The Talking Dog

September 29, 2006, Anniversary schmaltz

Amidst all our nation's domestic mirth and merriment, Mrs. TD and I are pleased to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary today (even if, for a short time, there was some doubt about the legal viability of our marriage, given its original situs.)

So, let me wish a most happy anniversary to Mrs. TD.

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September 29, 2006, Congress passes star chamber and torture

While Will Rogers always said that no citizen was safe while the Congress was in session, any claim to humor in that remark was duly eviscerated when the august body, the United States Senate, duly caved to the President's demand to "try" poor schmucks that he calls "terrorists" arbitrarily (if at all), detain them forever, and insulate anyone who would abuse them (i.e. himself) from later prosecution, and passed this abomination of a bill, making us, officially, the only nation in the world to legally and officially sanction torture. BTW, there is nothing stopping the application of this "law" (the detention and torture part, of course) to citizens (military tribunals are limited to furriners... for now...)

We all understand that the rights of any accused never get much shrift from Americans; we understand that much, and certainly, furriners believed to be terrorists (even if they were guilty of getting picked up for bounties in Afghanistan or Pakistan as was the overwhelming majority of cases) get even less shrift.

But this will not play well anywhere else. Our troops, if and when captured, will be in far greater danger than they already are. Certainly, our moral authority to demand decent and proper treatment has now been flushed down the toilet, and ex-tortured prisoner of war John McCain even had his hands on the flusher. One of these days, we all might want to consider caring about things like this. Maybe. But hey, we gotta mid-term coming up in, like 40 days...?

Not much to say. Bruce the Veep e-mails a David Greenberg quote:

"Arlen Specter said the other day that the bill 'would take our civilized
society back some 900 years.' He voted for it anyway."

That sounds about right. One hopes we are not watching anything irreversible to the fabric of our republic, or civilization (whatever that means anymore). One is certain we will look back at this someday with the greatest of shame. One hopes... that we live long enough to be around to do that.

Who knew that Americans really were this yellow in our hearts, as to be so afraid of a swarthy bogeyman that basic values of civilization are deemed unmaintanable? Who knew? Somewhere in his cave, or more likely, his villa with swimming pool, in North Waziristan, OBL is laughing his ass off. This has got to be more than he could ever have hoped for.

Perhaps he'll even tell us that in his video next month.

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September 26, 2006, Causes Du Jour

Our buddy and AmStreet head muckity muck Kevin urges us to take a look at his piece summing up the call among people of conscience (i.e. Democrats and Independents) for the immediate release of both so-called "National Intelligence Estimates" pertaining to the Iraq War, so that the President can't "nuance" his way out of the ultimate conclusion that his boneheaded decision to invade Iraq and his even more boneheaded mismanagement of that invasion made the problem of terrorism worse. Not so hard, is it?

And I am reminded of having sat through a legal seminar at work on the subject of global warming, that our esteemed Chairman of the Senate Public Works Committee James Inhofe has, in addition to calling global warming the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people, called those who believe in it akin to the Third Reich... at this point, I guess, the best "scientific" evidence I saw was in the range of political: our own National Academy of Sciences joined with those of a number of other countries to confirm that the Earth is warming up and that warming is attributable to the actions of man, and Al Gore polemics aside, even former skeptics are now convinced that the effects of global warming are not only here, but that action is critical. And yet, we have a government not merely denying the problem, but doing everything in its power to make it worse and prevent others from improving it. Led by dufuses in Congress, like James Inhofe.

And there you have it. Those are today's causes du jour.

Update: I find it somewhat amusing that this is "archive2" post number 666, it talking about global warming and all... Just saying.

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September 26, 2006, G.O.P. March to Victory-- Nuts and Bolts

The Grey Lady treats us to this year's principal GOP winning strategy: arbitrary enforcement of voter identification requirements. On the surface, one recognizes that someone just has to prove who they are for just about everything in our security crazed country (including frequently entry into private office buildings), so why not "prevent fraud" in voting?

I agree. Why not? Well... the overwhelming majority of reported incidents of fraud occur with respect to absentee ballots (as the article notes). Absentee ballots, frequently people living abroad, in the military, traveling, etc., are overwhelmingly (at least historically) Republican voters. And yet, the i.d. laws do nothing-- not a blessed thing-- to curb fraud in this area. Whereas live voting... will be met with demands for passports or driver's licenses or other documentation that poor people (including a disproportionate number of people of color) simply don't have.

And there's the rub. And THE POINT. Those people vote Democrat, by and large. And so, once again, whether it be illegal "felon purges", or long lines in poor neighborhoods (but not affluent ones), or outright crooked voting machines (probably less prominent than believed, and a far smaller part of the problem because they are less necessary!), the Republicans have concocted what may well be a winning strategy (if not necessarily one that is fair... or legal.)

Yes, yes, both sides look for any possible edge to win... I know all about the Daleys and Chicago and Tammany Hall. But these days, only one side is willing to cheat on what amount to almost purely racial lines, a throw back to elections, say, of 1956, 1906, or earlier rather than to 2006, when we supposedly have things like a Voting Rights Act, a Civil Rights Act, etc. And for the GOP, it seems, this kind of strategy has two salutory effects: it keeps down Democratic voters, of course, and, perhaps as importantly, it reminds the "base" that code-words like "gay marriage" and "family values" really do mean (Jim) what we all think (Crow) they do (again), and keeps that turnout among "the base" nice and high.

On to victory!

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September 24, 2006, The G.O.P. Victory Tour

We've, of course, been harping on the themes that the GOP wiill be relying upon to victory in maintaining control of both houses of Congress around 44, 45 days from now, including (obviously) first and foremost torture and star chambers, with Big Brother surveillance next week... all, you know, to keep us safe. BTW, given the USA intelligence report out that shows that we have made the threat of terrorism far, far worse thanks to our Iraq invasion; according to reports of the National Intelligence Assessment reported upon by the Grey Lady, it appears that AQ and other terrorist threats have metastisized and spread around the globe, it sure looks like we'll be NEEDING a party that can keep us safe!.

Again, though, as we've been discussing, the facts only matter to a point: will the public come to the conclusion that the Bush program has been a big enough disaster to turn him and his party out? Given that Karl still believes that he can play cards like taxes and gay marriage, let's just say, I don't think so.

Of course, for those Americans who like torture (certainly the majority of our elected representatives in Congress and our entire executive branch seem to love it, even if polling data is somewhat dubious on that point)... they've just got to love what is happening in Iraq, where it is clear that the new regime we have mid-wifed is now presiding over far more and far worse torture than Saddam did (at least if you're willing to believe those lying sacks of s*&^ from the U.N., of course.)

Finally, it looks like the October surprise won't be coming in September after all, as the Saudis (how the f&^% do they know these things?) are denying French intelligence reports that OBL is dead. More accurately, since the French reports were based on Saudi intelligence reports, the Saudis are saying there is no evidence of OBL's death, i.e., cutting the legs out from under the French report.

I'm sure that back in the Bat-shit Cave, OBL and his minions are rubbing their hands together and saying, to paraphrase the President, "Soon you'll be hearing from ALL of us." I mean, look... 44, 45 days isn't nearly enough time to groom a new bogey man before the mid-terms; OBL will just have to hold on at least long enough to release his Halloween video for the election week voter-riling.

At least, that's how you bet.

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September 22, 2006, "Borrow and Spender-In-Chief" Derides "Tax and Spenders"

What's old seems to be new again. Flush from the sudden goodwill from being almost certainly about to be exonerated-by-legislation for his own (and his associates' and underlings') war crimes, the President has now moved on to that tried and true Rovian tactic: accuse the Democrats of being the party of higher taxes.

No, not even I can believe it either... but that's the theme and the pose he is taking, and it would seem that this may be the full extent of Republican "domestic policy". I've said it before and I'll say it again: you just have to admire these guys' discipline (not to mention cojones).

OTOH, the only thing more certain is the ineptitude of the Democrats' response. Democrats, of course, have already been rolled and played for the patsies they are on the torture and star chamber thing (and are about to be again on the Big Brother eavesdropping). Still and all... taxes? TAXES? Not even "tort reform"?

If this s&^% actually WORKS AGAIN this round (even if it is packaged with "all fear all the time"), let's just say that we, truly, will have the government we deserve (although once again, I don't recall knife-raping a nun.)

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September 21, 2006, Dems Played as Usual, Kabuki Complete on Star Chamber/Torture Bill

The Grey Lady and the WaPo give us their accounts of detainee treatment agreements reached between Senators McCain, Warner and Graham, and the White House.

