Graham in trying to rewrite the habeas corpus law.

Fewer than 200 of the approximately 500 prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have filed petitions for habeas corpus hearings. They are not seeking trials, merely asking why they are being held. And according to government and military officials, an overwhelming majority should not have been taken prisoner in the first place. These men have been in isolation for nearly four years, subject to months of interrogation. Do they really have anything left to say?

The habeas petitions are not an undue burden. And in any case, they are a responsibility that this nation has always assumed to ensure that no one is held prisoner unjustly.

Senator Graham argues that the 9/11 attacks were an act of war, not a crime for American courts to judge, and he is trying to put antiterrorist operations back under the Geneva Conventions. Mr. McCain's amendment banning torture, abuse and cruelty has the same goal, and we share it. But the administration shredded the Geneva Conventions after 9/11 and cannot be trusted to follow them now.

There will be amendments and counteramendments in the Senate next week. In the end, the right coalition of senators may actually pass valuable new rules for "unlawful combatants." But they are sure to draw the fierce opposition of the White House, which is hardly likely to agree to an automatic federal court review of its detention policies.

The danger is that the House may do the administration's bidding and produce a bill that strips away the good parts of the Graham amendment, leaving the dangerous parts, and that such a version may be approved behind closed doors during a House-Senate conference.

The problem in creating one exemption to habeas corpus, no matter how narrow, is that it invites the creation of more exemptions. History shows that in the wrong hands, the power to jail people without showing cause is a tool of despotism. Just consider Natan Sharansky or Nelson Mandela. The administration hates that sort of comparison, so we wonder why it keeps inviting it. Just the other day, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said with a sneer that the Guantánamo prisoners on hunger strikes had gone "on a diet where they don't eat" for publicity.

We'd rather see the Senate delete the suspension of habeas corpus from Mr. Graham's measure now. Some constitutional principles are too important to play around with.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Plank

The PlankSPECIAL OUT-OF-IRAQ EDITION:

John Edwards in the new issue of The Nation:

In an interview after the UNC speech, Edwards finally utters the words he'd assiduously avoided during the last campaign: "I voted for the [2002 Iraq war] resolution," he says. "It was a mistake."... "The hard question is, What do you do now? Looking back, it's easy to say that it was wrong and based on false information. Anybody who doesn't admit that isn't honest, and that's the truth.... [W]e have to find ways to start bringing our troops home. Our presence there is clearly contributing to the problem." So does he agree with Senator Russ Feingold that Washington should set a withdrawal deadline? "No. Even if we're going to say that internally, that we're gonna have our troops out by X date, there's no reason to announce that to the world. I think that's probably a mistake." He doesn't agree, either, with Senator Clinton's call for more US troops to finish the job? "No sir!" Edwards says, sitting straight up in his chair. "Did she really say that?" [emphasis added]

Love that last line! But this entire passage goes right to a defining issue for the 2008 Democratic hopefuls, one they'll certainly use to position themselves in the coming months. Edwards's words are the latest sign that the Democratic pack is drifting leftward on the withdrawal question. If you're interested, I delve into this a bit in a piece on the aforementioned Russ Feingold--"The Hillary Slayer"--in this week's TNR.

PS Tomorrow's presidential campaign today: John McCain is already smacking down the withdrawal Democrats. This comes from a Thursday speech McCain delivered at AEI:

Because we cannot pull out and hope for the best, because we cannot withdraw and manage things from afar, because morality and our security compel it, we have to see this mission through to completion. Senator Kerry's call for the withdrawal of 20,000 American troops by year's end represents, I believe, a major step on the road to disaster. Drawdowns must be based on conditions in-country, not arbitrary deadlines rooted in our domestic politics.

McCain is right about arbitrary deadlines and domestic politics. But that supposes the occupation is doing less harm than good. One also wonders whether, as the 2006 midterm elections approach, McCain's own party will share his tough-it-out attitude.

