Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"No Girlfriend of Mine"

I couldn't agree with Maureen Dowd more, quoting Caitlin Flanagan (from today's column, Hillary la Francaise, Cherchez la Femme):
To call her husband a philanderer is almost to whitewash him, for he’s used women far less sophisticated, educated and powerful than he — women particularly susceptible to the rake’s characteristic blend of cajolery and deceit — for his sexual gratification.

In case you're interested in the Caitlin Flanagan's piece in The Atlantic Monthly, that Dowd cites, it's in the November issue (currently on news stands), and if you're a subscriber you can read it here.

You Must Remember This....

From Richard Wolffe's Newsweek analysis of last night's Democratic debate:
But Clinton's campaign is honing its counterattack. Her aides say the opposition isn't just attacking Hillary, but also impugning her husband—a tack they're confident will turn off most Democrats. "I don't think there's a very large constituency in the Democratic Party for that," says Clinton's communications director, Howard Wolfson. "I think they're misreading the electorate."

Perhaps. Perhaps people don't remember because in contrast to the fiascos since, the Clinton years are easy to romanticize. Or people just don't remember.

But reminders abound in Jeffrey Toobin's book The Nine, which I find hard to put down. I confess I've been skipping around trying to find the discussion on Bush v. Gore (it starts on page 141, at the opening of "Part Two") But I dipped into two other parts first.

The discussion of Kennedy's (a Reagan nominee to the court) evolution, especially in the area of citing international law rivited me as it was pivotal to the overturning of Bowers v. Hardwick - a 5-4 ruling which said the US Constitution does not include the right to practice sodomy. I remember that case from 1986. Lawrence v. Texas overruled that in June 2003 (6-3 - 5 including Kennedy, O'Connor concurring for different reasons than majority and 3 against - Scalia, Thomas and Rehnquist). Kennedy cited the European Court of Human Rights, among other foreign sources. And here's the fascinating part - the Massachusetts Supreme Court relied heavily on Lawrence when it ruled five months later that gays must be allowed to marry. Hmm - just in time for the 2004 election. What if Kennedy hadn't been convinced? Would John Kerry have won without gay marriage as a wedge issue? Isn't history interesting?

Then I fell into the pages describing Ginsburg's and Breyer's nominations to the Supreme Court by Bill Clinton (to replace Blackman and White). Breyer is even more "ardent internationalist" on the court. There is a real division on whether this examination of the legal practices and customs of the rest of the world is at all relevant to the deliberations of the US Supreme Court. Toobin recounts the oral arguments of Roper v. Simmons, a death penalty case in which the legality of executing juvenile offenders was considered. What sources could be cited to determine what was "unusual" (as in cruel and unusual punishment)? Breyer noted that the framers drew on foreign sources, that Lincoln studied Blackstone (a British legal scholar). The funniest point came when the lawyer arguing the case uttered he couldn't speak for Thomas Jefferson. Lawyers arguing the specifics of their cases are often taken unawares by the larger issues the justices start throwing at each other. The court overturned the law and said that juvenile death penalty was no longer permitted.

Anyone who thinks the Supreme Court is not an issue in the Presidential Campaigns is wrong. It is and should be more discussed and debated. They deal with important issues and the court has real power.

Back to Clinton's Supreme Court nominations: the process was nightmarish and disorganized. As Toobin notes, "Clinton's entire first year was characterized by similarly vertiginous swings of good and bad fortune." (similar to the high of Ginsberg's successful nomination and the low of Vince Foster's suicide, which occurred on the first day of Ginsberg's hearings). He continues, "Politically and otherwise, this president lived on the edge." (p. 74) Okay, so he's not running, she is. And she doesn't live on the edge. In fact, too far back from it.

But let's not romanticize the 90s and Bill Clinton. Like everyone else, I was excited, so excited in 1992 for the first Democrat to take office since I was 10. It was the first and only inaugural I went down to the Mall to witness. But these passages brought me right back to Lani Gunier, Zoe Baird, the travel office, Hubbell's resignation, Hillary's windfall profit in commodities trading (remember that?), Paula Jones, etc. etc. etc. Why do we want to go back there?

In other notes from Toobin's book -
  • Clinton (unlike Bush) ran both nominees by Orrin Hatch, the Republican chair of the Judiciary committee. That's what working with Congress looks like King George.
  • Justice Kennedy is portrayed as hungry for the Supreme Court to be involved in Bush v. Gore from the start. Toobin concedes that Kennedy was just doing his job, as FL fell into his area of responsibility for procedural matters. Kennedy sent memos to update the other 8 justices on the case. I don't read this quite as Toobin does - hunger for involvement. Not yet anyway. Any lawyer half awake was been fascinated by the case. I was very sick that fall, and I remember being very grateful that such intricate and obscure legal matters were the subject of 24-hours news, as it should have been with so much at stake. I was surprised to be reminded it was only 36 days. Kennedy interest strikes me as natural as breathing, and keeping his colleagues up to date responsible.
More on both The Nine and the debate to come.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Notes from the Iran/US Program

First - you can watch the full web cast here. And I recommend it to you. "We must be informed and we are not." "The rhetoric and shrill language must end and the negotiations must begin. For that to happen, the American people must speak up."

The evening was planned 10 months ago to address and get past grievances and current threats of aggression. When the Cathedral College's Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation first conceived of the program, they did not envision the worsening division and intensity. The event had over 200 attendees, including many Middle Easterners.

I came away with lots of information but for me the two most important realizations were
  1. the media is failing us now, again, just as they did before the US invaded Iraq. We must inform ourselves.
  2. Hillary Clinton made a big mistake with her vote in the Senate last week which labeled the Iranian Republican Guard a terrorist organization. Political analysts have noted that if Bush does attack Iran before the Iowa caucus she'll have a big problem. Pragmatism aside, the vote was dead wrong.
Reverand Canon John L. Peterson, Director of the Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation introduced the evening. He acknowledged the rhetoric has been ratcheted up to the point that military actions seems inevitable. "War is the ultimate definition of human failure." They are working primarily through interfaith dialog but also in informal, track two diplomacy. During a recent trip to Iran, he was struck by their hospitality, curiosity about America and pride in their history.

Justice can have two qualities - a retribution, punishment and retaliation. Archbishop Tutu has shown us another way - restorative justice. A justice that emphasizes a healing of relationships. The latter is preferred and helps avoid further conflict. (Exhibit A: The Treaty of Versailles of 1919). We can have a different outcome between Iran and the US. The healing in South Africa is an example of this type of restorative justice.

Participants from both sides need to discuss openly how each country has been wronged by the other. We hope to open the door for healing and allow forgiveness to occur and provide a mechanism to resolve the conflict through non-violent means. "It is our absolute conviction that healing conflicted relationships through personal contact, respectful engagement, storytelling, and the acknowledge of past grievance is a far more enduring, healing and effective strategy than threats, cajoling and unilateral sanctions, surgical military strikes."

Healing needs the chance to tell stories, each side, the one who hurt and feel the pain validated. This is true between individuals or countries. They need to have contact, tell stories, have pain acknowledged.

The Republican moderator, Rep. Gilchrest, "officials and those people who consider themselves righteous" need to consider more. I am reminded of what Pope Urban VIII said, many centuries ago, that is "it would be an extravagant boldness for anyone to go about to limit or confine the divine nature and wisdom of the wonder of God." And so we're not about to confine things tonight but to open things up." Quoting Protestant clergy Martin Luther, "We are all weak and ignorant creatures trying to probe and understand the incomprehensible majesty, the unfathomable light of the wondrous God." So each of us should try to open up and understand our fellow man.

What follows are random notes, with apologies for the disjointedness:
Iranians are the most like the US. The popular support for the US is strongest in Iran than in any other Arab country, by far. The only country that has more Persian speaking citizens than Iran is the US. Ever Iranian has a relative living in the U.S.

When the first boot hits the ground, the first bullet shot, the first bomb dropped, the Iranians will unite behind their government. Just as American citizens united after 9/11, attacking Iran will unite Iranians behind theirs.