I have a pretty good idea what the bills are about (stripping jurisdiction from federal courts to hear habeas corpus writs, and ostensibly trying to provide the dictatorial tools Cheney wants by Congressional rubber stamping what John Yoo had previously told the President he could do by "unitary executive" fiat)... they are about denying any semblance of a fair trial to terror suspects, they are about wink-winking to torture carried out by the CIA, and mostly, they are about trying to remove judicial oversight from any of this, because the Bush Administration figures it will make some lemonade out of the lemons handed to it by the Supreme Court in the Hamdan case.

As Marty Lederman writes at Balkinization, we will thus be the only country in the world to formally say that the Geneva Conventions are a dead letter: i.e., as a matter of law, no one can enforce any provision of them in our courts (and hence, whether or not we comply is entirely up to executive whim... good luck there, as they say.) Further, as Marty notes, it appears that all of the nasty procedures the CIA wants (standing someone up for days, keeping them in freezing cold cells with minimal clothing, that sort of thing... things that are, you know, torture, though now Congress can go along and tell us otherwise) are authorized by legislation...

The amazing thing is that the Democrats could have shown some backbone, and basically taken a chance at showing some principle, and it would have helped them in November. Instead, Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid and the gang (pricks) were content to hang their hats on the good will of Republican Presidential candidate John McCain. Good move, Chuck. As interviewee after interviewee tells me, it's not as if the Democrats aren't already perceived as soft on national security; the thing is, they are also seen as craven, opportunistic and without principles. And now, without firing a shot, the Democrats have not only reinforced those perceptions, but have helped both McCain and Bush to solidify their own positions (indeed, now that whole October surprise thing might not even be necessary...) And they've helped to legalize torture and star chamber tribunals. In short, way to go.

Our so-called opposition party sits by as our nation legislates itself into pariah state status when they have the votes to stop this bullshit (with a filibuster, if nothing else.) Yeah, yeah... the formal vote on this abomination still has to take place.

But there's no point in false optimism: this deal is done.

It's a God damned good thing we'll likely be dead in 10 or 20 years from global warming and won't have to be around for the full scope of this shitstorm of evil we are unleashing to blow back at us. Because otherwise... I'd really find this codification of our national depravity to be... well, downright depressing.

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September 20, 2006, Tomorrow's news today... or something

Let me quote Bill Scher (author of "Wait! Don't move to Canada!"), who I interviewed, just one post down:

As to national security, this is another matter. What we really need to do is lay out our foreign policy principles and what we want to achieve globally. One area is promoting democracy-- that is a key liberal goal and principle, to be sure. And George W. Bush SAYS the same thing-- HE wants to promote democracy. Ah, but he doesn't DO it. And we can point to example after example, from condoning a military dictatorship in Pakistan, helping to oust the democratally elected leader in Haiti, supporting dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and other examples. While the rhetoric is there, Bush actually does the opposite of promoting democracy in practice. And our failure to support democracies only strengthens terrorists, and undermines, rather than strengthens, our security.

And, would you believe it, the Washington Post gives us this story, decrying the Bush Administration's tepid support of democracy in the context of muted at best statements of "concern" about the coup deposing a democratically elected government in Thailand, even the very day Bush made "pro-democracy" statements to the U.N. General Assembly.

As Billmon observes, while Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra seems to be a corrupt-self-dealing-super-rich-media-mogul, i.e., the Berluschoni of Thailand, he is also ungodly popular in rural areas for redistributional programs, improved health care and the like, i.e., the Hugo Chavez of Thailand. Hence, needless to say, few tears were probably shed in Washington over Thaksin's ouster. (Note also Billmon's punchline, that the Administration looks forward to a new free-trade agreement with Thailand as soon as the coup settles in!)

Still, proving Bill Scher's prescience, the WaPo piece also notes Bush's tacit support of military-coup-leader Pervez Musharaf in Pakistan, obviously in the thick of the region we do care about (running, of course, from Iraq to Afghanistan).

So... life hear at the talking dog imitates life in general... only before it happens. So there. OK, boys and girls: why don't we all ask the President how come he goes to the UN and says he supports democracy and democracies, but when he sees a rather large one taken down right before his eyes, he won't even rhetorically behave as if he means his own words, or even meet the deposed PM. How come, Mr. President? Perhaps we can rightly conclude that you don't mean anything you say, and that it's all just cover to beat up on your domestic opponents as an after-thought for your abysmal failures in Iraq, and soon, Afghanistan and maybe Iran?

Given the President's (1) personal and political lineage, i.e., he only has his job because of his birth order and whose son he is, and (2) his seeming obsession with the perverse minutiae of legalizing torture (we won't even mention the proposed enactment of star chambers and proposed codification of domestic secret police surveillance methods), maybe we should start referring to him as "Qusay Bush" and perhaps to his even-more-torture-obsessed second in command as "Uday Cheney" (reverse the names if you like; it still works, even if their governance, by and large, doesn't.)

All affectionately, of course. (Yes, yes, I know it's a hyperbole... though sadly, not as much of one as we'd all like it to be.) In the meantime, folks... stay tuned to "the talking dog" for more of tomorrow's news... today!

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September 20, 2006, TD Blog Interview with Bill Scher

Bill Scher is the executive editor of the popular Liberal Oasis web-site, among whose credits include the first interview with a presidential candidate by a blog. Mr. Scher is the author of "Wait! Don't Move to Canada!: A Stay-and-Fight Strategy to Win Back America", a handbook of political strategies for liberals interested in advancing the liberal cause. Mr. Scher also appears regularly on Air America's "Majority Report". On September 19, 2006, I had the privilege of speaking to Mr. Scher by telephone; what follows are my interview notes, as corrected where appropriate by Mr. Scher.

The Talking Dog: I'll belay my usual first question to ask if you are still speaking with Michelle Malkin (who I understand was your editor at a student publication at Oberlin College)?

Bill Scher: Funny you should mention her. Michelle Malkin e-mailed me last night-- she saw me in the Clinton picture with the other bloggers! She hadn't realized it was me behind Liberal Oasis before, but suggested that we get together the next time I am in the Washington, D.C. area!

The Talking Dog: Now, I'll ask you my usual first question, "where were you on September 11, 2001?"

Bill Scher: I was living in New York at the time, but on September 11 itself, I wasn't in New York. I had gone to a wedding in Lake Tahoe, and was spending a few extra days in San Francisco. On a typical day in New York, I would have been on the 2 or 3 train under the World Trade Center at that moment. Instead, I was sleeping in San Francisco. A friend called early, and we wanted to get the t.v. on. But the t.v. wasn't installed, and so we scrambled about to get a television and antenna set up. Needless to say, it was a disturbing day, especially since I grew up, lived and worked in New York.

It was a Tuesday. We couldn't get back until Saturday. I was on one of the first two flights to JFK. The woman at the check-in desk told us that the first flight was delayed becase there was a security problem in New York! Fortunately, we got in fine. Shortly after I got back, I went to Ground Zero, and I told my then girlfriend (and now wife) that I felt my lungs start to hurt-- I sensed that we should get out of there.

The Talking Dog: Why has September 11th been used so successfully as a right wing hammer, and how can we successfully overcome it?

Bill Scher: It's been used successfully because there is a deep seated stereotype that Democrats are weak on national security, and Republicans are strong. It's a no-brainer for them to use the natural fear for one's security in such circumstances... you want the guys who you believe will protect you to be in power during a crisis situation. And when there is such a deep-seated stereotype, the facts don't matter. You're not going to be able to explain that Bill Clinton was far more focused on trying to thwart terrorism than George W. Bush.

The stereotype will overwhelm the facts. So... how do you get rid of the stereotype?

You can't talk your way out of it, no matter how tough you talk. You have to demonstrably prove that the stereotype is false. You have to either successfully prosecute a war, like FDR in World War II, or successfully avert war while keeping us strong, like JFK in the Cuban Missile Crisis. But to do that, you have to be in power. And it can be hard to get in power because of the "weak" stereotype, so you have a kind of a Catch-22 situation.

Does that mean Democrats can never return to power? No. Two things could happen: (1) the fear of terrorism will subside, and other issues, domestic issues where Democrats are stronger on, will come into play, or (2) enough disasters (such as Iraq) will accumulate so that people realize that the Republicans are not doing a very good job on national security, and it is time to give Democrats a chance. Of course, both of those scenarios are beyond our control.

So what should be done in the interim? We should articulate our own overarching foreign policy vision and principles, and lay them out consistently. Consistency builds trust. So when the moment of public perception shifts, we are ready to seize the moment, and the public is in a position to trust us, and we make it easier for voters to go with our new direction.

