Ball of confusion


Is the United States Constitution a "suicide pact?" I'm pretty sure it isn't. I teach this point, and my students are pretty quick to grasp it. While you may believe you have certain "inalienable" or "natural" or "God-given" rights, these are not so meaningful in a pragmatic sense unless powerful institutions are present to "protect" and "defend" them. You may think you have a "right" to decent health care and housing. If you lived in a country with a better form of government than ours -- say, Sweden or Finland -- you'd be right. But in the United States, tough luck, you don't. So it's important to recognize that as a practical matter, you have only the rights that are guaranteed to you by the U.S. Constitution and the various state constitutions and other bodies of law that surround and augment it. And therefore, it's important that the Constitution itself be protected. Without it, we have no enforceable rights at all.

I raise this point today because on Friday, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Bush administration had contravened the powers accorded it by imprisoning thousands of individuals without charging them, The Wall Street Journal editorial board complained that the justices had forgotten that the Constitution was not a "suicide pact," here. Presumably, the justices did not really need to be reminded of this. They are, in all likelihood, far better versed in constitutional law than are the members of The Wall Street Journal editorial board. What the editors are saying is that they differ in judgment. It is their considered judgment, goes their reasoning insofar as it is intelligible to yours truly, that by insisting on the right to trial, habeas corpus, etc., the justices are treating the Constitution as if it were a suicide pact. And in fact, by allowing these people who have been held now for six or so years without charges the right to trial, the United States is, in fact, committing suicide.

That strikes me as a testable proposition.

So let's see what happens. Here it is, four days after the justices' decision, and the United States of America is still around; so far so good. The Journal editors might argue, however, that the "suicide" part of the decision will only become extant once it is given force by the demand of actual trials for the accused (or un-accused, as the case may be). So perhaps they must be given a bit more time. Fair enough.

We'll be watching, however. If the United States does come to an ignominious end over this decision of the Supreme Court, then we who disagree must be ready to offer an apology, as well as our kudos to the Journal editorial staff for their excellent editorial judgment. If not, maybe we should also keep it in mind, together with the knowledge that a group of people who could be so deeply and profoundly wrong about so important a matter should perhaps not be taken terribly seriously in the future, either.

We offer our sympathies to the family, friends, and admirers of Tim Russert; he was always very nice to me.


Jen Chapin -- Light of Mine

I caught a performance by Jen Chapin, a musician-activist, daughter of Harry, at the Jorma Kaukonen-inspired New York country blues festival (or something) not long ago and thought her voice powerful and her spirit infectious. What a delight to discover, on this CD/DVD, Light of Mine on Purple Chair Music, that we have almost exactly the same musical taste. She's got two original compositions and several totally excellent reinterpretations of songs from David Bowie, Radiohead, Bruce Springsteen, and John Lennon. She will perform with the Rosetta Trio in New York City on July 5, at Joe's Pub, to launch the album. (It's a double bill with her cousins, The Chapin Sisters). I'll be in Israel, otherwside I'd be there ... More information here.

Radiohead -- The Best Of (CD and DVD)

Speaking of Radiohead, the only great (in every sense of the word) band to emerge since the 1980s -- with U2 and R.E.M. being the only great bands to emerge in the previous decade -- Capitol/EMI has compiled their first career retrospective. It has 17 tracks of singles, key album tracks, and live performances. A special edition set is also available, adding another disc and 13 tracks. There is also a DVD version of the collection, with 21 music videos and more experimental visuals created for Radiohead songs that were never released as singles. That's pretty cool even if you have all the CDs. If you don't, well, then I guess you gotta get this, like, yesterday. Great band, period. Read all about it here.

Return to Forever -- The Anthology

If you're about my age and socio-economic everything else, then there's a pretty good chance that RTF was the road you travelled from rock to jazz. It certainly was for me. There's only so much fusion I still find listenable -- most of it involves Wayne Shorter in one way or another -- or Chick Corea, who when not writing Scientology-inspired horror shows, is one of the most exquisitely sensitive and innovative musicians alive. He's bringing back the classic version of RTF -- with Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, and Al DiMeola -- the same band I saw at the Palladium in 1976, if I recall correctly, and they're doing a 50-date North American and European tour, wrapping up August 7 in New York City at the beautiful and usually unbelievably expensive, ticket-wise, United Palace. This compilation contains generous helpings from the albums Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy, Where Have I Known You Before, No Mystery, and Romantic Warrior. To be honest, it doesn't even come close to touching Corea's greatest work, but I think you'll find it works on its own terms most of the time, and for me, it's a pleasant nostalgia boost. You can find more information here.

