George Zornick observes: Yesterday, the Democratic-controlled Senate voted to legalize warrantless spying on Americans and to immunize any telecom company that did so in the past. As always, Glenn Greenwald has exhaustive and excellent analysis of the shameful debacle, here, but first see how the White House is forced to dance on the issue:

"The telephone companies that were alleged to have helped their country after 9/11 did so because they are patriotic and they certainly helped us and they helped us save lives." -- Dana Perino, press briefing on 2/12/08

This is a terribly confusing sentence -- the telecoms were "alleged to have helped," but they also "certainly helped us and they helped us save lives." A casual reader of this quote would be rather confused about the real actions of the telecoms. But of course everyone knows that, in fact, telecoms have been helping the government spy domestically without warrants for several years. The New York Times broke this story in 2005 and won Pulitzers for it, and now news accounts, correctly, just state the telecom-enabled spying as fact.

So why must Perino awkwardly insert "alleged" in the middle of a sentence that otherwise plainly and proudly admits the government and telecoms conspired to wiretap without warrants? Because the administration is concerned only with preventing official recognition of warrantless wiretapping -- legal recognition that would lead to lawsuits and ultimately a judicial ruling on the legality of such a program. That's what yesterday's Senate vote was all about, why it's failure was so tragic. If we don't officially know about the eavesdropping, we can't get judicial rulings on the legality of what the government did, and we can never stop it. So the administration will never, technically, admit the existence of a program they herald.

Warrantless wiretapping helps save lives, the White House says, but by the way, we don't necessarily engage in warrantless wiretapping. In other words, it's O.J. Simpson logic. His book was hypothetically titled If I Did It, because officially, you know, he didn't do it. But he'd be happy to explain why he had good reasons to allegedly kill his wife.

There were two important stories this week on the administration's horrid treatment of our troops. The first, Monday, is about a soldier who was pulled out of a hospital mental treatment program early, to be deployed directly to Iraq:

The soldier, who asked not to be identified because of the stigma surrounding mental illness and because he will seek employment when he leaves the Army, said he checked himself into Cedar Springs on Nov. 9 or Nov. 10 after he attempted suicide while under the influence of alcohol. He said his treatment was supposed to end Dec. 10, but his commanding officers showed up at the hospital Nov. 29 and ordered him to leave.

"I was pulled out to deploy," said the soldier, who has three years in the Army and has served a tour in Iraq.

Soldiers from Fort Carson and across the country have complained they were sent to combat zones despite medical conditions that should have prevented their deployment.

The next is a scoop by the AP yesterday about rampant suicide rates among the strained National Guard and Reserve:

National Guard and Reserve troops who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan make up more than half of veterans who committed suicide after returning home from those wars, according to new government data obtained by The Associated Press.

A Department of Veterans Affairs analysis of ongoing research of deaths among veterans of both wars -- obtained exclusively by The AP -- found that Guard or Reserve members were 53 percent of the veteran suicides from 2001, when the war in Afghanistan began, through the end of 2005.

This is a cause every liberal candidate for president should be championing, loudly. Liberalism needs to reclaim its natural duty to protect those who served the country, and also help to show that the government can help improve people's lives. That conservatives are regularly caricatured as "pro-military" is a misperception that should be long past expired.

Mark Lilla, writing about the neocons in TNR, recalls:

In the early 1980s I was an editor of The Public Interest, which had been founded in 1965 by Irving Kristol and Daniel Bell in hopes of injecting some sanity and empiricism into ideological controversies over social policy. In the very first issue of the journal they wrote that "the aim of The Public Interest is at once modest and presumptuous. It is to help all of us, when we discuss issues of public policy, to know a little better what we are talking about--and preferably in time to make such knowledge effective." As a college student of public policy I adored the magazine, because it complexified everything I thought I knew about politics, and even about human nature. It taught me to think about the secondary and tertiary effects of government action, and to accept the fact that sometimes problems cannot be solved, only managed. (Can you imagine a leading neocon saying that about the "war on terror" today?) Though I considered myself a neoconservative then and sniffed the ambrosia of reaction, Commentary was never my thing. That magazine was the great simplifier -- everything always came down to holding the line and proving your manliness. The articles made sense only if you imagined the authors screaming at the top of their lungs.

