The Talking Dog

July 31, 2005, Fly the friendly skies

This week's visit to our comrades at Pravda gives us this sober, but accurate view of the American decision to ground future space shuttle missions (the earliest being the Atlantis, which could have been ready to launch in around a month). It means at some point very soon, NASA must make a decision as to whether it wants to risk the current crew of seven astronauts in a reentry of the Discovery, which suffered damage to its heat shields during lift-off, pretty much the same problem blamed for the deaths of seven astronauts in the Columbia disaster, or does NASA want the astronauts to remain at the International Space Station while Russian Soyuz space-craft are sent up to retrieve them (which would take a few months to complete).

The article notes a number of issues concerned with the decision to launch Discovery in the first place, given multifarious issues associated with it, and notes that there may well be political concerns associated with an evident American need to project its own technological superiority.

This troubles me immensely. Each of the prior shuttle disasters involved some sort of publicity gimmick, and an evident "damn the torpedoes" attitude to get the thing up despite problems that should have been addressed. In the case of the 1980's Challenger disaster, it was Christa McAuliffe, the "schoolteacher in space". In the Columbia disaster, it was an Israeli air force colonel. This time, there appears to have been a similar "damn the torpedoes" decision to launch the shuttle-- just to show we could do it. I truly pray that I am exactly wrong on this, and that the problems are minor and the crew can be returned safely to Earth. Or at least, that this time, NASA understands that a third shuttle disaster will result not merely the death of the astronauts involved, but of its manned space program altogether, and calls on the Russians to get us out of this.

The shuttle program, heavily reliant on retrofitting modern appendages to basically 1970's technology, is problematic. The reusable reentry vehicle was thought likely to save money from fully discarded rockets that launched the Apollo, Gemini and Mercury programs. The Russians stayed with their Soyuz program of big rockets launching smaller payloads when people are involved, larger payloads when its "stuff only". The ridiculous American need to launch both people and large payloads in the same vehicle continues to plague the shuttle program.

Let's all pray that practicalities and safety protocols trump political expediencies here, and the most intelligent decisions available to protect the safety of the astronauts involved are what prevails, and that the courageous crew of Discovery returns safely to Earth.

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July 30, 2005, It floats

"It" is China's currency, at times referred to as the yuan, and at others, the renmindi or "RMB"... China abruptly announced that it was going to permit some measure of "free-floating" in response to market conditions of its long-pegged currency.

Well, well. China (unlike, say... the United States...) has come to the conclusion that it is attached to the rest of the world, and in the end, sucking up all of the world's reserve currency... might pose as much risk to China as to everyone else (what good is owning all the money if you can't buy anything with it?)

So, China (the People's Daily piece is splendid in its Orwellian pronouncements that this has "nothing to do" with international pressure) must adjust its game plan, and let its currency float.

Somehow, I still think China will play the game well...

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July 28, 2005, Look for the union label

The U.S. House of Representatives passed "CAFTA", the Central American Free Trade Agreement, by a face-saving 217-215 margin; a few Republicans from protectionist favoring districts (meaning contributors in the textile industry) were "permitted" to vote against the measure. House Dems actually held pretty firm against the measure.

Why? Becuase Democrats are idiots, that's why. The fact of the matter is, as the Grey Lady piece notes, the combined economies of the six nations (five in Central American plus the Dominical Republic) total barely the size of Greater Tampa's economy (or Connecticut's)... around 1% of the American economy, if that, combined. In short, while this may have a significant impact on the lives of Central Americans (who may, ahem, find it more attractive to stay home while their own economies develop, rather than try to sneak in here, driving up the costs of our providing social services to them, while they help put ever more downward pressure on domestic wages), the overall free trade pact itself it will probably have a very minor effect on our economy-- certainly not a major negative effect.

And as usual, Democrats don't have a freaking clue. In short, organized labor is dead wrong on this: millions and millions of hard-earned working men and women's dollars are flushed down the toilet each year in a pointless, counterproductive, and downright stupid effort to desperately try to hold back the global economy, and "preserve jobs here". As we say in my home town,"fuggedaboutit. (To their credit, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry all understood this, and were ardent free traders... alas, the Gephardt wing of the party isn't dead... which is really too bad...)

Capital will move around; if someone in Southeast Asia will do the damned job for 1/10 the cost of their counterpart here, and the other components of the product (including transport) work out profitably... the job is going to Southeast Asia. Sorry: that's the way it is.

There is a reason why private sector union jobs are hemorraging-- now barely 8% or so of the private work force. Because unions have ceased any form of effectively pitching for, oh, the actual direct rights of the working man and woman, through, oh, things like higher wages, improved working conditions, decent sustainable employee benefits and that sort of thing... instead... see above re: fighting free trade agreements.

Given the fact that we haven't had a God damned minimum wage increase from the obscenely low $5.15 per hour (with no health insurance!) in twelve years (seven of those with a Democratic President, no less), let's just say
that organized labor just ain't doing its job.

So go ahead, fellas: you just keep fighting those free trade agreements, and get the Democratic Party to go along with it. Good move all around.

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July 25, 2005, Go Big Red

One suspects that this has to be Karl Rove's idea. Jane Fonda has announced plans for a nation-wide bus tour to protest the Iraq War.

