Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Moussaoui Jury Got it Right
James S. McKay
Op-Ed Published in the New Haven Register- May 11, 2006

I’ve been a criminal defense attorney for the past 23 years, mostly handling the defense of very serious and violent crimes. One of the things that’s become clear to me over that time is that, much as we talk about "proof beyond a reasonable doubt," the reality is that most jurors require less proof in order to convict when a crime is particularly heinous or disturbing. Why? Because, contrary to what some might believe, jurors are human beings just like the rest of us. When they see something awful, they become angry and want to do something about it. Convicting the defendant is more often than not what they do. It’s hard to get people to be fair when they’ve been confronted with the evidence of a horrible crime. That’s what makes the Moussaoui jury’s verdict so remarkable, and so correct.

In the words of one of the survivors of a 9-11 victim, Zacharias Moussaoui was an "al Qaida wannabe." As several jurors indicated, his actual role in the plot remains highly questionable, largely because the principal evidence of it is his own furious bluster . In fact, whatever it is he might have done was precluded by the fact that he was locked up in jail on immigration charges at the time 9-11 occurred. Much as we should all be incensed by Moussaoui’s hateful taunts, what he was actually convicted of was based on his lies to the FBI, and as noted by another 9-11 family member, if that’s enough to put you on death row, there’d be a lot more people on death row.

Now why does this matter? Wasn’t 9-11 so bad that we should execute anyone who had anything to do with it? Well, no actually. What gives our law its moral authority is the fact that it takes into account not only the intent of the criminal, but what it is that the criminal actually did. That’s how we make the punishment fit the crime. People who aid crimes in less significant ways get less punishment than those who played a more active role. That makes good sense, and it’s one of the things that legitimizes our legal system and makes it so much better than an angry mob. We make the punishment fit, not exceed, the crime.

Nine jurors indicated that Moussaoui had suffered a difficult childhood in which he was subjected to poverty and violence, and spent many of his early years in and out of orphanages. I can hear many of you groaning already. Here we go again, you say, another criminal gets off easy by blaming his problems on somebody else. How many times do we have to listen to this?

Well, just to correct the record. Moussaoui’s not getting off easy. As punishment for his lies, he will spend the rest of his life in a jail cell where his principal contact with other human beings will be to have a food tray passed through a slot to him three times a day. In addition, it was not Moussaoui who put forth his awful background. It was his lawyers. Just as they should.

You see, the second way in which our law gains the moral high ground is by making sure the punishment not only fits the crime, but fits the criminal. Why? Because, we realize that people start out at different places in this world, not by their own design but by accident of birth. Many of us wish we were born to Donald Trump. Most of us are born to the Donald Smiths of this world, and if we’re lucky they treat us well and give us enough of what we need to make it through the world in pretty good shape. We know this in our bones. That’s why we lose sleep at night worrying about how to put our own children in the best environments we possibly can. We know that childhood matters, it really does.

People who do the most horrible crimes (and I’ve met a lot of them) don’t fall out of the blue. For the most part, their accident of birth put them in environments you wouldn’t wish upon your dog. Some people from these environments are gifted with the inner strength or good luck to make it through and become successful members of society. But all too many, like Moussaoui, wind up stuck in angry stew of deprivation and hate, seething until one day the explode against a world they perceive as having never given them a chance. Should we excuse their conduct? No, but neither should their punishment be blind to the fact that they were born into childhoods that are often as toxic as an industrial dumping ground. "But for the grace of god go I." It’s about as simple as that.

Moussaoui’s jurors did some of the toughest civic duty you’ll ever see and they deserve to be commended for it. They spent months of their lives reliving the agony of 911 and seeing its pain at close range, and they resisted the urge to simply lash out in anger. They followed the law and those principals that make it just. Those of us who would be inclined to criticize them should think twice. After all, you never know when that jury summons you get in the mail might call upon you do the same.

Atty. James S. McKay is a former member of the Connecticut Public Defender's Capital Defense Unit and is currently a trainer for the Division of Public Defender Services. His views are his own and do not reflect the views of the Division of Public Defender Services

Sunday, March 05, 2006

OP-ED Published in the New Haven Register 2/2/06

The Myth of "Strict Construction"
James S. McKay

The nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court has again brought the issue of how judges should interpret our Constitution to the fore. It is an issue that scholars and jurists have wrestled with since our Constitution was written, and for good reason. As a nation that prides itself on democracy, the idea that a handful of unelected judges can lay down the ultimate law of the land is a potentially scary proposition. Surely there must be some way to assure that they aren’t simply acting on their own personal whims and prejudices.

President Bush has assured the nation that Judge Alito will handle this problem by sticking to a "strict construction" of the Constitution. She will not "legislate" from the bench. Now this may sound perfectly clear to many Americans, especially those who have been frustrated by the direction the Court has taken in recent times, but there’s just one problem: The idea of "strict construction" is a myth.

The complex truth about the U.S. Constitution is that many of its most important concepts are written in ambiguous terms. We are all guaranteed the freedom from "unreasonable" searches. "Equal Protection" and "Due Process" are among our most cherished rights. Yet while we may all agree that these protections are laudable, we often have considerable difficulty deciding exactly what these terms should mean. The Constitution surely means what it says, but very often it falls short of saying what it means. How are we to know what "process" is "due?" When will we be able to tell that "protection" is "equal?" What kind of searches are "reasonable" and what kinds are not? No, the idea of "strict construction" doesn’t get you very far when it comes to figuring out what these words, among the most important in our law, are to mean.

