Keep your eyes wide, the chance won't come again ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Thanks to Lt. Col. Bob, Eric B., and Eric R. for last week. We'll be hearing more from them and from a variety of Altercators over the summer. If you missed it, I did a Think Again on Libby, et al., here, and a Guardian post on the Neocons and the war, here.

I've heard no mention of this elsewhere. Check it out and ask your favorite MSM outlet why they've not covered it:

President Bush got a lesson from a group of recent high school graduates. They were Presidential Scholars, a program designed "to recognize and provide leadership development experiences for some of America's most outstanding graduating high-school seniors."

The 141 Presidential Scholars were being honored at the White House. One of them, Mari Oye, from Wellesley, Mass., describes what happened: "The president walked in and gave us a short speech saying that as we went on into our careers, it was important to treat others as we would like to be treated. And he told us that we would have to make choices we would be able to live with for the rest of our lives. And so, I said to the president, 'Several of us made a choice, and we would like you to have this,' and handed him the letter." It was a letter Mari had handwritten. It read:

"As members of the Presidential Scholars class of 2007, we have been told that we represent the best and brightest of our nation. Therefore, we believe we have a responsibility to voice our convictions. We do not want America to represent torture. We urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees, to cease illegal renditions and to apply the Geneva Convention to all detainees, including those designated enemy combatants."

The letter was signed by close to 50 of the students, more than a third of the Presidential Scholars.

Mari described Bush's reaction to the letter: "He read down the letter. He got to the part about torture. He looked up, and he said, 'America doesn't torture people.' And I said, 'If you look specifically at what we said, we said, we ask you to cease illegal renditions. Please remove your signing statement to the McCain anti-torture bill.'

"At that point, he just said, 'America doesn't torture people' again."

I don't think I've ever seen a major writer more in the tank for a candidate than Anna Quindlen is for Hillary. Remember when she was insisting that nobody run against her because "we already have a front-runner." Now she's deciding who's on top of the ticket between Hillary and a guy she was telling us was not a serious candidate. Remember I like Hillary. I even like Quindlen. But this is the kind of thing that Joe Klein was doing back in '92 and it only ends in tears....

Let's see: A lousy team playing less than .500 ball with no chance to make the playoffs but with a promotional deal with The New York Times wins a game, and it's on page one of the Times sports section. Another team, this one fighting to retain its hold on first place, wins a series at home, sets a record for drawing more than 200,000 people for a four-game homestand, with a returning pitcher who's been injured and pitches a beautiful game, and the shortstop, who is pretty much the most exciting player in the game but was recently benched for not hustling, hits a two-run homer, and ... it's on page two and not even in the top stories on the Web, as if this is not a home team at all. Hello? Mr. New York Times? You own a piece of the Red Sox, not the Yankees -- which is lucky for you given the cost-per-victory ratio with that $169 million payroll, so cut it out already.... Boo. Yea.

On this day in history:

07-16-1918 - Russia's Czar Nicholas II and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks.

07-16-1945 - The first atomic bomb was tested in Alamogordo, N.M.

07-16-1951 - J. D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye was published.

07-16-1969 - Apollo 11 took off on the first manned flight to the moon.

07-16-1979 - Saddam Hussein became president of Iraq.

From our sponsors:

The McCain Suck-Up Watch continues, even though the guy is pretty much through:

CNN aired McCain's floor statement on Iraq, but no one else's

During the 11 a.m. ET hour of the July 10 edition of CNN Newsroom, anchor Tony Harris went live to Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) floor statement on the Iraq war and aired it uninterrupted for more than 11 minutes. During the speech, McCain asserted that "the progress our military has made should encourage us" in Iraq. CNN did not air excerpts of statements by any Democrats or other lawmakers critical of the war. In fact, a Media Matters for America survey of CNN's July 10 programming found that the network did not air any other live floor statement all day, despite speeches from Democratic Sens. Carl Levin (MI), Joseph R. Biden Jr. (DE), and Jim Webb (VA).

Chris Matthews: Covering McCain campaign's problems is the "worst part of my job"

On the July 10 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, discussing that day's shake-up in Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign -- in which several high-profile aides left the campaign -- host Chris Matthews said, "Let me -- let me be -- let's get into the really worst part of my job, which is to talk about what happens if he does continue to sink."

