Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Elena Kagan: To Be or Not To Be?

Anya’s opinion:

Elena Kagan is perfectly boring. And that is why she is the perfect Supreme Court nominee for this time.  President Obama cannot afford another knock-down drag-out fight with Senate Republicans, not after the battle over healthcare, the will-they won't-they of financial reform, the vortex of doom that is Arizona's immigration law, the Times Square bomber, the non-handling of the BP oil spill . . . the list goes on. And a SCOTUS nominee fight is an especially unsavory concept in an election year, when many Republicans will be looking to seem as conservative as possible in order to pander to their base.

Ashley’s opinion:

I find that she doesn't really have any record very scary/very exciting. It is a bit horrifying in general to see anyone without much of a "paper trail" because we are so used to everyone being on the map and instantly knowing everything about them (hello...twitter) and thus comes the exciting's unique. Now, maybe going with the trait "unique" isn't the best way to nominate someone for a seat on "the supremes"(sorry, I'm cheesy sometimes); but it's golden in my book. Personally, not having a "paper trail", yes means you are a wild card and that's bad for a president who wants to push his agenda and wants what he wants when he wants it, but you also get the rare chance to be excited about the decisions the Court makes. It's like Christmas...if you knew what the presents were already you wouldn't be that excited to open them...anticipation is the best feeling. And also I must admit, I wouldn't hate it too much if Obama were to pick someone who was a wild card and she ended up not always siding with the "liberal side". Generally, the President wants to put someone with their ideologies on the Court. However, agreeing with Anya, this may be the closest he can get to a "liberal" because the Senate won't confirm anyone more liberal. So, in that sense it's good that she doesn't have a paper trail because it will give her some leeway when the Senate Judiciary Committee takes a shot or two at her. I think she'd be an okay candidate, but not great, but I think for right now "okay" is all that Obama is going to get.
Also, there is a great West Wing episode that shows how they pick the candidates for the Court. It's called "The Supremes" (special thanks to my classmate who brought it in to Government class).

Kagan has spent much of her career in academia (professor at University of Chicago Law School, dean of Harvard Law school), with a brief foray into politics during her years working as associate White House Counsel during the Clinton years. She has little paper trail and has never served as a justice, even though she was nominated for the D.C. Circuit Court in 1999 (her nomination was never brought to a vote). She was also the first female solicitor general. But,since she has never been a judge one might venture to say she lacks experience in that area. Although being a lawyer and being a judge both involve knowing the laws, they are different jobs. A judge is stoic and calm and interprets and enforces the law by how the law is written. The judge, in a courtroom, holds all the power and is the mediator and voice of reason during disputes. Attorneys have to be strong and argumentative as well as convincing to make their point and shoot down the other sides point simultaneously. They have to be one-sided, and the right side is the on they are arguing. I would definitely be more comfortable with Kagan if she had held the position as a judge before becoming a justice of the "highest court in the land."

Overall, we are very excited to watch the Senate confirmation hearings (because the SCOTUS nominees are nominated by the President and then confirmed or not confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee) on C-SPAN. No matter who it is, they are always exciting to watch and the candidates are always sure to be "grilled". They start June 28, 2010 and you can watch on C-SPAN (if you don't have the channel no worries, they have a live feed on their website and that's where Anya and I spend too much time).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

My Primary Tuesday: Anya

While Ashley was off enjoying her newfound power to vote, I assigned myself a more difficult task: convincing our friend “Politics is the stupidest thing on the planet” Taya that she needed to register to vote -- preferably, to vote for the candidate I liked.  So I found her on AIM:

for me
consider it my vote
Taya:  I'm not voting...
Anya:  not even for me??????
Taya:  Sorry.
I don't want to register to vote if I don't know what I'm voting for.
Anya:  so read her website a little
or let me tell you
Taya:  I don't like politics...
Anya:  yeah but ........ she's your senator too!
Taya:  I know...
Anya:  don't you care about your LIFE?
Taya:  Of course I care about my life.
Anya:  well, who your senator is directly impacts your life
taxes, education, air quality, etc
Taya:  How?
Anya:  well without some of boxer's legislation the bush administration would’ve weakened the power the epa & groups like that would have to regulate the amount of arsenic in drinking water
don't you like not being poisoned?
Taya:  Jesus Christ, okay, I'll vote.
How do I register? >>
here you go :
Taya:  Yeah, yeah, whatever.

So, all right, maybe she just agreed to register because I’ve been hounding her about this since the 2008 election, way before she ever turned 18.  But now, I can say proudly that she is a registered Libertarian (well, once I cleared up the whole ‘yes, sweetie, Libertarians can vote for Democrats’ thing).  While I may not be old enough to vote, I convinced someone else to vote.  In my own small way, I helped further democracy . . . that is so cool to say! :)  Happy election night!

My Primary Tuesday: Ashley

I had a very eventful last Tuesday mainly because I was able to finally exercise my right to vote and wow did it feel good.

My voting experience was very simple on the actual day:
step 1: drive to polling place
step 2: check in and get ballot
step 3: mark ballot at correct table (CA has closed primaries so Republicans can only vote for Republicans and vice versa)
step 4: cast my vote and receive an "I Voted" sticker
step 5: walk out of the polling place proclaiming, "it was my first time" to the world with a giddy laugh and a smirk

A thing I found very funny about my particular voting experience was the amount of Republicans my district is lacking. Maybe it was just the time I went, but there weren't any Republicans voting when I was there. I walked in and there was a line for the Democratic tables and I just strolled over to the many open Republican tables and marked my ballot. I told this to Anya and she proudly pronounced (ohhhh...alliteration), "Sweetie, it's California, what did you expect?"

