The Talking Dog

October 31, 2006, End-of-October surprise

That would be the unfortunate (all around) combination of American combat deaths of 103, making October the fourth bloodiest month of the Iraq occupation (the war part had comparatively fewer casualties) and the sudden need, as reported here by the Grey Lady, of the American protectorate government of Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki, presumably for its own internal purposes, to push the American military around a bit, in this case, making American troops remove roadblocks and barriers set up around the Shiite enclave in Baghdad of Sadr City.

Reading the Times piece led to this interesting nugget:

Moktada al-Sadr, the powerful Shiite cleric who counts Sadr City as his greatest bastion of support and who wields considerable influence in Mr. Malikiís ruling Shiite coalition, called for a general strike in the neighborhood on Tuesday to protest the cordon. In its search for the soldier, the American military has singled out the Mahdi Army militia, which has grown increasingly fractured but still answers in part to Mr. Sadr.

Presumably, someone who is capturing American soldiers is "the enemy", whatever that means in a situation as fluid as the Iraq occupation. But "the enemy" (in this case, Baby Sadr) is also, by no coincidence at all, highly influential in the ruling coalition that we propped up with those elections (the ones we held so that GOP members of Congress could wave around their purple thumbs.)

So... what the hell are we doing propping up a "government" whose principal influencers are kidnapping our troops?

It seems a small wonder that more and more Americans are convinced that the situation is unwinnable, and notwithstanding that Rahm Emanuel has apparently packed the roster of the likeliest new Democratic House members with the pro-war variety, seem to want out and are willing to reach in any direction to make it happen. But think about this: the Bush Administration cover story (to justify the complete lack of any connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda or between Saddam Hussein and any likelihood of working WMDS) was that we were invading their country and killing Iraqis to "bring them democracy".

And "democracy", in a country in which we destroyed or dismantled pretty much all the stabilizing institutions, meant voting for parties that the people believed would most likely protect their own interests... which in this case, meant parties largely responsible for turning Iraqi police and army units into covers for ethnic death squads (you think we sent John Negroponte there as our first ambassador for nothing?); since Shiites were the majority, they won control of the government, and hence, the ability to incorporate their militias and death squads into the American-supported government apparatus, even as the American military realized... the problems with this.

And now the American people do too. And through no fault of the Democrats themselves (say, by running actual good campaigns, or standing for anything the American people actually want, such as, oh, perhaps, getting us the hell out of the impossible situation that the Bushmen have put our military into... as if Congress even could make the executive do that...), the Democrats remain still poised to take back control of at least one, and maybe both houses of Congress. And as unpromising as they are, at least they stand ready to be less of a rubber stamp to this President than his own party wouuld be, and hence, the perfect really is the enemy of the better-than-nothing-and-clearly-lesser-evil, so vote Democrat.

And that will, hopefully, be good enough to overcome the usually lethal (to Democrats) combination of Republican money buying late ads, get out the vote efforts among rural and suburban Whites and suppress the vote efforts among rural and urban Blacks, and poll-defying-chicanery in general. That's how you bet, at the moment (though with money you can clearly afford to lose).

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October 30, 2006, Slow and steady...

Allegedly wins the race. Hopefully, in the case of the Democratic Party seeking to recapture control of both houses of Congress, that will prove the case. I'm going to sit back, and not say much... that seems to be the most help I can provide! (The President, of course, tells us that if the Democrats win, then America loses... because, you know... it's all a big sporting event.)

Or in my case... slow and steady finishes around 17,000th and some-odd in a time of something under 5 and a half hours at the 31st Marine Corps Marathon, in and around the nation's capitol yesterday. The race announcer noted that this giant size MCM, at around 34,000 runners, was the 4th largest marathon staged in the United States; as the last three New York City Marathons were larger, that means... I've been... in all of them... (In fact, I would guess that more people have finished in front of me in those races than, if placed properly, would be enough to swing control of the House!)

I did see far more runners with tributes to loved ones killed in action in Iraq than in the two prior years I've run the race, combined... which, as noted by Unqualified Offerings and Mrs. Offering (Familia Talking Dog had a most enjoyable dinner with Familia Offering during our brief visit to the nation's capital)... may well be because, sadly, there are just so many more KIAs now than in prior years.

I also saw a paucity of electioneering activity pertaining to the Virginia senate race, just two signs (both for Webb) in the thin slices of Virginia through which the race course wound. Don't know how it will come out... But apathy tends to favor incumbents... So I'll just say that... this is not the time for apathy or complacency, no matter what apparent advantage polls might provide.

Meanwhile... Dean Karnazes, running his 44th race in 44 days... still finished nearly two hours ahead of me. I'll see if I can't close that gap (at least a little!) on Sunday at the ING New York City Marathon, when Dean runs his 50th in 50 days... and I'll be running my second in seven.