The United States has a pattern of overthrowing (or attempting to overthrow) foreign governments:
Cuba (1898, 1961)
Philippines (1948)
Iran (1953)
Guatemala (1954)
Nicaragua (several times, most recently from 1981-1990)

The pattern of this, evolves through three steps
1. in a foreign country a US company or an economic interest is threatened. That becomes
2. a country of anti-American, anti-Democratic, EVIL. These are more political, geopolitical.
3. We're only doing it to help them (Iraq).

#3 is a newer progression, lately added. But one and two have been part and parcel of most of our attempts to overthrow foreign governments.

Iran has the oldest constitution in the Middle East (ridding the country of the old feudal system and creating a Parliament) . 100 years ago, America was well liked. The colonial forces of the Russian and British Empire pressured the Iranians to expel American mission. That ultimatum created sympathy for the US among the Persian and Persians admired the US and the techniques of representational democracy.

"We need old men to talk before they send young men to die."

Media is again asleep. People need to be informed.

What is the difficulty with the US negotiating with Iran? We negotiated with the evil empire (a.k.a. the Soviet Union. We have negotiated with China. So why not Iran?
Two reasons were suggested -
  1. the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. On a deep level, that humiliation still irks our psyche. We never retaliated, and on a "kindergarten" level, we still just want to hit them back and bring them down to size. (This ignores the fact, which most Americans have forgotten, that the US shot down 2 Iranian jets in 1984 and took the side of Iraq in 1987-88 with the US Navy bombing Iranian targets)
  2. all issues would have to be on the table, including Israel. That's hard for some to accept so it's preferable simply not to sit down and talk.
Another added that there is a growing sense in Israel that negotiation is preferable to war. War always brings unintended consequences (exhibit A: Iraq).

Even, in recent past - 2003 - Iran was our ally. They quickly denounced the 9/11 attacks. They were instrumental with assistance in Afghanistan - both in bringing down the Taliban and in setting up the new government. In early May 2003, a senior Iranian diplomat was sent to Europe with a proposal for the US. They offered to stop funding Hammas, to turn Hezzbollah into strictly a political party, transparency with their nuclear program. What was the US response? Silence. Why? Perhaps hubris - this was weeks after the invasion of Iraq.

Concluding Remarks:
Religion, make no mistake about, is the fault line of every major conflict in the Middle East, yet it is the least addressed by politicians and diplomats and it is to be a partner at the table. The relationship between these two countries is painful.

Books recommended by Right Reverend John Bryson Chane, Bishop of Washington:
Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to Present by Michael Oren.
Chane: a Jewish scholar - a very thick book. "You should read it."

The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America by Kenneth Pollack
Cassandra: I have some skepticism about this author who also wrote A Threatening Storm. I read that book and it was instrumental in my initial support of the Iraq war - well, that and the New York Times whose motto is "All the News Fit to Print" and stories by Judy Miller.

Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic by Ray Takeyh
Chane: an Iranian, a well informed individual, much respected by the foreign service

Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam by Mark Bowden
Chane: kind of tombish, a very important book to read
Cassandra: Bowden was one of the writers I met at the Atlantic Monthly event last week.

Chane final words: "In the journey we will all take in the years to come, religion will be the fault line...We need to know. God bless you and be people of peace and reconciliation."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cathedral Hosts Discussion on US & Iran

I gave a tour of the National Cathedral to some friends yesterday morning and discovered that tomorrow night - Monday, October 29 from 7:30 to 9:30 pm, the Cathedral will host a panel discussion entitled, "The U.S. and Iran: A Difficult History." It will be in the nave and is free and open to the public. No tickets or reservations are required.

The bellicose language coming from government officials frightens. I plan to go to broaden my understanding. And I wanted to share news of this interesting event.

Here's the full text of the invite:
Join us for an evening of respectful engagement and open discussion between representatives from the U.S. and Iran where we will focus on the historical dynamics that frame the current relationship between these two countries. Congressman Wayne T. Gilchrest (R-MD) will serve as moderator.

Questions for discussion include "How did the relationship get to this point?" and "Is it possible to have honesty in this relationship?" We will also explore Iranians' lingering grievances wiht and perceptions of Americans after the 1953 CIA-backed coup and , conversely, the grievances American may hold against Iran including and beyond the 1979 hostage crisis.

Representatives from both sides will talk openly about what lies behind the antagonism between the two countries and discuss constructive ideas and solutions for moving forward. Panelists include
  • Bruce Laingen, former Iran hostage and State Department official
  • Stephen Kinzer, former New York Times bureau chief and author of All The Shah's Men
  • Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council and author of Treacherous Alliance: the Secret Dealings of Isreal, Iran and the United States.
  • Dr. Abbas Amanat, Iran scholar, professor of history at Yale University and author of In Search of Modern Iran: Authoriy, Nationhood and Culture.
Please let me know if you plan to attend, and I'll look for you.

How to Become "the Enjoyer"

I was working on some yoga and studying the ancient text the Katha Upanishad and came across this passage.

“Now, imagine the Self as the rider in a chariot.
The body is the chariot, the intellect the driver, and the mind the reins.
The senses are the horses and their objects are the road.
When combined with the senses and the mind, the Self becomes ‘the Enjoyer’ – so say those who know.

When a man lacks wisdom his mind is always restless, and his senses are wild horses dragging the driver this way and that.

But when he has become wise his mind is collected, and his sense-horses are tamed, obedient to the driver’s will.

He who lacks wisdom, whose mind is unsteady, whose actions are not pure, such a one never reaches the highest state and will suffer rebirth again and again.”

This passage seems to me to reflect well the causes of our “unsteady mind(s)” and “impure acts.” – which is can be the source of the harm we cause each other. Nobody is wise all the time.

So what to do about it? Sometimes we're simply too tired to gain control of the reins and steady our minds. We forget what we know and how to act on what we know. Sally Kempton in "Give Me Strength," tries to show us "how to tap into your most reliable support."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Barack Obama on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me

If you want to hear Morning Edition host Carl Kasell speak on helium, listen to today's retrospective show which compiles some highlights. I got to attend a recording when they came to DC and did a show at the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University in May 2006 (featuring former Mayor Anthony Williams).

If you're not familiar with the program, the laughs about the week's news is a welcome antidote. It's usually broadcast on Saturdays.

Of particular interest to me in this weeks' show was Barack Obama's apology to a reporter. It's featured in the third segment of the program (each runs about 17 minutes). I went back to listen to Barack Obama's appearance on August 6th, 2005. Every week they feature a guest in a game called, "Not My Job." You can listen here.

Corcoran Gallery opens Blake Exhibit

Today the Corcoran Gallery opens Wild Choir: The Cinematic Portraits of Jeremy Blake, and NPR reports.

I'd been following his story since the New York Times reported on him missing and then his death last July. A week after his girlfriend Theresa Duncan, a videogame designer and artist, killed herself, Jeremy Blake walked off into the ocean at Rockaway Beach. His body was found five days later on the Jersey Shore.

Jeremy Blake, a local who grew up in Takoma Park and studied at the Corcoran, created digital videos. The exhibit is open until March and you can see a sample of his work at the NPR link above.

Also of note at the Corcoran is an exhibit featuring the work of Ansel Adams and one of the work of Annie Leibovitz

Friday, October 26, 2007

More Americans Believe in Ghosts than in Bush

Keith Obermann reported tonight on an Associate Press poll which surveyed Americans:

What do you believe in more?
  • 34% Ghosts
  • 31% Bush's leadership in the war in Iraq

Enough said.

"Little Rock's Fort Knox" Report by Isikoff

In the same vein of Bush-like secrecy reported over the weekend by NPR which I highlighted earlier this week, now Newsweek's investigative reporter, Michael Isikoff writes about "Little Rock's Fort Knox." The piece is entitled Papers? I Don't See Any Papers. He says he's 'pro-disclosure,' but Bill has kept Hillary's White House files under wraps.

Both the secrecy and hypocrisy is Bush-like. Remember this...
"The Bush administration has put a much tighter lid than recent presidents on government proceedings and the public release of information, exhibiting a penchant for secrecy that has been striking to historians, legal experts and lawmakers of both parties." From January 3, 2003 New York Times report entitled, Bush Openness at Issue as Bush Holds Onto Records.