From TomDispatch:

Dahr Jamail's latest post is the perfect companion to the just-published Nation magazine piece by Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian, "The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness," that has made news around the world. Independent reporter Jamail, who spent much time in Iraq covering the war and occupation through 2005, gives a sense in this piece of what anybody, even a journalist exposed to such levels of "apocalyptic violence" and despair, is likely to bring home with him. Even more important, through a series of wrenching emails he has received recently from Iraq, you get a small sense of what the dark and horrific war the American vets described to Hedges and al-Arian, a war only escalating in brutality, looks like to Iraqis -- the ones who stand in danger of getting run over by speeding American convoys or are at the other end of the kicked-in door, or the racism, or simply the anger and frustration of isolated, alien soldiers in a strange and hostile land.

The emails Jamail quotes are raw, desperate, and powerful -- as are the grim daily descriptions of the dead that he scans, looking hopelessly for a lost friend. You get a hint of -- as one correspondent puts it -- "the thousands and thousands of sad stories that need to be told but nobody is there to listen." And Jamail himself remembers the eeriness of his return to this country: "One long, comfortable plane ride later and you're in Disneyland, or so it feels on returning to the United States. Sometimes it seems as if I'm in a bubble here that's only moments away from popping."

Of the two worlds, the two simultaneous realities that now inhabit the same space inside his head in desperately uncomfortable fashion, he concludes:

"That's what I'm experiencing -- a national schizophrenia that results from our government carrying out an unpopular war. It's what I continue to experience with never lessening sharpness two years after my last trip to Iraq. The hardest thing, in the California sun with that cool breeze on my face, is to know that two realities in two grimly linked countries coexist, and most people in my own country are barely conscious of this. In Iraq, of course, there is nothing disparate, no disjuncture, only a constant, relentless grinding and suffering, a pervasive condition of tragic hopelessness and despair with no end in sight."

Many will recall that on July 8, 1947, witnesses claimed that an unidentified object with five aliens aboard crashed onto a sheep and cattle ranch just outside Roswell, New Mexico. This is a well-known incident that many say has long been covered up by the U.S. Air Force and the federal government.

However, what you may NOT know is that in the month of March 1948, exactly nine months later, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Condoleezza Rice, and Dan Quayle were all born.

Alter-reviews:

I went on a fun Creative Coalition junket last week to Mount Rainier, which began at a professional photographers' summit at Microsoft, where we did a panel and I managed to not get arrested. I mention this here because one of the actors on the trip was Joe Mantegna. Once on Mount Rainier, I was walking along listening to a book on tape read by Joe, and I interrupted it to talk to the actual Joe. It was a "Spencer" book by Robert B. Parker, called Cold Service, which came out last year. I'm about 80 percent done with it, and I still have no idea why it's called that. But I do know that Parker/Spencer is as reliable a "brand" as you'll find anywhere, and it's a pleasure to be in the company of Hawk, Susan, and everybody else, especially with Joe M. doing the reading, as he does for virtually all of these books. There's a new Parker book called Spare Change, which I'll get to after a break.

It was a special pleasure to turn to Parker/Spencer/Mantegna after listening to a few hours of Carl Bernstein's Hillary book. It's not a bad book at all, at least the first part. I made it up until about the health care/Travelgate part, and then I couldn't bear to (re)live it a second time. So many of those mistakes are so obvious in retrospect, and Bernstein is entirely too understanding of the brainless two-headed beast that stalked Clinton in the form of a lunatic right-wing and a supine press corps that made governance almost impossible. Dick Rodstein's reading was just fine, though.

Before the Clinton book, I listened to Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach, which is an exquisite piece of work, and you should read it, sadly.

I realize also that I've neglected to mention a worthy project in every way which is the double album, Instant Karma, in which an extremely eclectic group of artists join together to perform John Lennon songs to benefit Amnesty International's Campaign to Save Darfur. Since Yoko was involved, all the songs are from Lennon's solo career, which is OK, since there's not much that can be done with the Beatles catalog anymore. Take a look here and look what a smart, tasteful collection it is.

Other albums I feel extremely confident in recommending to all discerning listeners would include:

New albums by new people (to me):

  • Bill Kirchen, Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods (Proper Records)
  • Gina Villalobos, Miles Away, (Face West)
  • Tommy Womack, There, I Said It! (Cedar Creek Music)
  • Chris Knight, The Trailer Tapes (Drifter's Church)
  • Mike Farris, Salvation in Lights (INO/Columbia)

New albums by old people:

  • Loudon Wainwright III, Strange Weirdos (Concord)
  • Maria Muldaur, Naughty, Bawdy & Blue (Stony Plain)
  • Duke Robillard, World Full of Blues (Stony Plain)
  • Nick Lowe, At My Age (Yep Roc)

Old records in new packaging by old people:

  • Van Morrison, The Best of Van Morrison, Volume 3 (two CDs, Capitol)
  • Traveling Wilburys, Volume I, Volume 3, and the DVD ("The Traveling Wilburys' Collection" on Rhino)