Although it seemed easy the day I went to cast my vote, there was some preparation for it. I had to register to vote which I did online. Once you do this, before an election it's smart to check to see if you really are registered. Sometimes they have problems with your registration and you just call them to clear it up. You should also receive a book in the mail with all the candidates running and on the back it has your polling place on it as well. It is wise to mark your book before you go to vote and then you can take some time and research the candidates, the measures, etc. so you make an informed decision (that's what I tried to do).

I know I may seem like the voting police or something, but if you are able to vote I really encourage you to. Voting ensures we have a government that follows America's ideals. It is a fundamental process to keep up democracy. We are so lucky and privileged we can vote for people and have influence over who's in power. So use your power and go register!

Friday, June 11, 2010

An Illegal Blockade, A Failed Attack, and A Way Forward

This is taking a step back from our usual domestic policy/law issues, however, the Israeli raid on the aid flotilla heading to Gaza is a hugely important news item, with a far-ranging impact.

The Israeli blockade of Gaza has flirted with legality over the past three years without ever quite achieving a lip-lock like, say, Sandra Bullock and Scarlett Johannson did at the MTV Movie Awards a couple nights ago (Ooooh, pop culture reference. I hide in shame. Ashley's probably proud of me :P).  Because naval blockades are acts of war, the UN regulates them strictly:  "One country may legally blockade another only if it is acting in individual or collective self-defense—the standard requirements for going to war—or the U.N. Security Council has proclaimed the action necessary to maintain international peace".  Blockades must be formally declared and, it is generally agreed, extend no further than "the standard 12 nautical miles that define territorial waters".  (Information from Brian Palmer's awesome article at Slate, found here.).

Let's leave aside the fact that the attack on the Gaza aid flotilla occurred 40 miles off of Gaza's coast – far out of range of any blockade, and definitely not in Israel's jurisdiction – meaning that Israel is responsible for the deaths of nine civilians in international waters.  The fact of the matter is, Israel is not at war with Gaza, or Hamas, anymore.  They are occupying Gaza and the West Bank, and occupation (especially belligerent occupation, which is what most scholars agree is happening) does not confer the right to a blockade.  Additionally, the UN adopted a convention in 1988 called the "Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation", which, funnily enough, "prohibits seizure of ships on the high seas or acts of violence against the passengers." (from the Slate article, full text of the Convention found here).  Not only is the blockade itself illegal, the attack is very hard to justify on legal grounds.

Okay, so, unless you've been living under a rock for the past couple weeks, you already know most of the details about the clash between Free Gaza activists and Israeli naval commandos.  Nevertheless, I'll summarize it quickly for you before I go on.  Several ships carrying aid such as food, medicine, and construction materials for Gaza, where 80% of the population lives in poverty.  All cargo had been inspected at the ships' home ports, and the flotilla organizers did not wish to take the chance of sending the cargo through Israel because they knew the IDF would confiscate the majority of it.  So after compromise talks with Turkey failed, IDF naval commandos attacked the ships, killing 9 activists in the process.  One remaining ship, the MV Rachel Corrie had been delayed due to logistical reasons and later surrendered peacefully to the IDF.

This goes beyond a simple PR problem for Israel, just like the Gulf oil spill is more than just a PR problem for BP.  This attack further diminishes Israel's already tattered global image, while doing absolutely nothing to help the people of Gaza.  However, as a wakeup call, it accomplishes more than practically anything else, and definitely more than Israel would like. 

First, it calls attention to the counterproductive nature of the blockade.  While vital aid supplies are being denied to the everyday citizens of Gaza, the ruling Hamas smuggles weapons from Egypt.  It is the children, more than anyone, who is paying the price for the hardline stance adopted by both Hamas and Israel: 95% of Gaza's water in unsafe to drink, a third of the schools are closed, and 80% of the people live in poverty.

Second, it shows how badly Israel's leadership has failed in the policy arena.  By making all criticism of Israel equivalent to anti-Israel, anti-peace, and anti-Semitic rhetoric, Israel's government is showing a remarkable (and disturbing) naivete.  A majority of the people criticizing Israel's latest actions, such as the US and Turkey, think Israel has a right to defend itself.  But by claiming they are attacking aid vessels in self-defense, they are, in essence, equating Mahmoud Ahmedinijad (a real threat to their existence) with medical supplies (which, well, aren't).  Israel doesn't have a PR problem, they have a policy problem.

The only way forward is through moderation and mediation.  Unfortunately, the Netanyahu administration and Hamas have both shown repeatedly that they want nothing to do with either of those key elements of peace.  Perhaps these attacks and the international outcry will serve to push one or both of these parties back to the negotiating table, or at least away from the semiautomatic, reflexive violence that they have turned into an art form.  One can only hope.  As the incomparable Queen Rania of Jordan says, "Now and always, hardline policy and those who embrace it are vessels for darker forces that are at once self-cannibalising and combustible. No good can come of them.  [...]  Peace. People. Moderation. I would have thought that those were too heavy a price to pay for sustaining a hardened stance. So, when flotillas came to break the blockade, they came to help the people of Gaza. But, just as important, they came to break the blockade on the Israeli mind."