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October 26, 2006, Happy birthday

To Hillary Clinton, Jaclyn Smith, Pat Sajak, Pat Conroy, Leon Trotsky... and to your talking dog...

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October 24, 2006, Change of plans

It seems that "staying the course" was somewhat misunderstood.

Discussing a strategic timetable for withdrawal is now no longer treason.

Hopefully, we're still at war with Eurasia Eastasia. And what was ignorance again?

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October 21, 2006, President Vows to Continue Iraq Strategy: Blame Democrats for Everything

The much vaunted meeting with policy advisers did not manifest itself in any kind of announced policy or strategy change as mentioned in the President's weekly radio address, according to this from WaPo.

The President did make it clear that a withdrawal will only embolden terrorists and provide them with a safe haven from which to attack the United States. In short: he's got nothin'.

Meanwhile, the U.S.S. Eisenhower should be in the Straits of Hormuz by now, possibly preparing to attack Iran... when you're losing left and right on everything, from Mark Foley to Jack Abramoff to al-Maliki to Kim Jong Il... there's nothing like doubling down the bet... unless you're not a crazed river-boat gambler, of course...

With 18 days to go, the question will come down to whether a combination of voter suppression efforts, long-standing gerrymandering, get-out-the-vote efforts among loyalists, crooked unreliable voting machines (especially electronic voting machines) and last minute advertising blitzes with a wave of Republican money... can overcome staggering bad poll numbers and a growing discontent with a corrupt and out of touch ruling party...

Not even clear the death sentence verdict against Saddam scheduled to be handed down on November 5th (two days before the election) will make much difference...

At the end of the day... I don't know how you bet on this one... 18 days remains a semi-political eternity... but the usual tricks aren't working the usual way right now. Well... time will tell.

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October 18, 2006, Karl's Waterloo... or Karl's hole card?

Could be either, as the Grey Lady gives us this discussion of the spanking new electronic (i.e. paper-trail-less) voting machines that will be rolled out in districts and precincts all over the country (though not here in the Big Apple, where our Eisenhower Administration era voting machines are still held together with bubble gum and rubber bands). Also likely to cause lines: voter identification requirements, that are being found unconstitutional and otherwise unlawful left and right... though poll workers aren't being trained in any of this!

The article notes, helpfully, that though many are duly... concerned... about possible big-time fraud thanks to the new machines... the spoliation rate is, according to an MIT political science professor quoted, actually lower than prior to the 2000 election. Of course, the new machines are credited with helping out the GOP's presidential victories in 2004 Florida and Ohio... of course, such allegations have yet to be proven in a court...

Anyway, there we are. Karl Rove has been remarkably serene and confident, even as his party melts down around him. In one sense, if he's not confident, who will be? After all, this is his job. OTOH... some of us have our suspicions... Though, will we be able to prove them this round?

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October 17, 2006, Star chambers, Inquisitions now law of the land

Not much else to say on that subject; among other things provided for besides the due-process-less "military commissions" and the "aggressive interrogation methods" contained in the abomination of a bill signed into law by the President are ex post facto exoneration of the President and himself and his minions for deliberate violations of international law.

My suggestion is that the President, Vice-President, the Secretaries of Defense and State and some other high level officials should consider doing their international traveling now, before they become mere private citizens subject to the whims of other countries who, you know, might actually willing to enforce the law.

Just saying.

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October 17, 2006, PersecutingProsecuting the Defenders

In its continuing war against prominent women named "Stewart", criminal defense attorney Lynne Stewart was sentenced to28 months in prison in federal court in Manhattan yesterday. The Bush Administration was still hoping for the 9-11 mojo and a 30-year (or life) sentence for the 67 year old breast-cancer surviving Stewart, former counsel to poor schmuck criminals as well as those with a political angle to their crimes, most notably, '93 WTC bombing mastermind Sheik Abdul Rahman ("the blind cleric"), for whom Stewart was convicted of smuggling messages.

Judge John Koeltl wasn't drinking the Bushmen's kool-aid, and found that while Stewart had undeniably violated prison rules (and "the law", whatever that is here, or at least flouted it... rules designed to prevent a terrorist from communicating with outside members of his cell could-- and arguably were-- also used to prevent defense counsel from interviewing potentially helpful witnesses... hence, the issue), her long career of representing those with nowhere else to turn, and over 1,100 letters of support swayed him to impose a real, but not insanely harsh, sentence on Ms. Stewart. Her co-defendants didn't do as well; a paralegal got 24 years and her translator got 28 months as well, for their role in communicating Rahman's wishes to the outside world.

As a lawyer with an interest on this blog in the work of other lawyers who defend comparably unpopular clients, I was most interested to see how this would play out... Certainly, the life sentence sought by the government was calculated to deter attorneys from representing the unpopular; perhaps Judge Koeltl was aware of that as well.