The Talking Dog: As one particular strategy with the last question, do you believe Democrats and liberals should make it a point of courting police, fire and other rescue workers unions, and, for example, military veterans associations, to show that liberals are every bit as tough on national security?

Bill Scher: Actually, none of those are bad things to do, and indeed, are good things to do in their own right... we should be courting these groups along with other professional and public servant groups anyway. The fact is, though, that liberals and Democrats have more than a simple image problem. John Kerry did exactly what you suggest-- he actively campaigned with groups like this, especially his old military colleagues. And it wasn't enough.

Image certainly matters-- but to a degree. The image must be backed up with substance... or it doesn't go where we need it to. If we aren't explaining how our foreign policy principles are better than theirs for keeping us safe and secure, the photo ops are meaningless.

The Talking Dog: Do you have any other strategies to overcome what I call this backstory, you call the stereotype (and Dr. George Lakoff would use the term "framing") that only Republicans can be trusted on security (btw, that's both national security and crime fighting)?

Bill Scher: The Democrats, at least nationally, seem to have less of a problem on the crime issue. In large part, this is because Bill Clinton was perceived as tough on crime. As to national security, this is another matter.
What we really need to do is lay out our foreign policy principles and what we want to achieve globally. One area is promoting democracy-- that is a key liberal goal and principle, to be sure. And George W. Bush SAYS the same thing-- HE wants to promote democracy. Ah, but he doesn't DO it. And we can point to example after example, from condoning a military dictatorship in Pakistan, helping to oust the democratally elected leader in Haiti, supporting dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and other examples. While the rhetoric is there, Bush actually does the opposite of promoting democracy in practice. And our failure to support democracies only strengthens terrorists, and undermines, rather than strengthens, our security.

The Talking Dog: Following up on Lakoff, would you accept the notion that certainly people who self-identify as conservatives can nonetheless be reached, such as, for example, on issues like the environment?

Bill Scher: Certainly, there are some conservatives who are reachable; of course, there are some who are not. Look at it this way: in polling, 34% of Americans say they are conservative. But if you ask specific questions, 93% tell you that they believe that the government should be responsible for protecting the environment; 87% believe the government should do more to advance public education; 79% believe the government should guarantee health care coverage for all, and 92% believe that the government should hold irresponsible corporatinos accountable.. So the vast majority of people favor positions that most people associate with "liberal" values, and that has to include some of the folks who call themselves conservative, as well as most liberals and moderates.

The Talking Dog: How can we convince office holders that we would rather that they obstruct, fight and lose rather than "compromise" and be "bipartisan"... in other words, that voters respect principled stands?

Bill Scher: What they need to understand is consistently articulating core principles builds trust. The Republicans have done this well. If you were to take a checklist of major issues and poll them, you would find that Republicans are in the minority position on most issues. And yet, by consistently articulating core principles such as "less government" and "strong defense," the public gets a good grasp of where Republicans want to take them. By contrast, people by and large agree with Democrats on specific issues, but don't have a good sense of their overarching direction, which leads people to say things like they don't know where Democrats stand.

It might be very helpful if Jon Tester or Ned Lamont, who have been at least running very principle-heavy campaigns, rooted in core values, won their seats, and then proved successful in the Senate. This might show other office holders that their positioning tactics and shifts on every issue come across as pandering, and are a formula for long-term failure.

The Talking Dog: What particular success stories do you have as to what I'll call for lack of a better term the "guerrilla political marketing" strategies you have laid out? How can these successes be built on?

Bill Scher: Part of the problem in showing success stories is that we haven't been in power for quite a while. We certainly have had "intermediate" success stories that demonstrate the power of these principles. Two obvious examples are Howard Dean, and Ned Lamont, both of whom were originally counted out by the media because, by the traditional measures of their pre-existing name recognition, celebrity status and how much money they had on hand for their campaigns, neither would have gotten anywhere in the regular media or political process. But both showed they could win, at least at some level (Lamont actually won a primary over not merely a sitting senator, but his party's vice-presidential nominee) with a consistent message and the power of the internet to get that message out there. While Dean did a number of things wrong on his own (and he was savaged and hammered by his fellow Democrats), this does not prove that the model was wrong; that he was even in a position to be the frontrunner shows the strength of the model. And the jury is obviously still out on Lamont until the November election. But we have clearly shown that with the right combination of message and intelligent use of the internet, you can be right in the heart of the game with a strong chance to win, whereas in "traditional" politics, this was out of the question.

The Talking Dog: Anything else I should have asked you but didn't, or that the public needs to know on these subjects?

Bill Scher: We've covered a lot of ground. I think this is a good time to look at how the principles discussed came together, and that would involve the recent ABC 9-11 movie. Bloggers quickly took ABC to task for factual inaccuracies, and got the facts out there very quickly, indeed so quickly that conservatives actually found themselves flatfooted and boxed in. And as a result, the program ran with disclosures, and ABC was completely on the defensive, as most people knew that what ABC was showing was not exactly a fully true story. Things would have been quite different had ABC instead shown it the way they wanted to, and then the arguments over its accuracy took place after millions of people had already seen it.

The Talking Dog: Thank you, Bill Scher, for that most interesting interview, and I commend readers to take a look at "Wait! Don't Move to Canada!".

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September 19, 2006, Junq justice

Abdullah al-Amiri, the chief judge in Saddam Hussein's genocide trial, was removed by the Iraqi government (that we prop up and otherwise control) for suggesting that Saddam "was not a dictator" during the trial. He has been reassigned to hear other cases.

You will recall that here in the United States, when judges attempt to administer justice impartially under the law without concern to popular outcry or political interference, our senators (particularly Texas Republicans) prefer to incite violence against them. In Iraq, they (hopefully) will only remove the judge from the case.

In the "new democratic Iraq," the judge is being replaced for having not pre-judged the case. The desired outcome, as pre-ordained by the Colonial Power who set up the system to try Hussein (where a number of his defense lawyers have already been killed), is, of course, conviction, and then, execution. (After all, if the death penalty wasn't an essential outcome, he could have been tried in the Hague or something.) As usual, the Bushmen can't even think of a decent p.r. angle: after Saddam is convicted (and he will be, of course), how could Saddam claim he didn't get a fair trial if one of the judges didn't even
think he was a dictator?

But a fair trial... that's just "September 10th thinking".

Just as "war on terror" detainees have been pre-ordained to be "terrorists", any process even arguably fair is just too much justice for these terrorists sayeth the Bushmen. Needless to say, the last thing the Bush Administration wants is anything remotely like a fair trial for Saddam, with even a possibility of anything less than a death sentence.

While, in the end, no one will shed a tear for Saddam, it would be nice if even the seemingly siimple task of trying a brutal tyrant for his crimes could be done without having to game the system, bend the rules of fairness, in short, cheat, in such a high profile case. Our international credibility and moral authority has been waning for a while. It would be nice to do things the right way, especially with the world watching... but I suppose the prevailing attitude is... why start now?

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September 18, 2006, Today marks FIVE YEARS of "the talking dog"

That's right; the first post is dated September 18, 2001, with the World Trade Center then still smoldering. Indeed, this blog is so old, its beginnings pre-date the general use of the term "blog"; indeed, it is arguably the oldest "liberal" blog... assuming anyone accepts that it even is a liberal blog... TTD has even become a source of material for the regular media (at least, if you call NPR "regular media".)

As to the world at large... things seem to have changed a great deal over the last five years... or have they? I'm still happily married to the lovely and brilliant Mrs. TD... the Loquacious Pup is a thriving young lass... our abode is still Stately Dog Manor... And I still write the blog. FWIW, I hope at least that I'm a better writer... years of practice and all. And, thanks to blogging, I've made lots and lots of wonderful new friends, and hope to meet many more.

And while its hard to imagine that my blogging has made any conceivable difference (at a macro level)... at least one can try to fight the good fight, and while we're at it, try to be an example for others, whether it's trying to show journalists how they should be covering the war on terror with original interviews of "war on terror" players and experts (as well as with great writers and thinkers), or trying to highlight the contributions of lots and lots of bloggers, some well known and some obscure, using dog breeds (some well known and some obscure.) Needless to say... you're never quite sure what to expect here at the talking dog... except, of course, for the most important fount of wisdom currently available on the planet. And me... I'll be around here, somewhere...

Anyway, there you are. No big woop. TTD is 5 years old in Earth time... which in talking dog years... is probably more. Discuss amongst yourselves.

