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Slacker Friday

Slacker Friday

July 29, 2005 | 1:07 PM ET |

I’ve got a new Think Again, .  Buyouts, Payoffs, and the Public Interest and a new Nation column, , called “The Times, It Is A-Ragin'."  (I only write one a month during the summer, so they’re twice as good.)

Quote of the Day:  “There is nothing perhaps more adverse to nature and reason than to
hold in obedience remote countries and foreign nations in opposition to their inclination and interest."  — Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter XLIX

Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to be persuaded by Sean Hannity.  I've been listening to Sean and his comrades urging that law enforcement start profiling.  They make a compelling argument.  Why waste precious law enforcement time and resources when we know, WE KNOW, that the people we are after fit a specific profile.  Just look at the pictures of people arrested and going to prison.  DUH!  Theyre all the same!  Sure, those who are targeted might feel a bit hassled and it's unfair that they have to suffer for the crimes of a few.  But they're Americans and it's their duty to put up with it.

Accordingly, I propose the IRS abandon its policy of random tax audits of all citizens (reinstated in 2002) and start targeting white males who live in the suburbs.  That's where the big-bucks tax cheats are going to be found, not some secretary who lives in the Bronx.  Give me the right to issue subpoenas for a Calibration Audit (i.e., each line is checked), both personal and any businesses they manage (this type knows no boundaries) and Ill give you enough money $$$ to properly equip every soldier in Iraq.  In a time of war, to oppose profiling for tax law enforcement is tantamount to attacking our troops.

Like Sean says, during the Clinton Administration we got soft.  We passed the Tax Payers Bill of Rights under the guise of civil liberties.  We shackled tax enforcement and these vermin got the message.  They became bolder and bolder until tax cheating reached such heights that the last head of the IRS testified it costs us .  Hey neocons, that's enough for a war with Iran.  And tax lawyers?  Fugedaboudit!

In all seriousness, (the entire site is a fantastic resource on what's going on with the IRS).  Enforcement resources at the IRS have held relatively steady, but theres a noticeable decline in actual enforcement, and it starts with the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994.  Tax cheating is a partisan issue and the Dems should treat it as such.

P.S.  I was disappointed that nobody mentioned the 14th Amendment/incorporation doctrine in the Supreme Court discussion.  It's not enough to talk about the founders' intent, even for an originalist, since the Radical Republicans sought to incorporate those attitudes onto local governments.  Its a catch-22 that at one point trips you up wherever you are on the political scale (for me, it results in a broad reading of the 2nd Amendment in exchange for a broad reading of the rest of the Bill of Rights).

P.P.S. Good catch by Chris Cooper - I've been meaning to mention Uganda for a while, which some are predicting could be .

Name: Lou
Hometown: South GA
Dear Dr. Alterman,
I have read Mr. Entman's piece in today's offerings and I could not disagree more with his premise.  The fact is, that Americans have a news source nearly identical to what he proposes; it's called NPR.  Not only does NPR produce two superior daily news programs, (Moring Edition and All Things Considered), it also informs via it's 'entertainment' programs.  I speak of, This American Life, Le Show, A Prarie Home Companion, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, and many, many others.  This in addition to the World News From The BBC.  In fact, this is the source for "high-quality journalism".  The problem is that there are those in this country who wish its people to be 'bare-foot and pregnant'; hence the latest policy decisions and decision makers of the CPB.  It seems as though this administration has prostituted the truth and the mainstream news orginizations to such a base level that does not allow the truth to rear its ugly head.  Rest asured, there will always be those of us who will seak out the truth and the facts and will always demand the same.  In the meantime, like my uncle Craig, (and Nixon) used to say, "F##K 'em".

Name: Lymond
Hometown: Sharon, NH
Dr. Alterman,
Re: your quotation of Robert Entman in Democracy Without Citizens.  Truer words...thank you for that.  Once, I had thought that PBS would provide that "high-quality, independent journalism," and thoughtful political reporting and analysis.  At one time it did - the McNeil-Lerher Newshour, which actually prompted me to go out and buy a TV.  I don't know if you and your readers feel the same way, but these days The News Hour with Jim Lehrer is hardly that any more.  It seems they have been watered down and become part of the D.C. establishment.  They let administration officials come on and say whatever they want, totally unchallenged.  The collection of underlings do no probing and challenge nothing at all either.  It's enough to make me want to get rid of the TV once again...but at least there is The Daily Show and "real" faux news!

Name: Hunt Brown
Hometown: Atlanta
In re: the chicken or egg imbroglio over sophisticated journalism vis a vis sophisticated citizens.  Jefferson stated (and I paraphrase) that democracy depended upon an enlightened and literate population... but after the election of 1800 he lamented "Nothing can now be believed which is seen in the newspaper.  Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle... the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them."  As long as the Fourth Estate places profit before journalism and caters to the lowest common denominator, it will never rise to meet the obligations attendant to being the only Constitutionaly protected industry.

Name: Steve Stein
Hometown: Acton, MA
My father-in-law used to tell the story of his capture by Germans in 1944.  He was wounded in the leg, and found by a German officer.  The officer had a son who was a POW in the U.S., who wrote of his good treatment by his U.S. captors.  When the officer saw my father-in-law's dogtags identifying him as a Jew, the German pocketed them and did not reveal them to his authorities, probably saving my father-in-law's life.  Our reputation for the humane treatment of POWs does matter - my children are living proof of that.

Name: Chris
Hometown: Portland, OR
Dr. Alterman,
I can absolutely verify what Leonard M. states about German soldiers being told to go West vs. East.  My father was one of those soldiers.  No one in his unit chose to go East.  That choice meant almost certain death.  My father was treated humanely and fairly by the first American soldiers he encountered.  Once they knew he was was a foot soldier they let him continue his trek (walking) back home.  I know that this is one of the reasons he chose to immigrate to the United States and I, of course, am very thankful for that decision.

Name: Arthur Cannon
Hometown: Bath, Maine
In your reasoned reply to Kevin's own reasonable reply to an earlier piece by you, about abuse of detainees leading to abuse against captured U.S. Military, you wrote: "I do think some U.S. prisoners will suffer as a result, and I put the responsibility that unknowable number of tortured Americans squarely on the heads of the this administration, as well as its Limbaugh-like cheerleaders; though obviously, a larger share of it belongs to those in whose hands the instruments of torture are held."  I disagree.  Abuse of prisoners anywhere will always take place whenever the authorities allow it to happen.  A personal story: After basic training in 1953 at Fort Dix, NJ I was assigned to the MP Batallion there.  Shortly before I arrived there had been a scandal over prisoner abuse at the stockade.  From the bull sessions with those who had been there earlier it had been pretty horrific.  A new provost marshall arrived about the same time I did, and he vowed to end the abuse.  And he did, immediately.  Once the guards knew their abuse wouldn't be condoned it stopped.  The only complaints I had during my year there was grumbling by some guards over the prisoners having it better than them.  Those prisoners were not dangerous "enemy combatants"; for the most part they were fellow soldiers not able to adjust to military life and guilty of minor offenses such as going AWOL.  The guards were not really bad people either, just doing what came naturally when enable to.  I might well have been among the abusers had I arrived a few months earlier.  Similarly, the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and elsewhere would never have happened in the first place had the higher authorities not enabled it.  They are the most responsible, and the least likely to bear the consequences.

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington,VA
Dr. Alterman,
Your respondent Mr. Hecht decries the American tactics in Vietnam and states that our adversaries in that conflict did some truly horrible things, but their brutality is insignificant(??) when compared with our own.  How does one respond to such a statement?  Clearly, in Mr. Hecht's view, America is the great evil in the world.  Apparently, Ho Chi Minh and Pol Pot had nothing on our brutal and callous military and its leadership.  He rolls out the meaningless (yet tragic, nonetheless) statistic that Vietnamese casualties are estimated to have exceeded 10% of the country's entire population.  Vietnam was essentially a civil war, and as such the vast majority of casualties on both sides of the conflict (sans the American interlopers) were in fact Vietnamese.  Take a look at the shocking statistics that arose from our own civil war.  Dan from Philly echoes these sentiments by questioning our moral authority because "we lower ourselves to using the same dirty rules as our enemies."  I don't believe the Army is driving car bombs (VBIED's, in Major Bateman's parlance) into crowds of civilians and children.  Nor do I see our MP's kidnapping and beheading foreigners.  I am not justifying the isolated abuses which have occurred. I just find it offensive to equate the overall heroic efforts of our armed forces with the terrorist activities committed by the degenerates we are fighting.  Mr. Hecht and Dan are certainly not alone in thinking we should not have invaded in the first place, and they are fully entitled to their opinions.  But to extend their displeasure to the actions of our military is inappropriate.  At no time in the history of civilization has a conquering army gone to such great lengths to protect civilians during wartime.  Granted, war will never be perfect and for various reasons innocents will be killed and mistakes will be made.  But that possibility should not paralyze a country into inaction in the face of injustice and tyranny.  We have witnessed the result of inaction in places like Cambodia, Iraq, Serbia, Rwanda and, currently, Sudan.  Unfortunately, diplomacy has limits and rhetoric accomplishes nothing.