No matter. Ms. Stewart's legal career is over. Given that she knowingly chose to flout arguably unfair (or even unconstitutional) rules supposedly put in place for national security reasons, rather than apply to court for leave to disregard them, she took her chances by violating those rules. But she did not hurt anyone, nor did she intend to hurt anyone, and the government's position here appeared quite literally intended to chill defense counsel from doing their job. As such... it appears that some semblance of fairness permeated this result.

Ms. Stewart's conducted resulted in her violating one of the most important adages of the legal profession: at the end of the day, if someone has to go to jail, it's the client.

An appeal will follow, but my guess is the sentence and conviction will stand.

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October 15, 2006, The Aloha State (of emergency)

A rather large earthquake in the range of 6.6 on the Richter scale struck a few miles off the north shore of the Big Island of Hawaii; Steve, our man in Honolulu (a/k/a Linkmeister) reports that he and his are fine and sends us this dispatch.

The Governor of Hawaii has declared a statewide state of emergency, and there are numerous power outages, road blockages and other damage. Hopefully there will be a minimum of loss of life. Hawaii, as Steve notes, frequently suffers volcanic activity, but a straight up earthquake is somewhat more unusual.

All we can do here is pray for the best, and wish everyone in Hawaii a hearty Pomaika`i.

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October 15, 2006, New World Disorder

We'll start with a discussion of the breakdown of the world's nuclear non-proliferation mechanism in the Los Angeles Times. The article discusses the fact that it now seems (surprise, surprise) that the international consensus that led to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in place for 36 years now seems to be breaking down. That consensus basically pledged most of the world not to develop nuclear weapons, and the then five "original" nuclear nations (which, not coincidentally, were the five U.N. Security Council veto holders, U.S.A., U.S.S.R. (now Russia), China, Britain and France) pledged to reduce their nuclear arsenals.

But things seem to be breaking down. For one thing, both China and Russia aren't jiggy with military enforcement against North Korea, and have agreed instead to a watered down series of trade sanctions (and even those are watered down, in turn, because China is unlikely even to inspect N.K. bound cargo for nuclear material.) And those nations may well view it as in their national interests not to have such a... robust... enforcement mechanism for non-proliferation matters. Which is troubling enough as it is, as the only existing mechanism, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is itself pretty weak, with inspectors pretty much at the mercy of host governments to let them inspect, and at the whim of the aggressions of other governments (such as the United States in early 2003) that won't let them do their job.

Oh yes... the big driver of things nuclear-disorderly now is the American policy of regime change: certain... troublesome... states... believe that if the United States will not guarantee their security (such as the case of staunch allies Taiwan and South Korea), then they had better guarantee their own security from the United States itself, especially a United States whose leadership doesn't merely recite the words "regime change" but showed everyone it was quite serious about this in Iraq... and we have... North Korea and Iran going all out to join the nuclear club. (We won't talk about other American policy such as the side deal with India, that also hastens the breakdown in international atomic order... no, we just won't.)

While it may be possible for some kind of new international equilibrium to develop and restore some measure of international order (perhaps "freezing" the current nuclear "haves" in exchange for more open inspections and tracking of nuclear material)... it will have to wait at least two years until some semblance of coompetent or rational leadership arises in the United States. Until then... as usual... the human race will have to rely on a wing and a prayer and just hope that too much bad s*** doesn't develop in the interim.

And in the precursor to that regime change (American version, legislative branch), we give you this from AmStreet's Kevin, noting that an arguably important part of the right wing noise machine, its mega-bloggers (notably Hinderaker and Reynolds) seem to be throwing in the towel vis a vis the mid-term elections... at least until their new marching orders get e-mailed to them... as things look bad for the GOP Home Team. To be sure, this seems absurd to me, as the best the Democrats could hope for would be around 219 House seats and maybe... MAYBE... 51 senate seats, and that one seat majority likely dependent on the whims of Joe Lieberman... hardly Armageddon if you're the GOP... but, these guys have perennially showed the courage of fans of any team with a huge lead... when that lead looks vulnerable... they suddenly remember another appointment and head for the parking lot.

Which is what we'all had better not do: Democrats still have to realize that 24 days is a political eternity. Time to pour it on, and pour it on some more. And it's no time to run AWAY from foreign policy, Iraq, etc., as we have done in prior elections: the party in power is the party of dangerous incompetence in areas of security (not to mention enablers of pederasty). Really, our only hope of restoring any semblance of sanity, and ultimate security, is turning out that party.

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October 13, 2006, Mayflower Macchiavellians

Let me be among the last in the blogosphere to talk about the new book (called "Tempting Fate") coming out by former White House "faith based initiative" official David Kuo, discussed in this Lala Times piece. It seems that, in person, the faux Texan New England patricians of the Bush White House were most gracious and accommodating of so-called leaders of the religious right; behind their backs and among each other, the Bushmen called the faithful "nuts"... albeit, politically useful nuts.