--Michael Crowley

Memo to Poor Countries: Stand Fast - New York TimesNovember 11, 2005

Memo to Poor Countries: Stand Fast - New York TimesNovember 11, 2005
Editorial
Memo to Poor Countries: Stand Fast

Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Amorim, put it bluntly after the collapse of the latest round of trade talks in London and Geneva this week: unless the European Union finally stops dithering and cuts farm subsidies to help farmers in poor countries, the negotiations to open up trade in manufactured goods and services - to help big companies in Europe and America - would take "not one month, two months, one year or two years." The talks, he said, "just won't move."

For Mr. Amorim, and the other negotiators from developing countries that have been run over by the rich world in trade talks for the past 50 years, this page has two words: Stand fast. Do not give a single additional concession until the European Union cuts its farm subsidies. It's better to let the talks collapse and send the big guns home empty-handed than to be fooled again by Europe's hypocritical blather about free trade when clearly its countries, led by France, believe in free trade only when it suits their narrow interests.

For the last half-century, the World Trade Organization and its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, have aggressively dismantled barriers against trade in industrial goods and services, areas in which rich countries in Europe, along with the United States and Japan, hold a comparative advantage. But when it comes to areas where poor countries could flourish, like textiles and agriculture, it has been a different story.

The developed world funnels nearly $1 billion a day in subsidies to its farmers; that encourages overproduction, which drives down prices. Poor nations' farmers cannot compete with subsidized products. Four years ago, in Doha, Qatar, poor countries finally won a promise that Europe, Japan and America would slash agricultural subsidies, in addition to further liberalizing world trade in services and manufactured goods.

The United States has stepped up to the plate. Last month, the United States trade representative, Robert Portman, made a substantial offer: the United States will slash allowable farm subsidies by 60 percent if Europe and Japan cut their subsidies by 83 percent. There's a difference in the numbers because European countries and Japan have higher subsidies.

Europe has refused, with the French, as usual, leading the way and swearing to block any final agreement that goes beyond Europe's anemic offer of a handful of lame cuts. Then the European Union's trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, actually had the gall to ask poor countries to make further cuts in industrial tariffs and services.

If the European Union is truly going to refuse to make right a half-century of trade-distorting subsidies, which have helped the rich at the expense of the poor, then there's an easy answer: the talks should just not move.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: An oil-free U.S. will fuel our future

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: An oil-free U.S. will fuel our futureAn oil-free U.S. will
fuel our future

Yesterday, big oil went on something of a trial when hearings began in Washington about the billions Exxon and the rest have made from the unprecedented prices now being paid for car fuel and how that money should be used.

The Democrats wanted to begin the hearings with some melodrama. The oil bigwigs would have had to stand up and swear to tell the truth and the whole truth if the donkeys had it their way, but one of the elephants in charge nixed the soap opera proposal.

The reality is that oil industry captains usually sit on hills of money so tall that they cannot normally be seen without the aid of binoculars.

Last month, ExxonMobil Corp. reported its quarterly corporate net profit at $9.9 billion, up 75%, the largest ever. British Petroleum, or BP, reported profit growth of 34%. Chevron Corp. saw an increase of 12%, and ConocoPhillips was up 89%, to $3.8 billion.

And while it looks like things could get a little rough on oil companies, with Congress considering whether to propose a windfall profits tax, petrol's big boys will do just fine. The $14 billion in tax breaks for the energy industry signed by President Bush recently will make them even richer. Still, with the huge prices at the pump prompting more and more questions, industry execs are quick to say that the tragedy is they just have to ask consumers for more money. They don't want to, but they have to. Even with record profits? Yes, I'm afraid so.

But it doesn't have to be this way. The U.S. is still on the short end when it comes to refineries, and there has been no serious fusion of environmental and corporate interests that would result in a more enlightened policy. Then there is the whole question of oil dependency itself. Politicians need to stand up and start to face the fact that America could do a lot worse than switching over from oil to nuclear power.