Name: Robert Murphy
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Dr. Alterman,
Five-odd years ago (i.e., before the Bush Administration) I never could have believed that the very idea of the U.S. military employing torture to 'advance' its goals would be subject to a national debate.  For God's sake, we are talking about a barbaric, 'medieval' practice which from a purely utilitarian perspective-all morality aside-experience has shown to be ineffective.  (To state the obvious.)  What the hell is next?  Shall we re-examine the utility of public executions?  Perhaps the institution of slavery has simply been savaged by biased, bad press; perhaps it too deserves some reconsideration?  Surreal and troubling times we are living in indeed.

Name: Matt
Hometown: Denver, CO
I read your blog regularly and have been following the debate on the second amendment rights.  I've noticed that several readers have referenced the original intent or spirit of the amendment and have to ask - why does it matter?  The founding fathers were unquestionably wise, but the nation that they were building doesn't exist anymore.  Even an unbiased insight into their intentions, whether they favored the individual right to arms or the ability to keep regional militias, wouldn't be relevant.  When the Second Amendment was penned there were no assault weapons, kevlar vests or hijacked jetliners to contend with.  They wrote laws according to the challenges of their times, and we deal with the realities of ours.  The power of an individual's weapon as a killing tool has increased exponentially through new firearms technologies, while the strength of a local militia has diminished in the same respect.  The right to bear arms in the sense that individuals could carry them and the right to form militias would have resembled one another closely.  A farmer could have a gun.  A group of farmers with guns was a militia.  A militia, while not necessarily as trained or professional, could offset the threat of the federal government's army.  A similar assortment of armed civilians today would offer little or no real balance of power to the federal army, and yet no one argues for the right of citizens to keep fighter planes or rocket launchers.  America is a living, breathing entity that relies on the spirit rather than the strict interpretations of the founding fathers.  The people who rely on the founding fathers to back up their views are often doing so because the reality of the modern world won't.

Name: David Rice
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Dr. Alterman,
I have obviously stumbled into the middle of an ongoing discussion of the Second Amendment.  I am not a constitutional scholar, or a card carrying member of the NRA, but shouldn't your discussion of the Second Amendment include the definition of militia?  My edition of the Oxford Desk Dictionary defines militia as a "citizen army, esp. serving in an emergency".  Bearing in mind that the Founding Fathers, most notably Thomas Jefferson, thought standing armies were a threat to the freedoms of Americans as well foreign citizens, it seems reasonable to conclude that the concept of a citizen army included citizens, individually armed, who agreed to coordinate the defense of their homes when the need arose.  Given the size, power, and influence of the military industrial complex in this country, and the ease with which politicians have manipulated the American people into war after war over the last century and a half, can it really be said that entrusting our government, or any government, with the sole right to carry firearms has been an improvement over recognizing that each citizen should be allowed to be responsible for their own defense?  The wars of the last century killed approximately 100 million people.  Anyone who wants to defend that record will have some incredibly heavy lifting to do.

Name: RK Jones
Hometown: Chandler, AZ
Just a response to Chris regarding the Second Amendment.  I'm assuming that he didn't actually read U.S. v. Cruikshank.  First, the case dates from 1875, and secondly, the text he cites, while correct, is incomplete.  Here follows the complete quote "...This is not a right granted by the Constitution.  Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence.  The second amendment declares that it shall not be infringed; but this, as has been seen, means no more than that it shall not be infringed by Congress."  Given the court's 20th century acceptance of the 14th amendment as directly limiting on state actions, I think Cruikshank actually forbids gun control.  Though, unless I was grossly misreading his letter, that doesn't seem to be Chris's argument. Thanks,

Name: Scott Kaufman
Hometown: Jacksonville, IL
I saw the Bush finger picture and I don't think it is the "finger."  I think it is a thumbs up.  Believe me, I'm not trying to make excuses for the guy.  I think he's deplorable and should be impeached and tried for war crimes.  But I don't want to see the left zing off on a nonissue when we have so many more important things to worry about.

RE: "surly" black players.  Not exactly.  Kevin Brown is probably the king of the surlies and widely referred to in numerous stories for his diposition towards press, fans and teammates.  Like-wise future hall of famer Jeff Kent.  Nothing needs to be added to the story of Kenny Rogers.  There are plenty more current "surly" prima donnas. And that's not even getting into the retired list.  Don Sutton couldn't get a job inside baseball with an AK47.  Steve Carlton, Mike Marshall (the pitcher) and many more.  Rudeness and self centricity know no colors.

Name: Jeff Lichtman
Hometown: El Cerrito, CA
I didn't read the WSJ article you linked to in your paragraph on how sportwriters treat black ballplayers (I refuse to give WSJ any of my money).  I should point out, though, that Allen insisted he wanted to be called "Dick," not "Richie."  I believe the habit of calling him "Richie" comes from people being used hearing the name Richie Ashburn.  Anyway, Dick Allen could be difficult, but I believe he should be called by his preferred name, regardless.  While it's probably true that different standards have been applied to ballplayers depending on race, there are plenty of cases of white ballplayers who were thought to be difficult or surly.  Ted Williams and Steve Carlton are good examples.

Eric replies:  Last time I checked both of those guys were in the HOF.  And Allen called himself “Ritchie” for the first part of his career and switched midway.  At Altercation we are purists, as far as originals go.

Name: Thomas Volz
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
You say that a friend wrote: "A piquant possibility -- what if Patrick Fitzgerald, the Left's new shining knight, had stayed in Illinois, savaged the Daley machine, and run against, say, Barack Obama as a Spitzer-esque reformer from the Republican side? . . . how would we all feel about Pat Fitzgerald then?"  The only problem with this is that Patrick Fitzgerald has only been here in Illinois for a very short time.  He came from the Southern District of New York, and was recommended for his position here by outgoing, lame-duck Senator Peter Fitzgerald (no relation).  The indictments against the Daley machine are starting to come fast and heavy, but no way could Patrick Fitzgerald have run against Obama in 2004.  Who knows - maybe he'll still run against Dick Durbin down the road.

Name: Paul
Hometown:  Long Beach, California
Google the word FAILURE and look at the first entry that comes up. Hmmmmmmmm.

Name:  Barry L. Ritholtz
Hey Doc,
Funny you should mention that old saw about “The media gives the public what the public wants.”  Not only is it not true, but quite the opposite is occurring:  As the media fails to give the public what it wants, they are finding alternatives.

As many content creators have discovered to their dismay, the public has a very finite tolerance for what it consumes.  If you cannot satisfy their needs, they will go elsewhere.  But it's not only , , and where the public has been leaving in droves; Increasingly, its been true for Journalism, too -- both print and electronic.

Its no coincidence that rise of blogs covering so many subjects that were once the exclusive province of the MSM -- politics, economics, technology -- is happening simultaneously to a decrease in newspaper and magazine circulation, as well as TV ratings. Wonder why the BBC is consistently one of the highest traffic sites in the US? Its because Corporate Journalism in America has become toothless. And the Beeb is a click away. Its says something that a large percentage of Americans have to go across the Atlantic for solid, hard hitting investigative reporting. Who knew you could outsource journalism?

Each of these content distributors have experienced a period of major consolidation and cost cutting. The sausage that comes out of the other end of that process is less diverse and of lower quality. At the same time, the internet has provided many easily accessible and free alternatives. Gee, what a surprise that all these content industries are getting clobbered.

There's more on this here:  

There's an interesting discussion over at the Chris Anderson's blog on the ascendant forces that are creating a new era of Long Tails.

There's yet another source that is helping to give rise to the Long Tail:  The continual consolidation and commensurate decline in quality of mainstream media content output. This is especially true for music and radio, true of some journalism, and (partially) true for film.

Let's look at few examples:  The quality of music found and promoted by big labels has, over the past few decades, dropped precipitously (think insipid boy bands); Making matters worse, the major radio companies use shorter playlists to play less and less (payola funded) music.

Its no surprise both industries are in decline -- while Indie labels --the LT alternative -- are actually thriving.

Then there are films -- as they become ever more expensive to produce, producers aim for the lowest common denominator. While the LCD may help an individual film, collectively, it lowers the quality of the entire film industry's output. Is it really such a surprise that movie theatre attendance is down, while Netflix is growing?

The good side of this is that it creates an opportunity for well written, inexpensive, indie films to gain exposure.

Even the mass media itself has succumbed to increasing consolidation and quality slippage:  We've seen time and again investigative journalism falter as owners attempt to increase profits by reducing expenses. Good investigative journalism is expensive and difficult; But the net result is that people trust corporate journalism less and less. That's created the opening for another source of content: The Long Tail of blogs, podcasts and video logs.

Newspaper and magazine subscriptions are in decline, as is TV viewership. Why?  Its Hamburger Helper all over again. None of these events occur in a vaccuum;  Media consolidates, quality declines, what's left over all start to look alike.

But the internet allows for an viable alternative to come into use: Blogs. Poof! There go your readers.  For Radio, its the rise of iPods and Satellites.  Poof! There go your listeners. Print media is deep into the effect. Hollywood is only starting to feel it, as is TV. (Haven't figured out about books, as we produce so many unique titles each year).

Bottom line:  Any content industry that finds itself dramtically reducing variety or quality or both, is an industry heading for long term trouble -- especially if the internet can be used to easily and cheaply find an adequate or superior substitute.

July 28, 2005 | 1:39 PM ET |

Giving the people what they want — not

One often reads an argument, for or against, that “The media give the public what the public wants.”  ( and .)  People say this frequently, and media apologists point to it as the reason they purvey the crap that happens to make them rich to purvey, but it’s way too simplistic a view to adopt.  First of all, when they say “the public” what do they mean?  The Fox News watching public, for instance, is smaller than 1/100th of America.  But the problem is far more complex than that.

