Mirkwood comes to Midland

September 1, 2007

The New York Times reports that a state park in Texas has become home to a spider web several acres in size.

Sheets of web have encased several mature oak trees and are thick enough in places to block out the sun along a nature trail at Lake Tawakoni State Park, near this town about 50 miles east of Dallas.
The gossamer strands, slowly overtaking a lakefront peninsula, emit a fetid odor, perhaps from the dead insects entwined in the silk. The web whines with the sound of countless mosquitoes and flies trapped in its folds…
Mr. Dean and several other scientists said they had never seen a web of this size outside of the tropics, where the relatively few species of “social” spiders that build communal webs are most active…

The Times doesn’t mention the possibility, but one predicted consequence of global warming is that tropical species will extend their ranges northward. Maybe the spiders have congregated to reward all those Texas oilmen for providing them with new habitat.

The Grey Lady is also mum on the explanation I find most likely: once both Tom DeLay and Karl Rove headed back to the Lone Star State for good, word went out on the grapevine that the nucleus had formed for a creepy crawler flash mob.


Good for nothing

July 12, 2007

Never put a conservative in office. It ought to be one of those no-brainer bromides that everyone learns at her mother’s knee. Right up there with “Never eat anything bigger than your head” or “Never start a land war in Asia.”

There may be versions of conservatism, long defunct, for which the maxim fails to hold. But for the last thirty or forty years, however differently it may have behaved itself, “conservatism” has defined itself as Reaganism, and Reaganism has defined itself by Ronnie’s bedrock principle: “Government isn’t the solution. Government is the problem.”

Now, when people (just for fun, let’s call them liberals) believe that government can and should do good things for people, what tends to happen when those people get into power is that, at least for awhile until power works its corrosive corrupting magic, they start trying to do good things for people. Sometimes it fails, as with inner city housing projects, or has mixed results, as with LBJ’s war on poverty. More often than not, it succeeds very well, as with TVA, or WPA, or Social Security, or FEMA under Clinton, or Medicaid and Medicare.

But when people who believe that government cannot possibly do good things for people get into office, they will naturally make no attempt to use their power to do good things for people. Still, if they’ve got power, they’ll have to use it for something. Since it can’t be made to do good for the citizenry at large, they will tend to draw the eminently practical conclusion that they might as well make it do good things for themselves and their cronies. And so power’s corrupting magic flourishes instantly, and on as large a scale as the new incumbents feel they can get away with.

It’s not that conservatives are more evil than liberals, or more naturally corrupt. It’s that their philosophy creates a vacuum of motive the moment they begin to govern. And evil and corruption, dwelling nascently as they do in every human being, stand ever ready to rush into that vacuum.

Let’s put that into a form suitable for lessons at mother’s knee. Those who believe that government is good for nothing will use government for nothing good.


Libby’s scapegoat card

July 6, 2007

US Map national GDPs

In the midst of the many lines of pure nonsense spouted by defenders of the Libby commutation and pardon-to-be, I’d like to focus on one which has the widest cachet, even though once examined it is the most nonsensical. Namely, the idea that whatever I. Lewis did to Valerie Plame, there were plenty of others who did the same thing, and it’s not fair for him to be punished while Rove and Cheney and Armitage get off scot free. Truly, for Libby to play this scapegoat card is the precise equivalent of the classic definition of chutzpah: the matricide/parricide who throws himself on the mercy of the court on the grounds that he’s an orphan.

I want to address it, because of all the pro-Libby arguments, this is the only one that I’ve found resonates with ordinary people not already wrapped up in Bush worship. I’ve heard the sentiment expressed by a number of friends who are good liberals. Libby’s lawyers, knowing that on the merits they had no case at all, planned to make the trial into an appeal for jury nullification, based on just this supposed injustice. It was the centerpiece of their opening argument, and it appears that they only backed off from that plan after the White House, alarmed at the defense team’s threat that they would make Cheney testify, sent along assurances that Libby would get his pardon. And we learned that the jurors, most of them opposed to the war and opposed to Libby politically, expressed to reporters a good deal of sympathy for Libby personally because they felt he was indeed being made into a scapegoat.

This whole line of thinking is exactly upside down. For one thing, this isn’t a case of some low-level underling being thrown to the wolves. Scooter wasn’t some sad-sack private or corporal like the scapegoats in the Abu Ghraib affair. He was Cheney’s second in command, the four-star general to Ticky Dick’s five-star. Arguably he was the second most powerful individual in the country, certainly among the top four.