From TomDispatch:

Tom Engelhardt begins his latest post with an almost $6 million contract -- chump change for the Pentagon -- recently awarded to a private contractor for "replacement facilities for Forward Operating Base Speicher," near Tikrit (Saddam Hussein's hometown in Iraq). Work on this small U.S. base is expected to be completed by January 31, 2009, a mere 11 days after a new president enters the Oval Office. It is but one modest reminder that, when the next administration hits Washington, American bases in Iraq, large and small, will still be undergoing the sort of repair and upgrading that has been ongoing for years.

In fact, staggering billions of taxpayer dollars have been sunk into the construction and upgrading of those bases, especially the five or so mega-bases the Pentagon has built (with the giant new imperial embassy in Baghdad as functionally the sixth). These fortified American towns, 15-20 miles around, like the giant al-Asad Air Base in Iraq's western desert -- nicknamed "Camp Cupcake" by the troops -- have many of the amenities of home.

Here's the remarkable thing: Rising from the smashed birthplace of Western civilization, the mega-bases were not only built on (and sometimes out of bits of) the ancient ruins of that land, but are basically modern American ziggurats. They are the cherished monuments of the Bush administration, meant to long outlast it. They are also crucial facts on the ground, when it comes to George W. Bush's Iraq policy, and yet they have been largely missing from the American landscape -- until last week when a British reporter, Patrick Cockburn, broke the story of Iraqi resistance to administration demands for a "Status of Forces Agreement" (and up to 58 bases in something like perpetuity).

Hundreds of thousands of Americans -- troops, officials, congressional delegations, presidential candidates, and reporters -- have passed through the giant bases and yet the American people have never on the TV news, not even (as far as I can tell) for a minute or two, been able to see what their tax dollars have built. As Engelhardt points out:

Think of this as the greatest American story of these years never told -- or more accurately, since there have been a few reports on a couple of these mega-bases -- never shown. After all, what an epic of construction this has been, as the Pentagon built a series of fortified American towns ... in a hostile land in the midst of war and occupation. In terms of troops, the President may only have put his 'surge' strategy into play in January 2007, but his Pentagon has been 'surging' on base construction since April 2003.

Suddenly, he concludes, "miracle of all miracles, the mainstream media is finally writing about the bases as if they mattered. Someday, before this is over, all of us may actually see what was built in our names with our dollars. That will be a shock, especially when you consider what the Bush administration has proved incapable of building, or rebuilding, in New Orleans and elsewhere in this country."

Correspondence Corner:

Name: LTC Bob Bateman
Hometown: Capitol Hill


Now and again I pass on a good link, hopefully something that many might miss were it not for the suggestion. Also, usually, I'm hoping to give some insights. Well, if you want to read, laugh, admire, and commiserate with one of our better young officers, then go to this lieutenant's blog.

Be warned, however, that you may lose several hours, particularly after you start going back and reading his older posts. (I recommend starting in November and reading forward from there.)

Name: Andrew Milner
Hometown: Bryn Mawr, PA

Tim Russert's death is genuinely tragic, and the grief on the MSM pundits' faces this weekend is authentic. My condolences to his family and colleagues.

What has to be mentioned about the coverage -- even if it's 10,000th on the list -- is the utter amazement his various eulogists have displayed at the fact that he was a devout Catholic, as if a member of the Beltway media elite couldn't POSSIBLY also be deeply religious. I have to conclude that this attitude is one result of 40+ years worth of anti-media propaganda, from Agnew to Limbaugh to Bernie Goldberg, which has ghettoized reporters as a pack of godless, anti-American jackals ...

Sender's name: The Fool
Hometown: Foolsville, USA

Thank you Eric for the column, "Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction: Did 'Everyone' Agree?"

This is yet another example of the Republican Big Lie strategy and we need more refutations like yours.

Bush is sometimes given a pass because he allegedly merely overstated his case a bit rather than having lied. But in this kind of situation to exaggerate like Bush did is every bit as bad as a lie made up out of whole cloth.

It is no small thing to have left out the qualifications and uncertainties in the intelligence. When a president speaks, it is always in the context of being at the apex of the greatest intelligence network that has ever existed in the history of the world. There is an automatic implication that everything he says is informed by this massive intelligence capability. When the president insists that he absolutely KNOWS something, that is not taken as simply an idle boast.

There are ways to KNOW things for sure when it comes to WMD. For example, you could have observational evidence either from a spy or a camera or you could intercept a document or some form of communication that undeniably spills the beans and then you KNOW Hussein has WMD. Most of us assumed -- at least for a while -- that Bush must have had some kind of evidence of this sort because of the categorically unqualified nature of their claims, and because it was hard to believe that even a liar like Bush would go so far out on a limb.