As Robert Entman notes in his important (and largely unknown) study, Democracy Without Citizens:

To become sophisticated citizens, Americans would need high-quality, independent journalism; but news organizations, to stay in business while producing such journalism, would need an audience of sophisticated citizens.... Because most members of the public know and care relatively little about government, they neither seek nor understand high-quality political reporting and analysis.  With limited demand for first-rate journalism, most news organizations cannot afford to supply it, and because they do not supply it, most Americans have no practical source of the information necessary to become politically sophisticated. Yet it would take an informed and interested citizenry to create enough demand to support top-flight journalism. The nature of both demand and supply cements interdependence and diminishes the press's autonomy. On the demand side, news organizations have to respond to public tastes. They cannot stay in business if they produce a diverse assortment of richly textured ideas and information that nobody sees.  To become informed and hold government accountable, the general public needs to obtain news that is comprehensive yet interesting and understandable, that conveys facts and outcomes, not cosmetic images and airy promises.  But that is not what the public demands.” Source:  Democracy Without Citizens: Media and the Decay of American Politics (New York: Oxford University Press) 1989 by Robert M. Entman

A friend writes:

A piquant possibility -- what if Patrick Fitzgerald, the Left's new shining knight, had stayed in Illinois, savaged the Daley machine, and run against, say, Barack Obama as a Spitzer-esque reformer from the Republican side?  The GOP would not then have been saddled with: first, the guy who used to try to get his TV star wife to pull trains in corporate hospitality suites and, when he crashed, the many personalities of Ambassador Bat**it J. Crazee.  Obama would have had to run a real campaign, and how would we all feel about Pat Fitzgerald then?

At least 9 million U.S. children, or about 12 percent, lack health insurance, based on a federal survey in 2003.  Researchers who produced the latest study say that number is likely higher because many kids who lack health insurance during part of their childhood aren’t included in that number, .  Why not throw a few more hundred billion in creating a civil war somewhere instead of worrying about sissy stuff like that?

Maybe now the media will understand just how the man they love so much feels about them, .

The Bush administration is pro-torture, period. .

This, despite the destruction the objections of the professional military, , to say nothing of the evil it manifests and represents.  This is yet another victory for Bin-Laden and company.

Newsweek's John Roberts puff piece and Arianna thinks Judy M. has some splainin’ to do, .

Give Hitchens credit, .  He’s the only guy—with the exception, I suppose of Cockburn — who supports the outing of CIA agents by both Philip Agee and Karl Rove.

Congrats to John Koten, who, a long while back, had the crazy idea of asking me to write a “money and ethics” column for the business magazine, “Worth,” way back when such things were thinkable, on becoming the new editor of .

Quote of the Day:  “Elvis certainly knew what we used to know ... this kind of body motion is a private thing.  On stage, performed by a crowd of people we don't know, it degrades the very essence of what makes human beings special.” — A very confused Ms. Jane Jim Jiminez, .

Why is that only black players (Is it ‘only’ or does just seem so?) are considered to be “difficult” and “surly” by sportswriters—who are almost always white—and whose stats can therefore be cast aside when assessing their merit?  Remember Ritchie Allen, ?  (WSJ)

This just in:  “Brad, Jennifer, Not Getting Along So Hot; Liz and Dick said to be “on rocks” as well”

During the past 24 hours, I’ve seen four Web sites--Gawker, Media Bistro, Wonkette, and Kausfiles--report on this stunning news of a job ad that was posted (and filled) last April.  Pardon me, but even as gossip, this strikes me as a pretty low bar. 

Next up: “Mickey sneezes; Andy has gas.”

(And sorry to those of you who have been applying for a non-existent position)

Also, Excuuuuse me.  A bunch of people wrote in complaining that I did not telegraph the Onion joke sufficiently yesterday.  You would think a link to The Onion might to do the trick ….


To avoid conflict-of-interest problems (and perhaps create new ones) I’m stealing (much of ) this review of my friend Hussain Haqqani’s important and learned new book on Pakistan from the Wall Street Journal.  You can find it if you have a subscription.  Congrats to Hussain on his hard work and unique point of view.  There’s more about him on the Carnegie Endowment Web site.

The Ambivalent AllyBy ALYSSA AYRES… Husain Haqqani's "Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military" (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 397 pages, $35.95) should give Washington policymakers sleepless nights -- and everyone else too. Mr. Haqqani knows whereof he speaks: He enjoyed an illustrious career in Pakistan as a journalist, diplomat and adviser to three prime ministers before coming to the U.S. in 2002. The analysis in his book benefits from his deep knowledge of Pakistan's political history and, no less important, from his insider access to top political and military figures.Mr. Haqqani hopes to defy the conventional wisdom that sees Pakistan as perpetually balancing two forces, with a strong military holding in check the radical excesses of the country's mosques. Mr. Haqqani does not believe that the generals and the mullahs are adversaries at all. Rather, they exist in a kind of symbiosis -- an alliance by which each helps the other "in their exercise of political power." What is more, the alliance has been in place since the country's founding.After each of Pakistan's many coups, Mr. Haqqani shows, the Pakistani military has "adopted Islamic ideology" to fashion itself as the guardian of the nation and its core beliefs. In doing so it has repeatedly co-opted Islamist organizations -- notably the Jamaat-e-Islami -- for cover and support. The military has also followed a policy of divide and rule, patronizing existing Islamist groups while seeding new ones that might rival them.Mr. Haqqani marshals a wealth of evidence to document such claims. He describes in detail the mosque-military alliance during Pakistan's first two military regimes -- that of Field Marshall Ayub Khan (1958-69) and Gen. Yahya Khan (1969-71), both generally regarded as secular, whiskey-swilling good old boys. He thus shows that Pakistan's creeping Islamization predates the rule of Gen. Zia ul-Haq (1977-88), the man widely held responsible for giving Islam a major role in all aspects of Pakistani life. Gen. Zia, it turns out, only tightened an alliance that already existed.Mr. Haqqani argues that, over the past two decades, Pakistan's army has fueled the passions of some of the country's most extreme radicals. Bankrolling these groups has served the strategic purpose of rendering the military desirable by contrast. International observers -- not least the U.S. State Department -- thus conclude that the military is necessary for Pakistan's stability. The shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) has played an especially critical role in this game.As a 1990 ISI report on the future of U.S.-Pakistan relations concluded: "It was important to maintain the impression of widespread anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistani society, which could be assured by periodic demonstrations by Islamists. This would create sympathy for Pakistani military and intelligence officials among their US counterparts." Flash forward to 2005: Gen Musharraf's regime bans the protest rallies of journalists, feminists and members of the Pakistan People's Party, headed by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Meanwhile, Islamists manage to hold anti-American "million man marches" throughout the country. How little times have changed.Mr. Haqqani's book is not an easy read for the nonspecialist. His detailed narrative at times assumes a familiarity with Pakistan's political history that many people will not possess. This quibble aside, though, his analysis will reward anyone who seeks to understand one of the most perplexing foreign-policy challenges facing the U.S. today....Ms. Ayres, who is writing a book about nationalism in Pakistan, is deputy director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Chris Cooper
Hometown: Kent, Ohio

I was hoping that you could please ask your readers to please donate to the food charity of their choice for the people of West Africa, especially Niger, who are currently suffering from a severe food shortage due to drought and a plague of locust that ate most of their crops.  Children are dying as I write this.  Information and pictures can be found and .  Tell your readers to contact everyone they know and get the word out.  Here are some organizations that are on the ground now and could use more assistance:

  • (Doctors Without Borders)

Thanks for your time.

P.S.  I did a search of the site and didn't find ONE story on the Niger situation.

Name: Leonard McHugh
Hometown: Cincinnati, OH
Dr. Alterman:
Your exchange with Kevin in Alaska regarding the treatment of POWs excluded one important and very tangible benefit to humane treatment: encouraging hopeless adversaries to surrender.  In WWII, many German fathers - veterans of the First - advised their sons to go west if they could and surrender to the advancing Americans.  They also told them NOT to surrender to the Soviets, who would not treat them nearly as well.  The greater incentive to surrender, even if it was only a tiny minority, saved American lives.  When an enemy thinks his alternatives are fighting to the death or a trip to Abu Ghraib, he has an incentive to go down fighting and take as many GIs with him as possible.

Name: Stephen Hirsch
Hometown: Passaic, NJ
Aside from the effects of torture on the torturers, and aside from Kevin's well reasoned argument that the enemy probably won't be influenced to not torture our soldiers by our abstention, the most effective argument against torture is simple: it doesn't work.  The Atlantic Monthly had a nice article on how being nice to prisoners actually extracts much better information much more quickly.  Counterintuitive, for sure, but pretty well documented.

Name: Unkown
Hometown: Unknown
I'm in the military but unfortunately can't include my name in this correspondence.  FYI, I'm stationed in Germany.  Today I watched from inside Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) while several wounded soldiers were off-loaded at the ER.  They arrived on a blue Air Force bus, fitted with all the bells and whistles needed to transport wounded and maimed.  They were treated exceptionally well by the 20 or so LRMC personnel set up outside, but there was one glaring omission from my perspective.  The omission was not having Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, and Powell chained to a 1000 lb rock positioned by the entry door.  It would be a fitting tribute to the fallen soldiers if the key players in this elective slaughter had to personally look every one of them in the eye as they were carried off the bus.  Just an opinion from a sad and anonymous SNCO.

