Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Great American Songbook

On the set of Shall We Dance, 1936, are dance director Hermes Pan, Fred Astaire, director Mark Sandrich, Ginger Rogers, George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and musical director Nathaniel Shilkret.

Come back to square one, just the minimum bare bones. Relaxing with the present moment, relaxing with hopelessness, relaxing with death, not resisting the fact that things end, that things pass, that things have no lasting substance, that everything is changing all the time---that is the basic message.

---Pema Chodron

Awakened, I hear the one true thing---
black rain on the roof of Fukakusa temple.


I should be content to look at a mountain for what it is, and not as a comment on my life.
---David Ignatow
Saturday morning, and I'm delighted to read the cover story of tomorrow's New York Times Book Review. Garrison Keillor writing about George Gershwin. I've neglected to report how wonderful I thought Garrison was in the Robert Altman movie about his radio show. I had put off seeing it because Prairie Home Companion can get too cute at times, and I thought a cast of Kline and Streep and Tomlin and Harrelson might be too great a temptation in that direction. And I've heard Keillor personally is pretty aloof and out there, in his own I thought probably this movie is going to be painful.

Besides, for those of us who grew up in front of a huge radio that was bigger than we were---with glowing, radiating tubes in the back that looked like a Flash Gordon outer space city---how many times had we gone to the movies to see an adaptation of a favorite radio show? Yuck! How many were any good? The Shadow? The Lone Ranger? The Fat Man? Arthur Godfrey? A wonderful voice comes out of that dumb guy? Most were about as flat as a Lux radio version of a movie.

But, except when Meryl Streep tries to loosen him up a little, Garrison Keillor is wonderful in the movie. In fact, he makes great fun of himself as someone totally out in his own world. And he nails radio when he tells Lindsay Lohan---who also is wonderful---that nothing ever ends in radio, nobody gets old, nobody ever dies.

But of course the kind of music on the show---oh god, Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly singing Bad Jokes is worth the price of admission...and by the way, The Behind-The-Scenes feature on the DVD may be better than the movie---I say, the music ain't exactly Tin Pan Alley. Tin pans galore, but we don't hear In The Still Of The Night. So why does anyone think Garrison Keillor should be reviewing a new book by Wilfred Sheed about Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, Arlen, and Kern?

It's probably because, like me, Garrison grew up in the '40s and listening to radio, so what has come to be known as The Great American Songbook is imprinted in our neurons. If we're walking through Central Park with a girl, and Dancing In The Dark begins to play, we may have to turn our walk into a dance that will be legend in the minds of anyone who sees us. Those songs do that to people. They still do it...maybe more than ever. Many rock singers just have to try an jazz players want that one with strings. Opera singers too...and while it used to be horrible to sit through, some of them are starting to get it. I heard Renee Fleming sing You've Changed the other day...and I had to nudge Billie Holiday over in my mind to make room for her.

So Garrison, like Guy Noir, has blues in the night in his sinews. He can set 'em up, Joe, with the rest of us. The rest of us who have heard a tune on the juke box...a tune so devastating there was nothing more to do but get up off the stool, reel toward the door, and out into the lonely night. Maybe she'll be there.

The review is here
or posted in full at jazzoLOG .

Monday, July 16, 2007

Constitutional Crisis

Alessandro Pigna (1883-1903)
Paying Homage To The Emperor

The great way of the Buddhas is profound, wondrous, inconceivable; how could its practice be easy? Have you not seen how the ancients gave up their bodies and lives, abandoned their countries, cities, and families, looking upon them as like shards of tile? After that they passed eons living alone in the mountains and forests, bodies and minds like dead trees; only then did they unite with the way. Then they could use mountains and rivers for words, raise the wind and rain for a tongue, explain the great void...


When we speak of being highly developed spiritually, this does not mean that we float in the air. In fact, the higher we go, the more we come down to earth.

---Chogyam Trungpa

You are seeing impeachment as a constitutional crisis. Impeachment is the cure for a constitutional crisis. Don't mistake the medicine for the disease. When you have a constitutional crisis, the founders are very clear. They said there is a way to deal with this. We don't have to have a war. We don't have to raise an army and go to Washington. We have procedures in place where we can sanction a president appropriately, do what needs to be done up to the point of removing him from office and continue the republic.