There's just no other explanation for this. None.

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July 25, 2005, Live free or die

From the poetic justice files comes this Wapo piece detailing the rather deliberate efforts underway in S.Ct. Justice David Souter's hometown to arrange for the local municipality to seize the good jurist's home for either a hotel, or a park project, in a most unveiled reaction to the outrageous decision reached by the Supreme Court in Kelo v. New London, to wit, that any well-connected developer can get any local government to seize any private property it wants, as long as the takee is less politically influential.

Again, I tend to consider the Kelo case a bit of anomolous for Souter, who is usually on the correct side of important cases (like Padilla or Bush v. Gore, for example.)

Well, I suspect that Souter will not lose too much sleep over efforts to nationalize his ancestral home. After all, he is probably more politically powerful than those trying to spite him. Anyway, let me recommend to y'all this Jeffrey Rosen piece pointing out what I've been trying to say for a while: the Supreme Court, despite what we all say (including me) ain't all that important. The President and Congress... those matter. But the Supreme Court? Who knows what it will do... indeed, even future Justice Roberts may well go with his soon to be best buddy Souter on... abortion. That's just it... who knows?

Best stop screwing around making a collateral side show the only issue a once major party concerned itself with... Of course, that's just me. See y'all at the opening of Hotel Souter...

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July 20, 2005, TD Blog Interview with David Hackett Fischer

On July 14, 2005, I had the privilege of speaking with Professor David Hackett Fischer by telephone from his home in Massachusetts. Professor Fischer is University Professor at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and is the author of numerous works of note, including Albion's Seed, Paul Revere's Ride, and the winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for history, Washington's Crossing. The following are my interview notes, with corrections as provided by Professor Fischer.

The Talking Dog: I always start with this question. Where were you on 9/11?

David Hackett Fischer: I was sitting at my computer terminal, writing a book. I received a telephone call from my son-in-law who told me to turn on the television, and I was glued to the t.v. the rest of the day, like the rest of the country. I wrote about aspects of 9-11 in my book Liberty and Freedom... I'm old enough to recall where I was when I first heard about Pearl Harbor. I was 6; my brother and I were both at home, just having had our tonsils out... I remember my father's reaction to the news, and it made an indelible impression on me. Like September 11th, which was a warm, clear day in September, I remember it as a warm, clear, December day in Baltimore. The reactions were very much the same as on 9/ll.

The Talking Dog: I understand you are currently writing a book about New Zealand. Can you tell me what it's about?

David Hackett Fischer: This is a discussion of the values of freedom and fairness, a comparative study of two open systems- New Zealand and the United States, and how the two systems have evolved around these two values. I recall being in New Zealand for their parliamentary bye elections. The election sights were very similar to what we see in the United States, but the sounds were different. We heard different ideas of an open society at work. Here, our vision is based on values of liberty and freedom. In New Zealand (and to a great extent in Australia as well) the problem is how is to create a fair society. In some sense, I'm trying to write the first history of "fairness" (as distinct from "equality" or "justice".) American ideas of liberty and freedom developed from Britain in the 17th century. New Zealand's ideas of fairness derived from a 19th century English tradition.

The Talking Dog: How have these two values of liberty/freedom and fairness been reflected back in the Mother Country itself?

David Hackett Fischer: Interestingly, both seem to have faded in Britain itself. But as you know, the United States still seems to be wrestling with notions of liberty and freedom, and Australia and New Zealand are concerned with matters of fairness.

The Talking Dog: Am I correct that this is a similar "values export" from Britain that you observed in Albion's Seed, where different sets of values migrated to the New World during different migration patterns from Great Britain?

David Hackett Fischer: Yes, exactly.

The Talking Dog: Again, wow. That was a most unexpected bonus, and I thank you. Let me ask you about the apparently sudden surge in the popularity of books about the Revolutionary War era, particularly Joseph Ellis's recent books about George Washington and about the Founding Fathers, David McCullough's books about John Adams and now about the year 1776, and your own book about Washington's New Jersey campaign. Why do you think books about that era are suddenly popular? Do you believe it has anything to do with a resurgence in patriotism since 9-11?

David Hackett Fischer: Before 9-11 there had been a surge of books about World War II. That was driven by an anniversary. There have been many waves of interest in books about the Revolution. There was a prior wave of interest in books on the Revolution in the 1820's, as we approached the 50th anniversary, and because of a visit from the Marquis de Lafayette, and of course, the simultaneous deaths of Adams and Jefferson on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration. In the 1870's, there was another wave, for the centennial that time. Each wave tends to focus on different figures in the Revolution. In the 1870's, the theme was nation-building and the major figures were Washington and Hamilton. There was another wave in the 1930's and 1940's, when the key figures were Madison and Jefferson, and the interest was "democracy". The current wave began with books on John Adams. Now the figure of interest seems to be Washington. There is book after book on Washington. In one recent six month publishing season, there are no less than 35 new releases on Washington alone. They are publishing volumes of Washington's papers, putting knowledge of Washington on a new foundation. Indeed, there are even scheduled re-releases of books written by Henry Cabot Lodge and Woodrow Wilson on Washington, back in print, because there is such a hunger for these things. I do believe, though, that the current surge started with John and Abigail, and mostly it is about character and moral values in public life, and principled leaders. Is patriotism part of it? Yes, I agree. Certainly, as to the patriotism question, there is a sense of belonging to the Republic, similar to what was experienced after 9-11. A sense of identification with the Republic, if you will.