Name: Mark Hecht
Hometown: Boonton, NJ
Kevin of Alaska hit a nerve with his blather about "rules of engagement", and "fair fighting".  We dropped 8 million tons of bombs and 72 million liters of chemicals on Vietnam.  We targeted cities, villages, and farms.  Vietnamese casualties are estimated to have exceeded 10% of the country's entire population.  We were not "fair fighters" in Vietnam, and we are not "fair fighters" in Iraq either.  Our adversaries in both of these conflicts have done some truly horrible things, but their brutality is insignificant when compared with our own.

Name: Dan
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Kevin has his point.  You can't win a war if you throw stones and the opponents shoot guns.  War is an uncivilized, no rules game.  Strangely, civilized people have been trying for centuries to set up rules to somehow call battles civilized.  War is hell!  Everything is fair game in war!  But where is humanity going if, out of all of this, we are still using war in an aggressive mode, 3000 years after civilization was born.  It really tells us that somehow we haven't progressed much.  It tells us that we often revert to our animalistic instinct despite the best efforts of the civilized around us to discourage it.  If this isn't an endorsement of evolution over creation, I don't know what is!  But I somehow hope the United States, founded on principals that make the most civil of the 18th century take pause, would be above this.  We are engaged in what appears to be an offensive war and torturing the very people we're trying to convert to western ideals.  How can we preach that we are more civilized when we lower ourselves to using the same dirty rules as our enemies??  Especially when we could have overthrown Saddam and interrogated the prisoners without a war and torture.  In this sense, we are feeding the enemy with exactly what they want.  Sad... very sad!!

Name: Frank
Hometown: Memphis, TN
Kevin from Alaska gets very close to the point but misses it.  In the fight between "good" and "evil" each side uses the same language.  It is only our actions that separate us.  If we act the same as them then there is no difference.

Name: Chris Dougherty
Hometown: Wanaque, NJ
Just a contribution to the ongoing debate concerning the Second Amendment.  I believe those who are defending the unfettered right to keep and bear arms are ignoring the realities of Five (5) separate Supreme Court rulings and over forty (40) lower court rulings on the subject.  In all instances they found that the amendment guarantees a collective right to keep and bear arms and not an individual.  In Miller vs. Texas (1942) the Court ruled that Miller's right to carry a concealed, sawed off shotgun was not guaranteed because such a possession did not contribute to the "...efficiency and operation of a well regulated militia."  As for the definition of militia people need only look at the Constitution, Section One, Article 8, clauses 15 and 16 to see who has the power over the militia and under what circumstances they may used.  In 1886, US vs. Cruickshank, the Court said "...the bearing of arms for a lawful purpose is not a right granted by the US Constitution."  I think all of the hullabaloo over this issue would end if the media would stop marginalizing the Courts and actually report the history of this issue.

| 12:15 PM ET |

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

Ahmad’s War, Ahmad’s Peace

There are no rules about reviewing books.  No Associated Press style-guide directs the format, or the points which must be hit.  Different forms of publication have different recommendations, of course, but even these are not ironclad.  Reviews here on Altercation differ from those you might find in the New York Times, as do those in the Des Moines Register from reviews printed in the pages of Parameters.  Within academia you learn how to write academic reviews of scholarly works, but these are not universally applicable.  However, one general unstated rule is that you can either “blurb” a book, or you can review it; you cannot do both.  (A “blurb” is the favorable quote, generally from another author or expert on the topic at hand, which one finds on the back-cover of a book.)  I am about to break that rule.  There is a new book coming out, Ahmad’s War, Ahmad’s Peace, by NPR reporter Michael Goldfarb.  I mentioned this book a few months ago when I first read the manuscript.

Rather than be redundant, I’ll lead with the blurb I wrote which appears on the back-cover.

Human kind is the cruelest species.  Occasionally, however, from the depths of such cruelty there emerge individuals who rise above the surface and remind us all what is right and true, and why humanity will always have hope.  Through the example of their lives, they set forth a beacon to which the rest of us may aspire. Ahmad Shawkat was such a man.  A Kurd raised in Mosul, a poet and a humanist, he was a lighthouse of inspiration for those who knew him. Now Ahmad’s story may do the same for all of us through the vivid portrait painted with Michael Goldfarb’s pen. The tragic story of his life, and murder, is one that no historian or soldier, no statesman or humanitarian, can afford to miss.

Goldfarb, a far better writer than I, does the best job I have yet seen in explaining this place.  His background helps.  With his journalist-trained attention to the details of life as well as his NPR-trained ‘ear,’ his words work in harmony to explain.  His text achieves that most difficult and ephemeral of literary tasks; it brings the reader into the scene.  Woven into a tight and complex portrait of a friendship unexpected, his prose brings the complex terrain of Iraq into the reader’s head. 

Ahmad Shawkat survived Saddam’s prisons.  He survived Saddam’s war with Iran.  He even survived the chaos of our interventions, and met in Goldfarb his “brother from another mother.”  Across the improbable gulf of thousands of miles and alien cultures, they discovered in each other flip sides of the same coin.  A Jew from Boston and an agnostic Muslim from Mosul, they clicked over a mutual love for Faulkner and became more than translator and reporter, but friends.  All of which culminated in Ahmad’s founding of one of the first literary/political newspapers of a free Iraq.  Then he was murdered, in the city he loved, for expressing freely the opinions he concealed for so long under Hussein.  Shawkat was at once a quixotic figure, as well as an inspiring one (the two, one may recall, are not synonymous for all people.)

I suppose the most direct endorsement I can make is how I plan to use this book.

In the future, when asked, “Why Bob?” I will respond, “Read Ahmad’s War, and you will understand.”


It is without irony that I note the Iraqi with whom I am personally probably the closest is also named Ahmad.  My friend Ahmad and I were born just seven weeks apart.  When we came of age, we both became infantrymen, officers in our nation’s armies, he a commando and I a ranger.  For the majority of our professional lives, our respective jobs involved becoming proficient in the management of violence, so that we might kill one another.  I know that this might be difficult for some who might read this, but it is something that brings us together.  We are professionals.  We talk about our wives and our children, the pride of fatherhood and the variations and similarities in our cultures.  We share meals, and wish that we could drive freely about the country, wandering ancient battlefields and comparing notes on how we might have faced the situation on the same ground, twelve-hundred, or ninety, years earlier.  (Battlefields tend to get re-used over the centuries.)  A Shia Iraqi and an agnostic Catholic American, linked by their profession and love of country. There is nothing strange to either of us that lieutenants who I trained were in the armored column that nearly killed him in April of 2003.  We accept as a given the fact that officers he once trained would have done the same to me if they could have.  

I want to write about my friend, to show you another aspect of this world as Goldfarb does in Ahmad’s War, but I cannot.  I don’t even write home about him, because if I write any more, the telling details of a friendship, he would be exposed…and killed.  But perhaps you may find echoes, in Goldfarb’s Ahmad, and understand.

My Uncle Jim is now dead.  I found out via e-mail.  Because he is one generation removed, I cannot return home for his funeral.  That is just the way it is.  I’ll miss him though.

You can write to Major Bob at

So the only MSNBC show remotely describable as “liberal”—in fact, the only one on cable remotely describable as “liberal” and it is pretty remote—is its highest rated program—just as was the case when Phil Donahue had his show, which was also then, the highest rated show on MSNBC. Tucker is in last place.  What does that tell us?  And does it tell Mr. Kaplan the same thing?  You know what kind of minds want to know...

From Drudge:


This just in:  Bush To London Bombers: 'Bring It On,' .

WASHINGTON, DC—President Bush officially responded to the latest round of London transit bombings Monday, challenging terrorists to "do their worst."  Said Bush, in a televised statement from the Oval Office: "The proud and resilient people of London can take anything the forces of evil and cowardice can throw at them.  They will never live in fear of you. Bring it on.  Prime Minister Tony Blair thanked Bush for his comments, inviting him to visit London and ride the Underground in a show of solidarity.

And since nobody in the USG would dare ghost write an Iraqi blog, neither would they make up quotes from unnamed Iraqis for press releases, .

The list of abstracts for the Springsteen conference is up .  I kinda wish I were going.

Name: Dave Richie
Hometown: Birmingham, AL
Dr. A,
As you have probably already surmised, we conservatives read your blog for a number of reasons.  Not the least of these is your unflinching determination to print opposing, that is to say conservative, views, including my own from time to time.  Today's offerings are a testament to your fairness.  We thank you.  Just a thought for you to ponder about the DLC.  For years they have sought to bring back into the democrat fold guys like me who left in a huff over the left wing take over of their party.  This effort is, in my view, futile.  This battle for the hearts and minds of all America is now, with the Gore and Kerry nominations, being fought where it should be.  That is on the battle field of ideas, or lack thereof and the vision of our country for the future. The left has come very close, and has succeeded far beyond what most left leaning commentators are willing to admit.  Will the left have to moderate slightly?  Perhaps.  But if the right keeps eating its young the job may be simpler than you suspect.
Yours from the Red States,
Dave Richie

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT
The ongoing debate over "judicial activism" focuses a welcome light on the Judicial Branch of the Federal Government.  Acting on Montesqieu's formula for breaking up government power (divide-and-conquer, but this time on BEHALF of the people), the framers established the three branches of the federal government.  As they intended each to be sovereign, and to balance the other two, we can approach the subject of "activism" with that in mind.  Clearly, it is "active" to declare a law unconstitutional; it is also clearly within SCOTUS's intended powers.  This checks the Legislative Branch should same propose what amount to "illegal laws."  At other times, it is a referee between State and Federal power - many conservatives from the South have no one to blame but themselves if they feel this is an area where the Court has overstepped its authority, for if those states had seen fit to extend constitutional rights to their African-American citizens, there might never have been so much activity in the "State's Rights" arena.  In any case, this is "activism," as a side must be chosen.  Neither of the other branches can do this.  Sometimes the Court functions essentially as a dictionary - deciding what the actual words in a law mean; this is probably the least "activist" role it plays, but this raises much dander when the Court concludes that a law means something different than the Legislative Branch intended.  Always at the end of the day it has the charge of keeping the other two branches from violating our guaranteed liberties.  If that means discarding laws which reflect current popular opinion, well...that may be "activism" in the worst sense of those opposed to it, but it would still be doing its intended job.