And since then we've learned worse - White House staffers opened RNC email address accounts to do illegal political work out of the White House and then deleted the emails. Washington Post report here.

Okay, so the Clintons are not doing that. At least.

Is that our low standard? Do Democrats want to behave like George W. Bush? Or mimic his behavior in this way?

Come on! If she wants to be elected on her "experience" then how she gained that experience should be open to scrutiny. It's simply how a democracy is supposed to work.

150 Years of The Atlantic Monthly

Wednesday night, writers and editors from The Atlantic Monthly gathered at Politics and Prose for an exciting event. The occasion was the publication of an anthology of collected essays from over the last 150 years. The edition is terrific and a survey of American history and literature. I wasn’t going to buy it, but by the end of the night I had.

First, some background (offered by Robert Vare, the current editor).

Scientific American began in 1845 and Harper’s Weekly and Town & Country just a few years before 1857, when the editors published the first issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Those founders included such luminaries as Ralph Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Lowell, Francis Underwood, James Cabot, John Motley and Moses Phillips.

Nowadays magazines have "an expected life more akin to 150 days, not 150 years." What accounts for The Atlantic Monthly’s longevity? The current editor attributes their vitality to two factors:

The first factor is that The Atlantic’s unusual genealogical tree set a high standard unlike other magazines. Founders were among the great intellects of the 19th century. And unlike other magazines, then and now, The Atlantic Monthly genesis was not in the business or publishing side of the industry. It’s a writers’ magazine founded by writers, and so it enjoys a culture that attracts writers.

Their pedigree includes

  • novelists (Henry James, Edith Wharton, Hemingway, Nabokov, Bellow);
  • humorists (Mark Twain, James Thurber, Mencken, Garrison Keillor);
  • poets (Robert Frost, Longfellow, Walt Whitman);
  • scientists (Einstein, Oppenheimer, Gould),
  • economists (John Maynard Keynes, Galbraith, Milton Friedman),
  • historians (Robert Caro, Bernard Lewis, Garry Wills, Arthur Schlesinger),
  • jurists (Oliver Wendell Holmes).

After buying the book, I noted this list is served up on the front page of the introduction. Most interesting to me were the future US Presidents wrote the magazine before they ever thought of running for the highest office - Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson (John F. Kennedy also had a speech printed posthumously.).

The second factor is the mission statement, the “Declaration of Purpose” that appeared on the back of the very first issue. The Atlantic Monthly deliberated and determined not to be slanted to parties or sects but rather favor “Freedom, National Progress, and Honor, whether public or private.” And, more essentially, the made a decision to “exploring, monitoring, and promoting what the editors called ‘the American idea,’” and they did this without defining “the American idea.”

Christopher Hitchens got up and spoke of Saul Bellow and Bellow’s career and the controversy around the publication in The Atlantic Monthly of “Mr. Sammler’s Planet” – a story about a black pickpocket in 1969. Bellow has been a Trotsky but moved to the right after the social upheavals of the 60s. And this story caused a brouhaha. Hitchens' presentation was shorter than expected, and he was thinner and more handsome too.

Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, read from his piece on Saddam Hussein, "Tales of the Tyrant" from May 2002. Bowden described it as a “plum line into Hussein’s psyche.” Hussein was a “deformed man corrupted by vainglory and power.”

He generously shared his struggles as a writer. Michael Kelly, editor at the time who subsequently died in Iraq (and wrote a terrific book on the first Gulf War, The Martyr’s Day) assigned the piece to Bowden six weeks before 9/11. And on that day, Michael asked him to drop it and focus on a piece on that event. But Bowden resisted in order to follow the advice of his mentor Gene Roberts, former editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer and the NYTimes, which was: zig when everyone else zags. So he said with his originally-assigned story on Saddam Hussein.

He also reported that all writers borrow from other writers they admire. Bowden had difficulty figuring out how to structure the piece. But he knew Ryszard Kapuściński’s book, Shah of Shahs (1982) which was impressionistic. Kapuściński, who died this past January, took an image and pulled data in around that image. So, inspired by that framework, Bowden took elements of Hussein’s speeches as jumping off points to incorporate the various and disparate anecdotes. This allowed the reader to get personal with Saddam Hussein.

The editor held up “The Fifty-First State,” by James Fallows as an exception to the otherwise more common very poor journalistic inquiry and coverage leading up the war in Iraq. Fallows asked questions of those who knew about occupations.

Published in 2002, Fallows was eerily prescient. I got to tell him personally that the parts about the electrical grid in Baghdad and their vulnerabilities haunted me. I vividly remember reading that work which constructed scenarios of American invasion and occupation. Fallows wrote several follow up pieces which are collected in a book, Blind into Baghdad.

Fallows noted proudly and awkwardly, he’s been at The Atlantic for 1/5 of those 150 years. He can even remember the 100th Anniversary edition and his father reading James Thurber to him as a boy. He added that he felt that the current owner was the best of the three he has worked under. He also noted that they have to do much of their research and writing 6-8 months out from publication. This requires a particular kind of vision – to find topics that will be interesting and at the same time not done to death in other media.

After 9/11, The Atlantic considered two places for William Langewiesche - to cover the Northern Alliance or to cover the recovery of New York City. He went to New York first and got unique access to the obscure city agency in charge of the clean up. Observing the hand buckets, human chains of workers, he'd asked, "Who's bringing in the heavy equipment?" The DDC was the answer. He learned that was the Department of Design and Construction. Kenneth Holden, the head of the DDC, got a cold fax from William Langewiesche, and it turned out the Holden was a fan of Langewiesche's work. He was in. And the only one in.

From that pivotal connection, a three part, 70,000-word piece, the longest ever published, appeared and won a National Magazine Award. That writing has been compiled in American Ground.

By that time, William Langewiesche had been working for The Atlantic for 10 years. A former pilot he was tired of airline stories and declared he'd never write another one. Sarcastically, he suggested one about how to turn an airplane. That story, The Turn, published in 1993, turned out to be very well received. (One wonders who read that exactly).

The idea for his work following 9/11 was to put a guy on the ground for nine months and follow "the garbage, granted emotional garbage, big garbage."

I remember his writing vividly. "The scene was not strange to him, but familiar. " And with that he had my full attention. He echoed my feelings about New York City. I grew up in its shadow east in New Jersey. The sun rose over there, down the hill from Summit. Langewiesche called New York City - the supreme, the ultimate city on earth. It's part of America but not. It's New York. Very New York. Learned committees were out; soldiers excluded. Civil servants performed excellently. Money was flowing, but that was not the motivation. At every level there was action and invention. People worked 7 days a week, and Langewiesche did too.

If he had one regret it was that with that intense immersion, he had no idea what else was going on in the rest of America. He had no time to read newspapers. This gave him an optimistic point of view. Probably overly optimistic. He regretted that he had not been more aware and should have acknowledged in some way the broader perspective. For me, the optimism reflected in the stories around the clean up of that disaster heartened me when I read the three lengthy pieces.

Langewiesche conclude by recommended the essay "The Illusion of Security" by George Kennan.

Carla Cohen concluded the evening, noting that the night was a celebration of writing.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Which Branch of Govt defends What, With Bill Moyers

I wrote about this subject earlier in the week and I'm not the only one looking at what "defense" means and who has the power to do that.

I got this notice this evening:
How far can a President go to defend the nation? BILL MOYERS JOURNAL examines the unprecedented Presidential power that some say is being amassed by our current Administration and kept secret in the name of national security. Moyers gets perspective from Charles Fried, who teaches Constitutional law at Harvard Law School and served as solicitor general in the Reagan Administration, and Fritz Schwarz, who served as chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee, which led by Frank Church of Idaho uncovered decades of abuse by the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

The program airs tomorrow night on PBS (check local listing, usually 9 pm). There'll also be a follow up their story on Blackwater which aired last week and that I summarized here.