The Talking Dog: Let's turn to our attention to what the Founding Fathers, and in particular, General George Washington, can teach us about our current era. Specifically, I'd like your comment on a number of themes, five actually, that I found most compelling, from Washington's Crossing. I must confess, I read the chapter about the Battle of Long Island first, because I'm fascinated by that battle, because, for among other reasons, I live on the battlefield in Brooklyn...

David Hackett Fischer: I often like to read books that way: start with the part you want to read, then go back and read the whole book...

The Talking Dog: First, I was struck by Washington's improvement as a military commander in the months between the Battle of Long Island in the summer of 1776 and the Battle of Trenton in December...

David Hackett Fischer: This was one of many surprises for me. Washington improved his leadership, to some extent, by trial and error, and grew not merely as a military tactician and strategist, but evolved literally a new model of free and open leadership for a newly free society. Most books on Washington concentrate on specific tactics and specific battles. Of course, our military people study Washington from a standpoint of "operational history". And what you find is fascinating: Washington certainly lost many battles. But when you look at it from the standpoint of campaigns, and in Washington's case, there were about nine of them, he won all but one of them. By contrast, the other American generals responsible for running other campaigns during the Revolution lost most of them. Certainly, New York was a disaster, and Washington and the Americans suffered steep losses. But after that, Washington quickly learned about military leadership. In the New Jersey campaign, for example, we know of 80 battles or engagements, around 1/3 of them at regimental or brigade strength, and Washington clearly won the campaign. Similarly, in the Pennsylvania campaign, while Washington lost the major battles, like Brandywine, overall, he won the campaign. The same phenomenon went on throughout the Revolution for Washington himself, and for his two principal lieutenants, General Nathaniel Green, and the Marquis de Lafayette, who led the campaign in Virginia.

The Talking Dog: I was struck by Washington's insistence on maintaining humane treatment of British and Hessian prisoners, even as he observed their brutality toward Americans, and his insistence on maintaining the moral high ground.

David Hackett Fischer: It wasn't only the treatment of prisoners, but the humane and proper treatment of loyalists and Tories, which did not necessarily meet with complete success. Washington also insisted that the military be under the ultimate civilian control of the Continental Congress, that there be orderly civil-military relations, and the ultimate subordination of the military to civilian authority that we enjoy today. Indeed, Washington chose to step down from supreme command at the end of his service, which he did again as President, indeed, the model for Presidents after that.

The Talking Dog: I was struck by Washington's flexibility in taking advantage of weather and field conditions, and mobility, and concentrated artillery, and quick hit strikes, all of which enabled him to defeat a larger, better equipped, better trained and organized fighting force.

David Hackett Fischer: Washington worked out a way to run a campaign that proved to be remarkably effective. Indeed, many, if not all, of our military leaders have followed in the methods developed by Washington. Think of the inventiveness and flexibility of Admiral Chester Nimitz, for example. Or think of George Patton... Indeed, our military leaders in Iraq have adapted to this in this flexible way, though our civilian leadership in Iraq has been abysmal...

The Talking Dog: I'll be asking you about that a little later...

David Hackett Fischer: Washington developed open councils of war that persist to this day. While Washington was most definitely in command, and everybody knew it, he welcomed comments and suggestions and input among his officers. I understand in the United States Army today, military officers increasingly exchange ideas via the use of the internet. Again, this is a model of leadership in an open society.

The Talking Dog: Another thing that struck me was Washington's superior use of local intelligence, particularly from local sources, and his evidently superior knowledge of local geographic conditions from the same sources, and in part, taking advantage of a force fighting thousands of miles from their homes, and in another language....

David Hackett Fischer: Washington learned the value of intelligence at New York. New York was a disaster for him. His intelligence during the Battle of Long Island, for example, was wrong, time after time, and the results were catastrophic. He knew this was something he had to improve, and quickly. And he did. He developed a much more open network of intelligence sources than had been thought of before. Indeed, each of his generals had his own intelligence networks. And there were redundancies in the intelligence networks that, when analyzed, provided a degree of insight into local conditions that proved extraordinarily valuable.

The Talking Dog: The last thing that struck me was Washington's superior ability to maintain the initiative.

David Hackett Fischer: Indeed, Washington maintained the initiative despite incredibly difficult tactical conditions, and despite serious material constraints and privations. The Howe Brothers were quite good at seizing the initiative on their own, and I believe history has been a bit unfair to them; they were quite good at their jobs as commanders. However, at some point, they became baffled as to how to respond to what they were facing. A term in use today is the tempo of events and war. At some point, Washington managed to control the tempo of events. The Princeton engagements and the New Jersey campaign demonstrates how he did this. Another surprising factor is just how good British and Hessian leaders and their armies were. They were of the absolute first class. They do not deserve the contempt that history has bestowed upon them. And this makes Washington's achievement all the greater: he was quite literally up against the first team.