Name: David
Hometown: Houston, TX
Brad in Arlington may be missing one key point of the Second Amendment.  I recall the founders specifically feared militias would be prohibited in the colonies by a distant British government.  That fear returned during the Constitutional Convention as certain founders worried state and local militias would be prohibited - or replaced by a national standing army - by a distant Federal government in Philadelphia.  This was one of many fears the Bill of Rights sought to allay and, in that respect, the use of "militia" does substantially change the intent of the amendment.  In my opinion, the amendment is more about making sure militias are not prohibited than about ensuring the government has no authority to regulate fire arms.  Ironic if you think about...your right to bear arms is not derived from a need to protect yourself or your property, but rather from your right to join a militia and resist the encroachment of a far away government.  Man, I hope the Attorney General is not reading this.

Name: Dale Barrett
Hometown: Yorba Linda, CA
Peter Ross Range concludes his anti-liberal screed for the DLC with the question "What more do progressives need to know?"  And indeed what more do we need to know to conclude that the DLC - and the Democratic Party it purports to speak for - has no more home for progressives than the Republican Party.  Mr. Range refers to his "liberal friends" - making it clear that he is emphatically not one.  Meanwhile, Ron Brownstein writes in today's LA Times that the same DLC has "named Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to direct a new initiative to define a party agenda for the 2006 and 2008 elections."  He goes on to say this solidified her identification with the "centrist movement that helped propel her husband to the White House."  He neglects to add that, while Clinton was securing his seat in the White House, the same centrists oversaw the continuing erosion of Democratic numbers in both houses of Congress and led the party to 2 consecutive defeats in 2000 and 2004.  Or that the so-called "center" is now what we used to call the "right" before the lunatic fringe became the governing majority in the country. You may not wish to attack the DLC but they clearly have no compunction about attacking progressives - and last time I checked, that would include you. So I would suggest that it's time to take the gloves off and pay them back in kind. Take back the party from these Republican-lite wannabes or form a new one. As for his views on the need for liberal to support the war in Iraq, I couldn't disagree more. It is our presence in Iraq that acts as the main recruitment poster for the Jihadis, not the possibly - however remote - of a democratic government. Did these people learn nothing from Vietnam? Didn't we hear every single one of these same rationales for "staying the course" thirty years ago? In the end we will leave, as we must and the longer we stay the higher the price will climb. Meanwhile, Iraq as a surrogate for "the war on terror" accomplishes nothing except to make it worse as the recent escalation should make perfectly clear. The more I see of the DLC the happier I am with my decision to register as a Green and the more I wonder how any progressive can continue to believe that continuing to hold their nose and vote for "the lesser of two evils" is going to lead to anything but more evil.

Name: Kevin
Hometown: Alaska
Mr. Alterman,
I wanted to comment on what you wrote concerning "The problem with chickenhawks."  First of all, I am a retired combat veteran.  Although I consider myself politically more conservative than what I perceive you to be, I am not a huge supporter of our involvement in Iraq, and have never been a Rush Limbaugh fan!!  Having said that, I disagree with a few of your assumptions in the "chickenhawk" piece.  First off, I disagree with your assumption that our behavior at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib will in any way influence the people ("insurgents", Al-Qaida, etc.) who decapitate their prisoners or kill and dismember wounded civilian contractors in Iraq.  We could offer "Club Med" like accommodations and treatment to the people we have confined, and the deplorable behavior of the radical Islamists we are fighting against would only continue.  Secondly, while I would NEVER dispute Senator McCain's service or devotion to his country, you make it seem as if he was treated humanely in captivity because we did not have the same policies towards prisoners during Vietnam as we do now.  Senator McCain, and hundreds more American POWs were brutally tortured in places like the Hanoi Hilton.  The North Vietnamese had no regard whatsoever for the Geneva Convention or any other accepted rules of conduct.  Their actions were not driven or influenced by how we treated their people.  Our people were not treated humanely then, and will probably not be in any future conflict no matter how we treat our captives.  We are playing on an uneven playing field, and with different sets of rules.  It is an ugly, confusing game.  I believe we need to treat our captives humanely, but we need to have flexibility to protect ourselves and our people from dangerous fanatics.  I think you want to see the American military wearing boxing gloves and following all the rules in this fight, while our enemy is coming at us with a knife in his hand, and has NO regard for "the rules."  It is not a fair fight....they DO NOT play by the rules....and never will.

Eric writes:  I think Kevin has a fair point, at least insofar as I did not make myself clear or did not think all that clearly in the first place.  I agree that many Iraqi insurgents will do what they will do regardless of what we do.  At least some of them would.  I don’t think we know enough about who they are and why they do what they do to generalize.  I do not believe there is a strict, one-to-one relationship between the way we treat their POWs and the way our adversaries treat ours.  But I do think that so long as we refuse to abide by the Geneva Conventions and other international norms and laws in our treatment of captured prisoners, we have no justification for complaint and earn no sympathy nor support from the rest of the world.  I do think some U.S. prisoners will suffer as a result, and I put the responsibility that unknowable number of tortured Americans squarely on the heads of the this administration, as well as its Limbaugh-like cheerleaders; though obviously, a larger share of it belongs to those in whose hands the instruments of torture are held.

Name: Steve Elworth
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
The New York Dolls and the Myth of the American Stones.  Love your blog.  I agree with your take on the Dolls.  But, it is important to see them as a transition band between 60's blues-rock symbolized by the Stones and NY punk, such as the Ramones.  I think the myth of an American Stones fills pre-punk 70's rock.  Most of these bands had short glorious lives such as the Dolls.  I remember two bands from Boston that were considered from different circles as the American Stones, having blues rock, outrageous lead singers, strong guitarists, J Geils and Areosmith.  Both became popular then both broke up.  Areosmith reformed as a more of a pop band.  The myth of the American Stones is interesting because what are the Stones, but a band of Englishmen wanting to be American recording all their singles for two years in the States.

Name: Gregg South
Hometown: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
Anyone interested in the David Johansen Group live recording from the Bottom Line in 1978 will likely find it under the title "The David Johansen Group Live."  This is the name of the remastered Epic/Legacy release from 1993.  It was also reissued with this title on Lemon Records in 2004.  FWIW Syl Sylvain played guitar with the band that night in addition to DJB guitarists Johnny Rao and Thomas Trask.  Johnny Thunders gets called to the stage for Babylon to finish the set.  And it is a great loud, raw rock and roll record with DJB highlights (Cool Metro, Funky but Chic, a stunning Frenchette, Donna and more), Dolls classics (Looking for a Kiss, Personality Crisis, Babylon), and R&B roots proudly on display (Love Child, I Found a Love, Reach Out, The Foundations' wonderful Build Me Up Buttercup).

July 26, 2005 | 12:20 PM ET |

Scoring SCOTUS, continued

Scoring SCOTUS is a special Altercation feature authored by Jeralyn Merritt of .

An enigma: Inquiring minds want to know more

Supreme Court Nominee John G. Roberts remains an enigma.  Despite dozens of news articles about him in recent days, there is scant new information about his judicial philosophy or personal political leanings.

reports Judge Roberts is listed in the 1997-1998 membership directory of the conservative as a member of the steering committee of the D.C. chapter.  Judge Roberts previously has said he does not remember ever being a member of the group.  Monday, the White House and Roberts .

But, Roberts' affinity to the Federalist society probably is a given.

If Roberts were a member, it would hardly be surprising.  Most of Bush's nominees to federal appeals court judgeships have had connections to the Federalist Society — as do conservative Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.  Within the administration, Federalist Society members have included former Attorney General John Ashcroft, White House chief of staff Andrew Card and John Bolton, Bush's nominee to become ambassador to the United Nations.

Last week, former Solicitor General Ted Olson of the Federalist Society.

"For those of you who just stumbled in off the street, it is my duty to advise you that you have stumbled into a right-wing cabal _ you will never be the same again," the government's one-time chief courtroom lawyer deadpanned as chortles erupted from members of the Federalist Society.

Was Olson deadpanning....or deadly serious?

Because Roberts has been a judge for only two years, he doesn't have much of a paper trail.  Democrats may ask for memos he wrote during his tenure as Deputy Solicitor General or Associate White House Counsel.  Sen. Fred Thompson, appearing on Meet the Press Sunday, said the White House will .  Monday, the White House and said it will release most of Roberts' memos from his tenure as Associate White House Counsel under Regan, but not the memos he wrote as Deputy Solicitor General under former President H.W. Bush.