And there we have it. The themes are all coming together; obviously, this book is being released within a month of the election for a reason. The usually well-oiled GOP message machine is now working perfectly... the wrong way. The fact is, the Plutocrat Party is, in a country with a large working class population, always likely to be a minority party. But a Plutocrat Party that manages to successfully espouse a monopoly on morality (read in America as sexual virtue, and nothing else)... can forge enough of an alliance with Southern Protestant faithful... to hold power in our fractious system. Especially when suburban and exurban women can be made fearful of their children's safety. The Foley scandal, tying in the GOP leadership, is almost as perfectly designed a dagger as possible aimed at the heart of that alliance. And Kuo's book would seem to be another jab at that alliance.

It turns out that this might be a more fragile coalition than thought. And each and every element of it is under assault right now (except for the real base, the Plutocrats, who are pouring money in big time in a desperate effort to hold power.) And given the rigged, gerrymandered system they have set up, and their monetary advantage, it might still work for the GOP to hold both houses of Congress (poll numbers be damned!)

Though that outcome is rapidly not becoming... how you'd bet.

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October 11, 2006, Another day in the big city

A small plane carrying New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle crashed into a building on the East Side of Manhattan, killing at least two people (including Mr. Lidle). Coming as it does shortly after the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs and the Mets were scheduled to begin their League Championship Series tonight (weather permitting)... this is a peculiarly freaky event (like it wouldn't be freaky enough otherwise).

As we learned from the John F. Kennedy, Jr. plane crash a few years ago, general aviation is an extraordinarily dangerous business: something like 1 in 100 private aircraft are involved in an accident every year, and 1 in 300 in a fatal accident. I can't seem to find a link to those stats, but this general link on airplane accident odds is staggering enough, showing one is around 100 times as likely to die (per trip) in a general aviation trip compared to a car trip (and 800 times as likely as on a commercial plane trip). Meaning... there is a damned good reason that private pilots can't get life insurance. It's an amazingly dangerous activity (starting with the Wright Brothers, as Orville Wright himself survived the first fatal crash; his passenger did not.)

We permit it, of course, despite its amazing dangerousness, because (1) it (like smoking) is widely perceived as cool, and (2) affluent White men like to engage in it. And it is incredibly land, energy and resource intensive. Like golf. And Americans are notoriously bad at assessing risks. Like the risks of terrorism. Or permitting deviation from our Constitution.

Today's event is a tragedy to be sure. But in the end, it's just another story in the big city, a city full of stories. You'all remember a similar tragedy, oh, 61 months ago to the day a few miles south of today's tragedy (at York and East 72nd, across the street from New York Hospital where the Loquacious Pup was born). That tragedy downtown, involving other planes crashing into other tall buildings, has been used as the all-purpose justification excuse for, among other things, a little war on Iraq that seems to have killed around 3,000 Americans and, according to one survey published in the Lancet, around 650,000 Iraqis.

And there you have it. Another day in the big city.

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October 9, 2006, Had Enough? [Color by number, or Deus ex Diebold Machina]

If you try to color by number, then the G.O.P.'s numbers would, at the moment, be a dismal shade of grey, according to this compendium of today's poll results by Billmon. The polling consensus puts the G.O.P. behind Democrats generically (though, not of course, in a seat by gerrymandered seat match-up) by a jaw-dropping twenty-three percentage points. As Billmon's piece notes, that does not augur well when compared to prior cycles, such as 1994, where the Democrats weren't nearly that far behind in polling despite getting clobbered in the mid-terms. While, thanks to yon gerrymandering, the system is rigged to ensure that a 50 or 60 seat bloodbath won't happen, we could easily still see a flood tossing out the incumbents in both the House and the Senate that flips one or both to Democratic control. And the margin for this may not even be remotely close enough even for rigged voting machines (unfortunately, they exist; fortunately, they are by no means universal) to change the ultimate result.

I must say, I personally thought the Foley thing was a dangerous diversion, and would cost Democrats the opportunity to take the initiative going into the election. What I failed to count on was that the Democrats are constitutionally (small c) incapable of taking the initiative, while the Republicans always insist on taking the initiative themselves. It was hard to figure that the disciplined Republicans would, instead, chose to actively implode, rather than simply shut up and win; a simple sacrifice of their stuffed shirt speaker Mr. Hastert, and this problem would have been solved. But nooooooooo..... Without DeLay there to pull its strings... the GOP appears to be floundering and foundering... Accordingly, if the Republicans want to hand this one to the Democrats, I guess I'll have to suggest to the Democrats that they simply let them. What can I say?

I mean, if GOP pollster and right-wing communications oracle Frank Luntz, of all people, writing in Time, asks the question that most Americans ask about the Republicans ("Had enough?") [Frank figured prominently in my interview with George Lakoff] because he believes that the Foley scandal is the last straw in terms of a calcified and corrupt GOP Congressional leadership... well, what else can I say?