Constitutional scholars will tell you that there are numerous theories about how judges should go about filling in these blanks. Justice Scalia calls himself an "originalist." He looks for what the founding fathers would have meant by the term when they adopted it, and that’s the meaning he tries to give it. Yet this approach is also beset with at least two major problems. First, figuring out what a group of men meant 200 years ago is not always easy. Where records exist at all, they are often far from clear and frequently contradictory. The Founders were a spirited bunch and they often disagreed about the meaning of what they were writing. Second, deferring to the intent of a handful of long-dead men from a different century doesn’t seem a great deal more "democratic" than deferring to a group of judges on the bench today. Is legislating from the grave really better than legislating from the bench?

"Non-Originalists" take a whole different approach. Scholars and judges who subscribe to this school take many forms, but generally tend to see the ambiguity of clauses like "due process" and "equal protection" as a good thing. To their way of thinking, the vagueness of these terms is part of the genius of our Constitution because it invites the Constitution to evolve over time, incorporating changing notions about our most basic principles. Current perceptions of equality would never tolerate making African Americans sit at the back of a bus. Fairness in this era means we give people a lawyer before we attempt to take away their freedom. "Non-Originalists" believe it is right and good to interpret the Constitution’s ambiguities according to modern realities, even if those realities are in themselves sometimes ambiguous or at odds with the way the Founders might have done things.

This is but a glance at a subject that has consumed some of our greatest legal minds since the principle of judicial review was first established in Marbury v. Madison in 1803. It’s important and it is not simple. Neither Harriet Miers nor anyone else who might serve on the Court will be able to "strictly construe" the U.S. Constitution. To suggest that this is possible is to perpetuate a myth upon the American public. Harriet Miers, like all Justices, will need to find the meaning of the Constitution’s ambiguous but critical guarantees elsewhere. The "elsewhere" she finds will not derive from any simplistic absolute about how the Constitution should be interpreted. It will derive from who she is as a person and whether or how she might evolve as a person over time. That’s the nature of our Constitutional beast, and it is exactly as simple or complex as the person who is wearing the robe.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Op-Ed published in the New Haven Register- April 13, 2005

Death Penalty Always Flawed

James S. McKay

Connecticut should abolish the death penalty. No, it shouldn't do so because people like me believe it is morally wrong. We're in the minority. Poll after poll shows that most people can easily find examples of murderers who sufficiently "deserve" it as to allow them to sleep easily should they be executed. Indeed, even I can usually come up with a few names of people who have been so evil that their removal from the face of the earth would cause me no tears. It's pretty hard to defend a guy like Hitler on the grounds that he's not "bad enough" to be put to death.

Yet the question of whether someone in the abstract should be executed should be only the beginning of the debate. Justice Harry Blackmun, after decades of voting to "fix" the death penalty on the U.S. Supreme Court finally decided that his efforts had ultimately been fruitless and counter productive. Towards the end of his long and distinguished career, he announced that he would "no longer tinker with the machinery of death" and vowed to oppose the death penalty from that point on. Unfortunately, his change of heart was too little and too late. Had he reached it back in 1972 his vote might have helped sway the court to abolish the death penalty altogether in Furman v. Georgia. Instead, it became a vote to "fix" it and here we are continuing to flail away at doing so some thirty years later.

As Justice Blackmun came to realize, deciding the death penalty is "right" in general doesn't settle the question. Each case necessarily raises its own unique questions about whether it's "right" for this particular crime or for the individual person who would be executed. The devil's in the details when a human being's life is at stake. It always is.

The inescapable truth in death penalty cases is that the details are unavoidably complex. A law is written to identify who might be executed in general, yet the facts of a particular case may or may not fit. A defendant may be retarded and deserving of mercy, yet digging up the facts that would prove it from records or witnesses deep in the past can be like searching for a needle in a haystack that's been blown apart by the winds of time. A jury might choose death based on inflamatory emotional appeals during closing argument rather than on the facts. A defendant who commits his crime on Route 8 in the Waterbury Judicial District may be certain to face the death penalty because that is the chief prosecutor's policy, yet another defendant who did exactly the same thing a couple exits south on Route 8 in Ansonia may not, simply because the chief prosecutor in that District has a different sense of how to properly and fairly use his discretion. A defendant might wind up being one of what is now over 100 inmates who have been freed across the nation (not just in the rural south) who were actually innocent of commiting the murders that sent them to death row.

Resolving these issues and others like them must be done if the death penalty is to seek the moral high ground. Yet to do so comes at tremendous cost. These cases require death penalty lawyers, one of the rarest and most highly specialized fields in all of the law. They require investigation to make sure the jury has the proper facts to make a decision that they will live with for the rest of their lives. They require police and prosecutors who must spend disproportionate resources that could be used elsewhere on a relative handful of cases. They require litigation through the checks and balances of the state and federal court systems to make sure that they are fair.

Perhaps most tragically, death penalty cases prolong the anguish of the survivors of homicide who are the ones who suffer the most. Many of them await a "justice" that may never come. Others, like those in the group Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, protest against the death penalty because they believe it does not heal their hearts or better their world. Death penalty cases take years and resources from the victims and from all of us who could otherwise see them directed to other things like community policing and fighting drug abuse that we know can significantly reduce crime each year.