End Jeralyn

“No one can say whether the birth of this new labor movement will lead to a desperately needed reversal in fortune for America's workers" but whatever Harold Meyerson thinks, that’s what I think, .

And here's Newsweek and Time in full for John Roberts.

More on military recruiting problems for Bush’s military, .

Did Ashcroft assist the obstruction of justice in Novak/Rovegate?  More .

I don’t understand why the DLC thinks its job is to continue to attack liberals, , much less to do so, as Atrios, points out , by putting words in the mouth of people who did not say them, but merely hosted them.  Me thinks Mr. Peter Ross Range owes a few apologies, while his bosses might want to suggest that he redirect his fire.  (By the way, I don’t attack the DLC, though I disagree with much of they say and do.  None of us has a monopoly on wisdom.  They have turned out to be right and I have turned out to be wrong on a few things of absolutely crucial importance over the years.  But really, what is the point of an organization with the words “Democratic” in its name that obsesses over attacking liberals, and then does so on the basis of false accusation?) 

Oh and by the way, “Favorable ratings of the Republican party fell to 46%, the lowest since Bush was elected president; 52% had a favorable view of the Democratic Party,” .  And let us note that 25 percent of Americans have never heard of Karl Rove.  (I’m afraid I feel those people are getting just what they deserve from him as a result.)

Matt Y. demonstrates another instance of Neocon, this time Gary Schmitt, sliming loyal CIA agent in support of ideological obsession and political strategy, .  The idea that these people continue to think of themselves as “patriots” presents me with a real sensation of cognitive dissonance.

This just in:  Jailbird Exec Says Chris Cox Good for Corporate Crooks, .


I saw the New York Dolls at the in Amagansett on Sunday night, (tickets, $120, $105).  When I say I saw the Dolls, I mean I saw David Johansen and a band that featured Syl Sylvain and a Johnny Thunders look-and-dress-alike doing Dolls material.  Johansen rarely if ever disappoints whatever guise he is adopting.  And some of the songs are really great.  And so are a few of their covers, most particularly “Piece of My Heart.”  I used to think that the Dolls were a local Stones who never got lucky.  I now doubt the wisdom of this observation.  Johansen is great, but not transcendently great.  Thunders was a junkie but not a transcendently great guitarist/songwriter/mythical junkie like Keith.  And Sylvain, who is the only living member of the band besides David Jo, is simply the worst guitarist I have ever heard play in a band for an entire show.  When I saw the Dolls a few months ago at Union Square, I wondered at first what Sylvain has been doing these past thirty years, but after listening to him play—as well as hearing his obnoxious faux Sopranos shtick—I figured whatever it was, he was more suited to it than to playing music.  On Sunday night he had toned down the use of the MF word sixteen times a sentence.  But he had not yet learned to play his instrument any better than say, Sid Vicious ever did.  The Dolls start out strong, have a few highpoints midway, and end strong.  There are long stretches in the show when neither the material nor the band can carry the show and it’s just, dare I say it, unpleasant noise.  This was a “reunion” that didn’t really need to happen.  I do miss the old David Johansen Group that could take the highlights of this stuff and drop the rest.  I do think they may have been the great unsung band of the punk era and I urge everybody to get their Live at the Bottom Line CD, if you like good, loud, Stonesque stuff.  Anyway, check out the organization Soldiers Ride for which the Talkhouse also sponsored a benefit on Sunday and give them some money.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Dick Price
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
This past Memorial Day, former Navy Secretary James Webb made a powerful speech comparing the esteem we hold World War II veterans and those from the Vietnam War.  I posted this comment on his speech on a Web site for 9th Infantry Division veterans, the unit that fought in the Mekong Delta, where John Kerry also fought, and where George Bush, Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, John Bolton, Paul Wolfwitz, and so many of the current crop of chest-thumpers didn't.  It may not make your cut here, but I thought you might enjoy the perspective.  Anyway:

Wednesday, my brothers, girlfriend, and daughter will join my Dad and his wife in Punta Gorda to celebrate his 88th birthday.  Leading a company of combat engineers with the 104th Timberwolf Division that was attempting to put a bailey bridge across a river in or near Aachen, Germany, my dad was hit by artillery shrapnel that broke the fibula in his lower right leg.  Twenty-three years later, I was hit by a piece of shrapnel from a Chicom grenade -- so the doctor in Dong Tam guessed, as there was a fair amount of stuff flying at the moment -- that it lodged in and broke the fibula in my lower right leg during just another firefight.  Thursday, at the pool, during his birthday party, we'll probably compare our twin wounds, as we do most every time I visit.  Those wounds brought us back together.  I had been, let's say, an unruly adolescent, determined to cut my own path from an early age.  We had drifted apart when I went off to college.  I can't say that I volunteered to go to Vietnam a few years later to please my father or to emulate his experience as a World War II vet.  There were a lot of thoughts going through my head, but that must have been there somewhere.  As the Secretary says, we have put my father's generation on a very high pedestal and, even now, so often see darts thrown at people like you and me who fought every bit as hard in often more miserable and dangerous conditions in Vietnam.  I agree with Secretary Webb that students at "elite" colleges rarely made it into combat with us -- though I attended such a college before and after my service in Vietnam and knew a core of mostly scholarship students like me there who willingly served -- but I don't think those college campus protests are what brought the Vietnam war to a close.  It was when the folks in the coffee shops in places like Mason City, Iowa, and Silva, North Carolina, had had enough of the war and the lies that swirled around it that the war ended.  "Stopping communism in Southeast Asia" from the Secretary's speech sounds as bogus now as it did then, I'm afraid.  It's like "bringing freedom to Iraq" at the point of a gun.  So here we are again, placing in harm's way the same kind of courageous, conscientious young men -- and now women -- as we were so many years ago, this time urged on by men, mostly men, from our own generation who used the advantages of their class to avoid the combat you and I faced.  Coming to grips with my service in Vietnam took time, or rather, coming to grips with the reaction of my fellow Americans to my service took time.  A friend from my high school wrestling team turned his back on me, literally turned his back, when I hobbled home from the hospital.  My "best pal" from my fraternity at that elite college (Columbia) did the same.  Devastating, no way around it.  But I've got to say that I'm proud to have served my country when I was asked.  I felt deceived about what we were supposed to be doing there, but I'm wiser to the ways of the world as a result.  But I like knowing what I know about myself that grew out of my willingness to serve and the way I was able to execute that service.  My 11-year-old daughter thinks I'm a hero.  I've told her about my combat experiences.  She's asked, and I've told her, but I don't think I've beaten my chest about it.  I showed her my Purple Heart and the others, but I don't think that's why she thinks what she does.  I think it's just the way I carry myself, which is not so different from the way my Dad carries himself.

Name: Keith Molesworth
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
Dr. Alterman:
"Re: the People": In John Caruso's letter, he points out that "the people" doesn't mean individuals.  I believe Gary Wills made a similar case, but I ask this.  If "the People" is not made up of people (read individuals) what exactly does the 2nd Amendment mean?  It grants a right to a collective group, but not to one individual?  If no ONE PERSON has a right to arms, how exactly do "the People"?  If the group of PEOPLE is made up not of individuals, how can there be any right to bear arms, so why add it to the Bill of Rights at all?  Mr. Caruso appears to forget that "the People" also appears in the 1st Amendment.  Would Mr. Caruso make the claim that "the People" can peaceably assemble, but there is no individual right to assembly or to petition the government?  That there is no right for people to assemble, but there is for "the People"?  "The People" also appears in the 4th Amendment.  Am I to believe that I have no right to be secure in my belongings, that this right only applies to "the People" in some sort of collective sense?  This type of double speak reminds me of an Alberto Gonzales memo.

Name: Eric Smith
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
You forgot to add Limbaugh's lack of service.  He had student and then medical deferments.  He never volunteered either.  Also, for the last month, Scott McClellan has been searching for "any member of the Bush clan who is in the military service now."  Has there been any updates on his search status?  Perhaps the Bush family members serving are deep undercover working for the CIA.  They may be hard to find or McClellan is afraid of outing them.

Name: John S. Ransom
Hometown: Carlisle, PA
I of course respect Kazin's perspective (from his review of Hitchens' new book in *Dissent*) but I think he is too kind to Christopher Hitchens.  Kazin claims it's not really the case that Hitchens has moved so far away from the left.  Hitchens still opposes the death penalty, makes fun of Pope John Paul and Ronald Reagan, etc., so he's not so far away from the left on some issues -- thus Kazin reasons.  But this doesn't seem fair as it ignores Hitchens' incredible bad faith as found in his columns at  There he uses willful distortion and caricature, leaps of logic and all, to skewer the left on the most important issue for the left at this moment: the war in Iraq.  Hitchens does not grant that there is any kind of reasonable anti-war position that is worth engaging.  At the same time, the end of a successful prosecution of the war is a sufficient justification for illegitimately twisting the left position beyond recognition.  This is done not to contribute to an argument, but to a propaganda campaign (not always a successful one, no doubt).  Hitchens' moral and intellectual standing, in my view, is much lower than Kazin's scan of Hitchens' positions allows.