The Talking Dog: Now I'd like to compare and contrast some of these themes to where the United States find itself now in the war on terror in general, and the war in Iraq and particular, and ask you if you believe some comparisons are appropriate, inappropriate, or if there is insufficient data for such comparisons. First, do you believe we are making a mistake, and I believe it is a huge and catastrophic mistake, in not adhering to Washington's insistence on the absooutely humane and lawful treatment of prisoners in our custody, be it at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, or wherever, and otherwise not maintaining the absolute moral high ground?

David Hackett Fischer: I absolutely agree with that. We have lost the moral high ground. We had it in the aftermath of 9/11. We had it going into Afghanistan. Mr. Bush might have had it going into war against Saddam Hussein. But he blew it. He just blew it. We certainly have many mortal enemies throughout the Islamic world, not all of it obviously. But many-- besides Al Qaeda, Shiite groups in Iran and Palestine and Baathists in Iraq, all dedicated to our destruction. Bush was right to address the problem. And indeed, the Democrats, by and large, are not right to refuse to face up to the problem. Further, Saddam Hussein gave us the cause for war. He attacked United States' aircraft day after day for months. He supported the murder of our diplomats in Jordan, and indeed, the attempted murder of a former President. He supported Abu Sayef in the Philippines, and he supported Palestinian terrorism in Israel that took its share of American lives. But Mr. Bush blew the just war. He didn't care about the moral high ground and alienated many supporters at home and abroad.

The doctrine of preemption was also a huge mistake. The last American President who relied explicitly on a preemption doctrine to launch a major war was Jefferson Davis when he authorized the first shot at Fort Sumter before Union forces attacked. But by doing so, Davis divided his own cause, and united his opponents. It was an epic disaster of political leadership. The jury is still out on Iraq, of course. Rumsfeld's management of war bears no resemblance to Washington's. The Iraq war planning is entirely for the short run. Washington always planned for the long run, even as his men marched through the winter snows, he was planning future infrastructure, military academies and other long-range visions. By contrast, under Mr. Rumsfeld's leadership we are neglecting maintenance, manpower, and considering things like base closings.

Consider that our three largest problems in the world right now, North Korea, China and Iran, are all developing submarine fleets, at a time when we are unilaterally disarming in that area.

Worse, we are reaping a whirlwind from things like the abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Indeed, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo were mentioned by terrorists responsible for the London bombings recently. We are giving terrorists a thin veil of moral authority that is completely unnecessary. There was simply no need to have incurred this level of divisiveness.

The Talking Dog: Do you believe that we find ourselves in Iraq in a similar position to what the British and Hessians found themselves in around the New Jersey campaign, that is, operating in hostile territory thousands of miles from home, under constant sniping where the enemy has mobility and initiative and superior local intelligence?

David Hackett Fischer: I don't agree with that. I do not believe that the situation in Iraq is analogous to the Revolutionary War. Most Iraqis want the new government to work. Indeed, they are outraged by the handful of insurgents, and horrified by their actions, and many of the insurgents are from outside Iraq. It is a fundamentally different situation. Indeed, there is good reason for hope. The returns are not in, by any means. This may take years, or decades. The American people are not prepared for that, but this may resemble the Malaya or Philippines situation, and take a long time to work itself out.

The Talking Dog: Finally, I like to think "we could use a guy like George Washington right about now." Do you believe that General Washington has anything to teach us about our current strategic thinking?

David Hackett Fischer: Yes, we've touched on many of these points. Doing the right thing. Maintaining one's own ethical values even in times of the greatest of stress. A quality of leadership, whether in managing a war, or in maintaining a republic, an open form of leadership. A leadership that brought out the strengths of an open society, that took advantage of the talents and initiative of a free people. We should always be learning... Washington listened to others. These days our leaders in Washington tend to assume that everyone who is not completely for them is against them. Both parties bear their share of blame for this kind of thinking. Washington thought differently.

The Talking Dog: What do you think of the fact that there are some who might write off Washington (or Jefferson, for that matter) as a rich White slave-owner?

David Hackett Fischer:Washington was a man of a different world. Our era of political correctness doesn't take any of this into account, choosing, for example, slave ownership as its sole test for judgment and leaving it at that. This does no one a service. As Davey Crockett once said, "It don't even make good nonsense."

The Talking Dog: Professor Fischer, I think I've taken enough of your time. I'd like to thank you for being so generous.

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July 19, 2005, Is it live... or is it Memorex?

It seems like just yesterday that Judge John Roberts, Jr. had his nomination to the nation's highest profile intermediate appellate court, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, tied up for nearly two years amidst political wrangling. Well, Judge Roberts, who was part of that crack legal team that successfully wrested victory in the 2000 election on behalf of the Bush-Cheney team (and away from those irritating voters) now gets his justest recompense (at least, if you're him): an all-expense paid invitation to be the President's nominee for the current opening on the United States Supreme Court.