I will say this: the Democratic party apparatus seems to be trying to win, for a change. They have been constantly hounding me for money on the internet, on the phone, and even door to door. I'm aware of their existence in a way I wasn't even two years ago. Move-on seems to be on the move. Polls in key states are going in the right direction. I might fear that we are peaking too early, but 23 points with 29 days left is very hard to argue with.

All I can say is "Go get 'em, girls and boys!" If the Democrats are at this level of effort everywhere, and actually intend to mount a credible all out effort, given the public's sentiment that is lining up overwhelmingly against the calcified and hypocritical incumbent party of the plutocrat, the parochial, and evidently, the pedophile, we just might eke out victory here despite our own party leadership's best efforts to blow it. We can't let up for a minute; as Digby notes here, the religious right is not only undeterred by the Foley scandal, they show every indication that they will redouble their efforts because of it.

So, I guess, we will have to quadruple our own. Nothing can be taken for granted this time. Gasoline prices will be manipulated to be lower still; an attack fleet is now headed for Iran; OBL will be heard from, one way or another; perhaps a Democratic candidate will die in a mysterious plane crash. Who knows? It's all happened before.

We have to be prepared for any of it, or all of it. And we have to be realistic. Because even in the unlikely event we win either house of Congress (see above re: gerrymandering and rigged voting machines), we still have a run-amok executive in the hands not merely of mediocrity, but of dangerously incompetent mediocrity, who will thwart virtually any legislative effort to do any good at all.

But at least it would be something.

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October 9, 2006, North Korea Tests Nuclear Weapon

Sadly, I can't come up with a clever post title for this event, but it seems to be generally confirmed that North Korea has detonated a .5 to 1.5 kiloton nuclear device, for which it is receiving universal condemnation.

Bruce the Veep suggests laying this one at the feet of our previous President (that would be Bill Clinton) for agreeing to permit North Korea to proceed with "peaceful" nuclear research (the kind that Iran says it wants to pursue now) back in the 1990's, rather than take on North Korea then and there (a North Korea that then did not have nuclear weapons). I would say that that's not all that unfair, although we cannot by any means discount that the current President's "Axis of EvilTM" program has certainly encouraged North Korea to get on with their nuclear development as fast as possible to head off American aggression. (In fact, it seems to have been a successful policy, as there are not only no plans vis a vis attacking North Korea, but we are diverting USA troops from the South Korean DMZ to Iraq and have launched an Armada heading for Iran, both of which, unlike North Korea, lack nuclear weapons.) Further, Bush the Younger has been in office for nearly six years, and hasn't really seemed to even articulate a policy towards North Korea, other than to pull troops out of South Korea, and insist that discussion with the Hermit Kingdom be in the form of multi-party talks (thereby minimizing American accountability).

In short... whatever Clinton's policies were, they seem to have been unchanged in any material sense by the Iraq-obsessed Bush team, especially since the discovery on Bush's watch that North Korea was violating the earlier deal and developing weapons (which puts Bush into that "last clear chance" scenario, and arguably gets Clinton off the hook!). No matter: the Bushmen regard this latest... development... as an opportunity! Now they can get tough (for a change!), and as Bruce the Veep notes, encourage the North Koreans to start blackmailing the rest of the world as soon as possible. The essence of Bush the Younger's policies: when our policies create lemons... sell it as lemonade!

Assuming we had any money left, this might also be a great time to flush hundreds of billions of more dollars down the toilet developing an anti-ballistic missile system to combat those extremely effective and accurate (LOL) North Korean Taepodong missiles (which will likely destroy Pyongyang long before they destroy anything else). But, of course, we've shot our wad on the Bush family pissing contest in Iraq, and drowned our government's ability to do anything in the bathtub of tax cuts (wouldn't it be amusingly ironic, btw, if Grover Norquist drowned in a bathtub? That's a JOKE, folks... )

Anyway, you get the picture: North Korea has a nuclear bomb now (or in the range of a dozen, as is widely believed) and there's precious little we can do about it.

The irony, as I just got a flash e-mail from MSNBC, is that because this event takes Foley and Iraq off the front pages, it will help the Republicans. We all knew that OBL was the most effective GOP campaign device ever invented (and I understand that OBL keeps a thank you note from RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman on the wall of his cave)... but who knew Kim Jong Il was on the team?

It seems that, as usual, we all misunderestimated Bush Junior: like Bush Pere, it seems, he too was able to assemble a vast international coalition. When it comes to marshalling some of the world's most dangerous people into taking actions that will get Republicans elected, it seems that in the end, he truly is a uniter, not a divider.