The bottom line is that getting the death penalty "right" is almost impossible. That's true everywhere, not just in Connecticut. We stand at a crossroads. Our legislature has a choice. It can put a halt to our endless quest to "fix" the death penalty, or it can take the wiser and better route of joining the rest of the civilized world and walking away from this inevitably failed and costly public policy.

James S. McKay is a former member of the Connecticut Public Defender's Capital Defense Unit and is currently trainer for the Division of Public Defender Services. His views are his own and do not reflect the views of the Division of Public Defender Services.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

this was published in the Middletown (CT) Press on the eve of New England's first execution in 45 years.

Setting the Record Straight on Connecticut’s Death Penalty
James S. McKay

As the citizens of Connecticut continue to focus on the issue of the death penalty, it becomes very important to get the facts straight. Here are several areas where I continue to hear the same mistakes reported over and over again, not only by lay people, but by the largest media sources in the state.

Appeals are Unnecessary:

It’s true that the appellate process in capital cases takes a long time. That’s not unique to Connecticut. The reason is because there are frequently issues that come to light only far along in the process. A witness may recant and exonerate the defendant. Critical evidence that may have made a difference in the jury’s verdict may have been hidden from the defense. New technology, like DNA, may come along that shows the defendant is innocent. Large legal issues that affect the fairness and accuracy of the entire death penalty process may present themselves.
Are these more than "technicalities?" Ask any of the 100+ death row inmates who spent as much as 20 years on death row after being wrongly convicted. Had the appellate process not been thorough and taken great care, most of them would have been executed.

The Alternative to the Death Penalty:

Virtually all of Connecticut’s major media sources recently reported on the results of a Quinnipiac poll that, at first glance, appeared to show that a majority of Connecticut residents (59%) support the death penalty. What was far less widely reported was the fact that support for the death penalty goes down to 37% when life without parole is offered as an alternative.

Now, here’s the rub: Connecticut already HAS life without parole. In fact, Connecticut’s alternative to the death penalty is even broader than just excluding parole. It includes life "without possibility of release" from prison. That means no furloughs, no probation, no anything. Individuals convicted of Capital Felony in Connecticut will die in prison, even without the death penalty.

Death Row is a Country Club:

Connecticut’s death row is housed at Northern Correctional Center in rural Somers. In order to get there, you have to pass through multiple double-fenced gates that are guarded by high-tech glassed-in operations pods. You are then escorted into the bowels of the facility, where you walk down a very long straight hall that is unmarked except for steel doors every so often along the way. Death row is through one of these doors near the end on the left.

Once you get in, you are placed in a concrete bunker that overlooks the cell block of death row. The inmates are housed in individual 7x12 foot cells that include a steel sink, a toilet, and metal bunk for a bed. They stay in their cells 23 hours per day.

Michael Ross Proves we Need the Death Penalty:

In another recent poll, it’s clear that a large majority of Connecticut residents believe that Michael Ross deserves to die. The severity of his crimes plus the strength of the proof, particularly his own admissions, seems to support the view of most people that the death penalty is his appropriate punishment.

Now, I’m not going to discuss the arguments that are currently raging over whether Mr. Ross is competent to give up his appeals, except to say that my former colleagues in the Public Defender’s Capital Defense Unit are people of the highest integrity, who are doing the often thankless work that needs to be done in order to make sure that our criminal justice system works correctly.
That being said, it is important to realize that whatever may be Mr. Ross’ fate, each capital case raises its own unique issues and will need to be examined by our courts with an open mind. In the future, our courts will inevitably examine important questions like why so many death row inmates come from Waterbury, while so few come from the rest of the state. They will look at issues of whether the juries heard all the evidence that they needed to know in order to make a sound decision. They will look at whether the prosecutors and defense attorneys did their jobs properly. They will inevitably be confronted with a case where we will have serious questions about whether we’ve convicted the right person.

As these questions arise, our courts will need to deal with them and that will continue to take enormous amounts of time and resources in order to make sure we’ve gotten it right. And as a civilized society, we will do this hard work because we know that death is different. You can’t take it back.

The Michael Ross case should not present the last word in our views about the death penalty in Connecticut. Every state and society that has attempted to use capital punishment fairly has run into the same problems. Outside of our nation, most have decided that their money and resources are better spent elsewhere and they have abandoned the practice altogether.
By the time this piece comes to press, Michael Ross may or may not still be alive. But the questions about the death penalty will remain, and we owe it to ourselves to base our views on as clear an understanding of the facts as possible.

Atty. James S. McKay is a former member of the Connecticut Public Defender’s Capital Defense Unit and is currently trainer for the Division of Public Defender Services. His views are his own and do not reflect the views of the Division of Public Defender Services.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

It's About Leadership, Stupid

by jmckay

I am a trial lawyer, son of a preacher, and a product of the "heartland." I've spent approximately 1/2 of my life in the midwest and 1/2 in New England. In both places, my job as a public defender has required me to persuade the average citizens who serve on juries to treat my clients fairly. This is no small task since my clients are invariably from the "wrong side of the tracks," and charged with something so horrible that the state is literally trying to execute them. These experiences have taught me something about how regular people think and how progressives can appeal to them as we try to turn our country around. Here's what I think:

  1. People take their civic responsibilities seriously, whether it's voting on a verdict or voting for president.
  2. People want to and will do what they believe to be right.
  3. Some people fall clearly on one side of the ideological spectrum and they are not persuadable to the other side. They will vote guilty or not guilty, Republican or Democratic, regardless of the facts that are presented to them.
  4. Most people fall in the middle, and they are perplexed and frightened about how they should vote.Their fears are exacerbated by their own knowledge that they are poorly informed about what's going on beyond the relatively small boundaries of their own day to day world.
  5. People in the middle resolve their doubts by looking for guidance, reassurance, and confidence from others.
  6. The lawyer or candidate that can state his/her position simply and powerfully will provide that reassurance and win the middle.
  7. Rule 6 applies, even if people in the middle disagree with the lawyer or candidate on specific issues.
  8. The lawyer or candidate who wins the middle wins the case or the election.
  9. These rules apply regardless of whether you are trying your case in Missouri or Connecticut.