Well, well. I'm disappointed. I wanted to see a fire-breathing maniac with identical views to Roberts, like, say, his new benchmate, Janice Brown. Or maybe the torture-meister, "Moderate" (on abortion, the only issue of relevance!) Alberto "Abu" Gonzales. But noooo...... Well, the religious right gets its man: Roberts is a committed foe of legalized abortion (ignore what he says on the subject, and just look at his life, as a Rehnquist clerk, a deputy solicitor general, a Bush-Cheney supporter., etc., etc.) Roberts will, almost certainly, work hard to overturn that irritating Roe v. Wade decision that the Democratic Party has made preserving the basis of its continued existence. Given that O'Connor was pretty much the last holdout to its continued viability as law, what does this mean? The High Court has already taken a partial birth abortion case that will likely present an opportunity to overrule Roe, should the votes to overturn it be there.

Naturally, women's groups are duly up in arms, for the same reason they opposed Roberts when he was up for the Circuit Court. The problem is, he's there. Worse, the Gang of 14 deal means that a number of Dems (Biden, Lieberman, Landrieu, Salazar come to mind... I forget the others...) have basically taken the fillibuster off the table. (Roberts is not likely to be "extraordinary circumstances"; the GOP will hold on him, so they only need to peel off six or seven Dems to avoid even the threat of a fillibuster... and that seems a gimme...) So...

To be honest, I think it's about time the Republicans finally got what they wanted on this one (and have to face the voters!): they have been winning national presidential elections helped largely by deft positioning on abortion (5-3 ahead) since Roe became law in 1973, including, quite frankly, the last two. Taking Roe off the table once and for all will force Democrats to actually think about other things, and realize that this is an issue that really should be in the hands of the states. It has been an albatross for liberals for decades. Let the battle be fought in state legislatures, once and for all, where it belongs, and not in Congress and most especially not in presidential elections. Frankly, whether the issue of legalized abortion should or should not be left to the states, once Judge Roberts is confirmed-- and he will be confirmed-- it's really only a matter of time until that's where the issue is going. So we may as well get used to it.

Honestly. Let's get used to it. Is Judge Roberts likely to be part of a new Dark Ages, led by black robed high priests? Well, other than abortion, it's not like O'Connor was really anything more than just another hard-ass rock ribbed conservative, folks. Why Dems sing her praises remains a peculiar mystery to me... are we that defeated as a party that we have to surrender before a shot is fired, and regard the deciding vote in her numerous 5-4 atrocities as a good thing? I guess so...

The future is now, boys and girls. This is where we are. Maybe... please God, maybe... we can now finally put judicial nominees behind us, and talk about, oh, war and peace, taxation, government spending, our insane governmental subsidies of wasteful oil consumption and domestic agriculture, our growing financial dependence on China... etc.

Just sayin'...

UPDATE: The Unseen Editor forwards this discussion from Slate on Judge Roberts' abomination... I mean, decision, in the Hamdan case, giving the President a complete blank check to repudiate Geneva Conventions and otherwise proceed with military tribunals as arbitrary as the President likes... If there is a reason to oppose this man's nomination, it is not to appease pressure groups on abortion, but simply because he is a judge who has no respect for our Constitution, treaties or laws. Look for not a single senator to make this (indispensable) point, of course, as there doesn't seem to be political scratch to be made from it.

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July 18, 2005, We will sell no wine before its time

Many thanks to Steve, a/k/a the Linkmeister for pointing out that I seem to have left my comments off, in the face of what I considered a personal attack so inappropriate as to warrant serious consideration of ending comments altogether.

Well... hopefully, comments are back now... so give it a shot...

Anyway, quick note, care of the Jerusalem Post on the love-fest associated with new Iraqi PM Ibrahim Jaafari's visit to our good buddies in... Tehran... As the article notes, Iran is largely responsible for an awful lot of terrorism and sabotage within Iraq these days, so... well, I guess "appeasement" comes to mind as a word... Just one of the many unintended consequences of our intervention in Iraq: unleashing the forces of democracy may well lead to a form of Shia irredentism (or at least, closer relations between Tehran and Baghdad).
Who'd have thunk it?

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July 18, 2005, Not going anywhere for a while?

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond is about to take up the case of "unlawful combatant" and dirty bomber suspect Jose Padilla, with a hearing on Tuesday. You will recall our interview with one of Padilla's attorney's, Donna Newman, a few months back...

There's not too much I can say about this case: the President contends he has the unilateral authority to detain any citizen on his sole say-so without judicial review or other oversight of any kind. I call that sort of thing "dictatorship". To be honest, this case, involving a U.S. citizen picked up in the United States itself is even more troubling than the D.C. Circuit's recent decision allowing the Gitmo military commissions to go on (see my American Street piece on the subject.)

This one's the ball-game. Well, let's see what the nation's courts do with this one. In a word, let's hope they don't fuck it up.

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July 17, 2005, It keeps going... and going... and going...

"It" would be the Chinese economic machine... our visit to People's Daily tells us that China's Central Bank reports China's foreign exchange ("forex") reserves on hand (that's "cash in the bank") have increased to over $700 billion, with a 51% increase on a year to year basis. We can couple this with the (correct, in my view) observation of a key European Union official that China's growth and development presented more opportunity than threat to the rest of the world.