The Van and the Wilburys are known quantities so you can make your own choices about those. (The Wilburys' second album is underrated, but not nearly as transcendent as the first. The Van is filled with interesting re-recordings of Van classics with people like Bobby Bland and B.B. King, etc. The Nick Lowe is a real find after all these years, and Maria Muldaur is per usual, tons of fun. Anyway, both the Chris Knight and Mike Farris, of whom I've never heard in either case, are totally excellent and I'd really trust me on them -- or read up on them your respective selves. Gina Villalobos is kinda Lucinda Williams-ish, and Bill Kirchen is warm and rockin' in a bar-fight kinda way. Tommy Womack is funny and sensitive in a John Prine/Steve Goodman vain. And Loudon is Loudon again, take him or leave him, and currently has written a certain 9-year-old's favorite song:

That's my daughter in the water
Everything she owns I bought her
Everything she knows I taught her
I lost every time I fought her.

If anyone out there is willing to take a shot a Sal/Tony-like actual review of any of the above, I'd be happy to print it ...

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Benjamin Jenkins
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

I believe we reached the point of Constitutional crisis when our President publicly lied to the world about his case for going to war. That was quite a while ago. Bush has deliberately flouted the law on domestic wiretapping, ignoring the FISA laws and basically saying "do your worst" to Congress as his defense. We passed the "crisis" point long ago and are simply in an ongoing state of emergency now. I think your take on the subject is breathtakingly mild. What more does the guy have to do?

Name: Peter Shrock
Hometown: Albany, NY

Please, God, let there be a constitutional crisis.

It's scary, I know. But let's face it: Bush and crew are determined to claim clearly unconstitutional powers, both for the president and the vice-president. There are only two alternatives: either Congress takes the bait and gets into a showdown, or else Congress meekly lets this renegade Executive branch (I'm not going to bother with Cheney's "I'm not part of the Executive branch" nonsense) take the quasi-dictatorial powers that it claims.

The second alternative is simply unacceptable. It might conceivably lead to the death of the American republic


the risk is far too great. The first alternative also is scary: the Justice Department might back up the Bush Admin.; Bush might even call out the military against Congress, and stage a coup of sorts; or something else, equally catastrophic, might happen. But at least the forces of genuine democracy would go down fighting. Also, Congress might win a showdown with Bush. At least, they might force Republicans to pay a price for victory that is so high that the Republican Party is effectively destroyed.

In any case, the Republicans are determined to claim these powers for their president. They must be stopped. The Democrats can't keep their powder dry any longer.

And as for your opening headline, Eric -- the world has been mad for quite a few years now. A showdown with Bush feels to me like the beginning of the recovery of sanity.

Name: Iowa Hog Farmer
Hometown: IOWA

Distinguished writer, Eric Alterman;

I'd like to hear your comments relative to what you think of Cindy Sheehan's recent attack on the House Democrats and her threat to the Speaker that if Nancy doesn't push for Bush's impeachment, Sheehan will go after Nancy's seat in 2008.

To Cindy I must say "how dumb is that"? The Dems do not have enough of a majority to override a Presidential veto, YET, you choose to unseat a specific Dem, net gain of 0, when you could unseat a Republican, net gain of 1 seat and 1 more vote closer to an overriding Democrat majority?

You've lost me there.

Did you spend too much time outside Crawford, TX near Bush? Some of the polluted logic Bush uses seems to have attached itself to you.

Name: gmoke
Hometown: Cambridge, MA

From Hal Holbrook's "Mark Twain Tonight":

"Man is the only animal that deals in the atrocity of war. He's the only one that for sordid wages goes forth in cold blood to exterminate his own kind. He has a motto for this, 'Our country right or wrong.' Any man who fails to shout it is a traitor. Only the others are patriots.

"Say, who is the country? Is it the government? In a republic, the government is merely a servant, a temporary one. Its function is to obey orders not originate them. Only when the republic's life is in danger should a man uphold his government when it's wrong. Otherwise the nation has sold its honor for a phrase.

"And if that phrase needs help he get another one, 'Even though the war be wrong, we are in it. We must fight it out. We cannot retire without dishonor.'

"Why, not even a burglar could have said that better."

Name: Peter Driscoll
Hometown: Greenbelt MD

The wonderful Charlie Pierce muses that if "reactionary Roman Catholicism truly organizes itself, it is going to be a formidable business" need wonder no more. This is not something we need to wait for. We need only look to the US Supreme Court. I might add that the religion of my youth (and Charlie's) has veered far from the religion of my youth. Dominus Vobiscum.

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