Blackwater is also the subject of a front page New York Times piece. Note that "Columbian" soldiers are guarding the Blackwater compound in the Green Zone, despite Prince's assertion that they are not mercenaries. (The New York Times did not point this lie out).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Law & Order: SVU Educates on Terror and the Law

Some have derided popular television, but it's not all bad. The best educates while the stories entertain. On the other hand, the first (and only) comment on the International Movie Database views the episode as a liberal polemic. If you're not familiar with, the resources on film, television and actors is unrivaled.

I argued in a lengthy law school paper that stories have a better chance at changing minds than legal opinions or OpEd pieces or essays. I referred to novels, but the same goes for any story telling whether in literature, film, television, comics. Why? Because stories get beneath and beyond the dogmatic knee jerk responses that often prevent listening and sympathy. When you care about a character and are drawn into his or her world, you can understand his or her perspective. When you read an Oped piece, it often become easy to dismiss and think "oh that old soapbox again."

This idea is not new. Dickens did knew this, wrote Olivier Twist and child labor laws resulted. The Jungle (published in 1906) and the government enacted the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Investigative pieces and their use of fictional elements to create a story out the news make them not only more readable (so the reader actually takes in the news) but more convincing because the heart is convinced as much as the mind. I argue that stories convince the heart and keep the mind from interfering when it shouldn't.

Last night's episode of Law & Order: SVU (Special Victims Unit), entitled Harm, told the story of an Iraqi citizen who was tortured in Iraq by a New York doctor and who later died as a result of his torture. The viewer learns the particulars of how torture affects the victims. And not water boarding but what is called "light torture." It was meant to be affecting, and it was.

The first legal threshold was jurisdictional: did NYC have the jurisdiction to prosecute the doctor for criminally negligent homicide? And they brought in Hamdan v. Rumsfield! The prosecutor argued that the courts determined that the US President doesn't declare what's legal (constitutional) or not. Meanwhile the defendent's lawyer cites an executive order. This point - who declares what the law is - is exactly that Jack Goldsmith's book focuses on and even the first question he got was on Hamdan.

So the viewer learns about what we are really doing in Iraq as well as the legal foundations for what we are doing. Kudos. Catch the repeat, usually on Saturday evening. Elizabeth McGovern guest stars.

On a related note, Law & Order: SVU wouldn't even exist but for Robert Chambers who was on the front page of the New York Times again. He's been arrested for selling drugs. Linda Fairstein (A fellow Vassar grad who is now writing really bad crime novels) prosecuted Chambers when he was 19 for the murder of Jennifer Levin in the so-called Preppy Murder case. Fairstein served as the Bureau Chief of the pioneering Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit on which SVU is based.

The Crime of Illness

Two recent personal stories of cancer and the inability to pay for the drugs and care to survive have been highlighted in the national press over the last few days.

First in Newsweek, Geraldine Ferraro writes, How to Mend a Sick System: A Politician Learns Firsthand the Need for Health-Care Reform.

Second in the New York Times, on the Oped page, Bob Herbert on Tuesday relayed a heartrending tale in The Long Dark Night.

The stories are upsetting and infuriating. The state of affairs is deeply wrong.

Remember the Republican Congress in 2005 reformed the bankruptcy laws to make it more difficult for consumers to discharge personal debts. In August the New York Times reported that, "In recent years, the use of high-interest credit cards to pay big medical bills has become a leading cause of consumer bankruptcy."

Do you trust that Hillary Clinton learned from her mistakes in 1993? There's too, too much at stake.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Would President Hillary appoint Obama to Supreme Court?

I hate Charlie Rose from my time working with him at PBS,


Jeffrey Toobin is on tonight (it repeats during the day in most markets) and talking about The Nine. He repeats many of the stories and ideas he talked about in the Book TV interview I saw two weekends ago and referred to below.

Again - he talks of how liberals assumed that because Roberts was smart he was a really a closet moderate. He suggests that if Hillary was elected she'd nominate Barack Obama (get rid of him by promoting him - it is SO Machiavellian). He talks of O'Connors regrets around Bush v. Gore. He discusses how peculiar it is that Thomas so rarely speaks during oral arguments. I got to witness oral arguments at the Supreme Court once in my life (thank you Dan) and I assumed it was because he was not clever and couldn't think on his feet. He apparently has offered several accounts for his reticence; none are very plausible, notes Toobin.

If I can catch a repeat, I'll try and give a fuller executive summary. At some point, you'll be able to view the interview at this site, supposedly.

Which Branch of Govt Defends What?

An oped piece, Lawbreaker in Chief, in the New York Times today written by a professor of constitutional law at Yale Law School, Jed Rubenfeld, is worth a read. He addresses who has the power to decide when a law is constitutional - the executive or the courts or Congress. This power was supposedly determined definitively by Marbury v. Madison - the subject of my undergraduate thesis at Vassar - to rest with the Supreme Court.

Bush and his lawyers have argued that his "authority to defend the nation" trumps his obligation to obey the law. (Goldsmith, see below, does not believe the Presidency is above the law but he would use the term responsibility to defend the country rather than authority and remind us that it is a responsibility that hangs heavily).

Rubenfeld cites the US Constitution and notes that the job to defend the country is expressly listed as a job for (and assigns the power to) Congress. See Article I, Section 8, in pertinent part (emphasis added):
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

Article 2 sets forth what the President is supposed to defend (emphasis added):
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:--"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Funny, isn't it? Or one might say Orwellian.

Note the preamble that sets out the purpose of the Constitution, the purpose of uniting the states. And contemplate how our union now dysfunctions - how none of the goals are now being achieved.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

We have an imperfect union.

We have a union fiercely divided by the likes of Rove in this country. We have unfair legal access that results in injustices. We have domestic turmoil - floods and fires and foreclosures. We have a weak defense with an overextended military and a overpaid wasteful privatized military. We have increasingly limited freedoms with wiretaps as well as the moralistic intrusion of government into medical research and our bedrooms. And we have uneven posterity - if you are diagnosed with cancer and rich you live, if poor you don't.

Do we promote the general welfare - ensure the faring well of generally all of us? No, the Republicans don't believe in general welfare; it's everyone for him or herself.

This sad state of affairs supports the argument for a constitutional convention.

Jack Goldsmith on The Terror Presidency Q&A

  • On Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (548 U.S. ___; 126 S. Ct. 2749; decided June 26 2006) Goldsmith believes the result is okay but the analysis was not. This was the case that affirmed that the President was not above the law and that the military commissions set up to try the Guantanamo detainees were unlawful because they violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the 4 Geneva Conventions. For Linda Greenhouse coverage of the decision, click here. For excerpts of the Justices’ opinions, click here. Goldsmith disagreed with the analysis, I think, because he believes that 1) we need new Congressional laws, new conventions, generally that in this new environment we need to go back and look at first principles; 2) that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to al Qaeda; and 3) that the decision made the Geneva Conventions apply to a thing, a non-state actor, which it was not meant to apply.
  • It’s too easy to say that torture is bad for 2 reasons. The first reason is that there is a very technical definition of torture that is both express and with contemplative and well considered loopholes. For example, the law says that “prolonged mental harm” is impermissible. The word “prolonged” was added to permit and allow non-prolonged mental harm. This loophole was a deliberate loophole. The second reason I did not catch. My notes say, “If at all that we engage with torture, coercive interrogation techniques” Sorry.
  • Re testimony of Attorney General nominee, Mukasey. His view of law is terribly important and fraught. In the past, the state of war was temporary and discreet and defined in time. We are in a state of war; that’s not just rhetoric. All three branches of government have in legal terms - affirmed the use of the term war. Great power should be exception not rule. The Presidency needs 1) power and 2) intense accountability. Goldsmith added that Mukasey didn’t say much in his confirmation hearings.
  • A questioner posed that Al Qaeda is not just killing for killing’s sake. And he suggested that fear mongering – that their terrorists are nihilistic and simply without purpose – affected the interpretation of law. It was an interesting exchange because the questioner and Goldsmith were on different planets. Goldsmith didn’t accept the premise of the question which was that the emotional reaction to this culture of fear affected the interpretation and application of law. Goldsmith acknowledged right off that Al Qaeda had political goals and implied, so what? When the questioner pushed that such climate changes law, Goldsmith said not really. The exchange amused me; many females have a story from law school of being told that emotion and passion have no place in the law.