Some automatically fall on the floor and begin barking and drooling at the very mention of anything nuclear because all they can see is a mushroom cloud. This became even more of a favorite after Sept. 11, when many began to believe Islamic fundamentalists could have flown those planes into Indian Point instead of the World Trade Center.

In fact, studies done by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission make it quite clear that a plane would not even penetrate the domes in which the reactors are held. Switching to nuclear energy is the sort of thing that is more important to consider. It is what this country must do, instead of trying to get customer concerns elevated on the agendas of oil companies.

If the French - whom I would almost never point to as a source of policy inspiration - can see the validity of using nuclear power to dramatically reduce dependency on foreign oil, it seems to me with some reiteration of American pragmatism, we could get on the same page and begin taking our society into its inevitable future.

Originally published on November 9, 2005

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

How to Look at China - New York Times

How to Look at China - New York TimesNovember 9, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
How to Look at China
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Tiger Leaping Gorge, China

My friend Nayan Chanda, the editor of YaleGlobal magazine and a longtime reporter in Asia, recently shared with me a conversation he'd had with an Asian diplomat regarding India and China: India, he said, always looks as if it is boiling on the surface, but underneath it is very stable because of a 50-year-old democratic foundation. China looks very stable on the surface, but underneath it is actually boiling - an overheated economy under a tightly sealed political lid.

There is a lot to that, but what's most interesting is where China is boiling today. Ever since the student uprising in 1989, we in America have tended to look at China through the prism of Tiananmen, thinking that the main drama there is a struggle pitting freedom-seeking students and intellectuals against a hard-line Communist Party. There is still truth in that perspective, but it is not the most revealing lens through which to look at China anymore. A lot of those Tiananmen students have gotten M.B.A.'s, dropped out of politics and gone to work for multinationals.

Today, the most relevant fault line in China is Tiger Leaping Gorge, a spectacular geological site in Western China along the Yangtze River, and one of the deepest gorges in the world. With its thunderous rushing waters cutting through mountains, it is certainly one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. I visited there with my camera, but I also visited with some local villagers with my notebook.

These farmers are angry that plans are being made to dam the Yangtze River, flood Tiger Leaping Gorge and force the relocation of thousands of farmers and villagers. And they are getting vocal, learning about their legal options and pressing local officials to reconsider how the dam will be built. Getting political is not a hobby for these farmers. It is a necessity.

And similar dramas of necessity are being played out all over the Chinese countryside today by villagers who know that they are not fully participating in China's economic growth, but are being told that if they want to, they must accept dams or factories that will destroy their environment.

They don't like this deal, but China's rigid political system leaves these farmers, who are still the majority in China today, with few legal options for fighting it. That helps explain why China's official media reported that in 1993 some 10,000 incidents of social unrest took place in China. Last year there were 74,000.

This is the political lens to watch China through today. How China's ruling Communist Party manages the environmental, social, economic and political tensions converging on such places as Tiger Leaping Gorge - not Tiananmen Square - will be the most important story determining China's near-term political stability.

Listen to China's deputy minister of the environment, Pan Yue, in his stunning March 7 interview with Der Spiegel: "Our raw materials are scarce, we don't have enough land, and our population is constantly growing. Currently, there are 1.3 billion people living in China; that's twice as many as 50 years ago. In 2020, there will be 1.5 billion people in China. Cities are growing, but desert areas are expanding at the same time; habitable and usable land has been halved over the past 50 years. ... [China's G.D.P. miracle] will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace. ... Half of the water in our seven largest rivers is completely useless. ... One-third of the urban population is breathing polluted air. ...

"We are convinced that a prospering economy automatically goes hand in hand with political stability. And I think that's a major blunder. ... If the gap between the poor and the rich widens, then regions within China and the society as a whole will become unstable. If our democracy and our legal system lag behind the overall economic development, various groups in the population won't be able to protect their own interests."

The drama of Tiger Leaping Gorge is not as easy to follow as a single man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen. It involves the complex interactions among the Chinese countryside, the N.G.O.'s and local organizations working there, the developers looking to build there, and a still heavy-handed Communist Party.