We know you have a choice among diversions for your dwindling free time (even with those filters against viewing the sorts of things you'd like to view while at work). So... I thank my blogging sistren and brethren bloggers for thinking enough of what I've written here to link to this site over the years. A special thanks to the Unseen Editor (he knows who he is) for spearheading this blog in the first place, and staying with it for years (until blogging software could be "idiot-proofed" enough for even me to use it.)

And of course, I thank you, dear reader, for flying with reading the talking dog. Y'all come back now... ya' hear?

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September 16, 2006, TD Blog Interview with Dr. Steven Miles

Dr. Steven Miles is the author of Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity and the War on Terror, a scathing examination of the failings of members of the medical profession serving in the military with respect to treatment of prisoners held by American forces in the war on terror, demonstrating such abuses as medical personnel participating in coervice interrogations if not outright torture (including using prisoners' own medical records against them), preparing misleading, if not outright falsifying, medical records including death certificates, and failing to advocate for prisoners being placed in dangerous situations (e.g., such as under weapons fire, or in dangerously unsanitary conditions). Dr. Miles expanded on an article on this subject he published in the Lancet in 2004, relying on an examination of declassified, publicly available documents from our government and military.

Dr. Miles is a practicing physician, bioethicist, and professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota. He has served as a chief medical officer in a Cambodian refugee camp, worked on AIDS prevention in Sudan, tsunami relief in Indonesia, worked with the research committee of the Center for Victims of Torture, and has been honored wth the Distinguished Service Award of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities, and was named the 2004 "Minnesotan of the Year."

On September 15, 2006, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Miles by e-mail exchange.

The Talking Dog: Where were you on September 11, 2001?

Steven Miles: I was flying from Minneapolis to Florida. My plane was diverted to Nashville. When I stepped out of the plane, I watched the towers go down and realized that the airports would be closed indefinitely so I stayed in Nashville for a couple days before taking a Greyhound home.

The Talking Dog: Your book identifies three main failings of medical professionals participating as members of the military or rendering assistance thereto, i.e. (1) participating in coercive interrogations (including using prisoners' own medical records against them); (2) failing to timely ensure findings of death reliably communicated (and failing to adequately document cases of abuse and otherwise maintain full medical records); and (3) failing to advocate for even minimal resources necessary for mental health care, sanitation, TB treatment, shelter from weapons fire or often provision of treatment. You've also indicated that medical societies and state licensing boards have generally taken limited action. Certainly, the abuse of medical records, or failure to keep and maintain proper medical records alone, without any other misconduct, would be grounds for professional discipline against any physicians or licensed nurses involved in New York, where I practice law. Are you aware of any state licensing boards taking professional disciplinary action against any medical personnel associated with the military's (or other governmental agencies') conduct of the "war on terror"?

Steven Miles: A complaint for unprofessional conduct was filed with the California Medical Board against a Guantanamo physician. The Board refused to process the complaint. This kind of accountability is important. I get asked this question a lot by lawyers who, by the way have done nothing with regard to the lawyers who wrote the policy memoranda which led the U.S. to evade the Geneva conventions. When are the lawyers going to bring Yoo, Delahunty, Gonzales, et al., before the Bar to answer for their malfeasance?

The Talking Dog: Given some practical restrictions associated with personnel levels, difficult supply lines, and the sheer number of prisoners involved, it's fair to say that medical personnel in the field in Iraq (at a place like Abu Ghraib) were under difficult circumstances; other than properly fill out reports of abuse for use in later investigations (which you indicated the record shows was more of the exception than the rule), refuse to participate in coercive interrogations (or terminate them on medical grounds), and advocate for more supplies, more personnel, better food, sanitation, etc.... what would you have individual medical personnel do to discharge their professional duties? Are you aware of whether individual military medical personnel have resigned in protest over these matters?

Steven Miles: I am aware of a a psychologist who asked for transfer, a psychologist who protested, and a medic who was discharged for protest. This was not a matter of supply lines. Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Bucca, Mercury, Qaim all had adequate logistical support.

The Talking Dog: Is there any evidence in the record to indicate that the DOD's levels of inadequate medical staff and supplies (and food) for prisoners was deliberate in any way (such as intending to "soften up" prisoners for interrogation) as opposed to simply part of an overall failure to plan for a post-invasion occupation?

Steven Miles: The lack of mental health care was entirely consonant with Rumsfeld's policy directive to exploit the prisoner's emotional vulnerabilities in a total interrogation environment where the guards worked in collaboration with the interrogaters. There was also a wholesale failure to plan for POW camps. Even so, that does not excuse policy choices such as failing to provide TB screening or picking prisons that were exposed to mortars, snipers, and RPGs when safer sites were available and mandated by Geneva and Army regs.

The Talking Dog: Do you have any reason to believe that the inadequate medical record keeping you have described in your book was actually the result of a planned policy decision (to undermine a later paper trail for abuse, for example) as opposed to simply the result of inadequate or non-existent training, understaffing and unclear protocols?

Steven Miles: Aside from the false dates and delayed release of death certificates, the inattentive record keeping was a result of overwork and the failure to make medical notes about abuse occurred in that context coupled with a radical dehumanization of the prisoners so that the medical personnel simply did not record or report victims of assault as they normally would. The delayed release and false dating of death certificates was so uniform that it appears to represent some kind of as yet unidentified directive within the
Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and its Office of Medical Examiners.

The Talking Dog: Do the records show that the problem situations you have described have been improving over the course of time, or have these problems remained in effect?

Steven Miles: The prisons remain insufficiently transparent to answer this question. DoD has not supplied a complete list of prisons or prisoners. DoD does not allow the ICRC to privately meet with prisoners. It has not supplied a complete list of names, death certificates, autopsy reports, and death investigations for prisoners who have died in custody. Although it recently moved 14 prisoners from prisons in third countries, rendition prisoners,
this leaves about 200 to 300 persons unaccounted for. It has not agreed to fully implement all the Articles of the Geneva Convention and the Convention Against Torture.

The Talking Dog: Your book describes the unfortunate history of torture, including the realization in the Western world around the time of the Enlightenment in the 18th Century that it was, in addition to barbaric, not particularly effective at actually achieving "the truth". And yet, it has made a resurgence, although our own government has concluded that torture is not a reliable "truth extraction" method. Your book indicates that Secretary
Rumsfeld was advised by experts he convened that coercive interrogation
methods were likely to be ineffective (or worse, lead intelligence officers
on wild goose chases), and ordered the harsher methods anyway. How clear is
the record that the Secretary was specifically told of this? (My reading of
your Chapter 1, footnote 56, refers to the April 4, 2003 "Working Group Report on Detainee Interrogations in the Global War on Terrorism",
and seems to have a reference to Army Field Manual 30-15 and the historical findings that coercive interrogation methods do not lead to reliable intelligence, but not too much else on that specific "effectiveness" point, though the report, of course, notes the myridad legal restrictions on the use of torture, as well as the practical considerations of threats to our own personnel.) Is there evidence of complicity in the torture decisions higher than Secretary Rumsfeld?

Steven Miles: Secretary Rumsfeld himself appointed the DoD working group on interrogation techniques to revise a policy that he had authored the preceding November. One must assume that he both read and was briefed on a policy document that he personally signed. Pages 52-53, 56-57, 68, 69 make a number of factual claims about harsh interrogation: "interrogation experts view the use of force as an inferior technique that yields information of questionable quality" [which has] "adverse effects on future interrogations," [may] "damage the admissibility of evidence," "harm public support for the military effort," "endanger Americans who become POWs," and which "would constitute a significant departure from traditional US military norms and could have an adverse impact on the cultural self-image of US military forces." Furthermore, he had an opportunity and responsibility to question his experts on the background for major claims, especially claims which suggested that the interrogational techniques that he was preparing to authorize might be ineffective and counterproductive.

Aside from the President's February 7, 2002 directive which suspended the provisions of Geneva Convention, I can not trace the specific authorization for torture to an official higher than Secretary Rumsfeld. It noteworthy that the President's directive follows virtually word for word a similar directive that Secretary Rumsfeld issued three weeks previously.

The Talking Dog: You discussed a Colonel Larry James, Ph.D., who was involved in designing interrogations both at Guantanamo, and later at Abu Ghraib (and a participant in the American Psychological Association Task Force studying military interrogations). General Geoffrey Miller, of course, was in command at both places, as well. The military has elected to charge NCOs and privates with the Abu Ghraib abuses, and no one else, asserting, of course, that the abuses in the pictures that came to light were the work of "a few bad apples", rather than the result of any kind of DOD institutional policy or broader command responsibility. Are you aware of any other medical personnel who were also involved at both Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib (or the locations of any other known abuses)?

Steven Miles: My book gives other names and I would prefer not to name them here without giving the full background for each name for legal reasons.