---John Nichols on Bill Moyers Journal, 7/13/07

I am not a constitutional scholar. I'm not a lawyer. I might think about citizenship quite a bit, but I may be pretty much an average American. As I understand the Constitution of the United States, that qualifies me to register concern...and to do so with forceful words.

Whatever our history has been and however we managed it, a republic was established so that each citizen could have a fair chance of a voice in the conduct of government which so affect our lives. My understanding of how that works is through a series of representative assemblies from local to state through federal levels.

At the top, in Washington, DC, we have the House of Representatives and the Senate. Between them, they legislate and debate and ultimately create laws and programs that enable us to live better lives...and maybe help people in other countries too. A system of public education was considered vital to maintain an informed electorate.

But at that point the Congress must turn over the created legislation to the Executive, whose job it is to put these examples and results of the will of the people into action. Sometimes, for one reason or another, the President doesn't think he can or should do it...and he tells Congress that. Maybe they can overrule his judgment or perhaps the Supreme Court must decide who is right, according to the Constitution.

Sometimes a great threat materializes and war must be declared. The Congress does this and thus hands to the President the awesome duties of Commander in Chief of the armed forces of the country. When this happens, everyone in the nation is expected to sacrifice aspects of life and liberty to enable the President to expedite the battle quickly. All Americans know this and we have done it.

There have been instances in the histories of all nations when supreme leaders have used occasions of warfare to increase personal and family fortunes. We expect such events in a dictatorship, but it is the worst thing to happen in a republic. Here, there is no question but that the money in the Treasury is ours, kept and spent in trust by freely elected representatives. If those people are stealing our money for themselves, they must be stopped or all fails.

There is a distinct possibility our Congress acted in the fever of haste when war powers were handed over to George Bush. Troops have been dispatched, and hundreds of thousands of people may be dead...or forever maimed. Everyone in the world knows the intelligence, in the full sense of that word, was "flawed" in developing the case for war. But now that we're there, the Commander says, we have to fix stuff before we leave. He's not in a terrible hurry on this because 1) he can pass the mess onto a successor, and 2) a lot of money is still to be made by private supporters.

It seems the nation and the Congress disagree with the President, but now how do we stop him? We gave him all these powers, matters of "executive privilege," and now he claims the national security he is pledged to maintain is endangered by any investigation. Even if the powers were granted under false pretenses, what, short of the Senate storming the White House, can be done? Or is it time to storm the White House?

Last Friday, the same day Bill Moyers gave a TV hour to consider impeaching both President and Vice President to remove them from office , former presidential counsel John Dean wrote an article about the problem of Harriet Miers. It is auspicious he did so, for he held precisely the same position as Ms. Miers in an administration that was brought to collapse under the scrutiny of Congress. Mr. Dean did appear before investigation when called and told the truth to the best of his ability. Ms. Miers refused to do so.

In his article John Dean considers what the Legislature can do next. Papers have been drawn up to charge Harriet Miers with contempt of Congress, conviction for which carries fines and jailtime. But those papers must be handed over to the Executive Branch for implementation, and it was the Executive who told Miers not to show up. What now?

The article is lengthy and detailed, but concludes with this scenario~~~

Congress Needs To Protect Its Powers: Only One Way It Can Do So

Marty Lederman has prepared a nice overview analysis of what happens when officials defy a congressional subpoena.

Let's suppose that the House votes Miers in contempt, and the matter is sent to the U.S. Attorney. One can expect that no prosecution will be brought. During the Reagan years, the Justice Department ruled that even though the referral statute makes it the "duty" of the U.S. Attorney to take the matter to the grand jury, Congress cannot enforce that duty on the Executive Branch if the Executive Branch refuses to honor it. As noted, it would appear that under the most recent Justice memo on the subject, the White House will not permit the U.S. Attorney to prosecute the matter, and Congress has no power to overrule that by forcing the U.S. Attorney to go forward.