Name: William
Hometown: Lansing, MI
First time writer here. I read with interest both Brad from Arlington's writings and the responses back to him, (regarding judicial activism).  As a conservative, I shockingly enough agree with both sides who state that the court has been "active."  I don't really believe that it has been more liberally active than conservatively active if you will.  From the Roe v. Wade decision, which finds a right to privacy that I've yet to find myself (though I agree at least partially with the end result), to the massively overactive use of the interstate commerce clause, which has almost made unnecessary the Tenth amendment, both sides have been very "active."  The question we need to ask ourselves is whether or not that judicial activism was ever provided for by the "founding fathers" or not?  I put that question out to the readers of this column as I don't know myself. 

Second, to Adam from New York, New York; while I agree that affirmative action is a redress for past wrongs, how is it a proper redress when some of whom it benefits are affluent African Americans?  Does that help those that need it?  Rather, shouldn't any affirmative action be based upon the relative economic standing of the person, rather then their skin color?  For example, when and if Tiger Woods has a child, that child may be just as eligible for affirmative action as an African American child from the inner city.  Do we think that Tiger's future child needs affirmative action?

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington,VA
Dr. Alterman,
Your respondent Adam insists that affirmative action is necessary to overcome the social and economic disparity caused by decades of slavery.  While I agree with Adam that there are serious social issues that give rise to the concept of affirmative action, I was attempting to direct the argument to the fact that the constitutional basis of it is flawed, or at least worthy of serious debate.  The question of constitutionality cannot be simply dismissed because there are deep-seated social issues involved.  A small point of order, I do not support the party of Strom Thurmond, nor do I support the party of Robert Byrd.  Conservative only equates with Republicans in the minds of ideologues (on both sides) who can't or won't accept independent thought.  I suggest Adam do a little research on who filibustered a great deal of the civil rights legislation during and before the movement.  It might be eye-opening.

Regarding my unconvincing and distorted view of the Second Amendment, I can only respectfully disagree.  The use of the term militia does not substantially change the meaning or goal, as suggested by Mr. Brenner, particularly when put in historical perspective. The militia entailed armed ordinary citizens organizing to protect their country.  As such, it was deemed important that individual citizens have the right to bear arms so that militias could be readily raised.  Granted, militias are viewed by most as obsolete.  However, the security of the free state is not (as is blindingly impressed upon us on a daily basis by the current administration), and the role of an armed citizenry, while frightening to some, still serves an arguable purpose. However, Mr. Caruso suggests that the People, as referred to in the Second Amendment, was directed toward "local police forces, sheriffs departments, militias and the like".  Again, such a definition is not supported by the historical context of the term.  I would ask Mr. Caruso if the term the People in the Declaration of Independence is similarly directed?  Clearly, the People, as used in these documents, refers to the citizenry, as noted by Mr. Caruso.  However, to differentiate between citizenry and individual citizens is not viable (and, I believe, rather disturbing). 

Mr. Caruso's strained definition would totally eviscerate any meaning from both these documents and, frankly, would negate the popular basis for many individual liberties not specified in the Bill of Rights.  I do not believe the founding fathers sought a police state where only the authorities had rights and powers.  Or a state where the citizenry had rights, but the individual citizens did not. 

Mr. Moore suggest that "there's nothing more "activist" than striking down a law enacted by Congress, a (sort of) popularly elected, co-equal branch of the federal government."  What about striking down unconstitutional laws enacted by Congress?  Is that not allowed because such laws are passed by popularly elected officials?  How about striking down referendums passed by the actual People (and not just local law officers)?  How has the mere act of finding a law to be unconstitutional become "activism"?  Activism appears to have come to mean any decision which one party or the other may disagree with regardless of the actual law and its constitutional basis.  While politics unfortunately create laws, politics should not sway the constitutional interpretation of them.  An aside, I believe sovereign immunity has been around far longer than Justices Scalia and Thomas and their views on the subject are not particularly new or vanguard.  However, Mr. Moore is correct that such is not in the text of the Constitution (I did not mean to suggest as much) and rather derives heavily from old English common law (the use of which I do not readily condone). 

The "somewhat arcane debate over constitutional interpretive theory" cannot and should not be dismissed over politics.  It is the very foundation of our country.  Indeed, I am no expert on the Constitution.  However, as one of the concerned citizenry who has actually studied the construction and history of the Constitution, I have my opinions on what the language therein means.  Interpretation is inherently individualistic and not as simple as a plank in a platform.  Justice Scalia's and Thomas' adherence to their respective claimed constitutional interpretive theories (while similar, they are not the same) is to be expected and merely differs than that of Justice Ginsberg or Kennedy or Souter.  The nuances of each, whether we agree or not, depend on the result a particular Justice wishes to reach on a particular case.  There is no monopoly on activism in the judiciary on either side at any level.

July 25, 2005 | 1:45 PM ET |

The problem with chickenhawks
Bush, Cheney, invite torture of U.S. troops

Let’s say you are a Rush Limbaugh kinda guy who thinks that when you torture Moslems, brown foreigners, the like, it’s all just a matter of fun and games like a fraternity prank.  There is a still a downside to doing it.  Not only is the rest of the world going to hate your guts, but the people who catch your soldiers are going to be unconstrained when it comes to torturing them.  Wartime rules are designed to protect combatants on both sides as a matter of self-interest rather than moral fastidiousness.  Because Dick Cheney had so many “other priorities” during the Vietnam War, including getting himself four student deferments and when those ran out, another deferment for married men with children, and George Bush was so busy doing, well, he can’t remember and neither can any body else, when it was time for them to serve in the war both men supported, neither appears to understand America’s pragmatic—as well as moral—reason for not torturing people.  It’s going to get our guys tortured too.  John McCain understands this, naturally, having served and been taken prisoner himself.  This is no doubt why he has authored legislation that would have bar the U.S. military from engaging in "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of detainees — in language modeled after wording in the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which the United States has already ratified—and from hiding prisoners from the Red Cross, and from using interrogation methods not authorized by a new Army field manual.  Cheney and Bush, however, want to block it.  (So, no doubt does Limbaugh.)  So next time one of you guys out there in Iraq finds yourself under torture from an Iraqi insurgent, well, you’ll know who to thank, .  (The New York Times, by the way, buried this story on p.A23 a day later.)

Congrats to Bush, Cheney, and all my good friends who supported this war for the birth of a new in Iraq.

Meanwhile, it turns out they are better at recruiting terrorists than soldiers.  Facing its worst enlistment crisis since the all-volunteer army began in 1973, the shortfall in manpower grew so acute that recruiters were forced to accept those with criminal records and pending criminal charges… and offer them enlistment bonuses ranging from $14,400 to $20,000 in addition to as much as $70,000 towards college loan repayments.  To retain soldiers already enlisted, the Army was forced to offer as much as $150,000 to some soldiers in key areas as a means of retaining them.  The Pentagon also asked Congress to lift the age of military recruits to 42, a full six years older than it had been three years earlier.  Despite all of these inducements, admitted Lt. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck at a Congressional hearing, "We will likely miss recruiting missions for all three components."  Read all about it .

But seriously, why are they complaining, ?  Isn’t the reason we are asking soldiers to fight and die so that the wealthiest one percent of Americans can enjoy tax cuts averaging, last I checked, $20,000 a year?  That’s what I thought.

Let’s tally it all up:  Creating a murderous civil war, badly weakening our military, creating anti-American hatred all over the world, vastly increasing the terrorist threat, getting thousands of Americans killed and tens of thousands wounding, killing tens of thousand of Iraqis, torturing hundreds, perhaps thousands more, letting our true enemies retreat and regroup, and wasting hundreds of billions of dollars,--to say nothing of deliberately outing CIA agents for political payback and firing everyone who tried to tell the truth and starving homeland security--all for a war in which we were never threatened.  Seriously, if I were Bin Laden, I’d just retire.  Everything’s going swimmingly…

Don’t miss Frank Rich, for the Plamegate angle on all this .  He asks, "The White house asked for and got permission earlier this week to wait a day before issuing a directive to preserve all documents and logs which led one seasoned federal prosecutor to wonder why they wanted to wait a day, and who at the justice department told them they could do that, and why?”  And Boehlert has more .

I’ve sent the Times Book Review a relatively short (600 word) reply to .  I’m going to wait to see what they do with it before replying here.  In the meantime, is a Nation column I wrote about Posner’s 2002 book on public intellectuals.  And is the chapter from What Liberal Media? about why it is unwise to rely, as Posner does, on Bernard Goldberg for anything.  And here, is an excerpt from a previous NYTBR essay by Alan Wolfe on why it is unwise to rely, as Posner does, on L. Brent Bozell for anything:

“L. Brent Bozell III, the head of the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group, wrote WEAPONS OF MASS DISTORTION: The Coming Meltdown of the Liberal Media (Crown Forum, $25.95) to counter Eric Alterman's claim in WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA? The Truth About Bias and the News (Basic Books, paper, $15) -- itself a reply to Coulter and other smackdown artists on the right -- that conservatives dominate the airwaves.  Logical inconsistency raises its head instantly: Bozell himself frequently appears on radio and television to make the case for liberal domination.  Bozell has no use for reasoned argument; on one page the left controls everything on television, on another commentators like those on Fox (whose bias Bozell refuses to acknowledge) do not count as counterbalance, for they only discuss the news, not report it. Such sleights of hand leave Alterman untouched.  But Bozell did not write his book to convince anyone duped enough to listen to Alterman in the first place.  A study of book-buying habits that cross-referenced the New York Times best-seller list with the ''customers who also bought this book'' feature of and found that conservatives tend to read and recommend conservative books and liberals, liberal books. The content of books like Bozell's supports the researcher's conclusion.”—(Alan Wolfe, “The New Pamphleteers,” The New York Times Book Review, July 11, 2004)

In Dissent, Michael Kazin gets Christopher Hitchens, and now you can too, .