We all reasonably assumed that Bush must have had some intelligence he couldn't reveal. But they didn't have the kind of observational evidence that is the only kind that would have justified their statements. They had suspicions and inferences instead. There is a world of difference between saying you know X for sure and saying your best guess is X given the available but sadly inconclusive evidence -- especially when it comes to justifying the start of a war that will end up killing about a million people.

To put it in perspective, imagine the following scenario. You're playing poker and you don't mind cheating. You're in the middle of the big crucial hand and you have a reasonably strong hand but it's not the strongest possible. Your opponent goes all in and you have to make a decision with a million dollars at risk. Do you call or not? Everything you know about your opponent and the way he has been playing suggests he is bluffing and everyone watching agrees. But you're worried he might really have it this time and you could afford to fold and play on hoping for a safer shot. You have a confederate who is helping you cheat. He is seated in such a way that he can sometimes see your opponent's cards. Your confederate is convinced based on everything he knows about poker and about your opponent that your opponent has to be bluffing. You look to him for help and he gives the signals that means he KNOWS you have your opponent beat. The only way he could KNOW is if he he has seen your opponent's cards and you call a million dollar bet only to have your opponent lay down quad aces.

Would you be pissed off at your confederate for lying to you and claiming he knew? You bet you would be.

Name: David Dunne
Hometown: Somerville, MA

Sometime after it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq, I was having a conversation about this with a Marine intelligence officer. Exasperated, I pointed out that I was right about the WMD, and he was wrong. That the French were right, the Germans were right, that Blix, ElBaradei and Ritter were right. His reply? "They weren't credible." My jaw just about hit the floor. I'll never forget that moment.

It wasn't only the administration and the media who were horribly, willingly, wrong.

Name: RuthAlice Anderson
Hometown: Portland, OR

When the Republicans led by the slightest margin they were able to pass their legislation by threatening to destroy the filibuster. Now the Democrats lead by a similar margin and still the Republicans rule the Senate by threatening a filibuster. Why can't Reid make them OWN their votes by forcing them to filibuster for real instead of merely threatening to do so. I want to see the Republicans filibustering for Telecom immunity against children's health insurance, in favor of torture and domestic spying. If they hold those positions, hang them around their necks by making them fight for them, not just hand them the battles one by one without even a skirmish.

Name: Mark A
Hometown: West Windsor, NJ


In response to Marshall Fine, the Democrats only control the Senate by 1 vote, which I would point out is held by the seriously irritating Joseph Lieberman. Any attempt by the Democratic Senate to invoke the nuclear option now would be a potential disaster. However, after this year's election, the Democrats will most likely pick up 3 or 4 Senate seats, if not more. Assuming an Obama presidency and at least one retiring liberal justice on the Supreme Court, there appears to be ample opportunity in the future to invoke the nuclear option. Not that I would condone it, but if Justice Stevens retires I would think it would be awfully difficult for a minority Republican Congress to accept someone of equal mindset for the position.

Name: Ken D'Antuono
Hometown: Woodstock, GA

Marshall seems a little confused on the issue of Senate filibusters. He is expressing frustration at the Republican use of what he calls a "legitimate tactical maneuver." He reminds me of Senator Patrick Leahy. During the Clinton administration Mr. Leahy's position, as stated in the Congressional Record, is one of opposing a filibuster on a judicial nominee, whether or not he opposes or support the nominee, and favoring an up or down vote. See his comments in the Congressional Record on 6/18/98 and 9/21/99. Fast forward to the Bush administration and suddenly Mr. Leahy's position favors these filibusters as the right of the minority party in the Senate, maintaining judicial independence, and saving democracy. Never mind that his only previous standard for an up or down vote was a qualified, or well-qualified rating from the ABA. Suddenly Mr. Leahy found it acceptable to block the nominations of Miguel Estrada, William Pryor, and Priscilla Owens strictly on the grounds of political opposition and litmus tests. Check the Congressional Record for 5/18/05 for this conversion.

Marshall is correct in that 51 makes up the majority of 100. However, the rules of the Senate were created with the rights of the minority party in mind. I would suggest that he read Robert Caro's "Master of the Senate" for a very detailed history of this body and the use of this "legitimate tactical maneuver" throughout the course of our history.

Name: Ken Admas
Hometown: West Palm Beach

Nothing against Tim Russert. May God rest his soul. I will miss him. But what should have been the biggest story of the day? Once again Reuters got it right while nobody noticed. If this story pans out it will be right up there with the invention of the steam engine and atom bomb. It could save the world.

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