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October 8, 2006, A Swift Kick

That would be Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Swift, military attorney for Salim Hamdan, who prevailed in the Supreme Court in a challenge to the military commission process dreamed up by the President to try so-called "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay. Lt. Cmdr. Swift has been advised that he has been denied a promotion to full commander, and as such, must retire from the Navy. Coincidence, I'm sure. (You can read my interview with Swift's civilian co-counsel Neal Katyal, here.)

Since the Hamdan case... let's see. Congress passes a law intended to strip federal courts of habeas corpus jurisidiction altogether, to permit military tribunals where coerced evidence may be used and the prisoner denied access to the evidence against him, and of course, torture is now the law of the land. Oh... and Charlie Swift has been kicked out of the navy.

Do I think that the President himself personally intervened to make this happen? I have no idea. He is certainly childish, petty and vindictive enough to lash out at whoever he could for embarrassing him, to be sure; but then, this is a detail. Rumsfeld-- now he is into this level of detail. That would be my personal bet.

All just part of the package of what America, and especially our government, now is. A competent and effective man who criticizes the boss... is no longer welcome in our government service, where political hack loyalist yes-men (and yes-women) are in vogue.

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October 7, 2006, Kids today

Revisiting what was once a regular TD Saturday feature, we'll drop by our comrades at Pravda (not Neo-Pravda a/k/a the Grey Lady... but Paleo-Pravda, the one based in Moskva ba-Russya), for this discussion of the results of the recent National Geographic Society quiz given to American youth.

(In other Russia-related news at Pravda, an award winning journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who was critical of the war with Chechnya, was murdered in an elevator in Moscow; while American journalists fear not getting invited to the better cocktail parties, or (heavens) being shut out of access to key Administration propaganda-feeders... journalists in places like Russia, i.e., journalists, actually take real chances to try to uncover and report the truth. But I digress...)

Anyway, while the numbers in the Pravda discussion of American knowledge don't add up (hey, what does?), they do indicate that the majority of Americans (18-24) surveyed couldn't find New York, Mississippi or Louisiana correctly on a map, thought Sudan was in Asia (it is in Africa), thought that the majority of India's population is Moslem (it is Hindu) and thought that the most widely spoken language in the world is English (it is Mandarin Chinese).

Assuming the survey is even remotely accurate, it would seem that ignorance of basic facts about the world (and our own country) is endemic among American youth. Hence, Foley scandal or not, it sure looks like the Republican Party will have a bright long-term future after all.

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October 5, 2006, Rice-a-runny

Something else we're all not paying attention to while we continue to be distracted by a man no longer in Congress not having sex with a no longer 16 year old congressional page: Condi is running around the Middle East like the proverbial chicken without a head; she took an evidently unscheduled detour to Iraq to talk to al-Maliki about, you know, the escalating (from "very high") level of violence in Iraq, which is on track to make this the worst week followed by the worst month for American casualties (not to mention for Iraqi casualties).

In short, while the Gang that Can't Even Spin Straight Anymore ponders the mid-terms and calling Democrats cut and runners and appeasers and bedwetters and gay child molestors liberals who can't be trusted to defend us... their number one act, keeping Iraqi oil safely oil offline (so that their Saudi friends can raise the prices again after the mid-terms)... seems to be going badly on all other fronts.

Fortunately, of course, the mounting American casualties (the kind our electorate cares about) aren't on the front pages (haven't been for a long time, though the accelerating level is indeed "news"), as instead... pages have been out in front. Won't matter. Once that Armada makes its way into the Straits of Hormuz and attacks Iran at the end of the month... perhaps we can call this all "Rice-Iran-y"... And, of course, once the United States is bogged down in a third Asian shooting war... well, we all have to rally around the President's party in mid-terms.

It's the law.

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October 5, 2006, Eyes off the prize

The sentiments I've been thinking about the Foley scandal have been eloquently voiced here by Barbara of Mahablog. As I said, the most critical issue of the day, in my view, is that our Senate Majority leader has just told us that he wants to invite the people who harbored those who attacked us into the Afghan government, followed closely if not a toss-up with the revelation that Incompetetentalleezza Rice seemed to be warned about an imminent A.Q. attack on the United States two months before it happened (in addition to the August warning we already knew about). (I consider what this Congress has done to us all re: habeas corpus and torture to trump all of this, but, of course... no one else does, so we'll just move on to what the voters think.)

In short, those stories are "urgent and important". Why? Because they relate to the national security theme, that voters have shown, in their view, trumps (if not highjacks) all other issues. And on these critical issues, we now KNOW-- as in for sure, beyond a reasonable doubt-- that the Republican approach under GW Bush has been (1) incompetent (we lost the war on terror, according to Frist, and should just give up to the Taliban in Afghanistan) and (2) duplicitous (Rice had always insisted to us that the 9-11 attacks were absolutely unforeseeable, and she and her boss did everything to mislead us about the state of their knowledge). Those two facts are now undeniable.