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Richard Freeman
Hometown: Valparaiso, IN
Dr. A,
I teach Ethics to Second, Third and Fourth year Engineering undergraduates.  I try to impress upon them that as Engineers they are expected to behave in a manner consistent with the standards of their chosen discipline.  That means that you have to work within the bounds of the law AND the standard set for Engineers.  Engineers, like Doctors, Lawyers and some other professionals can lose their jobs for unethical behavior.  So why is it that people in the most sensitive positions can't lose theirs?  Bush's nuanced flip-flop on the firing the Plame leakers is another ethical lapse, by an administration that feels like it isn't bound by ethics OR the law.  Bush pledged to bring dignity and other stuff back to the White House.  We're getting plenty of other stuff.  Early in the whole outing mess, it was easy for Bush to say that he would fire anyone involved in the leak, because he wasn't worried about an investigation or public airing of the truth.  Now that there is evidence of wrongdoing, Bush has to fallback to the position of firing if there are criminal charges.  Earth to W, why was Elliot Abrams hired?  That's right, he was pardoned by your father.  How will Bush respond to criminal charges?  How will he respond if it is found that no criminal charges will be filed, but they were clear violations of government procedures and policies regarding the handling of classified material?

Name: Mark McKee
Hometown: Albuquerque, NM
Dr. E:
It occurs to me that possibly the best way to wake up the right-wing to the dangers of their activism, is to remind them that, should Mrs. Clinton become the President someday, these laws you are passing now will still be on the books.  The rights they so happily jettison under President Bush will be sorely missed when the pendulum swings back to the left as it invariably does.  How sad that the Bush supporters making less than $90,000 a year will have to go through this experience to learn a lesson that was once considered a basic part of elementary school; Civics. All the best!

Name: Rob Stafford
Hometown: Spring Valley, CA
This isn’t particularly timely, but I thought it was worth a mention.  I was tooling around the upper reaches of my cable channels the other day, and came across the BBC news.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I have watched BBC news all my life—it was the only news available in Uganda when I was a small child, when I have traveled, almost anywhere in the world, I could find it, and here, when I am not too obsessed with what Jude Law or Mel Gibson is up to, I can still find it.

Getting back to my point, on a day when American news was focused on, well...nothing much, I tuned in to the BBC and saw a long heart-wrenching report on what is happening in Dufar, and another one on the few dozen Iraqi civilians we manage to kill each day.  Both included interviews with real people, really suffering, from famine, from having driven too close to a convoy too fast—and who had paid, with their blood & with the lives of their families.

Simply put, it was amazing.  People, Americans, I believe, couldn’t turn their backs on these situations—if they were just aware of them once in a while.  Seeing a starving kid, seeing children weeping over their father’s body—it has an effect.

For my part, from now on, when I am tired of the news about Ben & Jen, I plan to tune in the BBC, or as I’ve been calling it in my head, “The Real News.”

Name: Chalkie Davies
Hometown: NY
Like many others I look forward to reading Major Bob's dispatches each week and I agree with Mr. Gibson that letters like these were written in previous wars BUT the big difference is that ALL of us with Internet access can now read his Words of I know no-one in the Military, his writings give me an insight into a world that I would not have had before and could I suggest some publisher out there sign Major Bob up with a book deal so everyone has a chance to read what he writes...

Name: R. Rowland
Hometown: New Orleans, LA
The short essay by Siva Vaidhyanathan is one of the best I've read in a long time; it's a pity it won't be reprinted in every newspaper in the U.S.

Name: Adam
Hometown: New York, NY
Dear Eric,
While Brad makes the common argument that affirmative action is "reverse racism," or, as he puts it, a "perversion of MLK's dream" (funny coming from someone who supports the party of Strom Thurmond), it's important to look at what the definition of "equal" really is, in regards to the way our society has dealt with African Americans over the years.  Mainly: Is it "making things equal" to suddenly grant rights to African Americans, neglecting the fact that years of slavery and Jim Crow laws put them at a distinct disadvantage in this newly "equal" world?  As a direct result of slavery, and pervasive racism in our society, African Americans, largely, still do not enjoy the social and economic status of white Americans.  I could site numerous statistics on the subject, the racial makeup of our prisons is one example.  It is not enough to say everything is OK now because we passed laws enforcing equality.  An effort must be made to reach that equality.  That is what affirmative action is.  If whites were denied education, property ownership, and hundreds of other rights the African Americans were denied over the years, the argument against affirmative action might make sense.  We'd all be on equal footing.  But the gross inequality created by slavery and racism is not something that ended with a constitutional amendment.  It hasn't ended despite achievements made by African Americans breaking new ground in fields they were once banned from.  Until the social and economic disparity created by decades of slavery is overcome, affirmative action is a necessary, and vital part of fulfilling the goals of the civil rights amendment.

Name: Carl Brenner
Hometown: Nyack, NY
I don't have the time, inclination or knowledge to deal with all of Brad's "retorts" regarding the activism of Justices Scalia and Thomas, but his justification of Thomas's view that the Second Amendment gives elected officials little capacity to regulate handguns sounds kind of lame to me.  How about citing the ENTIRE amendment rather than the second part only:  "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."  If you deliberately omit the dependent clauses at the beginning, it distorts the intent completely.  Not a convincing argument.

Name: John Moore
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Dear Dr. A,
Brad from Arlington, VA, completely misses the mark when he derides Siva for saying that Justices Scalia and Thomas believe that states have an "unenumerated" right (emanating from the Eleventh Amendment) not to be sued.  Brad's mistake is all the more egregious because nothing better illustrates the phony and selective way in which Scalia and Thomas (and the other conservatives on the Court) apply their "textual" constitutional analysis than their cases construing the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution.  As a lawyer who has litigated a number of cases involving the Eleventh Amendment, I hope you'll allow me some room for an explanation.

It's true that the Eleventh Amendment grants states immunity from suit in federal court in certain instances.  The text itself is fairly clear:

The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another state, or by citizens or subjects of any foreign state.

In simplest terms, this means that a citizen of, say, New York cannot sue the state of New Jersey in federal court.  Nor could a foreign citizen, such as a Canadian, sue the state of New Jersey in federal court.  Pretty simple, right?  As we lawyers sometimes say, not so.  Despite the language limiting the immunity to suits brought against states by "citizens of *another* state, or by citizens or subjects of any *foreign* state," Scalia and his fellow conservatives have expanded this amendment to bar suits against states by their own citizens.  That is, under Scalia's "interpretation" this language means not only that a citizen of New York may not sue New Jersey in federal court, but also that a citizen of New Jersey may not sue New Jersey in federal court.  It is obvious to anyone with a command of the English language that this interpretation cannot be sustained using Scalia's much-beloved textualism.  So what to do?  Scalia and his ilk seek to justify their view by claiming that giving states immunity from federal lawsuits brought by their own citizens is necessary because of the "dignity" due to states as "residuary sovereigns."  (Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706 (1999))  Whatever the merits of the "dignity" rationale, you surely can't argue that it's one based in Scalia's vaunted "textualism."

Beyond this somewhat arcane debate over constitutional interpretive theory, the real-world application of Scalia's Eleventh Amendment interpretation is the most compelling proof of his judicial activism.  The five so-called conservative members of the current court have used the Eleventh Amendment to strike down laws enacted by Congress to protect the rights of women, minorities, and the disabled.  And remember, there's nothing more "activist" than striking down a law enacted by Congress, a (sort of) popularly elected, co-equal branch of the federal government.  (Well, except maybe anointing a president of the United States, but that's another argument.)  In short, Siva's got it exactly right, and Brad's got it exactly wrong.  Scalia, Thomas, and other conservatives have no problem with creative -- dare I say "activist" -- interpretations of the Constitution when it comes to invalidating laws that they don't personally care for.  As their Eleventh Amendment cases show, their adherence to their own claimed constitutional interpretive theory often appears to depend only on the result they wish to reach.  And please accept my apologies for the longwinded response.

Name: John Caruso
Hometown: Portland, OR
Hey, Eric,
Since Brad from Arlington, the self-confessed "conservative person with Libertarian leanings," offers himself as an expert on constitutional law in his response to Siva Vaidhyanathan's quoted excerpt from Mark Graber regarding the activism of Justices Scalia and Thomas, perhaps he can explain for us a long-standing assumption about the Second Amendment that continues to trouble me.  Brad quotes the Second Amendment ("The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed") and opines, "Whether we like it or not, the language is rather clear.  Last I checked, a handgun is by definition an Arm."  Fair enough, a handgun is an "Arm," but why is the term "the people" in this amendment always interpreted to refer to individuals.  Within its historical context, "the people" in this phrase more accurately refers to the citizenry, not to individual citizens.  Eighteenth-century writers of English didn't use the twentieth-century colloquialism "people" to casually refer to individuals, particularly in legal documents.  That means the Second Amendments protects local police forces, sheriffs departments, militias and the like, but it does not plainly protect individual gun ownership.  Why isn't this ever discussed?  Consider this same phrase, "the people" as used in the Tenth Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."  By Brad's logic, shouldn't this amendment be read to grant individuals the right to create their own laws?  Thanks for the great blog.  It's required reading in these troubled times.