The Republicans learned these lessons with Reagan. George W. has perfected the style. He doesn't know much, but he makes it clear where he stands on the two or three things that he knows people are concerned about. This is reassuring to the middle and they resolve their doubts in his favor. Add in the Rove/Cheney disinformation machine simultaneously cranking up their fears and you have a winning combination.

Democrats need to learn these lessons too, and accept them as inalterable truths about the human beings they are trying to persuade. This is not to say that we should shun complexity in our thinking and analysis of the issues. It is only to say that if you want to win the average citizen in the middle, you need to learn how to communicate with them like a leader-clearly, simply and strongly. Bill Clinton did this better than anyone, but you don't have to be Clinton for it to work. W. can barely speak, but he has incredible discipline and clarity in his message.

Americans want leadership above all else. They will vote for the person who appears to be the best leader, even if they disagree with him/her on the issues. The Bush's and Reagan have proven this again and again. It happens because they are perceived as leaders, and they are perceived as leaders because they have learned that communication is the essence of leadership.

Dukakis and Kerry didn't lose because they were intellectuals from Massachusetts. They didn't lose because the public disagreed with them on the issues. They lost because they couldn't select the two or three things that people in the middle care about and communicate their positions clearly and powerfully. For people in the middle, they failed to lead.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Make this dKos Diary a Front Page Story:Read it and recommend it. You can do it, I only need a few more to make the front page!!!

Main Street Media Picking Up on Gannon- Time to crank up OUR Framing Machine

As I watched Anderson Cooper on CNN just now doing about 10 minutes grilling Gannon I had a mostly good mixture of feelings. I was pleased that he was finally starting to cover this real and important story, yet I was disappointed to see that he felt he had to qualify his reporting by letting Gannon get away with claiming that this is all a personal attack based on the gay escort angle.

My sense from following this story as its emerged on the blogs is that everyone here understands that it's the propaganda and inside access to Plame stuff that's most important, and that the hotmilitarystuds angle is an interesting sidelight, relevant primarilly for showcasing Gannon's hypocracy. It's news in the same way that televangist affairs are news. They debunk the "holier than thou" self-righteousness that these guys sell like popcorn, but they really don't have a lot of societal impact.Now, as this story gathers steam and gets further into the MSM, it strikes me that we need to be thinking about how to counteract the WH spin machine and get the information out there accurately.

The battle has already begun, whether we know it or not. Rove's attempts thus far have been as follows:-Play up the Jordan story to distract the media by giving them a "liberal" target and hijack the news cycle until the Gannon story goes stale.-Attempt to discredit the story as a bunch of whooey by pajama wearing liberals who hate the president so much they will play dirty with this "poor guy's" personal life.Now, my contribution to how we should frame this debate is as follows:We must drop the gay porn angle. Who cares? We're liberals for Chrissakes, and pushing the guy's preference distracts from the greater point. Remember how the Cheney daughter remark took the wind out of Kerry's 3d debate win? We need to just DROP IT. Right now. Don't let them dismiss the important point by harping on the trivial one.

We must continue to pursue with all our strength and intelligence the evidence that would show this is part of a BROADER PATERN to create a propaganda campaign that bears little relation to indisputable facts.We should highlight in particular how this propaganda campaign has been intentionally designed to protect the administration from legitimate questions by the MSM.

This final angle is really important and should (finally) be sticking under the MSM's craw and ought to propel them on to further investigation of their own.If these investigations pan out AND the MSM unites in pursuing this story, the disinformation machine may finally get the public undoing that it deserves.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Here's the UCC's response to the Sponge Bob Controversy! Posted by Hello

Saturday, January 15, 2005

My blogging's getting out of hand. Check out the one I've been keeping active at, and look for my comments and diaries as jsmckay on

Friday, January 14, 2005

Saying Social Security Isn't So Bad is Bad "Framing"

I'm hearing a lot lately about how the opponents of SS privatization are making the argument that SS really isn't in such bad shape. It disturbs me because I strongly believe that such "framing" will be counterproductive.

Claiming that SS isn't in such bad shape will not be persuasive to the public because fears about SS have been expressed by both parties over the past several elections (for eons, really). To now take the position that everything's okay places us directly in Rove's target as "naive" liberals, and facilitates their attempts to steal our mantle as the protectors of SS.

If this sounds familiar, it should. It's the same tactic they use on everything from crime to foreign policy, and it resonates with voters who fear being "wimpy" in our response to issues. These guys are masters at playing the "toughness" card, and we deal it to them face-up by trying to minimize the problems with SS (EVEN if it's true).