So... as Barbara observes... how to get the public to stop thinking about those two key facts? Throw a Congressman (or two... or all of them...) under under a bus, with the only thing the media (not necessarily the public, but certainly the media) cares about: a sex scandal. And a stupid, unimportant sex scandal at that.

Thing is, it might be urgent, but it's not important. It reinforces the bogus priorities of our media (and too many of our people). In this case, the subject, ex-Congressman Foley (who Fox News has occasionally put up graphics depicting as "Rep. Marc Foley (D-Fla.", which not only misleads as to his party, but to his status as a Congressman, which is no longer the case), is just that: out of Congress. He will probably cost his party that seat, which had heretofore been considered safe. And insofar as he has taken key GOP leaders (like Hastert and Reynolds) and forced them into defending their conduct in this
asinine scandal rather than toward campaigning, may well cost the GOP the House. Or not.

But think about what is not getting talked about: the Bush Administration and the Republicans are neither competent nor trustworthy enough to lead us in the war on terror, or protect us from terrorists. Their incompetence and duplicity contributed to our getting attacked, and their incompetence and duplicity led to our failure to defeat them (and our imminent surrender in Afghanistan). And that's more important to me than all the salacious e-mails and IMs ever sent by Congressman Foley. (On this one, I suspect the voters may agree with me.)

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October 3, 2006, Thank the Lord for SOMETHING to take Foley, Frist and Condi off the front page

It may seem a bit odd that the approaching Apocalypse would be greeted as good news... but this is so only if you're a Republican, of course. In this case, that would be North Korea's announcement that it intends to test detonate a nuclear bomb. While it is widely believed that North Korea has around 11 nuclear bombs, no one knows for sure that any of them work. Given the failure of its mid to long range Taepodong missile earlier in the year, it is always possible that its nuclear ambitions and capabilities are greatly overstated. A successful test of a nuclear weapon... would clear up all doubt. (Of course, an unsuccessful test wouldn't remove doubt the other way... though it would be a tad embarassing... though Kim Jong Il is not one to be embarrassed easily.)

In yet another example of the successful strategy of telling our most irritating enemies that we think they are evil and that we mean to impose regime change on them after which we will arrange for show trials and death sentences for their leadership, it comes as no surprise that Axis of EvilTM numbers 2 and 3, Iran and North Korea, are moving along with their nuclear programs as fast as possible (though Iran is widely rumored to be scheduled for an American attack in late October as part of this year's mid-term pageant, because it is so much farther behind in getting its bomb compared to North Korea.)

It's all odd, really. What to do with North Korea? Well, it's difficult because it's such a pain in the ass to deal with, with millions of starving people at the same time it is developing nuclear weapons and longer range missiles... we try to deal with it through China, but China has its own angle (and its own regional hegemony... to a degree.) The Japanese and South Koreans are rightly concerned... though less concerned than we are (and indeed, remittances from those two countries, along with Chinese aid, are helping to keep North Korea propped up as it is.)

Well, let's just hail North Korea and its coming nuclear capability as yet another shining success of the Bush Administration's simplistic foreign policy. Really, what else can we do?

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October 2, 2006, Unless we bring their harborers into the Afghan government, the terrorists will win

I frankly still find it hard to believe, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-HCA) has called for the Afghan government to invite the Taliban into the rulling coalition.

You all remember the Taliban, I suppose. These are those extremely devout (in their peculiar parochial version of Islam anyway) Moslems who like to stone women for the hell of it, blow up world treasures like the giant stone Buddhas at Bamiyan, make women wear head to toe burqas and not go to school and make men wear beards... and, of course, they famously harbored OBL and al Qaeda and provided a cozy base for them from which they attacked us on 9-11. You'll also recall our famous defeat of the Taliban (largely by proxy means) in late 2001 (with various farmers, Taliban conscripts and other assorted non-combatant schmucks handed over to us for bounty, many of whom still languish without hope-- or point-- at Gitmo and other less well-known locations). Indeed, the ease of this victory made many foolishly think Iraq would be a cakewalk (though the difficulties in Iraq don't necessarily rule Iran as off the table... reality, you know, has a liberal bias, and hence, should be taken with a grain of salt.)

Yes, yes those Taliban. Now you remember.

Hello, Democratic Party? Are you morons listening? Bill Frist has just handed you the mid-term elections, if you want them (a dubious proposition, I admit.) Afghanistan, not Iraq, but Afghanistan, is the central front on the war on terror, and supposedly, the place where we are still hunting OBL and AQ. Afghanistan, where the Republican leader in the Upper House of Congress just suggested that we give up-- that we stop fighting the war on terror. Yes, yes, while the Taliban's friends al Qaeda are too dangerous to warrant our still being a country that complies with international law or the Magna Carta... the Taliban themselves are just too much of a pain in the ass to fight militarily and all (what with us being all tied down in Iraq and all.)