But somewhere in this swirl of forces is where China's future stability is going to be shaped - or not. No wonder China's leaders have made building a "harmonious society" central to their next five-year plan. Wish them well, because how they do will affect everything from the air you breathe to the clothes you wear and the interest on your mortgage.

Maureen Dowd is on a book tour.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Clinton Says Wife Might Outdo Him - New York Times

Clinton Says Wife Might Outdo Him - New York TimesNovember 5, 2005
Clinton Says Wife Might Outdo Him
By PATRICK D. HEALY

Bill Clinton told an Israeli television station yesterday that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a better president of the United States in some ways than he did.

Mr. Clinton, who usually avoids talking about his wife as a prospective presidential candidate, said she would come to the job with more seasoning and perspective than he had as governor of Arkansas in 1992, suggesting that she would perform better.

"In some ways she would be, because of what we did together," Mr. Clinton said in an interview with Israel's Channel Two. "First, she has the Senate experience I didn't have. Second, she would have had the eight years in the White House."

"I think she wouldn't make as many mistakes because, you know, we're older and more mature, and she is far more experienced now in all the relevant ways than I was when I took office," Mr. Clinton continued. "So I think in a way she has the best of both worlds."

Senator Clinton has announced that she will run for re-election next year, but she has never commented on the persistent speculation in political circles that she may seek the presidency in 2008. Mr. Clinton has occasionally touched on the idea, as when he told CNN in June that his wife was focused on re-election but would make a "magnificent" president.

Spokesmen for the senator and the former president both said last night that Mrs. Clinton is focused on her re-election campaign.

"He was simply responding to a hypothetical question," Mr. Clinton's spokesman, Jay Carson, said, "as a proud husband who feels his very capable and talented wife would be a tremendous success in anything, as he has seen firsthand for over 30 years."

Friday, November 04, 2005

From Gunpowder to the Next Big Bang - New York Times

From Gunpowder to the Next Big Bang - New York TimesNovember 4, 2005
Op-Ed Contributor
From Gunpowder to the Next Big Bang
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

BEIJING

There is a techie adage that goes like this: In China or Japan the nail that stands up gets hammered, while in Silicon Valley the nail that stands up drives a Ferrari and has stock options. Underlying that adage is a certain American confidence that whatever we lack in preparing our kids with strong fundamentals in math and science, we make up for by encouraging our best students to be independent, creative thinkers.

There is a lot of truth to that. Even the Chinese will tell you that they've been good at making the next new thing, and copying the next new thing, but not imagining the next new thing. That may be about to change. Confident that its best K-12 students will usually outperform America's in math and science, China is focusing on how to transform its classrooms so students become more innovative.

"Although we are enjoying a very fast growth of our economy, we own very little intellectual property," Wu Qidi, China's vice minister of education, told me. "We are so proud of China's four great inventions [in the past]: the compass, paper-making, printing and gunpowder. But in the following centuries we did not keep up that pace of invention. Those inventions fully prove what the Chinese people are capable of doing - so why not now? We need to get back to that nature." Nurturing more "creative thinking and entrepreneurship are the exact issues we are putting attention to today." But this bumps head-on against Chinese culture and politics, which still emphasize conformity.

But for how much longer? Check out Microsoft Research Asia, the research center Bill Gates set up in Beijing to draw on Chinese brainpower. In 1998, Microsoft gave IQ tests to some 2,000 top Chinese engineers and scientists and hired 20. Today it has 200 full-time Chinese researchers. Harry Shum, a Carnegie Mellon-trained computer engineer who runs the lab, has a very clear view of what Chinese innovators can do, given the right environment. The Siggraph convention is the premier global conference for computer graphics and interactive technologies. At Siggraph 2005, 98 papers were published from research institutes all over the world.