The Talking Dog: Are you aware of whether there were any specific allegations of abuse on the part of Colonel James, at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib or anywhere else?

Steven Miles: No.

The Talking Dog: You've noted that prior to the Abu Ghraib photographs being published, around April of 2004, all American troops captured in Iraq were returned alive, and yet, after that, we have seen beheadings and other atrocities against our troops. (Indeed, the first, Specialist Keith Maupin, was around 2 weeks after the Abu Ghraib photos came out). One can certainly infer that, for example, the fears of the Judge Advocate General's corps that mistreatment of prisoners in our custody almost guaranteed reciprocity were realized, and Americans' giving up some semblance of the moral high ground where we needed the cooperation of the local populace for our own mission was itself not a really good idea, by and large, would you agree that most Americans simply just don't see the relationship between our mistreatment of others and the mistreatment of Americans?

Steven Miles: Most Americans see torture as a form of brutalization of a person. They do not understand that torture destroys civil society. Indeed in most cases, torture is used by authoritarian regimes with the intent of destroying civil society. To this end, journalists, activists, lawyers, teachers, students, labor organizers, and intellectuals are its primary targets. The use of torture in Iraq has made it impossible for the United States to serve as a midwife to civil society there. It has undermined the credibility of our appeals on behalf of the humane and legally fair treatment of proponents of civil society in countries like China or Myrnamar. At the largest level, promoting civil societies must be the overarching policy objective of the United States and other democracies. Such societies are necessary for peace as well as global public health and successful economic development. At the end of World War II, the international community concluded that no appeal to the needs of national soverignty could justify or excuse torture or genocide. The United States has undone that momentous conclusion. It has authoritatively introduced into international relations the precedent and assertion that a national executive with the assent of the national legislature may practice torture in the context of a national emergency.

The Talking Dog: Would you agree that our media is complicit in this in its coverage, indeed, not doing the kind of exhaustive follow up you have, and more or less accepting the "few bad apples" explanation as given? What kind of media interest has there been since you published your book, and I include both U.S. and international media in that question?

Steven Miles: Our national media failed at many points in this story despite excellent reporting on some aspects of this story. It allowed the "ticking time-bomb" fantasy to go unchallenged. It ignored authoritative human rights organizations reports of torture to go largely unheralded. It has failed to explain the deeper significance of anti-torture codes, as I discussed in a my preceding answer, to the public and legislators. It sanitizes the torture story as it ironically gets increasingly graphic in its depictions of fictional torture. Where are the pictures of the women being abused? Why are buttocks displayed on television dramas and pixillated out of prisoner who are being abused? Who is keeping score on military prosecutions? Why does the media not discuss the potential for an indictment or subpoena to the international criminal court for key US officials? Why did the media not cover our insistence the Belgium water
down its war crimes act as a condition of getting US funding for a NATO
headquarters building renovation? Why does the media continue to use
journalists who are simply reporters rather than regional experts who can provide context?

The Talking Dog: You've suggested that the publicly available (i.e. declassified) data that you have reviewed was "scrubbed" of mention of atrocities (particularly homicides and rapes) against children, and in many cases, women, though in the case of photographs of the latter, for example, media organizations have held back release of photographs of women who have been abused, though are records of abuse-- perhaps or probably rising to the level of war crimes-- against both women and children in the investigation reports you have read. Since the publication of the book, have any additional data emerged on this point, and can you tell me if you are aware of whether media are complicit in this "scrubbing", for example, if DOD has asked them not to release pictures of women abused, or if something else is going on?

Steven Miles: I do not know. The material that you cite is in documents. The media will not carry it. I have a planned publication on the children.

The Talking Dog: Since your book was published, three Guantanamo detainees have committed suicide. Do you have a view on medical personnel complicity in that, to wit, do you believe that medical personnel at Guantanamo are complicit in those suicides, and if so how? Do you have a view on the ethics of forcefeeding hunger striking prisoners at Guantanamo (or elsewhere)?

Steven Miles:On June 11, three men at Guantanamo hung themselves to death with bits of cloth. Guantanamo did what it was designed to do, break prisoners down. In February 2003, the US government declined to answer Amnesty International's request for an evaluation of why many prisoners were attempting suicide at Guantanamo. The Defense Department concealed those efforts under the euphemisms of "hanging gestures" and "manipulative self injurious behavior."

The policy of breaking prisoners down was run from the top down. In April
2003, Secretary Rumsfeld directed, "Interrogations must always be planned,
deliberate actions that take into account . . . a detainee's emotional and
physical strengths and weaknesses. Interrogation approaches are designed to
manipulate the detainee's emotions and weaknesses to gain his willing
cooperation." This translated into a policy of integrating the treatment of
prisons in the interrogation rooms and the cellblocks under a single interrogation plan.

Breaking prisoners down became a medical specialty. Mental illness was
ignored. Signs of beatings went unrecorded in medical charts. Medical
interviews and records were culled for clues on prisoners' vulnerabilities.
Mental health personnel monitored interrogations and reported to interrogators. When the prisoners, most of whom know nothing of terrorism, protested or despaired by refusing to eat. Clinicians strapped them into chairs and force fed them so that their indeterminate sentences could continue.

Five days before the prisoner's suicides, the Defense Department issued a
document entitled, "Medical Program Support for Detainee Operations." It endorses the old abuses. It does not say that clinicians must obey the Geneva Conventions for Prisoners of War or the US War Crimes Act. It says that clinicians "shall not certify the fitness of detainees for any form of treatment or punishment that is not in accordance with applicable law." But, this wording allows doctors to certify prisoners for harsh interrogation in accord with our Orwellian interpretation of International law.

It makes the prisoners' hunger strike protests illegal without abolishing the unlawful prison procedures that have engendered those strikes. When a prison is designed to make war on disarmed captives, it is easy to understand how a Rear Admiral Harry Harris could lose his bearings and claim that these suicides were "an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us."

The Talking Dog: From the records you have reviewed, regardless of the practical political impossibility of further action, do you believe that we have enough evidence (1) to reasonably conclude that medical personnel have been complicit in "grave breaches" of customary international law, to wit, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (a/k/a "war crimes"), (2) to reasonably conclude that there was sufficient "command" involvement in those grave breaches to conclude that military commanders, up to and including the ranks of general, secretary of defense, vice-president or president, to implicate those individuals for involvement in the grave breaches?

Steven Miles: We have enough evidence to conclude that grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions have occurred. A court is the proper place to determine culpability for those war crimes. Unlike Court Martials which proceed from the bottom up the chain of command, a war crimes process starts on top and proceeds downward. I think that the world community will have to look to Europe to bring the subpoenas which could begin a war crimes investigation. Sadly, the United States seems to not have the political will or cultural strength to do so.

The Talking Dog: Thank you, Dr. Miles, for that incredibly informative and thought provoking interview.

Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in "the war on terror"), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing "unlawful combatant" Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainee Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, and with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy to be of interest.

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September 15, 2006, President continues efforts to immunize self for war crimes

There's no other way to describe what the President is proposing with respect to the abominable plans he has to ratify his heretofore unlawful military commission scheme, and to "clarify" American law vis a vis the Geneva Conventions.

With less than two weeks to go, we have a Congress that hasn't passed so much as a single budget appropriation bill, and yet, has time to spend over this wedge issue. Naturally, most Americans will not be told, for example, that prior to the Abu Ghraib photos being published in April, 2004, all American troops captured in Iraq were returned alive; since that time, many have been executed, often by beheading. We're just told of the barbarities of them, the demonous "other", without any context of, say, our own arguable complicity (i.e. barbarity and disrespect.)

Moral authority is ultimately an infinitely more powerful weapon than cruise missiles, long range bombers and air craft carriers, especially when the cooperation of the local populace is a necessary part of the mission. Of course, moral authority is far less expensive than the weapons, but then, moral authority doesn't give revolving door jobs to bureaucrats, or kickbacks to government officials. And hence, our leadership has squandered it, thinking it of no value.

Now, the President is asking Congress to join him and up their stake from having done little or nothing to check his moral reprobation to affirmatively ratifying, and hence joining it. Some Republican members of Congress, particularly in the Senate, uncomfortable with what they know will be the inevitably adverse consequences to our own personnel (as if torture itself weren't a moral abomination that was never-- as in NEVER, EVER-- justified for any reason, and btw, is a lousy means of acquiring useful intelligence) have indicated that they would oppose the President on this. We'll see if they continue to hang tough, and/or if Harry Reid and the Democrats can mount a successful defense or counter-offensive.