More to come.

Jack Goldsmith on The Terror Presidency

On Sunday I went to Politics and Prose and listened to Jack Goldsmith discuss his book The Terror Presidency. A couple of weeks ago, Jeffrey Toobin talked about his book The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court on Book TV. He noted that some liberals had a tendency to believe that conservatives just weren't quite well informed enough and if they were so, then they would be conservative. So these liberals were often befuddled by a smart conservative.

Jack Goldsmith would be one of them. His presentation was terrific and before he admitted to being a law professor, his style made clear he knew how to talk so listeners could take notes and retain the information.

The reviews were good but misinterpreted a little. The title – The Terror Presidency was not to imply that this President is a terrorist. But rather was meant to conjure three specific qualities of the Presidency, the office of the Presidency. The title intended to
  1. note that the Presidency exists in an age of terrorism.
  2. evoke the idea that the Presidency is deeply fearful
  3. acknowledge that Presidents make us fearful. This was as true of FDR and Lincoln as it is of Bush.

There are two fears that compete every day and exist in constant tension.

On the one hand, there is how fearful they are in the executive branch about the next attack. They are more fearful than they let on. Why are they afraid?

  1. they read the threat matrix every day
  2. They worry that the threat matrix understates it. They feel they don’t have enough data to fight the threats, the probabilities are unknown, and actionable intelligence is lacking.
  3. They have a deep sense of responsibility about innocent American being killed, especially since they failed on 9/11

Again in Franklin Roosevelt’s time as well as Lincolns there were those same intense fears, and these set of fears let to relentless aggressiveness.

The other competing fear, in opposition and in tension with the fear of the next attack is a fear of law.

Since the 1970s, laws and restrictions of power on the Presidency evolved. These curbs grew out of the abuses of the government and the CIA during the 50s, 60s and 70s. Certain acts were made crimes. And those laws were new, relatively.

In earlier times, there was a different environment and different culture. Roosevelt and Lincoln, as they considered the fear and responsibility of their office and contemplated their acts and the level of aggressiveness, asked themselves: would democracy support this? And then they did all they could to ensure that support.

Now, with the crimes created in the 1970s, this Presidency asked itself – will we be prosecuted? Are we committing a crime? Will we be indicted when we travel abroad? Could an independent counsel investigate? So they asked for lots of opinions and feared the law. They got legal interpretations on often vague criminal law.

The 9/11 commission noted that our government was too risk adverse. That was one of the criticisms – that the lawyers at the C.I.A. were too restrictive and cautious. We need to be aggressive but not cross the line. The problem is that often that line isn’t clear, and when in a stance of assertiveness, moving toward that line, the odds and fear of crossing it is real.

Also, of important note – one of the central reasons why the laws were unclear and legal interpretation difficult is that that they were written for engagement with or fighting again state actors. In post-9/11, often the opposing force is a non-state actor. Al Qaeda is a non-state actor. So figuring out how laws from the 1970s, written with a different type of enemy in mind, challenged the administration and lawyers alike.

So that tension of fear of law and fear of terror will not go away. The central message of his book is that this particular tension is a problem.

The mistakes of this particular administration take two or three forms.

  1. They declined to go to Congress to make the laws clearer, more appropriate to non-state actors, updated to the new environment. This omission is especially remarkable because the Congress was controlled by the same party as the Presidency. They resisted doing so, in his view, because they worried that going to Congress would tie their hands. Didn’t want to ask and be told no, so better not to ask. Goldsmith believes this is a misplace notion of power. Such a stance avoids short term pain, but the lack of engagement with Congress cheated the administration of education and the ability to learn from their mistakes.
  2. They were too secretive. Not with the public, but with the relevant Congressional parties. They did not benefit from the input of the pertinent Committees of Congress. This is bad because there is no critical feedback and the process of making decisions and judgement calls becomes insular. Democracies are powerful because there are mechanisms to learn from mistakes and chances to change course. This administration chose not to be secret, not to defend policies, and in doing so took away needlessly from legitimacy.
  3. They failed to engage politics. Politics is not a dirty word. Politics is a way of avoiding mistakes. Roosevelt understood three things clearly were necessary as the Presidency pushed up toward the edge of the line. He understood, and acted as though he understood, the importance of
    1. trust and credibility
    2. congress on board
    3. consensus building

Notes on the Q& A period to follow.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Hillary Campaign in Bed with Drudge

Okay, or at least working with them. Remember the Drudge Report splashed into public consciousness as a source for news that percolated (or barfed up) into the "mainstream media" when Matt Drudge posted the first news of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Now the New York Times reports on the co-dependence of Drudge and Hillary Clinton. Drudge says, "I need to be part of her world. That's my bank." And former Democratic National Committee employee now working for the Clinton campaign, Tracy Sefl is planting Clinton driven and favorable reports (even if inaccurate) on the Drudge Report.

Some might believe that this is pragmatism. To me, honoring and respecting such a man with such a site is a further poisoning of the civic realm and compromise of principles.

Colbert and Russert - One Doesn't Get It

On the front page of the business section, David Carr offers his take on Steven Colbert's appearance on Meet the Press yesterday, The Gospel According to Mr. Colbert. He also makes the case that the traditional media doesn't get it or understand the problem or that they're the butt of the joke every bit as much as the politicians they cover.

He relays how his 84 year old father didn't understand why this Colbert was on Meet The Press. Carr notes,
"But the message I draw from Mr. Colber is not that members of the media-political complex need to laugh at themselves, but that they need to take a hard look. The incipent generation of news consumers has made it clear that it does not want to see a bunch of guys with really nice neckware standing on the White House lawn talking about what they did not learn in the press room behind them and then flick at 'sources' who suggest that 'one thing is clear.' One thing is, in fact, clear, from the plummeting numbers for network news: the jig is up. Consumers have decided that network news and talk show are every bit as fake and not nearly as funny as 'The Daily Show' and 'The Colbert Report.'"

It's worth a full read. Carr goes on to quote a GWU journalism professor.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Frank Rich and Bill Moyers on Blackwater

If you want more specifics on Frank Rich's piece, check out Bill Moyer's Journal. It seems clear that Rich saw it or got his sources from the same. Moyers also mentions Hillary Clinton's PR connection to Erik Prince. This week's program featured Blackwater expert Jeremy Scahill who wrote the book on Blackwater - Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He picks apart the spin of Jeff Prince's media onslaught. Scahill adds that Prince deliberately chose Burson-Marsteller because of its closeness to the Democratic party. Other lowlights include
  • It's Jeremy Scahill's view that Democratic Congresspeople did not do their homework.
  • Blackwater guards (as well as Isreali commandos) were in New Orleans! Got there faster than the federal government. Prince just sent them in and a week later had a contract. The Blackwater guards were paid $350 a day and billed the US taxpayer $950 a day - for a profit of $600 a day each, per day! This is the cost of the small government Republicans so value and the privatizing of governmental functions.
  • Blackwater is NOT all American as Prince claims: "They are all Americans, working for Americans, protecting Americans," as he noted several times in his blitz last week. Prince finds the word mercenary pejorative and says it doesn't apply to what they do. A mercenary is a professional soldier that works in the pay of a foreign armyYet his company hires TCN - Third Country Nationals - to fight America's battles. They ARE mercenaries. This helps to hide the cost of the war - both in lives and money.
  • Prince's lawyers argue their status both ways - they are a private company and therefore are not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But they - at the same time - argue that the deserve the same sovereignty (that is soveriegn immunity) and are therefore not subject to civilian criminal law - either in Iraq's or in the US. It's straining relations with the Iraqis. One of Blackwater guards, drunk, shot and killed a body guard of the Iraqi VP. Blackwater simply shipped him out of Iraq. This story was recounted again today on the front page of the Washington Post in a general survey of the difficulties of oversight.
  • 60 Minutes did not provide important context during its interview with Prince. 60 Minutes! Remember when 60 Minutes was the gold standard? (They botched Clarence Thomas' interview too, as Frank Rich notes.) The lovely Lara Logan questioned Prince. The same Lara Logan who Howard Kurtz quotes in his book, Reality Show, as saying "I would rather stick needles in my eyes than spend one second of my time on that story," referring to a request from her CBS bosses to do a piece on whether female soldiers were keeping cyber-pets online. In the 60 Minutes interview, she and Prince walked by the memorial for at Blackwater's NC headquarters for the 4 Blackwater employees who were strung up in Fallujah - the ones that caused the US military to crush that city. She did not mention that the four families of those men are SUING Blackwater for wrongful death and doing so mostly because they couldn't get answers as to what happened to their loved ones. A Blackwater executive told a mother, if you want to see that document you'll have to sue us. The Freedom of Information Act doesn't apply to private companies acting on the US gov't behalf (and being paid by US taxpayers) either.
  • Fred Fielding - now White House counsel - was one of the original lawyers for Blackwater who diligently defended Blackwater against the families law suit.
And again - I encourage you to read the investigative piece in this month Vanity Fair. I wrote about the piece here. Rich writes, "So far some $6 billion worth of contracts are being investigated for fraud, however slowly, by the Pentagon and the Justice Department." David Rose in The People vs. the Profiteers (link at previous post) well demonstrates that the investigations are NOT being done "slowly;" they are not being done at all but instead are being deliberately stalled or obstructed.