The proper "framing" of this issue is to stress the "reckless" and "radical"
departure that privatization represents. This is what recent polls suggest is our strongest suit and it will work much better with voters across the board who clearly believe it's more important to make sure there's a guaranteed SS benefit than to allow experiments with privatization.

Here's the pitch:

"The President's proposal to let people put their Social Security dollars into the stock market takes the "security" out of Social Security. Don't let him and the Republican Congress dismantle one of our nation's greatest achievements. Support the party that created Social Security in our efforts to make sure it's always there in the years to come. The Democrats."

We must stress the Democratic legacy on this issue. It sooths people's concerns about keeping the program "secure" to know that we're still there to look out for them. Our history on this issue is rock solid but we should not assume that everyone knows this. Cripes, I'd bet most voters don't even know FDR was a Democrat. Rove and the Republicans understand this and they are already banking on public ignorance by running FDR ads as we speak.

This game is not tennis, where we hit every ball back or we lose the point. It's chess, and Rove and his boys are the Boris Spasky's of politics. They're already onto their second move and we need to catch up, rather than keep fighting move 1.

That's why it's CRITICAL to include our campaign a large amount of public education about who brought them SS to begin with. And we need to repeat it over, and over, and over again. (Like Bush at the debates-we laughed, he won). If we do this, we will remain in charge of the debate and keep the burden on Bush to show why we need a risky new change.

This may seem simple or even elementary, but it's true. The people out there who will turn this debate are not dKos bloggers. They need to know the history on this issue. That's the winning "frame" in this debate.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Christmas Message for dKos from a Leftie with a Yellow Ribbon
by jsmckay This one got 84 comments and was a Recommended Diary on

Fri Dec 24th, 2004 at 05:33:43 PSTAs the casualties in Iraq crash into the holiday season, I've been surprised to find myself getting very aggressive in defending the guys that are fighting in the worst war in American history. I've even taken it so far as to defend the guys who voted for Bush, and I think it's the right thing for liberals to do.
Now before you jump on the troll ratings, you should know that I've spent my 22 year legal career as a public defender defending death penalty cases, including 7 years with the top capital defense unit in the country. And my blogs are as tough on the war as anything on dKos(see my latest
Attack Ad of the Day -Writer's Cramp). I'll put my credentials as a liberal up against anyone's, and I hope you'll hear me out.
Here's why I have a yellow ribbon on my car, and why I believe other liberals should do the same:

It started the other day when I placed myself in the midst of a brawl in the comments to Armando's diary,
A U.S. Soldier's Life: Perpetual War . I wound up taking strong exception to the many comments to the effect that the soldiers "deserve" what they get because about 70% of them voted for Bush. This really got under my skin, and as I fired off replies I began to feel there was a bigger point at stake about how we have lost our way as the "Party of the People."

Most of the soldiers are like my secretary's son who's being shipped back for a second tour in January. He signed up right after high school (and before 911) as a way up and out of the kind of tough corner of our society that liberals like those of us who blog on dKos purport to care about but seldom ever see. The kind of places where dodging bullets in the ghetto or living in a dying community on a dustbowl farm is the norm. The kind of places that are so dead-end hopeless that joining the military seems like a respectable step up, and, in fact, it has been for generations of their forefathers.

It's no accident that these kids get bamboozled out of their youth by slicksters who promise them they can play the coolest video game ever made. It seems a lot better than staying in the cornfields and ghettos from whence they came, and makes them feel like they just might be doing something positive for their country at the same time.

Then they get caught in a hellhole where they're getting shot at and can get blown up just sitting in a mess tent on their own base. They scrounge for protection and find nothing but old refrigerator doors. Then they get sent back out on patrol.

Some of these kids and their families can see through the flag-waving and stand up against the chickenhawk fools who blindly sent them into this mess, and a few of them even spoke out and voted for Kerry, often only after it was too late and their son or daughter had come home in a box. For them, we clearly owe our highest thanks because their words (like those of the young John Kerry) will have far more credibility than a million diaries on dKos.

But I take the position that the other guys and their families, the ones who, yes, voted for Bush, also deserve not only our respect and compassion, but our active support.

These guys didn't chose to fight a stupid quagmire of a war, but now that they're in it, the number one goal on their mind is to make it home alive. They and their families PRAY that they will return, and (usually silently because the concept is simply too horrific to utter aloud), they pray that if they don't they won't have been killed for nothing. And prayer is about all they have. The rest of the time they can take orders, or go to jail.

I believe that for many of these soldiers and their families, voting for Bush is the civic manifestation of these prayers, and that the ones who do so deserve to be judged by a different standard than anyone else. Their votes for Bush are acts of faith on behalf of the people they love, and they send them Bush's way even if deep in some of their hearts they know that things are going terribly wrong.
No, it's not logical. It's human.

The Democratic Party must return to it's roots as the party of the people. We won and felt best about ourselves when we championed the cause of the common man, the one who needed things like social security, medicare, and rural electrification. We lose ourselves and our support from millions of Americans when we stray from this concept, and we open ourselves up for attack as a party of elitists when it looks like we care more about saving the whales than about saving the soldiers.

The solders and their families, yes, even those who voted for Bush, are precisely the kind of people we should embrace. In my humble opinion, the smartest thing we could do is become the "Party of the Soldier." The one that cares more about the grunts on the ground than the oil in the ground.