We talked about this in a recent post... is China's development an actual threat, or do we just perceive it as such? Or... is what China really doing just suckering us into spending a fortune to fend off a threat that doesn't really exist in the hope that they can ultimately defeat us in a manner similar to the revisionist-fantasy-version of how St. Ron singlehandedly defeated the Soviet Union without firiing a shot by making it spend itself to death?

The question still stands...

On a side-note, I recently turned off all comments for: one commenter abused comments sufficiently to make me reconsider whether I want to even permit comments any longer (you know who you are). The comment was deleted and the offender "I.P. address banned". But I'm not sure that's enough. As you can see from the comments that I leave up, its not that I'm at all squeamish about posting comments of people who disagree with me, even in the strongest of terms. But there are some things up with which I will not put.

That said, I'm turning comments back on... for the moment... Play nicely, boys and girls. Or I'll close the playground.

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July 16, 2005, Is this a great time or what?

Our visit to Pravda tells us about a major fallen industrial oligarch... but with its usual twist, the oligarch we are talking about is none other than former MCI/Worldcom chief Bernard Ebbers, just convicted and sentenced to 25 years for fraud charges associated with pumping up the books of the failed telecom giant.

Regardless of his philanthropic activities, the Worldcom bankruptcy, then the largest in American history, resulted in untold billions of dollars in lost value, including presumably by the usual widows and orphans who invest in "rock solid telephone companies". Bernie's books-cooking also helped bring an acceleration to an overall equities market decline, and the imposition of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and other measures, in order to at least try to restore confidence to public markets amidst massive, systemic fraud (oh, btw, Kenny Boy Lay remains a free man... presidential pardon in reserve, only if absolutely necessary.)

Certainly, it is unusual to see a successful, indeed, Forbes 400 at one time, white male, not only convicted, but facing actual justice in this country in the form of an effective life sentence... of course, Dennis Koslowski presumably knows a thing or two about that... Are times a changing? Stay tuned...

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July 14, 2005, It's not nice to fool Mother Nature

And nature, as we all know from our elementary physics, abhors a vacuum. But a vacuum seems to be what's going on in... Fallujah! According to this from the Grey Lady, some eight months after a bloody siege cost the lives of over 1,500 Iraqis and quite a few American marines... once again, that troubled (and troubling) Iraqi city may, once again, be a power vacuum used by insurgents to carry out nasty shit attacks in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq.

This is a chronic problem our military faces: the occupations of (First World) Germany and Japan involved an occupying force of something like one soldier per 50 or 60 civilians; in (Third World) Iraq, our ratio is closer to 1 to 200. Hence, frequently, even after a town is captured from insurgents, our forces tend not to have the manpower to hold it all that long. Iraq's own military is years away from being up to the job, though it will have to learn fast, as the key military and strategic goal of defeating our enemy... the Democrats... dominates the agenda starting around this time next year, thus ensureing around a 60% or 70% force reduction by the 2006 mid-term election.

Hmmm.... Let's just say that the military could use some help with this problem right now. I suggest some of you folks who have recently shown such damned fine bravery with your keyboards might consider, oh, joining up and helping out in Fallujah... no? Didn't think you would. Funny, that.

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July 13, 2005, You're Soaking In It (II)

I realize many of you may disagree with me on this, but I consider the blood of dozens of Iraqi children today who were blown up and killed by evil fucks in Baghdad who launched a suicide bomber at them while American military personnel were dispensing candy to be on the President's hands. Period. Argument not to the contrary not accepted, this time.

There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind -- none-- that every single child murdered today would still be alive right now if Saddam Hussein were still in power. And would that mean the world in general would be a better place because of it? You know what? Yes it does.

Think about all of that as the President squirms to defend the honor of Karl Rove, a man who knowingly tried to get at least one American covert operative (if not many) killed just to advance a political smear campaign to destroy a man who had the audacity to point out that one of the key contentions for our invading Iraq in the first place, the purported threat of Saddam Hussein's Iraq acquiring nuclear weapons, was complete and total crap.

Think about dozens of kids, splattered over a Baghdad pavement while they waited for American military men and women to hand them candy. I wish the American people writ large a good night's sleep, not that I need to. Since nothing else bothers you'all... why should this?

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July 12, 2005, Mmm Mmm Good...

Your talking dog is enjoying the mmm mmm goodness of watching the President and his principal advisor Karl Rove twist, twist, twist in the wind... evidently, the official line is "the President has full confidence in Karl Rove". It's unclear that the President has had a bowel movement since 1998 that was not orchestrated by his beloved "boy genius" advisor, Karl "Turdblossom" Rove, a master of getting a way with politicial and other dirty tricks who may have (finally) upped the ante a tad too much at... treason.

Bless her heart, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter from the Buffalo, NY area has a petition going urging the President to fire good old Turdblossom (via digby... who else?) Personally, I prefer that the President not fire Mr. Rove. I prefer a gen-yoo-ine Texas pissing contest... it's the President's word (two years ago he said their was no place in his Administration for anyone involved in the Plame scandal) and his oath of office and his duty to the American people... vs. his personal loyalty to a long-time friend and the principal man to whom he isn't related to whom he owes his job.