Not how you bet, of course. But it would be nice. It's pathetic (or worse) that there is actually a debate over this nation's attempt to legitimate its own use of torture. But then, 9/11 and the 5 years since have changed everything. And seldom for the better.

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September 13, 2006, Reach out and touch someone

In the brief window of time before the mid-term elections during which the Republican Congress is back in session to try to pass a few more wedge bills into wedge laws, one of the doozies was approved today in the Senate Judiciary Committee: legislation ostensibly ratifying the President's (heretofore felonious) warrantless eavesdropping.

Arlen Spector is proving to be an even more impressive poodle to the President than Tony Blair is; his prior "outrage" over the lawlessness of the Bush Administration at the expense of Americans' constitutional rights has now given way to rubber stamping yon lawlessness. Further, Spector has all but said he hasn't even read the current bill, let alone has an understanding of it. We can be sure that Constitutional problems in it haven't even been considered.

And yet, instead of just out and out calling the Emperor on his rampant lawlessness, and indeed, the words "impeachable offense" come to mind, we can probably expect Democrats to roll over and die, lest (heavens!) they be called "soft on terror", notwithstanding the complete lack of evidence that a single terrorist has been identified (let alone captured) or a single terrorist plot has been infiltrated (let alone thwarted) by these extraordinary, extra-legal eavesdroppings... the only guaranteed effect of which will be to make a fortune for (reliable Republican donor) ChoicePoint.

And there we are. It's been five years since 9-11. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor nearly 3,000 dead American troops in Iraq (a toll that will soon pass that of 9-11 itself), nor the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, nor the continued at-large status of OBL, nor record deficits, nor low approval ratings, nor much else shall keep these whores (of both parties, btw) from their appointed rounds of fearmongering.

Well, we're 55 days from "the accountability moment." Democrats can stand up, and shove this particular round of lawlessness up the Republicans' asses (as did the 8 Dems on the Judiciary Committee), perhaps even by filibustering this piece of shit or gathering enough patriotic Republicans who value our Constitution more than the current wielder of Article 2 of it to stand up to this rampant lawlessness... or they can be all "bipartisan" (as in "bipartisanship is just another word for date rape") and cave. If they hang tough in the interests of protecting privacy rights of Americans and telling the President to shove his lawlessness and fearmongering... then the Democrats will almost certainly win control of both houses of Congress this year and the White House in 2008. (Of course, that is a humongous "if" with a hole so big you could fly the space shuttle through it.)

We'll see... maybe some vertebra and cojones will emerge on the left side of the aisle. It would be great, actually.

Of course, that's not how you bet.

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September 12, 2006, Primary penumbra

I had been hoping to tie Connecticut "insurgent" Democrat Ned Lamont and Rhode Island "insurgent" Republican Steve Laffey, who happens to be the mayor of Cranston, R.I., together thematically, by asking "Who knows what evil lies in the hearts of the voters of New England?" The line, of course, from 1930's radio, is "The Shadow Knows." The Shadow was the alter ego of a character named... Lamont Cranston. Any set up of a punch line that takes that long is obviously a problem! So never mind: just know that with 70% of precincts in, incumbent GOP Senator Lincoln Chafee is holding a 6% lead.

Even if he holds on to win, Chafee will face a formidable Democratic challenger in Sheldon Whitehouse, and Rhode Island has a heavy Democratic advantage in voter registrations; Rhode Island is regarded as a key state vis a vis Democratic aspirations of winning control of the Senate.

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September 11, 2006, Five years on

I write this almost to the second that the first plane hit the North Tower over my left shoulder that fateful morning five years ago. As most of you know, I was then sitting at my desk on the 16th floor of 100 Church Street, with the post office building at 90 Church Street just below my window and the World Trade Center complex right past that. At that time, of course, I heard a sonic boom, a large pop, and an explosion, sat perplexed a second, and then looked over to see flames shooting out, and glass and paper falling from the World Trade Center. The rest... well, you all know the rest.

I wanted to be all clever and snarky, perhaps posting pictures like this... But at this point, after five years of watching the hoopla and opportunism... I see no point in that kind of further reflection.

So instead, let me take a moment, as I have done in the past, to honor a unique hero of 9-11, the late Richie Pearlman. Richard Allen Pearlman joined the hundreds of dead rescuers and first responders, including heroic firefighters (including my late legal client, Carl Molinaro), heroic police officers and heroic EMTs who gave their lives trying to help others that morning.

But Richie wasn't being paid to be a hero.

I first heard of Richie at a Boy Scout luncheon in Queens, where his mother received a posthumously presented award from the scouts. On the morning of September 11, 2001, 18-year old Richie had a messenger job which brought him downtown to police headquarters; he heard about the attacks on the WTC, whipped out his EMT identification... and ran to the scene, where he could help. Richie was a trainied medical technician with a volunteer ambulance company in Forest Hills, and he was (literally) an Eagle Scout.

And he selflessly offered his assistance at the WTC, to help whoever he could. It's a cliche to say that Richie stood for the highest values of scouting, or even of being an American. Richie's medical work was a labor of love; Richie died in pursuit of his labor of love, trying to help others... not merely New York's finest hour, but humanity's.

R.I.P. Richard Pearlman.

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September 9, 2006, Connect the dots (run-up to Iraq war edition)

Just a brief snippet on the topic at hand, two of them actually.

The first comes from Kevin Drum (via the hot-hot-hot Bruce the Veep) and concerns a recent interview with General Scheid in the run up to the Iraq war when military logistics planner were trying to organize a "phase 4" (i.e. post war occupation) and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld threatened to fire any military officer who even suggested the need for post-war planning. Kevin (who supported the war, IIRC) now concludes that the subsequent occupation was little more than a cover to "democratize Iraq" after plan A (find the WMDs) didn't pan out. Well, the lack of planning for the occupation was so glaringly obvious, that one thought it had to be intentional; the evidence is getting clearer, of course, that it was just that. Further, the evidence is that the entire pretense of the war was domestic politics: planning for an occupation was felt to be politically untenable.

The old saying is that "amateurs think strategy; professionals think logistics." Needless to say, the civilians in charge of our military were, and are, the rankest (in every sense of the word) of amateurs.

Which moves us right along to our second item, this WaPo article which discusses the release by the Senate Intelligence Committee of two of five portions of a key pre-Iraq war intelligence report that it voted to declassify, which confirm that not only did Saddam not have ties to Al Qaeda (or Al Qaeda brand name user Al-Zarqawi) but he rebuffed efforts at such ties by AQ and tried to capture Zarqawi himself! Also, of course, the report notes the heavy reliance on Iraqi defectors (via Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress) who misled US intelligence on WMDs, and it notes how vigorously American intelligence services were trying to point out the lack of such connections to AQ or WMDs... which were, again, inconsistent with the Administration's domestic political needs.

At the moment, these would seem to be the facts (these and the North Waziristan deal, which means that unless OBL and the gang hand themselves in to us, we can safely write off even the remove possibility of their capture, as Pakistan has formally agreed to pull its military out of the area). On the facts, the very, very last thing the Bush Administration should be talking about is its handling of the war on terror. On the facts, we now know that (1) our "ally" Pakistan has made an internal decision not to capture the ringleaders of 9-11 who, we have been told, were directly responsible for the 9-11 attacks, and (2) those same ringleaders now operate under tribal protection in Southwestern Pakistan where they might well continue to plan terrorist strikes and (3) their Taliban allies are certainly engaged in a guerrilla war to reconquer Afghanistan; (4) Saddam had no WMDs, (5) Saddam had no AQ connections (and probably would have been delighted to help us against AQ, if we asked, ditto Iran), (6) we have thousands dead and hundreds of billions of dollars spent on a seemingly endless engagement in Iraq, where our options are to stay and continue bleeding while the situation escalates to all out sectarian civil war, or leave and watch the Middle East be further destabilized with a probable huge increase in oil prices and further economic power to (7) Iran, which like North Korea, has realized the importance of developing really nasty weapons as a deterrent to George W. Bush ordered American wars of "regime change".
We won't talk about domestic responses to, say, hurricanes, port security, or... stuff like that.

We'll just observe that conventional wisdom is that national security is Bush and the Republicans' strength. Only in America folks, is the backstory so strong that seemingly no set of facts will shake people from believing what they wanted to believe going in. If you want more tax cuts and reductions in environmental, worker safety and other business regulation, then by all means, it is perfectly rational to vote for the Republicans. But to do so because they are better on national security?