We should be specific in this, making a splashy introduction of legislation to create a "GI/Guardsman Bill of Rights" that pledges to do things like:

  1. Provide adequate equipment to protect them when they are in harm's way.
  2. Not go to war prematurely and without adequate cause, resources, or planning.
  3. Provide quality physical and mental healthcare for them and their families for life.
  4. Not deploy the same soldiers and guardsmen over and over again.

Let the Republicans vote it down. It'll show which party really stands on their side. (They won't of course, they will try to coopt it. That's why we need to do it as a major campaign so people know who's responsible).

We missed these lessons in Vietnam when too many of us spit in the faces of the troops and treated them shamefully on their return. I know, we were pissed, just like we are now. But the neocons seized on it, iconicised "Hanoi Jane," and it became part of their foundation for selling the cockamammie notion that Vietnam was actually a good war that was handled badly by the politicians. It gave them a toe-hold with average Americans who resented our treatment of the veterans, and helped start the pendulum swinging back their way, hence we find ourselves where we are were we are today. This issue has an important history that we overlook at our own peril.

These reasons are why I believe liberals ought to support all of the guys fighting in Iraq. We're the party of the people, and there's few we should care about more than a kid who's hiding behind a refrigerator door because some idiot Republican who spent Vietnam drunk in a frathouse basement sent him there. THAT'S who we should be going after. The bosses, not the grunts. And we must go after THEM as hard as we possibly can. see Attack Ad of the Day - Rumsfeld
This is who we have been, and ought to be as Democrats. And right next to my yellow ribbon, I've got a peace sign.

Happy Holidays everybody.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Not even superheroes could pull this one out. Posted by Hello

Friday, November 19, 2004

The Permanent Campaign is On!!!

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

John Kerry's powerful video on Friday soliciting us to co-sponsor his bill to provide health insurance to children (watch it at Kerry Video) is an unprecedented call to arms by a fallen hero who refuses to quit the fight we all know we must win.

Before his body could get cold, John Kerry pulled himself off the mat and reminded us that he is tough as nails- the perfect attack dog for the next four years. With a permanent seat in the Senate, a warchest of millions, name recognition, and a good amount of respect, at least as a smart human being if not as the perfect candidate, John Kerry is bulletproof.

More important than Kerry's will, however, is that he has identified the perfect wedge issue to put the heat on the Republicans at precisely the moment when they are trying to gain momentum for spending their right wing political capital, and over the next four years.
Health care for children is hot dogs, baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet. The Republicans will of course shoot it down but at a cost. It will debunk "compassionate conservatism" and reveal them to be the mean-spirited and greedy Republicans of the past. Most importantly, it will plant the seeds for a growing theme that will define the Republicans in other arenas. Tax Cuts for the rich are great if you don't care about the health of children. Privatizing Social Security is great if you've got a stockbroker. The Republicans as the party of greed don't win elections, not even in all of the red states.

Becoming the champions of health care for children also reintroduces our party as the party of progress, but it does so in a way that defuses the naive image we foster everytime we talk about doing something to make sure EVERY American has a wonderful life. Health care for kids seems not only right put possible, especially if we don't throw our money down the toilet of war, or hand it over to the corporations and the rich. It sets aside the philosophical hand-wringing about "who we are" and answers the question with a deed worthy the great tradition of our party.

The Permanent Campaign is ON. This is exactly when we should be- hitting them BEFORE they get up a head of steam on Social Security, ANWAR, and judicial appointments that will take decades to undo.

In refusing to go quietly into the night, John Kerry has surprised and delighted all who are ready to quit crying in their beers and get on with the task of taking back the country we love. I don't know if he'll be the right man in 4 years but he is PERFECT man to carry the fight to them now, and his courage in getting right back at it is quite astonishing.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Even Abe is wise to Bush Posted by Hello

Monday, November 08, 2004

J hears the Ohio Vote Posted by Hello

It's NOT Vietnam...It's Worse!!!

by jmckay

During the recent presidential campaign, it was common for people on both sides to downplay the similarities between Iraq and Vietnam. They were right. Iraq and Vietnam are very different. Unfortunately, the reason for this is because Iraq is WORSE than Vietnam. Bush and his neocons have mired us in a war that combines the bungling quagmire of Vietnam with the zealotry of the many holy wars that have plagued the history of mankind.

Like Vietnam, the administration has rolled out a disinformation campaign worthy of Pravda in order to convince the citizenry that this quagmire is in our national interest and is going just swimmingly. "We'll be welcomed as liberators!" "Freedom is on the march!"

Unlike Vietnam, their actions have not been confined to a what ultimately proved to be essentially a civil war in a remote geographic region. Instead, they have unleashed new generations of young middle eastern men and women who now feel justified and heroic in blowing us up (with, we now know, at least 260 tons of explosives stolen from under our noses while we protected the oil wells) and beheading our citizens and our dwindling number of allies. Vietnam was peanuts compared to this. The forces we have ignited in Iraq are potentially nuclear and extend to future generations of one of the major cultures/religions of the world.

Bin Laden has found his perfect foil for creating a holy war in George W. Bush, a man who missed the lessons of Vietnam by hanging out in a frat house while the rest of his generation marched in the streets.

Evil Doers crash Kerry rally in NH Posted by Hello

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Sticker at Kerry rally in NH on Haloween, 2 days before election. Posted by Hello

Friday, October 29, 2004

The Final Word on Bush
James S. McKay

Here's the bottom line on George Bush. He hasn't done much, but what he has done he's done badly.