Both Bill Moyers and David Rose elaborate the troubling aspects Rich only highlights - the fraud, cheating, and immorality that have been causing shame and suicides.

Hillary Exhibits Another Bush Quality - No Questions!

NPR broadcast this news on Sunday, Clinton Keeps Distance from the Media. Hillary is not exposing herself to an open forum of questions from reporters. Sound familiar????

For other similarities to George Bush, read this earlier post.

Steven Colbert is Everywhere!

Okay - so apparently he is running in both the Republican and Democratic primaries of South Carolina. He noted you can do that in South Carolina but you also can marry a 13 year old girl. He was the guest on my favorite radio show on Saturday, Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me. Very fun show and will make you laugh.

He also appeared on Meet the Press. He noted that if won at least one delegate in South Carolina, he'd consider it a win. And that he'd give that one delegate up if he'd be allowed to make a speech.

I wish he'd be harder and more aggressive with Russert. It seemed a bit rehearsed, as if Tim knew where and how the conversation would go. (He even had Bert, from Sesame Street handy as a prop).

As far as I'm concerned, Russert is the one of the most culpable in his passivity and inability to properly frame the issues or his questions. He doesn't listen to the answers and curb his follow ups because he is so self-impressed with his prepared queries. These times are too fraught to suffer incompetence in such a powerful post. Colbert could have hammered him and he didn't. Too bad.

If you want to hear from or about the real Colbert there are three options:
  1. The Meet the Press web extra - watch here.
  2. Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross - listen here. A friend noted to me she heard from Colbert in this interview the best definition of God and hell she'd ever heard. When I heard it, I agreed; its exactly how I would explain God and hell. Thank goodness for different voices discussing religion. Ones other than the religious right.
  3. Vanity Fair October 2007 issue piece, The Man in the Irony Mask by Seth Mnookin. This profile is lengthy and revealing. Read here.

Hillary Clinton and her Rovean Mark Penn

If you want to hear a full interview with Mark Penn, The Diane Rehm Show had him on the 18th of September to talk about his book on Microtrends (and he was at Politics and Prose yesterday).

On the New York Times Oped page, Maureen Dowd takes issue with Mark Penn's ideas, and Frank Rich insults him by calling him Hillary Clinton's Rove and notes Penn's connection to Blackwater.

Dowd is right about Hillary and her personality. Her demeanor is relevant. Sally Bendell Smith was also on Meet The Press and discussed her revealing book on the Clinton marriage. I highlighted the excerpt that appeared in the November issue of Vanity Fair. There's also one at the Meet the Press site.

Smith will also be at Politics and Prose on Saturday, November 3 at 1 pm.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Republicans in Disarry; Only Hillary Would Unite Them

Apparently Republicans are in deep disarray. The religious conservatives (the theocrats) may run a third party candidate.

Apparently the only thing that could unite Republicans would be opposition to Hillary. So if you want the Republicans to stay divided, vote for someone OTHER than Hillary.

You can watch the 9.5 minute video from the Chris Matthews Show here. Click on "How can the GOP beat Hillary?" Apparently the answer is all the Dems have to do is nominate her!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Clinton Campaign Again - Funny Fundraising

Okay - yet another reason to be wary of a Hillary candidacy. It's not just the facts revealed in the LA Times today but the fact that these facts fit a pattern. A bad pattern that makes Hillary vulnerable. See "An Unlikely Treasure-Trove of Donors for Clinton: The candidate's unparalleled fundraising success relies largely on the least-affluent residents of New York's Chinatown -- some of whom can't be tracked down."

That would be a third of the 150. Not tracked down at all. Clinton campaign says "these things happen," and if there's impropriety they'll give it back.

That might swing if this were the first and only whiff of improper fundraising but remember the revolving door on the Lincoln Bedroom? Remember the Chinese nationals who were caught giving to Bill Clinton's 1996 campaign? This is a BAD flashback.

We don't need this! There are Democratic candidates that are cleaner and more invulnerable on this issue. Nnone of them are squeaky clean; yesterday's New York Times had a front pager on dirt around Edwards' campaign funds. Read here.

And this investigative piece was, guess what, picked up on cable news all day. The problem is not going to go away. Especially with the history.

UPDATE: Saturday October 20th. New York Times reports Clinton campaign returns $7,000 after questions raised. Fine, but not good enough. It's a recurring problem the Dems do NOT need in their candidate.

3 Events @ Politics & Prose

For those non-Washingtonians, Politics & Prose is an independent bookstore in Northwest Washington.

On Sunday afternoon, Jack Goldsmith talks about his book The Terror Presidency at 1 pm. He is a former Justice Department employee who quit before a year was out. Earlier this week, he had a little New York Times op-ed bit suggesting questions for the nominated Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Here's an overview of his book, in interview form, at Newsweek.

I wish when he resigned from the Office of the Legal Counsel, he'd have made more noise and wrote an op-ed piece then. What is it with these guys slinking off and writing books years later? Principles grow with a book advance? He's right, but he'd have been more right before the 2004 election.

On Tuesday at 7 pm, Paul Krugman is up with his book, The Conscience of a Liberal. He was on Diane Rehm earlier in the week too. You can listen here.

Next Wednesday at 7 pm - a gathering to celebrate the 150th anniversary of The Atlantic Monthly. Mr. Linger-a-while aka William Langewiesche (see post below) will be there as well as James Fallows and ChristopherHitchens. They will read Martin Luther Kings' Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

A Call for a NEW Constitutional Convention

Yesterday on The Diane Rehm Show, Diane discussed with Larry Sabato his new book, A More Perfect Constitution. Sabato is a political scientist at the University of Virginia and he runs the Center for Politics there.

He is proposing a new Constitutional Convention and notes that Article 5 offers two ways to change the US Constitution - only one has every been used (amendments). The other is to call a convention.

Article V:
"or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress."

I was so fascinated by his proposals. They include increasing the representation in Congress. The House to 1000(#5) ; the Senate to 136, DC would get one, the largest states would get more (#1). Put term limits on the Supreme Court at 15 years (#13) and up the number of Justices to 12 (#15). Fix the War Powers Act and put more power in the Congress as the Framers intended (#10). One six year term for President, with an option 2 year extension - up or down vote on the extension (#9). Add balance budget amendment (#7) as well as the line item veto (#11) and campaign finance reform - public funding for all House and Senate races (#20).

He also suggests helpful remedies to the election process besides public campaign financing. Changes to the state primary dates (involving half time at the Rose Bowl) as well as the Electoral College.

His full 23 proposals can be read here.

Intrigued I skipped the why, when, and how these changes would be implemented and jumped to the renovations to the Capitol building to accommodate all the extra chairs in the House chamber and the desks in the Senate chamber. This morning I thought of the House and Senate office buildings and where would the additional offices go and of all the streets that have been, to me insanely, cut off - security. We could just get rid of those streets all together and build bunkers!