Nine of them - almost 10 percent - came from Microsoft's Chinese research center, beating out M.I.T. and Stanford. Dr. Shum said: "In 1999 we had one paper published. In 2000, we had one. In 2001, we had two. In 2002, we had four. In 2003 we had three. In 2004, we had five, and this year we are very lucky to have nine." Do you see a pattern?

In addition, Microsoft Beijing has contributed more than 100 new technologies for current Microsoft products - from the Xbox to Windows. That's a huge leap in seven years, although, outside the hothouses like Microsoft, China still has a way to go.

Dr. Shum said: "A Chinese journalist once asked me, 'Harry, tell me honestly, what is the difference between China and the U.S.? How far is China behind?' I joked, 'Well, you know, the difference between China high-tech and American high-tech is only three months - if you don't count creativity.' When I was a student in China 20 years ago, we didn't even know what was happening in the U.S. Now, anytime an M.I.T. guy puts up something on the Internet, students in China can absorb it in three months.

"But could someone here create it? That is a whole other issue. I learned mostly about how to do research right at Carnegie Mellon. ... Before you create anything new, you need to understand what is already there. Once you have this foundation, being creative can be trainable. China is building that foundation. So very soon, in 10 or 20 years, you will see a flood of top-quality research papers from China."

Once more original ideas emerge, though, China will need more venture capital and the rule of law to get them to market. "Some aspects of Chinese culture did not encourage independent thinking," Dr. Shum said. "But with venture capital coming into this country, it will definitely inspire a new generation of Chinese entrepreneurs. I will be teaching a class at Tsinghua University next year on how to do technology-based ventures. ... You have technology in Chinese universities, but people don't know what to do with it - how to marketize it."

A few of his young Chinese inventors demonstrated their new products for me. I noticed that several of them had little granite trophies lined up on their shelves. I asked one of them, who had seven or eight blocks on her shelf, "What are those?" She said the researchers got them from Microsoft every time they invented something that got patented.

How do you say "Ferrari" in Chinese?

Ideology Serves as a Wild Card on Court Pick - New York Times

Ideology Serves as a Wild Card on Court Pick - New York TimesNovember 4, 2005
Ideology Serves as a Wild Card on Court Pick
By SCOTT SHANE

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 - Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, concedes that Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. - a brainy product of Princeton and Yale, a former federal prosecutor and Supreme Court litigator and an appellate judge for 15 years - has the qualifications to serve on the nation's highest court.

But Mr. Leahy says unapologetically that the stellar résumé is not enough. He says he plans to assess Judge Alito on ideological grounds.

"This is not over competence," Mr. Leahy, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said. "He certainly is competent. This is the whole issue of ideology, and if the ideology is one that you go in with a predetermined agenda, then I don't care if they are a Democrat or a Republican. They don't belong on the Supreme Court."

The debate over what criteria senators should use in deciding how to vote on Supreme Court nominees is almost as old as the court itself, because the Constitution offers the scant instruction that justices should be appointed "with the advise and consent of the Senate."

Should education, temperament, experience and integrity be the sole determining factors? Or should ideology, a nominee's political leanings and predictable stands on the hot judicial disputes of the day, also have a major role?

As Judge Alito continued on Thursday to make the rounds on Capitol Hill, senators of both parties examined his views on issues like the separation of church and state.

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut and a member of the bipartisan moderates known as the Gang of 14, said it was too soon to decide whether Judge Alito's conservatism amounted to the "extraordinary circumstances" that the group has agreed might justify a filibuster. [Page A22.]

Mr. Lieberman said, "I think ideology is a relevant thing."

The nomination poses questions about the unwritten rules to decide on a confirmation. No one has questioned Judge Alito's knowledge, experience or intellect. But if he succeeds Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in what has been a swing seat on critical issues, his staunchly conservative views could have a profound effect on the court and the nation.

"It presents the issue in a very crystalline form," said Richard D. Friedman, a law professor at the University of Michigan. "Alito is superb on all the measures of qualifications. All that's left to oppose him on is ideology."