On domestic issues, despite starting with record surpluses he's burdened our children and ruined the economy by running up the deficit in order to give ineffectual tax cuts to the rich. He has failed to fix social security and wants to turn it into a private investment scheme. Environmental groups are unanimous that he's been the worst environmental president ever. His perscription drug benefit is hopelessly complex and inadequate. His education policy is an unfunded mandate to already strapped local communities. He intends to pack the court with Justices like Scalia and Thomas who are sworn enemies of a woman's right to choose.

These problems of course pale next to the President's dangerous foreign policy escapades. He squandered a moment in time when America had world support for the first time since World War Two and poisoned our relations with most nations including many of our closest allies. He threw us into a war of choice saying that we'd be welcomed as liberators, there would be no casualties, and that the war would pay for itself, despite the prophetic warnings of world leaders and many of his own experts. He sent inadequate numbers of young Americans into harm's way with equipment so bad that they are beginnning to mutiny and refuse to fight. He made sure Iraq's oil fields were protected but forgot to secure 360 tons of explosives that can be used to bring down airliners, blow up troops, and detonate nuclear warheads. He unleashed new generations of young middle eastern men and women who now feel justified and heroic in blowing us up and beheading our citizens and our dwindling number of allies. He has mired us in a war that combines the bungling quagmire of Vietnam with the zealotry of the many holy wars that have plagued the history of mankind.

Like many people, the President's only "asset" turns out to be his greatest liability. His "resolve" has gotten us hopelessly stuck on a wrong and dangerous course. We need to get him out of office now. With a record like this, the election shouldn't even be close.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Kerry in Manchester, NH 10/31/04 Posted by Hello

Friday, October 22, 2004

Kerry and Vets Against the War were Patriots
James S. McKay- Printed in the Middletown Press, Pictorial Gazette, Main Street News, and Valley Courier Newspapers in Connecticut

The announcement that Sinclair Broadcasting Group is attempting to broadcast an attack on John Kerry by former prisoners of war in Vietnam is intended to paint the Senator as a traitor. While it is understandable that these men felt betrayed, the actions of John Kerry and the Vietnam Veterans Against the War helped me and thousands of other young Americans and young soldiers during the early 1970s and should be regarded as courageous.

In 1973 I became eligible for the draft. Fortunately, by that time the war was winding down and young men were no longer being shipped off to Vietnam. As a result, my peers and I didn't have to scramble for a deferment, join the National Guard or flee to Canada in order to avoid serving in a war that we believed was wrong. A year or two earlier, and thousands of us would have been on our way to combat.

Our good fortune was due to the relentless pressure of the antiwar movement, which was largely made up of middle class kids from families like mine who were scared and angry at the prospect of dying for an uncertain cause. Yet kids like us were easily dismissed as agitators, cowards, and "hippies." Our protests were derided as unpatriotic and we were accused of undermining our troops in the field. Our voices lacked credibility.

The Vietnam Veterans Against the War changed everything. They were a tiebreaker in the public debate. Here was a group of men who, unlike us children of privilege, knew what they were talking about and could not be easily dismissed. They knew the war from the inside out and had arrived at their views honestly. Their patriotism was beyond reproach, yet they had arrived at the same conclusions as the hippies. Maybe this antiwar talk wasn't just for cowards after all. Maybe they had a point. Maybe we should get out.

Tapes of Richard Nixon in the Oval Office confirm that the actions of John Kerry and the V.V.A.W. brought enormous pressure on the White House to end the war. Their efforts saved thousands of kids from having to go and hastened the safe return of thousands of others who were already there. Their bravery in pursuing the peace was a true act of patriotism.

Some generations are called to defend our nation by fighting great wars. John Kerry and the Vietnam Vets Against the War defended our nation by fighting for peace. Perhaps it is time for history to repeat itself.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

James S. McKay- Unpublished Letter to the NYT

The marathon that has been this year’s presidential campaign has been largely squandered by focusing on issues that have too little to do with the historic challenges that await us over the next four years. Nonsense about swift boats and the national guard 30 years ago have taken up far too much of the press coverage and have skewed the public debate away from the Iraq war, the economy, health care, social security, the environment, the deficit, and any number of subjects that will indelibly change our lives and our world.

During these final two weeks of the presidential campaign, I implore the press to keep their eye on the ball, and focus their coverage upon the real issues at hand. The debates have finally provided an unfiltered view of the two men who would lead us and to a significant extent they have laid out contrary views of the directions they each would take. Now is the time to examine their plans and records in detail, and to judge them on the merits. We have a chance to be smart about this decision and the demands of our times are simply too great to continue being distracted by salacious but insignificant sideshows.
I say this now because the press is already being diverted by the "flap" over John Kerry’s reference to Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter. This story should not dominate the precious days remaining for honest discussion of larger issues. It is a distraction. Kerry was insightful, honest, and supportive of Ms. Cheney and all gay people when he said most gay people feel like they were born that way. His comments were an attempt to dispel unfair notions, often pandered to by right wing conservatives, that being gay is some kind of deviant choice of lifestyles. If Mr. Kerry overstepped his bounds in mentioning Ms. Cheney’s name, his error was harmless. Ms. Cheney and her parents have long been public about her sexual orientation. If Mr. Kerry was "talking about their kid" he was doing so in a positive light.
Other "flaps" will surely compete for the last remaining news cycles in a calculated attempt to toss a critical few votes from one side to the other. We know already that Sinclair Broadcasting will be showing an anti-Kerry diatribe. The Ten Commandments have recently tried to peep into the public debate. These stories are trivial compared to the big issues of war and peace that confront us, yet they have the potential to tip an intensely close election. Now more than ever, the press must resist the urge to chase these red herrings and focus like a laser on the merits of each candidate’s case for America.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Privatizing Social Security is for People Who Don't Need It
James S. McKay
printed in the Hartford Courant