If the U.S. Attorney did go forward could criminal sanctions be imposed on a witness such as Harriet Miers who is (albeit willingly) following the orders of the president by refusing to honor a congressional subpoena? The issue raises serious Constitutional questions that have not been resolved by the Supreme Court. If the issue did reach the Court, how would the Court rule? Given its current conservative majority, the Justice Department and White House may be right if they have concluded that they can win before the Court, convincing at least five Justices to declare such criminal sanctions unconstitutional.

If the House votes Miers in contempt, they can also institute a civil legal action by seeking declaratory judgment from a federal court to compel enforcement of their subpoena. However, there is a growing body of law, coming from conservative jurists, calling for conflicts like this between the executive and legislative branch to be considered "political questions" that are improper for the federal courts to resolve. Thus, it seems likely that the Court might - citing the political-question doctrine - decline to take jurisdiction over this clash, thereby leaving the White House's status quo untouched. For the Bush Administration, the worse case scenario, as Lederman suggests, is simply that the courts will seek to force a political settlement.

Finally, if Miers is found in contempt, the House itself can take action against her at the bar of the House. (The Senate can similarly hold such proceedings.) Congress has the power to prosecute contumacious witnesses to require them to comply, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly reaffirmed this power. For example, in 1987, in Young v. U.S., Justice Antonin Scalia recognized "the narrow principle of necessity" or "self-defense" of the Congress in protecting its institutional prerogatives. Scalia said "the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches must each possess those powers necessary to protect the functioning of its own processes, although those implicit powers may take a form that appears to be nonlegislative, nonexecutive, or nonjudicial, respectively."

When all is said and done the only way Congress can protect its prerogatives is to undertake its own contempt proceedings. The parliamentary precedents of the House provide such procedures, by which Congress can effectively protect itself. There is no shortage of past instances where the Congress has held such trials. Readers may want to consult, for example, Hinds' Precedents and Canon's Precedents . Unfortunately, however, this machinery has become a bit rusty, for these procedures have not been used since 1934.

Congress Must Avail Itself of Traditional Procedures to Compel Testimony and/or Punish Contempt

Given the clear attitude of conservative presidents, who are doing all within their power to make Congress irrelevant, Congress should turn to these underemployed precedents and put them back to work. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees should take the lead in reviving these procedures, and the Democrats' leadership should announce that they are embracing them.

If they do not, Fred Fielding has it right: Officials are absolutely immune from compelled Congressional testimony. Bush can simply tell Congress to stop sending subpoenas to his appointees. However, if Congress does engage in a little self-help at this crucial juncture, it can be sure that not only Harriet Miers, but also George Bush, will be forced to pay attention to congressional subpoenas - for the bottom line is that Congress will not need the cooperation of the other branches to enable it to conduct proper oversight.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Department Of Divine Intervention

What is in the mind of the spring wind,blowing day and night in these groves and gardens?It never asks who owns the peach and plum treesbut blows away their petals without a word.
I want death to find me planting my cabbages, but caring little for it, and much more for my imperfect garden.
---Michel De Montaigne
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.
---Edward Abbey
God (D-Outer Space) had a special message for America on July 4: He hates you all. From coast to coast, the Lord sent his plagues down upon ye, ruining everything from that stupid A Capitol Fourth concert to simple backyard barbecues. His hate was, as always, limitless in scope and awesome in power.
He sent tornadoes and deadly lightning strikes to the National Mall, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to run screaming for shelter. Those who endured two hours of miserable huddling inside various Smithsonian buildings were finally allowed out again at 7 p.m. and forced to go through the ridiculous security checkpoints all over again. Many simply gave up, went home and wept.
In New York’s Hudson Valley, eastern Pennsylvania, Maryland, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, and across the vast waterlogged state of Texas, hundreds of patriotic fireworks spectaculars and Independence Day Parades were canceled due to ceaseless rain, tornado warnings and flooding.
Huge, deadly ocean waves off of New York’s beloved Jones Beach forced the cancellation of the July 4 fireworks show because it was too dangerous to send out the fireworks barge!
The violent, angry surf forced cancellation of major fireworks shows on the Florida coast, too. Such was the Lord’s fury that a monster wave crashed over the Daytona Beach fireworks barge and “washed more than half of the pyrotechnics off the vessel and into the water.”
In Tennessee, the popular Oak Ridge fireworks show was canceled when police learned the “shooters” were dangerous amateurs without professional fireworks licenses.
Anywhere without a deadly deluge was a broiling, drought-stricken wasteland — the entire
Southwest, South, Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes regions — and literally hundreds of local fireworks shows were called off due to the risk of apocalyptic firestorms.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Justice Texas Style

Habit, laziness, and fear conspire to keep us comfortably within the familiar.