Meanwhile, in Marty news:

Bad news for Ron Radosh calling me "despicable" for writing that "[a]nyone who doesn't more or less share Marty Peretz's views on Israel or U.S. politics has little hope of getting a job at The New Republic." Actually, I didn't write that. I wrote something like it here, which inspired Radosh. The above was written by Cnaan Liphshiz in Ha'aretz after a lengthy interview with the crazy man.

One also has to be impressed by this logic:

Peretz concedes the Walt and Mearsheimer study might have had some profound effects. "It is possible that in some unconscious way, the report set the scene for the National Intelligence Assessment," he says, referring to the December report that concluded Iran had dropped its program for developing nuclear weapons -- a conclusion the Israeli defense establishment reportedly considers erroneous.

Also, this gem of an observation about Israel's occupation of the West Bank: "But bad things happen everywhere, all the time." Read it all here.

Thanks, Ralph.

Sorry, people, I like Huck: "There's a greater chance that I would dye my hair green and get tattoos all over my body and do a rock tour with Amy Winehouse than there is that I would run for the Senate."

Jagdish Bhagwati, America's most graceful -- in the literal sense -- free trader, here, on why ideologically committed free traders shouldn't worry about the rest of us winning any arguments anytime soon, despite our majority status.

It was fitting, I thought, that Bill Kristol was The Daily Show's final guest to cross the picket line before its writers went back to work. It's no contradiction for Kristol to promote himself at the expense of a union, since, we presume, he hates unions. Can the same be said, however, of those guests like Slate's now-converted Bush apologist, Jacob Weisberg, who also crossed the Stewart/Colbert picket lines, hurting the chances of far-less-well-paid writers than himself to win their struggle against the studios for the purpose of pure self-promotion?

Speaking of America's worst pundit, there's no reason to be sectarian about this. Here is another great moment in punditry from the other side of the aisle, particularly in light of the past eight straight, um, presidential primaries, this one from Harper's undercover agent, Ken Silverstein, in an attack piece written about Barack Obama in November 2006: "Already considered a potential vice-presidential nominee in 2008, Obama ...."

From TomDispatch:

Sometimes things are hidden in plain sight. In this case, a major arms race in Northeast Asia, involving the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and North and South Korea -- and it's only revving up. John Feffer, an expert on military policy and Asia, as well as the co-director of the website Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, brings us important news. While in our media the talk is largely of peace in Northeast Asia -- the ongoing Six Party Talks over the Korean nuclear issue, the Beijing Olympics, and so on -- the six major and minor powers in the region are investing in war.

As Feffer writes: "Despite all this peace-talk, something else, quite momentous and hardly noticed, is underway in the region. The real money in Northeast Asia is going elsewhere. While in the news sunshine prevails, in the shadows an already massive regional arms race is threatening to shift into overdrive. Since the dawn of the twenty-first century, five of the six countries involved in the Six Party Talks have increased their military spending by 50% or more. The sixth, Japan, has maintained a steady, if sizeable military budget while nonetheless aspiring to keep pace. Every country in the region is now eagerly investing staggering amounts of money in new weapons systems and new offensive capabilities."

From the staggering new Pentagon budget for 2009 to China's ambitious naval program, from the newest Japanese light aircraft-carrier (coyly termed a "destroyer") to South Korea's new, state-of-the-art Aegis-equipped destroyer and North Korea's nuclear weapons, the countries of the region are arming at an alarming pace on the seas, in the air, and in that new frontier, space -- and no one, it seems, is paying this phenomenon the attention it deserves.

Feffer takes us carefully through this new arms race, country by country, before concluding:

Given the sums that would be necessary to address the decommissioning of nuclear weapons, the looming crisis of climate change, and the destabilizing gap between rich and poor, such spending priorities are in themselves a threat to humanity. The world put 37% more into military spending in 2006 than in 1997. If the "peace dividend" that was to follow the end of the Cold War never quite appeared, a decade later the world finds itself burdened with quite the opposite: a genuine peace deficit.