In the final presidential debate, the President reiterated his frightening plan to create private social security accounts. Now, I don't know about you, but I've been through 20 years of formal education and earned two graduate degrees and the idea of managing my own social security account scares me to death. It's not that I'm lazy or don't believe in making private investments. On the contrary, I'd love to shrewdly put my money to work and watch it grow. The problem is, despite my education, I am no financier and I doubt that I ever will be.

The President's plan to privatize social security and allow Americans to manage their "own money" is hopelessly out of touch with the way most of us live our economic lives. It unrealistically presumes that average people have a high level of financial savvy. The truth is that most of us get by trying to make sure our paycheck can cover the bills and hoping that our house may be worth enough down the line to provide a bit of a nest egg. If we're fortunate, we have a job with a pension, and maybe a 401K.

The idea of playing the market with our own Social Security seems scary and lies well beyond our expertise. We take comfort in the fact that no matter how badly we might botch our own affairs, the government assures that we won't be left utterly penniless when we are old and frail. Asking us to put our money at risk by managing our own Social Security accounts defeats this very purpose. Indeed, if we were all such great managers of our money, we never would have needed Social Security in the first place.

Social Security exists not to protect people who know how to make successful investments. It exists for the rest of us who, even if we are smart and well educated, may nevertheless need a safety net for our retirement years.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Two Sides of George Bush
James S. McKay

The presidential debates in Coral Gables and St. Louis have shown us two different sides of George Bush. The combination of the two has resulted in the debacle of Iraq and made the world a more dangerous place.

In the first debate, the President showed his inability to deal with complexity. He was like a deer in the headlights, stumbling and simmering as he fell back on the buzz phrases "hard work," and "mixed messages" to try to make a point. His facial expressions harkened back to his 7 minutes of paralysis during the "My Pet Goat" affair on 9/11. It was hardly the kind of cool and decisive intellegence that the nation needs when the chips are down.

The second debate revealed another side of George Bush that is even more troubling. Having shown his incompetence, he overcompensated by becoming a bully. Storming about the stage with raised voice he unblinkingly asserted the moral virtue of his choices, completely ignoring and even denying his failures in executing those choices. This time he was going to throw his weight around and dare anyone to challenge him. It didn't matter that his misadventures in Iraq have created a quagmire approaching biblical proportions. Saddam was a bad man. Case closed.

The most telling exchange was when Charlie Gibson tried to ask the President a follow-up question about the back-door draft. This is an important issue because it is draining the servicemen the President claims to support and is of particular importance in light of statements last week by the President's own Iraq Czar, Arthur Bremmer, that we've had too few soldiers in Iraq from the start. Did the President answer the question? No. He steamrolled Mr. Gibson and went into a harange defending Tony Blair and a few other leaders who John Kerry had never criticized. The President as bully. Case closed.

The bullying George Bush has accellerated our alarming decline in the eyes of the world community. It's one thing to be wrong, but to be wrong and arrogant about it is to alienate yourself from even your closest friends. Nations like Canada, which I've always considered to be practically another state, have been driven away from us by the President's shoot from the hip decision-making and bullying ways. It's no accident that 90% of the money and 90% of the casualties in this war are our own. It's the direct product of the President pushing us away from our friends with a vengeance.

Diplomacy is a subtle art. In times past, our leaders have understood this and weilded their tools accordingly. This President believes diplomacy is a contact sport. There's no bunt in his playbook. Everything is a headlong dive into the middle of the line, and let the chips fall where they may.

The chips have indeed fallen in Iraq, and there are so many of them that we're likely to picking them up for generations. The two sides of George Bush, the overwhelmed simpleton and the bully, have undone generations of good will. We're in the position we are now because he is the wrong man for the job. Let's hope that his days in office will end with this election, before he can turn the rest of the world against us.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Running from America
James S. McKay-Published in the Middletown Press Newspaper in Connecticut

The President’s irritation during the first debate is understandable. After all he’s not used to being questioned. His campaign rallies ban anyone who is not a supporter. His government is filled with advisors who agree with him. Those who do not conform are shown the door or pushed aside.

Setting aside the fact that this type of exclusion is extraordinarily undemocratic for one who would hope to lead a democracy, there is a bigger problem. Listening to only one side makes for bad decisions. This President could have benefited greatly from paying greater heed to some of the more moderate voices in his administration like Colin Powell, General Shinseki, and Dick Clark. Had he done so, we might have avoided the quagmire that has become our occupation of Iraq.

The President’s distaste for disagreement now comes home to roost. Sixty-two million Americans could see it on his face and it didn’t look pretty. He now has political consequences for his impatience to match the practical consequences stemming from his failure to think through the policy decisions he has made. A picture speaks a thousand words, and the President’s appearance when confronted at the debate tells us a lot about his problems as an effective leader. It’s no wonder the world is impatient with him. It’s responding in kind to the way he has approached it from day one of his Presidency.