Midweek Special

Hurricane Rita in the Gulf. Umm. Hmm.

What woman could be the next US Supreme Court justice? Slate’s Emily Bazelon does an analysis – one could be troubled by the conservative women already on the federal appeals bench:

The women on the shortlist are crazy or lightweights or both, the naysayers complain. In their most despairing moments, they worry that the administration has deliberately cut down the pool of women candidates by refusing to seriously consider anyone who isn’t a federal appeals court judge (with the exception of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson).

So, Bazelon notes that one could try to find the female John Roberts:

It may be that the female John Roberts is out there. Like Roberts, Maureen Mahoney is a leading Supreme Court litigator; she’s been arguing before the court since 1988. Like Roberts, she’s from the Midwest (born in South Bend, Ind.). Like Roberts, she clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Like Roberts, she was one of Kenneth Starr’s deputies when he was solicitor general for Bush I. Mahoney’s problem: She has argued in favor of affirmative action—on the winning side for the University of Michigan Law School in the 2003 Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger. But that shouldn’t disqualify her if defending development restrictions around Lake Tahoe—a bad loss for the property-rights movement—didn’t disqualify Roberts. Also, Mahoney isn’t a judge. In 1992, George H.W. Bush nominated her for a federal trial bench seat in Virginia, but Bill Clinton became president before confirmation. So, she’s still a lawyer at the Washington, D.C., firm Latham & Watkins. At first blush, it would seem odd for the administration to single out a plain old lawyer for the nation’s highest court. At second blush, why not? Mahoney is smart and she knows the court. […]

Mahoney lacks what another late-surging female candidate has—a longtime spot in the president’s inner circle. White House Counsel Harriet Miers has been vetter-in-chief of the Supreme Court candidates. What if Bush selects her over them, in the Dick Cheney tradition? Before she got her current job, Miers was assistant to the president and his staff secretary. She was the person who knew where all the paper in the White House was coming and going. She never talked to reporters. She came with Bush from Texas, where she was chair of the state lottery commission and the first woman president of the Texas State Bar. But Miers isn’t a skilled Supreme Court advocate. She has no reputation outside the insular Bush circle. Firepower-wise, she looks like a big gamble.

So, there are many factors to consider. Hmm. Obviously, deciding who would replace Justice O’Connor isn’t going to be easy.

Alan Alda – what a guy.

Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek does an interesting analysis of what in the world is the government doing to deal with the numbers behind the problems this country is facing:

People wonder whether we can afford Iraq and Katrina. The answer is, easily. What we can’t afford simultaneously is $1.4 trillion in tax cuts and more than $1 trillion in new entitlement spending over the next 10 years. To take one example, if Congress did not make permanent just one of its tax cuts, the repeal of estate taxes, it would generate $290 billion over the next decade. That itself pays for most of Katrina and Iraq.

Robert Hormats of Goldman Sachs has pointed out that previous presidents acted differently. During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt cut nonwar spending by more than 20 percent, in addition to raising taxes to finance the war effort. During the Korean War, President Truman cut non-defense spending 28 percent and raised taxes to pay the bills. In both cases these presidents were often slashing cherished New Deal programs that they had created. The only period—other than the current one—when the United States avoided hard choices was Vietnam: spending increased on all fronts. The results eventually were deficits, high interest rates and low growth—stagflation.

Bush is not the only one to blame. Congressional spending is now completely out of control. The federal coffers are being looted for congressional patronage, and it is being done openly and without any guilt. [….]

Today’s Republicans believe in pork, but they don’t believe in government. So we have the largest government in history but one that is weak and dysfunctional. Public spending is a cynical game of buying votes or campaign contributions, an utterly corrupt process run by lobbyists and special interests with no concern for the national interest. So we shovel out billions on “Homeland Security” to stave off nonexistent threats to Wisconsin, Wyoming and Montana while New York and Los Angeles remain unprotected. We mismanage crises with a crazy-quilt patchwork of federal, local and state authorities—and sing paeans to federalism to explain our incompetence. We denounce sensible leadership and pragmatism because they mean compromise and loss of ideological purity. Better to be right than to get Iraq right.

Hurricane Katrina is a wake-up call. It is time to get serious. We need to secure the homeland, fight terrorism and have an effective foreign policy to advance our interests and our ideals. We also need a world-class education system, a great infrastructure and advancement in science and technology.

For all its virtues, the private sector cannot accomplish all this. Wal-Mart and Federal Express cannot devise a national energy policy for the United States. For that and for much else, we need government. We already pay for it. Can somebody help us get our money’s worth?

Plenty of food for thought.

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