Well, these are not reviews, but they are informational descriptions, albums we are happy, in good conscience, to let you know that you might wish to check out. We never heard of Edwards before, but are really impressed with the album. VW is all the rage, so you don't really need my opinion, but I am a sucker for this kind of power pop. And Chuck Prophet remains mostly undiscovered but incredible, nevertheless.

Kathleen Edwards -- Asking for Flowers

Eleven songs are on this effort from Edwards, her first in three years, released by Zoë Records. It's co-produced by Jim Scott, who has also worked with Whiskeytown and Tom Petty, and the album features guest appearances from Benmont Tench from The Heartbreakers, drummer Don Heffington (Bob Dylan, The Wallflowers), bassist Bob Glaub (Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Leonard Cohen), guitarist Colin Cripps (Sarah McLachlan, Bryan Adams), and pedal steel ace Greg Leisz (Sheryl Crow, Wilco, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss). More information is available here.

Vampire Weekend (self-titled)

This quartet, which met at Columbia, is releasing their self-titled album on XL Records. Nine of the 11 tracks are from a demo tape, Blue CD-R, which created a good deal of underground and online buzz, and this is their first actual studio effort. More information is here.

Chuck Prophet -- Soap and Water

Chuck Prophet -- born and raised in Whittier, California, the home of Nixon -- is out with a new album on Redeye Records, called Soap and Water. It's got 12 tracks with everything from very basic, one-take songs to tracks featuring a string section and Nashville's Methodist Church Children's Choir. More information is available here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Peter
Hometown: London, Ontario, Canada

Kudos to you for acknowledging the talent of Joe Henry, whose music remains unknown to most in spite of a series of groundbreaking albums and a decade or two's worth of high praise from critics. Henry's ability to attract disparate outstanding collaborators (Ornette Coleman, Marc Ribot, Paige Hamilton, The Jayhawks...) and yet sound like nobody but himself speaks to his musical vision (which, with all due respect, goes far beyond "complicated folk songs"). His predilection for jazzers goes back to "Shuffletown" (1990), which featured the late, great Don Cherry. That album, by the way, forms a perfect acoustic troika together with "T-Bone Burnett" and "King of America," best experienced sequentially and without distraction. Try it!

Name: Helen
Hometown: Ankeny, IA


Where is Dick Cheney?

Name: Jeff Weed
Hometown: Little Elm, TX

Dr A,

Altercation-fave Emmylou Harris has been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, along with Tom T. Hall, the Statler Brothers and the early pioneer Ernest "Pop" Stoneman. The Country Hall currently tries to select one artist each from three eras: Pre-WWII, WWII-1975 and post-1975. Hall and the Statlers tied in the middle category voting this year, so both were selected (deservedly so, IMHO). Inductions are later this year. To see previous inductees go here.

Here are a few other artists I'd like to see inducted (which may indicate that my age is a bit over 30):

Rosanne Cash -- "friend of the Doc's" has an impressive catalog of songs and performances of her own excellent material and of others such as the late, great John Stewart's "Runaway Train" and several by her ex, Rodney Crowell (who should also be elected BTW). "Seven Year Ache" is still an amazing record, even if she's tired of it.

Ronnie Milsap -- brought some R&B flavor to his country-pop offerings. A staple of country radio in the 70s and early 80s "Smoky Mountain Rain", "Pure Love," Kristofferson's "Please Don't Tell Me How The Story Ends". Brought energy even to some lightweight material.

Jerry Lee Lewis -- after his Rock N Roll career subsided, he turned into a great country performer. "What's Made Milwaukee Famous" "39 and Holding", "One Has My Name," the terrific "Middle Age Crazy."

Gram Parsons -- never accepted by Nashville, of course, but started Emmylou's career and wrote & sang some amazing songs - "$1,000 Wedding", "Hickory Wind" "Sin City."

Don Williams -- not as well remembered as he should be. The Gentle Giant (who retired from touring last year) had one of the great soothing voices of '70s country, but didn't fall into the countrypolitan sound of many of his contemporaries. "Tulsa Time," "Good Ole Boys Like Me," "Amanda," "Til The Rivers All Run Dry." His primary songwriter was Bob McDill, who's also a strong Hall of Fame candidate.

I also noticed The Stanley Brothers aren't in yet!

Other suggestions, fellow Altercators?

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