But more important, Rove wasn’t making Libby into a scapegoat. Cheney wasn’t making him into a scapegoat. Fitzgerald wasn’t making him into a scapegoat. Libby volunteered to be the one to take the rap. In fact, the crime of which he was convicted – the lies and the obstruction of justice – were acts he undertook with the aim and for the purpose of assigning himself the scapegoat role so that Cheney (and incidentally Rove) would be protected.

It would not be far wrong to say that the crime for which Irving Lewis Libby was charged and convicted was shielding Cheney by scapegoating himself.

Accordingly, anyone who is offended at the injustice of Scooter’s scapegoating should, exactly for that reason, be demanding an extension of the man’s prison term, not its revocation.


Bush and the Prime Directive

July 4, 2007

For three solid years, Bush, Cheney, Rove, McClellan, Snow have recited one mantra every single time there was a question about the Plame affair: “It would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation.” The thought that even the most feather-light touch by anyone in the Administration might weigh down the scales of justice and skew the outcome horrified them into a state of permanent lockjaw. The courts were sacrosanct, to be approached, if at all, on the same eggshell tiptoe with which the crew of the Starship Enterprise approached each vulnerable culture when they made planetfall.

Now we find that, all along, if things didn’t go their way, they were planning to throw away the scales altogether, bypass their own appointed prosecutors and judges, and determine the outcome of the case by fiat. That feather-light touch transforms in a wink into an elephant’s foot.

Next time they trot out their “ongoing investigation” line, the Washington Press Corps had better not stand for it. When these jokers build a wall of silence around the sanctity of the legal process, it always stands just where they need a stonewall to ward off the prying eyes of the press, the Congress, and the voters.

Can the press please stop pretending that’s a coincidence? If it suits his purposes, this Kowboy Kirk is always happy to blow up the planet on his way out the door.


New Improved Independence Day: NOW! With more Independence!

July 4, 2007

This is a day to reflect and be thankful for the great gift of liberty bestowed on us by our Founders and Framers.

But let us not neglect to be thankful and reflect on how much more independence America enjoys today than we had on July 4, 2000, a mere seven years ago.

First came December 12, 2000, when the Supreme Court granted occupancy of the White House independence from votes actually cast at the ballot box.

Shortly, federal expenditures gained independence from federal revenues. Capital gains and dividends gained independence from tax rates nearly equal to those of wages. The EPA gained independence from protection of the environment, OSHA from health or safety, FEMA from emergency management, the White House from all forms of congressional oversight.

Then came September 11, when we were attacked by those who hated us for our freedoms. Our benevolent rulers responded by granting unprecedented levels of freedom — to themselves. Freedom from Geneva Conventions, freedom from the United Nations Charter, freedom to have individuals of their choice kidnapped, disappeared and tortured. “Free speech zones” granted powerful politicians independence from dissenting voices any closer than half a mile away. We were all granted independence from the first, second, fifth, sixth, and eighth amendments to the Constitution; and, God knows (as well as the NSA, assuming a practical difference remains between NSA and God), from the fourth. The burden of a guaranteed right to habeas corpus was lifted from our shoulders by a freedom-loving Congress. Through Justice-to-be Samuel Alito’s clever invention of the signing statement, the President was granted independence from “faithful execution of the laws”.

And as we learned in decision after decision last week, the Supreme Court for the next twenty or thirty years will enjoy unfettered independence from legal precedent.

So Americans have a lot to be grateful for today. Let the burgers be burned and let the rockets be lit.

And in the fullness of time – because if we ever manage to subject ourselves once again to the chains of the rule of law and the bondage of our founding ideals , it will take decades of patient political labor – let us burn with genuine patriotism, relight Jefferson’s flame of liberty, and recover our soul.


Mammon and Moloch

July 2, 2007

One of these days, I promise, I’m going to update my Link Column to show at least all of the sites I visit every week. But for tonight, I just want to welcome to the nicteis blogroll a fledgling enterprise called mammonandmoloch. The proprietors are friends of mine who are as active locally and as thoughtful globally as anyone I know. I expect some quirky, serious, occasionally playful commentary that takes several steps back from the usual fare of the left wing noise machine that I myself love perhaps too dearly.