The Democrats might, in actuality, not be very good on it (though it was Democratic Presidents who won two World Wars, and held up our end during the Cold War, while both parties' Presidents had their troubles in Vietnam)... I don't really know. But to call the performance of George W. Bush in the last five years a strength...? That is just so belied by the facts that it defies all reason at this point. But then, Bush won't be appealing to reason... this round, will be played on raw emotion, images and subliminal messages... we are already well under way with a full pageant of AQ tapes, 9-11 imagery (including a prime-time propaganda spectacle), with politically driven orange alerts just weeks, if not days, away...

And in the end, the GOP is still counting on low voter turnout this year, by maximizing the sentiment of cynicism. And still, if that party is reelected to majorities in the houses of Congress again, despite the overall climate of cyncism, it will still surely be another triumph of hope over experience.

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September 7, 2006, Mid-terms pageantry/9-11 pre-game show

Bruce the Veep has sent us a number of items of late that are of extreme relevance, and seem unrelated... but as you know, having come here to "connect the dots" central... that's only what Karl wants you to think. He doesn't mind that we'll be connecting the dots for you, btw. Karl is not ashamed of his handiwork, except when he wants to deny it.

Anyway, we'll start with the most interesting: this from Asia Times discussing the deal made by the Pakistani central government with the regional Pashtun tribal factions in the North Waziristan region, home to, among others, Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and Ayman Al-Zawahiri... anyway, the deal is that furriners (in Pakistan, those three, being from Saudi/Yemen, Afghanistan and Egypt respectively are furriners) are welcome to stay in Pakistan, free from fear of arrest or pursuit, as long as they behave themselves. This is all just peachy keen; the President and the White House, for their part, say "Pakistan doesn't really mean it." In practical terms, of course, bin Laden and his entourage have been under the hospitality of the tribal areas which are widely believed not to be exactly under Pakistani central government control, for nearly five years. It would appear that all the Pakistani government is doing is acknowledging reality, and going back to its pre-9-11 ante, of supporting the Taliban (who, btw, have vowed "on to Kabul".) [Fortunately for Karl's overall strategy, this deal isn't that widely reported here, so the President can rely on the fact that Amurkins really don't care what swarthy people do amongst themselves; if Amurkins actually did care, they would realize that this meant, for all practical purposes... "The war on terror is over; we lost." To paraphrase Republican sentiments towards the majority of Americans who voted for Al Gore only to have George W. Bush thrust upon them anyway... "get over it."]

Which moves us along to Bruce the Veep's forwarding of this WaPo piece on Bush's prisoner abuse shell-game, to wit, rushing a bill into Congress to (1) ratify his already-found-unlawful-military-tribunals, and (2) retroactively immunize himself and his cronies from the war crimes he and they committed by wilfully violating the Geneva Conventions, which, like deliberate violations of FISA, are felonies under U.S. law. And don't miss Maha's fabulously comprehensive take on the subject. Of course, this includes the brilliant maneuver of the transfer to Gitmo of Ron Jeremy Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and a total of 14 of the truly "worst of the worst" who've been off at CIA sponsored super-secret-black-hole-torture-prisons, and hence, beyond prosecution under existing law (which won't, of course, admit evidence obtained by torture...) unless those pussy Democrats get outta the way and let the real men do their jobs... i.e., trying them bad guys under rules the Prezident says he needs in order to win convictions without any irritating due process of law or anything like that. Frankly, this one, coupled with the happy continuation of OBL's being out there (and hence a useful propaganda tool) in perpetuity as discussed in the first paragraph, smacks of Karl's "win-win" kind of thinking: the President can carry on the charade that the real "worst of the worst" terrorists (not like those other useless 4 or 5 hundred innocent sheep herders and taxi drivers we've been holding at Gitmo until now) have "just" been captured and are now about to be tried, making it appear that we are making current progress in the war on terror even at the very moment that we have lost it! And he gets a great wedge issue to boot... all consistent with the timing laid out in his playbook for the mid-terms! (As Hannibal from the "A-Team" would say, "I love it when a plan comes together.")

The last item comes from our friend Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice, and concerns Joe Lieberman's secret receipt of Karl Rove's money for his senate campaign. This one is, of course, infuriating on so many levels, but mostly because it confirms my fears from the get-go that Karl is trying to sucker progressives into taking eyes off the prize (voting out actual Republicans). You readers who are interested and financially able to might want to consider giving to the senatorial campaign of James Webb in Virginia, or any of the three Connecticut Democrats running for the House (Diane Farrell, Joe Courtney or Chris Murphy) that Karl (and Joe) don't want to see win... instead of Ned Lamont, to whom Karl (though not Joe) wants to see you send your money.

What do all these things have in common? They are all part of the mid-terms pageant, and the American people by and large don't really care about any of them, other than the back-story, to wit, Democrats are weak on terror... the facts be damned!! And, to boot, they keep all of us off balance, just by the sheer cognitive dissonance of it all.

Well... just 61 days to go!

Update: Bruce also sends this Grey Lady piece noting that Republican military vets McCain, Graham and Warner may have a problem with Bush's new bill superceding their own (for which the mililtary's JAG corps and Harry Reid have promised their support, against the President's). Curiouser and curiouser... again, like immigration, Karl could just be setting us up to show how tough minded and independent Congressional Republicans are... Karl is far smarter than his feckless Master who would cringe at the thought of not being perennially thought of as omnipotent in the interest of ensuring that Master doesn't face a House and/or Senate that might subpoena him... or worse... reverse his tax cuts for the super-rich. In short, fasten your seatbelts... this may be a bumpy ride!

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September 6, 2006, Misdirections...

While Democrats everywhere are taking delight that the President's unpopularity on the Iraq war may well cost his party its majorities in the House and/or Senate (btw... screw multi-millionaire Ned Lamont who doesn't need your money... send a few bucks, if you can and believe that Democrats should run against Republicans in the Senate instead of other Democrats, to Claire McCaskill in Missouri, or perhaps to Jon Tester in Montana or Jack Carter in Nevada... they need your money, and we need their seats)... the Republicans have their own counter-attack planned.

While we approach 9-11 (9-11, 9-11, 9-11) with its jubilant anti-Middle Easterner (and anti-Moslems in general) jingoistic subtext... the Republicans have been thinking about their own political misdirection-play, which may be enough to help them in enough key seats to hold their majority (that, of course, and the three seats we likely won't be winning in Connecticut thanks to Ned Lamont, and yes... I am bitter about that... against Lieberman for being a prick, and for those supposed progressives who somehow think that discipline against apostates is more important than taking power back.)

The strategy... oh yes... according to the New York Times, is to rely on the hard-line House position on... wait for it... immigration. While the article discusses a particular district in Colorado (and if you are inclined to consider throwing a few bucks his way, the Democrat running there is Ed Perlmutter) it will doubtless be used elsewhere.

Let me make this easy: if the Democratic Party stands for anything at all (besides pressure group pandering, of course) it would actually join with the Republicans in Congress on this issue, in an alliance against the President. What's that, TD? Have you gone all bat-shit rabid on us? Has someone put PCP in your kibble? What on Earth could you be talking about?

Let's think about it. The Democrats actually have a pretty easy overall message, if they want it (simplistic, but let's go with it): Democrats are the party of honest working people. By the same token, Republicans (certainly those loyal to George W. Bush) are the party of dishonest business people. Everything else can follow from that. On immigration reform, honest working people resent interlopers jumping lines, and taking jobs that Americans might otherwise do, thereby driving down wages and benefits, not just for those jobs, but for all jobs. Worse, the crappy jobs that people risk death to come here to take tend to pay so poorly that those holding them, in turn, have to rely on our social services network for everything from health care to education to food stamps to you name it... all so the dishonest businessmen can make more money by exploiting them... and the rest of the honest working men and women.

We of "the Honest Working People's Party" must shed the fact that many of us are ourselves urban information workers who ourselves may employ... possibly undocumented... workers to clean our houses, watch our kids, mow our lawns, paint our apartments or work in restaurants... and dispense with the fact that we may well know people who are here... without proper documentation... and realize that they are breaking the law and shouldn't be here.

Let me make this still easier: I have no sympathy for such people. None. The only people I am remotely sympathetic too are their dependents, especially those who were born here and are therefore citizens. Even in their cases, however, I frankly have no problem deporting their parents; the children are free to return when they are 18, unless they can find someone here legally to raise them in the interim. (It might seem cruel, but it's not a choice any of us made; the fact is, untiil and unless a definite stand on this is taken instead of perennial "wink wink", the wave of illegals will just keep coming; the irony is that anything remotely smelling of an "amnesty" whether called that or not will have the same effect.)