Bill Frist has just told us that we may as well call it quits in the REAL central front in the war on terror, because, aw shucks, we'll never win it anyway.

Maybe he's right, btw; certainly, it seems the Taliban have been improving their position of late. So... shall we call the President's own hand-picked senate majority leader a Democratic operative now, because he has just told us that in his view, the war on terror has been lost? Could there be a more damning indictment of the President's conduct of the war on terror, including and especially his priorities in it? Shall we send majorities back to Congress from the party that simply rubber stamps the President's incompetence (not to mention duplicitousness)? Well, shall we?

Wake up, DEMOCRATS: don't talk about health care, or the deficit, or prescription drugs, or education. TALK. ABOUT. AFGHANISTAN. And the war on terror. And how it has, according to the Senate Majority Leader, just been lost. Bad enough incompetence seems to have played its helpful role in getting us attacked in the first place. But the senate majority leader tells us that we have lost the biggest one of all: he wants to invite the close allies of the people who attacked this country into the government of a friendly country.

I can't think of any reason to talk about anything else (except Congressman Foley, I suppose!)

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October 2, 2006, The tribulations of the put-upon office wife

In this case, the office wife would be Secretary of State Incompetentalleezza Rice, in her former incarnation as the President's National Security Advisor, who, we learn after the publication of Bob Woodward's recent antidote to his earlier Bush hagiography, Dr. Rice seems to have... forgotten... critical details... like all of them... associated with a meeting in July, 2001 with CIA Director George Tenet urgently warning her of an impending Al Qaeda strike and begging her to alert the President (something else she seems to have forgotten to do.) In fairness to Secretary Rice, we tend to have what I'll call a "last clear chance" problem insofar as we learned from Ron Susskind's book that in August, 2001 another CIA briefer made it to the President himself, who famously responded "you've covered your ass" and then did nothing himself.

Still, it's interesting to note that according to Woodward's book (and there seems no reason not to trust that those around the President want all this to come out or they wouldn't have told Woodward), the President's real wife desperately wanted him to fire Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, though presumably, as the President himself did not, we could expect that his office wife backed him on that.

Bruce the Veep sends this along from WaPo indicating that the 9-11 Commission (who did its part to get the Imperium reelected, after all) is furious that it wasn't let in on this secret July 2001 meeting (and how pissed Tenet was about Rice stonewalling him at the time) so that the Commission could have, you know, timely sanitized it the way it did everything else. Oh well.

The fact is, of course, that our national elections are decided not based on the people's knowledge, but by vast majority of the American people's ignorance of key facts, largely because they are (1) too stressed from just trying to make a living to be in a position to learn them and (2) blessed with a dumbed-down celebrity-driven media who helps make sure that they continue not to know anything. (Were things better in an era when people actually read newspapers? Well... in terms of knowledge of the electorate, I would say "yes." On balance, do we live in a nicer world than we did 100 years ago, 50 years ago, even 25 years ago, I'd say "sure". Than ten years ago, five years ago? Then I'd say, "give me a break". But that's just me.)

And there we have it. Is all this grounds for impeachment an investigation? Well... yes. If you all want that investigation, then we'll need at least one house of Congress (and hence subpoena power) to be in the hands of another party, if not both houses. No, we won't get anywhere real, and no one will actually be accountable, torture and the removal of habeas corpus will still be the law of the land and all, but at least people who deserve it will be forced to squirm in public.

It's not much. But we'll take it.

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October 1, 2006, A Pax Romanica on your house

The New York Times gives us this fascinating op-ed likening the recent outbreak of politically convenient cowardice in our own senate to that of the Roman senate circa 68 B.C. around the time of the great fire at Ostia. That fire included the burning of a Roman fleet and kidnapping of two senators by "pirates".

While I tend to view 9-11 as more reminiscent of the Reichstadt fire, apparently, this sort of "throw out all semblance of checks and balances, due process and, quite frankly, sanity, because civil rights don't mean anything when we're dead" (to paraphrase a recent screaming mimi hysterical op-ed from New York's Daily News) or other such nonsense... the Times piece shows us that the Ostia fire/Roman model works surprisingly well as an analog to current events.

After the unprecedented ceding of total military power to Pompey the great, who was succeeded by Julius Caesar (himself flush from the spoils he acquired pursuant to the ceding of military power), the Roman republic, which had guaranteed then unheard of rights and privileges to its citizens pretty much not to be seen again until the American Revolution, was over, and the Roman Empire was born.

A cautionary tale. Given the astounding ignorance of most Americans as to most of our own civic details, knowledge of the details of Rome's decline into dictatorship is not exactly au courant here (unlike, say, what or who Paris Hilton is doing, for example.)

Who knows, really? Maybe our own ceding of dictator-like powers to Caesar ultimately won't render us all unto Caesar. I'm not sure that's how you bet, though.

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