---Poet Jane Hirshfield, whose BA from Princeton was received in its first graduating class to include women

For eight straight years George Bush hasn't displayed the slightest interest in anything we care about. And now that he's after a job that he can't get appointed to, he's like Columbus discovering America. He's found child care. He's found education. Poor George. He can't help it - he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.

---Texas Governor Ann Richards, who was defeated for re-election mysteriously by George Bush's son, also named George Bush

We went from being a party of confidence and fiscal restraint and individual liberty to being the party that encouraged intervention in Terry Schiavo's case, the disastrous experience in Iraq, Katrina, and an $8.5 trillion debt. It was hogs feeding at the trough from Jack Abramoff to Karl Rove. I'm just sad and angry.

---Author Christopher Buckley, the son of National Review founder and supreme conservative William F. Buckley, Jr.

Before a television set was in every home, American families used to sit out on the front porch after dinner every evening. They'd call greetings to neighbors and watch the world go by. After that, they might set up a card table in the living room and play a game. Sometimes a game might be saved when somebody had to go to bed, and brought out to be continued the next night. Canasta games might go on for a week.

Among the board games there was Monopoly. I always had mixed feelings about that game. There was an edge to it that seemed to encourage the person who was winning to gloat and ridicule and inflict emotional pain on the others. Losing in Monopoly felt like drowning. And so I probably shouldn't have been surprised when one afternoon in 1965 as we were playing the game, my friend from Tyler, Texas, Tony Andretta, reached around to his desk, opened a drawer, took out a loaded six-shooter, and placed it on the table.

I use Tony's real name because, while it is highly unlikely he still is alive, I would love someone who knew him to discover this article and let me know whatever happened to him. We both were in our first teaching jobs at a school in The Bronx. He taught science and I, hired to teach English, ended up chairing the social studies department. He was a bit older than I was and had fought, he said, in Korea. He'd received a wound to his stomach, which for some reason never could heal and he had to change the dressing all the time. It didn't seem to slow him down much though, and he actively pursued a life of women, brawling, smoking and booze.

We were unlikely friends I guess, but somehow our differences made us curious. He came from an oil family and so this teaching stuff was just for the heck of it. Maybe there was temporary friction with his father, something like that. He'd been married a few times and always seemed on the verge of doing it again. About the gun, he told me later that's how they do things in Texas. He said he always had a gun in his glove compartment, because in Texas if a trooper pulls you over you come out shooting. One time we pretended to be federal inspectors in a Woolworth's pet department, concerned about the condition of the creatures in there. Under threat of being shut down, the manager gave us some lizards Tony wanted for his terrarium.

After a couple of years, we went our separate ways and lost track of each other. Tony lived loud and big, and could back it up. He was the first Texas male I'd ever met. In my experience, Texas women tend to be quite different from the men. Not the loud and big part, but in how liberal and democratic they like to be. I wish a couple of them still were around to comment on the Scooter Libby business.

The Bushes may run a lot of Texas but Texans know they aren't really from there. In fact, Ann Richards in that same famous 1988 speech before the Democratic Convention said, "I am delighted to be here with you this evening because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like." [link] But the George Bushes of the world keep trying to be the real deal, faking bravado at the Alamo until finally a Mexican soldier's bullet takes them down.

Two or 3 articles have appeared the last couple days about the Libby commute to which I'd like to refer you. The first is by William Rivers Pitt, who manages to get both the indignation and history together for folks who haven't been following this closely~~~

The second is from the Associated Press that posted first reactions on Monday~~~

This morning's New York Times has collected comments from various attorneys and legal scholars~~~