You can listen to the 45 minute interview here. Many of the callers were skeptical and pessimistic. How can you not be in this age? But Sabato countered by citing the young people he's taught over the last 30 years. (people of my generation). He suggested with our generation there is hope because of the intelligence and will power of people my age and younger. Maybe the atrocities of the Bush presidency will motivate and stimulate such a change, or at least a discussion.

If I could have, I'd have gone to the free and open symposium hosted byBob Schieffer of CBS news at the Mellon Auditorium on Constitution Avenue (!) The goal is "to spur a grand, national discussion on the Constitution of the United States and whether the cornerstone of our republic could or should be a means of revitalizing civic and political engagement in America, curtailing apathy and renewing confidence in American politics and government."

A worthwhile, lofty aspiration. Check out these supporters.

What do you think?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Oliver Sachs Examines Music and the Mind

For my musically talented relatives and friends…This link has a fascinating excerpt from the book too. Oliver Sachs is at it again. His new book, Musicophilia, examines the relationship between music and the mind (and I've been listening to Chopin ever since).

Check it out here.

Oliver Sacks will also be at Politics & Prose on Friday, November 2nd at 7 pm to discuss his latest book

Peace Prayers at Cathedral while Bush Spews About World War III

The National Cathedral offered a 3 day program on Interfaith Peace Prayer Practices this past week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The days were planned in conjunction with the Dalai Lama's visit to DC to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

And while the President in his news conference instilled fear of World War III, not only did the Cathedral offer this program but an exhibit of Iranian artists is featured in the gallery. Wishes and Dreams: Iran's New Generation Emerges closes October 28th, so check it out soon.

Monks from the Namgyal Monoastery created a Sand Mandala for World Peace. Saffron bags with colored sand, metal funnels, foam brushes. The image drew you in - especially a single human eye. They worked on it over several days. I'm not sure how long before they disperse the sand - a point of the exercise to emphasize life's impermanence.

I missed the Jewish prayer practices on Tuesday, but on Wednesday Sufi Prayers and Chants gave me a chance to hear the noon practice of Muslim prayer. These sounds should be heard more often. It seems to me, sadly, that the sounds of this language is mostly associated with images and thoughts of terror in our culture. I was looking for a different context, and I got that. The Salah is a prayer that includes physical movement, which brought to mind the unity of yoga which aims similarly to unite soul, mind and body in a spiritual practice. The Rumi Forum led the hour.

The program quotes:
"Rumi was once asked, 'Is ther any way nearer to God than prayer?' And he answered, 'Yes, but it is also prayer. It is prayer without the outward form. This outer form of prayer is the body of prayer, since it has a beginning and ending. Everything that has a beginning and ending is a body. All words and sounds have a beginning and an end, and therefore are form and body. But the inner soul of prayer is unconditioned and infinite, and has neither beginning nor end."

Today, Sharon Salzberg gave a dharma talk and led a guided meditation in loving-kindness. Some elements of my notes: "Loving-kindness includes not excludes, opens doesn't close. It's not sentimental or phony. It is a path of discovery and adventure. The terrain is enormous and takes courage, boldness, imagination and inspiration. Kindness is often dismissed as a secondary virtue; if you're not brilliant, brave or wonderful, well then be kind. To be a radical, be kind. This practice can help you move out of ruts of attention, rituals of habits. Equanimity is a balance of the mind, open, comfortable with not knowing."

In the guided meditation, she led us through 4 wishes: Be safe, be happy, be healthy, be at ease. We did this for ourselves, others in our lives, strangers and finally all living beings. Loving-kindness meditaton is for all beings, Salzberg reminded us. She told a story of woman who'd had a particularly difficult year who got through knowing that with loving-kindness meditation in the world, someone, somewhere in the world was wishing her well.

And then I walked the Labyrinth. I'd done this walking prayer practice before but up in the nave of the Cathedral. In the St. Joseph chapel, the experience altered. Live music enhanced the draw. Walking in is to be a time of release and emptying. I walked in very slowly. In the center, a time of receiving and union. There, I saw the gold mural behind the altar in a new light. I worship there regularly, but then I saw the image differently. Walking out is a time to return, renewal and action. I lingered in the room and wrote this poem:

Paths of Perception


Turning and twisting
Each off on our own path

Then twenty
Step Aside

Then not
Then alone again
Stepping apart

Arrive at the center and
Face the golden mural of
Joseph of Arimathea

Jesus' friends carrying
His corpse, his shadow
To the tomb, the womb

Walking up the winding path,
Holding him with love

In love
Walking the labyrinth

Common paths, common hearts
Broken hearts, brave hearts

Walking, changing directions

Jesus carried

Don't Miss "Away From Her"


I was already crying yesterday, so I decided I might as well watch Away From Her. What a delightful treat. More so because of the contrast with so many films which turn out to be such a waste of time.

This movie compels with the
  • setting - scenes of snow and shadows;
  • acting - expressive faces conveying pain, bewilderment, longing;
  • dialogue - even the littlest bit conveys so much.
When the director of the nursing home uses the exact same words to begin her tour, you know everything you need to know about this minor character. You'd have to be that type of person to care for the elderly who are fading slowly away because of Alzheimer's. She's a minor character, yet her choices on how to run the care home, including one rule in particular, affects and drives the story.

By the way this story is closely based on an Alice Munro short story, The Bear Came Over the Mountain. If you're not familiar with this short story writer you should be (along with William Trevor).

For those unaware of the plot - Fiona realizes she is sick with Alzheimer's and decides to put herself into a home to save her husband from the burden of caring for her. They've been married forty-four years, and she is younger than most dealing with this disease. Grant's desire and need to hold onto Fiona drives the narrative, and it's not just the disease that gets in the way.

What I loved most about the film - and I loved so much about it - was the contemporary twist on chivalry. Grant turns out to be a traditional knight. The movie makes clear he had been a rake, a philandering professorial husband. But his love for his wife makes him self-sacrificing in the most troubadour, romantic tradition. A recurring theme of romantic love is giving up the one you love for their happiness. And this story offers a beautiful modern rendition of that.

Both Fiona and Grant love books and words, and I loved the fact that poetry was woven into the story as well as the manner in which it was. Auden and Ondaatje both are, in the words of another blogger, "sprinkled into the script like shards of crystalline beauty."

These scenes, and there are a few, reveal who these people are, what this couple is like and how they interact but also simply why poetry appeals. I have on my guest room wall (also my study) these words from Octavio Paz: "Beauty is not in what the words say but in that which they say without saying it. Not naked, but through a veil, breasts become desirable."

Here's Ondaatje, from the Cinnamon Peeler, used in the film: "When we swam once/I touched you in the water/and our bodies remained free/you could hold me and be blind of smell/You climbed the bank and said/this is how you touch other women.../And you searched your arms/for the missing perfume."

I tried to find some of the poems read by Grant to his wife. But none of the "Letters From Iceland" appear in my 800 page collection of Auden poems and a search on Amazon revels they are available to buy for about $300.00. I'm going to have to replay those scenes and transcribes myself.

The chivalry and the poetry are the elements that distinguish this excellent film. But the acting is also outstanding by the principles - Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent. Both have such eyes! The smaller performances - Olympia Dukakis - as expected are always good. An outstanding performance by Grace Lynn Kung who plays Nurse Betty really stands out. One of my favorite moments is when Nurse Betty twists Grant's shallow observations on the difference between young and old to a difference of gender perceptions.

The remarkable script is noteworthy as well. Sarah Polley, an actress in her 20s, adapted and wrote the screenplay as well as directed. She respects her audiences' intelligence, but the dialogue - how what is said conveys deeper meaning both by the choice of words and the character of them. Words can be tentative, strong, humorous, biting. And the dialogue here communicates layers of meaning.

A scene at Fiona and Grant's kitchen table, when he suggests that she go to the place temporarily, is extraordinary. The viewer knows that it isn't temporary and also that both Fiona and Grant know that too - but its too painful to think or say otherwise. They both understand that and we do too, thanks to the writing.

KD Lang's Helpless runs over the credits. And I would have thought that just too too much, but the melody is beautiful.