Mammon and Moloch, for the non-biblical among my readers, are the deities in whom the Bushian brand of Christianity (perhaps unwittingly) places its trust, and to whom it consequently devotes its service. Mammon is the well-known god of wealth, of whom Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters… you cannot serve God and Mammon.” Down through the centuries, that has not stopped myriads who sincerely believed themselves to be Christian from trying. The best advice is not always the most tempting.

Moloch was the Canaanite god who attracted more of Jehovah’s spleen than any other. The cult’s distinctive feature (which some scholars take cum grano salis) was Moloch’s demand for a fire sacrifice of his devotee’s children. He is to be pictured as a great, roaring, fiery maw into which innocents are cast, in hopes of obtaining his favor and protection. In our own time, naturally, Moloch springs full-grown from the brow of Rambo and John Wayne, incarnated as the American faith in the redemptive power of violence. As our touching, every-renewed childlike trust that if only we kill all the bad guys fast enough, without bothering our pretty little heads too much over how many innocent bystanders, or how many of our own brave youths, die in the crossfire, then the holy power of high explosives and manliness will keep us secure in our counting-houses and safe in our beds. Or all of us, at any rate, rich enough not to have to die on a battlefield.

The new link is tucked under “Friends and Company” to the right.


Quis pardonet ipses pardonies?

July 2, 2007

It’s been a disappointment to hear mealy-mouthed claims from the Democratic establishment – including Barack Obama, whom I otherwise admire – that the malfeasance of the Bush administration doesn’t rise to the level of impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors”. To the contrary: Bush and Cheney looked over Nixon’s menu of high crimes, smacked their lips, ordered up several of everything, then cooked up a groaning board of their own new recipes. If Bush and Cheney aren’t impeachable, there might as well be no impeachment clause in the Constitution.

But if Congress cared to take notice, the Resident today added one more felony to his long list. As long as Irving Libby faced some penalty, any penalty, for his crimes, he had some incentive to offer truthful testimony to the court about the Plame affair. (Every day of his continued silence constitutes a repetition of the obstruction of justice for which Scooter has already been convicted.) By removing that incentive, Bush has directly interfered in the investigation of a criminal case in which his own aides, and potentially he himself, were directly implicated. The House may add an overt and provable act of “obstruction of justice” to the many covert obstructions already on the Administration’s tab.

The media are of course just being silly to treat this as a “middle way” between accepting Libby’s sentence and issuing a pardon. Disbarment is the only practical difference between this commutation and pardon outright. Probation is hardly an onerous thing; the only restrictions it will entail are very occasional meetings with the probation officer. That $250,000 fine? It’s a joke. In the first three months of the little defense fund that Fred Thompson set up for Libby, it took in a cool two mill. Scooter won’t pay a nickel of that fine; the Vast Right Wing Kitty will cover it all for him.

Oh, but there’s the shame, the terrible shame! So great a shame that virtually everyone who might have the ear of any of the unrepentant felon’s future employers has already praised his patriotism, his honesty, his self-sacrifice, in a stream of letters and columns reproduced everywhere in the sympathetic “liberal” media. I hear Scalia and Thomas are at this very instant drafting a letter to the Pope urging Scooter’s beatification.

Besides, the day is not far off when our Little Emperor will wipe away all tears, and with them whatever scraps of shame might linger. His statement today read, in part:

I respect the jury’s verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.

My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby. The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation.The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting.

His “respect for the jury’s verdict” is based on the fact that, should he grant a pardon, Libby would lose all fifth amendment rights not to testify further. When Libby’s appeals are exhausted, Bush’s “respect for the jury’s verdict” will be exhausted too. Then a decent respect for the pre-election opinions of mankind will postpone the Wiping Away Of Tears a little further, until Republican candidates are beyond the reach of the voters. And the commutation will itself be commuted to the pardon.

Observe that Bush speaks of the consequences on “his former life” will be long-lasting. He does not envision any consequences on Libby’s future life. None of the disqualifications associated with a felony record will hamper I. Lewis Libby past November of 2008, and Bush comes as close as he possibly can to promising it, with this carefully worded statement.

The finality of a Presidential pardon is and ought to remain unassailable. What we need is a Constitutional amendment forbidding the issuance of a pardon to anyone who has served as a political appointee of the pardoning President, or his immediate predecessor. The founders designed the pardon power as a final court of appeal for ordinary citizens caught up in the toils of the law, not as a painless way for the powerful to erase their own felonious footprints.