I realize that none of the undocumented workers are going to take my own white collar professional job, but pressure on some workers is ultimately pressure on all workers. Millions of people coming here to take crap jobs puts overall downward pressure on all wages and benefits; sure some jobs can be outsourced, but those jobs may well have already been outsourced, and in the end, most jobs can't be outsourced or you'd see a hell of a lot more of that practice. Instead, the overwhelming choice is to literally import the means of outsourcing: foreign workers, preferably illegal ones, who aren't likely to complain about poor working conditions or substandard (or even illegal) wages and non-existent benefits.

Again: if Democrats are to be the party of honest working people, none of this should be a problem. There are lots of people waiting in consulates all over the world, frequently for many years, for legal authorization to enter this country, and many of those people are honest Latino workers. Indeed, there are tens of millions of Latinos in this country (i.e. the overwhelming majority) who are U.S. citizens or otherwise here legally. They are the people for whom I have sympathy: people who play by the rules, damn the inconvenience of it.

While some people will doubtless disagree with, if not resent what I am suggesting, the reality is, actually securing our borders from illegal inflows of people and enforcing our labor laws against abusive employers here, will likely help people at the lower ends of our economic pecking order, to wit, (legally present) Latinos and African Americans.

And from an electoral standpoint, it would pretty much cut the legs out from this particular Republican ploy, while still doing the right thing. The odds Democrats will go for anything remotely like this? Non-existent, of course. Democrats will likely instead believe that by coasting in on the unpopularity of the war, they can win. Maybe. But let's just say... that's not how you bet.

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September 4, 2006, And now our program calls for...

Well, usually the program would now call for the capture of a high ranking Al Qaeda official, usually in Pakistan, and usually with the rank of "number three." Standing in for the capture of World Al Qaeda Number Three TM, we will instead have someone billed as "Al Qaeda in Iraq Number Two."

That's right, the number two man in Al Qaeda in Iraq. Some American sources conservatively rank Hamed Jumaa Faris Juri al-Saeidi (I know, I know... he may be the most important terrorist you never heard of...) until the next one is captured... as merely among the top five in Al Qaeda in Iraq, which itself is probably one of the ten or fifteen most important insurgent groups operating in Iraq (and the only one we know of using the Al Qaeda brand name.)

Honestly, none of this is supposed to be, or should be, a laughing matter. In fact, we are involved in the deadly serious business of trying to hold Iraq together, lest the chaos we unleashed when we invaded and removed Saddam Hussein's Baathist government, replacing it with rule by sectarian thugs and/or complete anarchy, spill over into Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the other oil-rich Gulf States. [And as I've said, the choice will come down to just picking up and getting out, damn the consequences (those being $6, $7, maybe $8/gallon for gasoline), or sucking it up and sending billions of dollars a week and hundreds if not thousands more of our countrymen to their death and/or dismemberment for the foreseeable future, so that the rest of us can afford to drive our SUVs to our exurban McMansions. In short... we're not leaving Iraq. Regardless of which party wins. And even rhetorically abusing Iraq by Republicans may no longer be a political winner.]

The timing of this particular capture now belies that this capture is any kind of real military gain of any significance: it becomes damned close to impossible to believe anything other than that this is just part of the ongoing publicity campaign to get Republicans reelected to majorities in both Houses of Congress (lest we have accountability in our government) by showing "progress" in "the war on terror." Hence, the need to call al-Saeidi's insurgent group (which, of course, is but one of many) "Al Qaeda in Iraq."

We're also a week away from the brazen partisan abuse of the September 11th fifth anniversary. After that, if it appears that Democrats are continuing to make inroads in taking one or both houses of Congress, we can expect more terror alerts (I'm guessing two between now and the election, but that number is just a "guideline"), and probably the capture of another AQ figure (that none of us ever heard of). This playbook has worked the last two federal elections;
there seems no reason to retire it now.

The President's party is coming closer and closer to having support only of the bare base and nothing more, and having near total reliance on the odd gerrymandering structure of the House races and the luck of the draw of Senate races this year will enable it to hold its majorities. Further, for "issues," the President's party will rely on "national security", meaning, of course, irrational lashing out at Democratic critics, and pointing out the great job it is doing by capturing guys like bin Laden or Al-Zawahiri al-Saeidi.

While this all seems asinine to me, the American electorate, so far at least, seems to have an unlimited appetite for this sort of thing. We'll see if, once again, the Party of Lincoln can live up to his adage (you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time...) Let's just say that, given their track record, it's hard to bet against it.

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September 2, 2006, Ahead of schedule?

That would be referring, of course, to the latest Al Qaeda video, which featured the obligatory visit by "AQ2" Al-Zawahiri, and a man believed to be an American (who made his first AQ video appearance in July), Adam Yehiye Gadahn. The video called on Americans to convert to Islam, and for American troops in Iraq to switch sides, and didn't threaten any particularly imminent terrorist strikes or even jihad in general.

I'm a little baffled by the timing, as by my own reckonings (at least here and here), I didn't think we'd be hearing from Al-Zawahiri for another few weeks, or around another month. This could certainly throw off the timing of the dramatic OBL tape, which usually arrives within a week or ten days before the election... unless AQ regards this as more of a Gadahn tape, and the Al-Zawahiri tape will come, as scheduled, probably during the Jewish High Holidays (or right around them).

It's always possible that Karl's people sent me the wrong year's planner... oh wait... I see my mistake... there's no specific date in the September entry for the Al Zawahiri tape release... It might be on time after all.

Mybad. In the immortal words of Emily Latella... "Never mind."

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September 2, 2006, All the jihad's a stage(d)

The Washington Post treats us to this story of an "investigation" of the FBI's handling of the recent supposed terrorist plot to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago by a group of criminal misfits (the "Sovereign Moors" and/or the "Moorish Science Temple") in Miami that even the FBI conceded had no possible means whatsoever of carrying out their plot. Now, to be sure, infiltrating and uncovering plots of this nature is absolutely essential to combatting terrorism. Indeed, pains in the ass like myself would point out that in many cases, this sort of infiltration is the only way of combatting some forms of terrorism, in particular, terrorist plots not involving numerous electronically transmitted messages (and in a language for which translators are standing by!) and money wire transfers and such... or of course, terrorist activity not susceptible to being taken on by a slow moving armored division, aircraft carrier, or cruise missile (i.e. virtually all terrorism.)

So then, the fact that the FBI appears actively involved in infiltrating plots of this nature would seem to be... well, a good thing. And I agree wholeheartedly... to a point. And that's just it.

Certainly, we know that the defendants will argue entrapment: ostensibly, they did not commit a "real" crime, but only one constructed by the FBI. This is frequently argued, and not usually successful as a defense (particular where the defendants appear to be not-particularly-well-off-Black-men-- in Florida, no less!) More telling however, is where the investigation ultimately led. And that would be absolutely nowhere. The thing with plots of this nature is that it is hoped that they lead to contact with actual bad guys who, while they might not be caught up in the particular dragnet at hand, are identified, as are their confederates.

This plot... had none of that. Which is fine, too, IMHO, because there is no guarantee of success in setting these things up. No, no. What matters is, in fact, the intent of the FBI (ultimately overseen by our esteemed Attorney General, Alberto "Abu" Gonzales.) Was this even intended to combat actual terrorism... or just look like it? And there's the rub. Our entire federal government, it seems, no longer seems to exist to provide "us" with "government services" (the most basic being defending our shores, protecting our borders, maintaining order, etc.), so much as to provide us with "salesmanship" as to why we should reelect it and its party, with services, if any, being entirely incidental if not beside the point.

And that's just it with this plot: it has all the earmarks of being 100% lock, stock and barrel a publicity stunt. The plot was uncovered, as you recall, right at the end of June (a few days before, btw, the Supreme Court would hand the Bush Administration an "in your face" by striking down the Gitmo military commission process in the Hamdan case and holding that the Geneva Conventions apply to the War on Terror). There were lots of things happening... soldiers kidnapped and beheaded in Iraq... another failed flag-burning amendment...
The plot came at another low point in the President's approval ratings, and like the seemingly premature announcement of the foiling by the British of the plot to blow up airliners... appeared to be more in the nature of countering political backsliding as opposed to counter-terrorism.

And now, it appears, that the methods used in this particular operation resembled (perhaps) as much or more stagecraft than actual police work... And a group of irrelevant petty criminal crackpots with no means of doing much were elevated to world class terrorist status, at least for our consumption.

I have no idea whether or to what extent actual terrorists are out there plotting against us. It would seem that our government has no idea, either, because it isn't really that interested in the long, boring work associated with ferreting out such plots unless they make for well-timed (and frequently diversionary) headlines. Color me "not particularly comforted" by all this.

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