We know which way the President will go, until such time as insurmountable pressure builds for him to finally jettison Karl. What will it be? An indictment? A conviction? When the President's own party realizes that this irrational loyalty will very likely cost its own members of Congress their own jobs if they don't force the President to jettison Mr. Rove... or jettison the President? Something... boys and girls, its time to make some popcorn again... summer just got mmm mmm good again...

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July 11, 2005, Minute Rice

American Secretary of State Incompetetentalleezza Rice earns her moniker... particularly with her brilliant decision to be the first U.S. Sec. of State in over 20 years to fail to attend the "ASEAN" summit of East Asian and Pacific powers. Evidently, "Dr." Rice has other, more important things to do... like... well... whatever they are.

She refused to discuss the (asinine and insanely counterproductive and disrespectful-to-some-of-our-most-important-allies-in-the-region) move, instead saying "I'm here to take questions about the tsunami."

While visiting one stricken area in Thailand, the Secretary of State blessed the locals with an entire 41 minutes of her time (during which time, her driver kept the motor running.)

Are we trying to make ourselves into a pariah state? Because, one gets the feeling that no one can be that effective at it without trying...

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July 9, 2005, Like a good neighbor...

This week's visit to Pravda gives us this lament about the fact that the United States is not making appropriate payments to the government of Uzbekistan for the use of the Khanabad air-base there where 1300 Americans are stationed to assist in operations in Afghanistan.

Among other things Americans are not paying for is security or infrastructure for the base itself (now provided by Uzbeks) or environmental damage, according to an Uzbek foreign ministry spokesman. It is unclear from the Pravda article whether such requests for payment were ever formally agreed to (or even informally agreed to), or precisely how much money we're talking about.

In addition, this being Pravda, there's no point in seeking comment from the Americans, who might have some receipt or something... or perhaps, might reveal that there was an agreement in kind for something else, such as for training of Uzbekistan's security forces in how to quell riots, political protests and that sort of thing...

Still, given how the need to reduce or eliminate taxes on large estates is the principal American value, we'll just have to continue conducting the war on terror on the cheap. Das vindanya...

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July 7, 2005, When it rains it pours

London barely had a full day to celebrate its seeming good fortune in being awarded the 2012 Olympic games at a meeting in its former Singapore colony, when out of nowhere, a group of coordinated bomb blasts in Central London's transit system, including a bus and three underground train locations, resulted in at least 37 dead and hundreds injured in the U.K. capital. This comes, mind you, amidst presumably heightened security in Britain as G-8 leaders meet in Gleneagle in Scotland... including our own denizen of irrational security, Dear Leader himself, the President.

Those of us who haul our rear ends to work within 100 yards of another underground railway (the World Trade Center PATH train station) have all too familiar a recollection of this type of horror. It's getting cliche: "We're all Madrilenos", "We're all New Yorkers", and now, "We're all Londoners".

London, as far as I understand it anyway, removed public garbage cans and placed surveillance cameras all over the place some years ago, in an effort to thwart the Irish Republican Army. None of these measures, alas, were effective against determined terrorists; I suppose Israel could tell us that story.

The simple reality of our "war on terror" is that terror is simply a method of a particular kind of asymmetrical warfare; the bad guys in a terror war have ruthlessness and the element of surprise on their side... all of the preemptive wars we can fight won't change any of this.

Oh... btw... Iraq just announced a big new military cooperation program with... guess who? Just part of the big picture... And you thought the world was scary enough as it was!

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July 6, 2005, It's Miller Time.

On this, the President's 59th birthday, let's wish him a happy one, and hope he recovered from "that little accident." Oh, and let's take a quick look at a proper use of our nation's courts' use of their contempt power: the right and proper (and overdue) jailing of propagandist war criminal Judith Miller of The New York Times.

It appears that the source everyone seems hellbent on trying to protect, even at the risk of a most uncomfortable jailing at an actual jail in the case of Ms. Miller, was none other than the President's beloved key advisor, Karl "Turdblossom" Rove. Evidently, Rove signed some sort of a release that allowed Ms. Miller's fellow contemnor Matthew Cooper of Time to avoid actual jail (though he has to testify).

If, in fact, Mr. Rove knowingly disclosed the name and identity of a covert American operative, he is guilty of not only the specific felony of doing so, but quite likely treason, and to the extent his deliberate outing of an American covert operative resulted in the death or deaths of field operatives, he should, in all fairness, be facing the death penalty. Understand the principle of "IIOKIYAR", which most of you understand (but simply means "It's OK if you are a Republican"). Don't worry: there's no limit to what that simple phrase covers, up to and including treason. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will just have to come to that realization himself, if he attempts to actually... you know... do anything to Rove. But that's the way it is.

You see, knowingly risking the lives of American field agents is nothing short of treasonous. This is the sort of thing a Hanson or an Ames was doing: selling out our nation and its covert personnel for personal gain. In the case of Rove, it was personal and personal political gain: he was intimidating a critic of his boss, the President.

Ah yes, the President. The "smart money" (see how smart it was?) suggested it was the Vice President's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, who was the leaker. Of course, in that highly sensitive position, Libby might well have had a "need to know" who a covert operative was. As I noted in some e-mail exchanges with Diana, Karl Rove is and was a domestic policy advisor. In short, there was no reason for him to know who a covert operative was. Now, mechanically, we're pretty sure that Rove obtained this information from Ambassador Wilson's (and Agent Plame's) likely liaison to the White House... State Department official John Bolton (yes, that John Bolton). But not even Bolton could have given Rove this kind of clearance for information of that sensitivity.