Professor Friedman argues that ideology should not have a dominant place in the Senate consideration.

"The aggressively ideological opposition distorts the confirmation process," he said. "Treating it as a political matter may encourage a view of the court as nothing more than another political institution."

But Lee Epstein, a professor of law and political science at Washington University, said that to expect senators to engage in an apolitical confirmation process was unrealistic.

"If their constituents think ideology is a good reason to vote against a nominee," Professor Epstein said, "they're going to vote against him."

Of the 156 Supreme Court nominees since the court was created, 35 have been rejected or withdrawn, according to the Congressional Research Service. Most of the 35 were clustered in times of turmoil like the Civil War and Reconstruction, when politics often trumped qualifications.

In 1869, more than a century before bloggers and cable pundits would turn up the heat on nominees, President Ulysses S. Grant nominated Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar, widely considered one of the nation's top legal minds. After seven bitter weeks, the Senate voted him down, 33 to 24, in part because he had pressed for the selection of federal judges on the basis of legal talent rather than political allegiance.

No nominee has been voted down since Robert H. Bork, President Ronald Reagan's conservative nominee in 1987. Harriet E. Miers withdrew last month because of criticism of her credentials, not her views.

A statistical model developed by Professor Epstein and her colleagues, which incorporates newspaper editorials and other sources, suggests that confirmations have steadily grown more polarized over ideology in recent decades.

Since 1937, her model shows, the importance of nominees' qualifications has not changed. But ideology took on greater importance beginning in the 50's, with Brown v. Board of Education and conservative criticism of the Warren court. Ideology "exploded" after the Senate rejected Mr. Bork, Professor Epstein said.

The bitterly contested confirmation hearings for Justice Clarence Thomas, who was accused of sexual harassment by a former employee, Anita F. Hill, played out before a rapt national television audience.

To some, the court's role in settling the 2000 presidential election seemed to shatter once and for all any notion that it occupied some antiseptic zone untouched by politics.

Senators of either party who serve long enough usually find themselves on both sides of the ideology question. In 1967, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, backing Thurgood Marshall's nomination, urged his colleagues not to reject the nominee simply because they might not share his views.

"We are really interested in knowing whether the nominee has the background, experience, qualifications, temperament and integrity to handle this most sensitive, important and responsible job," Mr. Kennedy said.

When Judge Alito was announced on Monday, Mr. Kennedy, although acknowledging that he was "clearly intelligent and experienced on the bench," said he "could very well fundamentally alter the balance of the court and push it dangerously to the right."

Such elasticity is bipartisan, of course. "The hypocrisy on the Republican side is just as blatant," Lanny J. Davis, a Democratic lawyer who worked in Bill Clinton's White House, said. "Everybody should just admit it. Substance matters. It's not just the résumé."

In September, when 22 Democrats voted against the confirmation of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., some Republicans accused them of blatant partisanship. The Republicans drew a pointed contrast with the treatment of Mr. Clinton's nominees, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who received just three no votes in 1993, and Justice Stephen G. Breyer, opposed by just nine senators in 1994.

But at least two Republican senators who were not in office in 1993, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and John Cornyn of Texas, have said they would not vote for Justice Ginsburg today.

"Let me tell you why I wouldn't vote for Ruth Bader Ginsburg," Mr. Sessions said. "Because in her own writings and the positions that that she took, she clearly evidenced a philosophy of judicial activism.

"If a judge has strong political views, it is perfectly appropriate to inquire whether those views would affect their legal reasoning and cause them not to be objective and fair."

Professor Epstein and other legal scholars are wary of some of the terms thrown about in this debate. On Roe v. Wade, the abortion ruling that has stood as a precedent since 1973, she asked, would not a "judicial conservative" be a person who would uphold it and a "judicial activist" one who would overturn it? That is the opposite of the way such terms are often used.

"I told my class the other day I have no idea what judicial activism is," Professor Epstein said. "Maybe the best definition of a judicial activist is a judge you don't like."

David D. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting for this article.