Don't miss "Away From Her." To see the movie preview and read the New York Times review here.

Is Steven Colbert Really Running for President?

Today's New York Times had hidden inside the news that Steve Colbert's folks were investigating the filing requirements to run in South Carolina at least. Interesting to hear of the varying Democratic and Republican reactions. Those Republicans have no sense of humor. This news appeared in the Arts section (inside even) and not in the first sections political pages. He is selling a book.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Yet Another Reason to Stop Hillary

Thomas Edsall, the political editor at the Huffington Post, gives us yet another reason not to vote for Hillary. His headline is Defense Industry Embraces Democrats, Hillary By Far the Favorite. Seems in the past that the Defense Industry favored Republicans 3-2 (Bush - 820K got more than double the contribution than Kerry 365K). But they seem to think that Hillary will be our next president so they're flowing their money that way. It's worth a full read.

Dancing with the Stars Week 4 Results

Floyd is out which is too bad. Mark should have been the one to go. His score was lower. Floyd is more appealing, more hungry. And well, I love his partner Karina who nearly won when she partnered up with Mario Lopez. (Plus, my grandfather's name was Floyd). Didn't watch the whole results show yet - but it looked as though they had at least one interesting Cirque-de-Soliel-like performance.

Next week JLo performs during the results show!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Private Lawyers Suing Iraq Contractors for Fraud; Justice Dept Obstructing

Ohhhh. It's hard to be aware, awake, alive. Just watching the news or reading the paper, or opening up your Vanity Fair.

I avoided William Langewiesche's piece - The Mega-Bunker of Baghdad - because obviously that would raise anyone's blood pressure. I admire this guy's great writing and reporting - the piece he did on the prison riots of Brazil last year riveted. And he's hot; after hearing him at a talk last May at Politics and Prose my girlfriend nicknamed him, Mr. Linger-awhile because he liked to talk and talk and talk. That piece is not available online so you just have to go buy the November issue (John and Jackie Kennedy on cover) if you want to read it. I've not been able to bring myself to do so yet.

So I detoured to read the lengthy excerpt from Sally Bendell Smith's new book about the Clinton marriage, White House Civil War. It makes a pretty convincing case that but for Hillary's ambitions Gore would have won in 2000. It was sickening to read. Sickening because of the fear that it might not all be in the past. Smith's book also garnered a weaker one pager in this week's Newsweek, well entitled Not Really Feeling It. It's the top story at Newsweek online.

Disclosure: Intellectual honesty compels me to note that Sally Bendell Smith also wrote a Princess Diana biography which infamously put forth the theory that the Princess had Borderline Personality Disorder. That's been pretty much discredited elsewhere, most recently in Tina Brown's book. So while the Diana biography undermined Smith's credibility with me; she's now redeemed it. I believed every word of what I've so far read by Smith on Clinton mostly because it fits in with other pieces I've read on Hillary (see review in The New Yorker, The Lady Vanishes, of the Clinton books out this past Spring, in pertinent part: “That was it for me in terms of Hillary Clinton,” Senator Bill Bradley, of New Jersey, told Bernstein. “You don’t tell members of the Senate you are going to demonize them. It was obviously so basic to who she is. The arrogance. The assumption that people with questions are enemies. The disdain. The hypocrisy.” --- hmm -- doesn't that sound like any one named Bush???)

Had Clinton not run for Senate, then there'd not have been this fiasco with contractors with the Defense Department and Justice asleep. The People vs. the Profiteers by David Rose is UNBELIEVABLE and motivated me to post this blog. I am amazed that the news is this piece hasn't been featured elsewhere. Has anyone seen any television coverage on this, and the work that attorney Grayson is doing on behalf of US taxpayers?

I learned of Gonzalez's connection to Halliburton and KBR. The misdeeds of contractors hurting our soldiers - apparently not just gunning down innocent Iraqi citizens in the streets. Could Jeff Prince be any more repulsive? Private means private - not when it's ill-gotten gains from corrupt politicians using taxpayer money. The Today Show even gave him a forum to defend himself.

Rose's piece is horrifying and a powerful (powerfully depressing) story. Here's just one thought:
"Would it be so outlandish, he (Grayson, a lawyer suing on behalf of government whistle blowers) wonders, to suggest that the same Justice Department that has been accused of firing U.S. attorneys for political reasons might be suppressing war-related fraud claims for political purposes?"

I hate Hillary.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Dancing With the Stars Week 4

I went to a writing conference this past Saturday and one panel was on electronic writing. "No blog entry longer than 800 words." Oops. See posting on Dancing with the Stars weeks ago. Ok. Wasting words!

Mark Cuban - weird choreography for a Viennese Waltz. Didn't like her costume either. But, he did seem more comfortable, with better posture, and wasn't completely off as he was last week when he and his partner literally were on different feet. 7,8,7 = 22

Sabrina Bryan - Paso Doble in purple sequins to eighties tune, You Spin Me Round Right Baby. Good movement though the purple and the music were distracting. Images of Matthew's Mug kept intruding (Vassar's on-campus bar). Had to watch it 2x to actually see the dance. 10,10, 10. First 30 of the season.

Jane Seymour - Waltz to Billy Joel's Piano Man. Who picks these songs?!? Gosh, she is gorgeous. And elegant and the dancing was beautiful. And her costume was lovely and she had cool tiara in her hair. Argument over whether there was a lift or not. 8,9,9 = 26. Wow, they even need a replay of the "lift."

Floyd Mayweather - WOW. That was an incredible Paso Doble. Music finally fit and what a show. His posture was MUCH improved. His boxing and strong shoulders tended to roll his shoulders forward. So the change was much noticeable. He did a back bend and then a huge leap. I watched it twice because I just enjoyed his dance so much. I hope this one is the week's Results Show repeat. 7,8,8 = 23

Melanie Brown aka Scary Spice - Did a pretty boring waltz. She didn't look at ease. Her shoulders were lifted, neck stiff. For a flowing dance, it didn't seem to flow. You could see her thinking. Also could see her tattoo on her back left scapula; contrast to the chiffon dress. 8,9,9 = 26. Overrated to me.

Cameron Mathison - Danced the Paso Doble to the Superman movie theme. I guess becasue of judge's comment in an earlier week that he was like Clark Kent/Superman. Edyta struggled with the choreography but that was terrific! She also had practically nothing on, appeared to be a few blue scarves. But is was his best dance so far. 9,9,9 = 27

Marie Osmond - Waltz to Elvis Presley, Only Fools Rush In. Are we going to see a waltz danced to a waltz? That was much better that Scary Spices. Marie through herself into it, relaxed and lovely. Her head flowed - "She worked the hair," and she even through herself into a spin on the floor. 9,9,8 = 26

Jenny Garth - Paso Doble to music I've no idea. Technically a much harder dance than the two previous guys. Very strong choreography. She looks like she's had some ballet training. She looked like she belongs here. Maybe a woman will win this week. She and Sabrina stand out. 8,10,9=27

Helio Castroneves - No waltzing music. Only male competitor to dance the waltz and of all of them I'd have liked to have seen him in the Paso Doble. Best choreography - interesting dance and movement. Unique, which is hard to do with a waltz. They did turns with his hand on her front left hip. Very engaging. He commented that it was more like acting for him. 9,9,9 = 27

Next week sambas and rumbas. Latin night.

571 words! Now 575.

Frontline on Power and Cheney Tomorrow at 9 PM

Frontline is doing an hour on the expansion of presidential powers, broadcasting tomorrow, Tuesday, in most markets at 9 pm, called Cheney's Law. David Addington with the help of John Yoo, formerly at the Justice Department, are the legal minds behind most of the legal basis. Should be interesting.

The official program description from the Frontline web site:
For three decades, Vice President Dick Cheney has waged a secretive, and often bitter battle to expand the power of the presidency. Now in a direct confrontation with Congress, as the administration asserts executive privilege to head off investigations into domestic wiretapping and the firing of U.S. attorneys, FRONTLINE meticulously traces the behind-closed-doors battle within the administration over the power of the presidency and the rule of law.

Watch a preview here.

462 days until the end of the Bush.