Such an order could only come from one man (hint: "happy birthday, Sir"). Query whether being a likely accessory to treason, and quite possibly, the death of American agents, is, you know, some kind of "high crime and misdemeanor". Second hint: IIOKIYAR.

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July 5, 2005, Always trust your car to the man who wears the star

In good old Singapore, in between canings for chewing gum, the New York delegation led by Mayor Mike Bloomberg desperately tries to get the bid for the 2012 Olympics, while we at home desperately hope that the security and traffic nightmare that may well bankrupt our public coffers goes somewhere else... like Paris.

Said delegation got a huge boost from the arrival of America's principal political rock star, our next President (and sharer of a birthday with Leon Trotsky and a talking dog) made her way to Singapore... i.e. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY and the world).

Fortunately, plan A, the West Side Stadium, failed (helping Bloomberg to likely reelection). Not getting the Olympics should guarantee Bloomberg a second term. Ladies and gentlemen... go Paris!

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July 2, 2005, We bring good things to life

This week's visit to our comrades at Pravda gives us this discussion of today's "Live 8" concerts, including, of course, one in Moscow, which will feature a Russian cosmonaut now cloistered in the international space station. Other concerts (organized by professional do-gooder Bob Geldoff) will occur at Philadelphia, Tokyo, Paris, Johannesburg, Berlin, London and Edinburgh, and be accessible via broadcast to most of the world's population, in an effort to lobby G-8 countries meeting later this month in Scotland to put alleviating African poverty high on their agenda.

Hey, I like alleviating African poverty as much as the next guy: this planet is a big life-boat, and drilling holes in it (think "global warming", or "e-bola" or AIDS") will, eventually, kill all of us. And I like rock stars-- who doesn't? And do-gooding music... man, what can you say?

Well, it's a private initiative, and there's nothing wrong with that. Of course, a hand-out is, ultimately not the answer. The answer to resolving African poverty in less than one generation is remarkably easy: end all First World agricultural subsidies and other barriers to trade. ALL. OF. THEM. African economic development can piggy back on an effective cash-generating agricultural export industry; net losses to Africa from First World farm trade barriers dwarf aid (including debt forgiveness) handed to Africa, and frankly, my suggestion would lower prices to First World consumers.

So... good for you, rockers of the world. But this will result in a small drop in a very large body of water; give the continent a fish, you feed a family for a meal or two. Remove the barriers to the family getting to the ocean, and you can feed the continent forever... God bless...

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July 1, 2005, We Answer to a Higher Authority

Yours truly had suggested that the 7 Democratic senators' sell-out deal (that risked forcing the Republicans into the very unpopular "nuclear option") would, very quickly, backfire. Today, we get to see our first opportunity for same, when, in a historic announcement, America's first female Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor, 75, announced her impending retirement from the nation's highest court.

This is most interesting, in that it quickly puts the issue of who will replace Chief Justice William Rehnquist on the back-burner, at least for the time being, unless he uses the Court's summer break to announce his own retirement.

Forgetting that Justice O'Connor was on the wrong side on the two most important cases of our lives (Bush v. Gore and Padilla v. Rumsfeld), her last act, at least, was a defiant and correct dissenting opinion in Kelo v. City of New London. O'Connor will most likely best be remembered as the last thing standing between a now much more likely reversal of Roe v. Wade. My prediction is that the President will nominate Janice Rogers Brown, now of the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals (albeit for a matter of weeks), thereby forcing Democrats to attack an African American female on ideological grounds, just three or four weeks after concluding that her serving on what is widely considered the nation's second most important court was not "extraordinary circumstances". It is always possible the President will try a more seasoned federal jurist, and try to reach out to Hispanics, in which case, he might tap Jose Cabranes of the Second Circuit in New York; I'm still leaning Brown, though, because he may feel the need to replace O'Connor with another female. A long shot may be his recent appointment, the President's good buddy Priscilla Owen of Texas, though I'm still thinking Janice Brown.

Our friend Bill Scher over at Liberal Oasis notes Justice O'Connor's retirement and offers this piece of advice on what might be a vicious, bitter confirmation fight for O'Connor's replacement, which will almost certainly boil down to the word "abortion". Folks, I told you this was coming when the judicial fillibuster sellout deal was announced; well, its no longer coming: it's here.

Worse, the Supreme Court keeps injecting itself into everything in an attempt to make itself yet a more and more important branch of government (which in the Kelo case at least, O'Connor was trying to stop). BTW-- I call on Nancy Pelosi to resign as minority leader immediately: when Tom DeLay takes a more reasonable position than you do on a measure of law (i.e. a proposed bill to cut off federal funds to projects involving land seized by eminent domain for private purpose under cover of the Kelo decision) that will hurt the poor and powerless (and isn't Terri Schiavo), then you know you just shouldn't be there.

Anyway... there you have it. Sandra Day O'Connor, retiring. This is indeed historic. In so many ways...

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