The Talking Dog

November 29, 2006, Political Equivalent of an "Old Navy" Ad

Full credit to Mrs. TD for the post title, referring of course, to the composition of the Jim Baker headed "Iraq Study Group" referenced at the very end of the Grey Lady's discussion of its non-finding findings and non-recommendation recommendations that "aren't stay the course OR cut and run"... because they aren't anything at all. Gradual pullback. Huh?

I'll let the Times speak of the cast-list:

In addition to Mr. Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman, the group included two Democrats who are veterans of the Clinton administration, Leon E. Panetta and William J. Perry, and a Clinton adviser, Vernon E. Jordan Jr. Charles S. Robb, former Democratic governor of Virginia, and Alan K. Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, were also on the panel, along with Sandra Day O’Connor, a former Supreme Court justice who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan.

Other members included Edwin Meese III, who served as attorney general under Mr. Reagan, and Lawrence S. Eagleburger, a former secretary of state under Mr. Bush’s father. Mr. Eagleburger replaced Robert M. Gates, who resigned when he was nominated to be the next secretary of defense. If confirmed he will have to carry out whatever change of military strategy, if any, Mr. Bush embraces.

I vaguely remember Larry Eagleburger as having been in some kind of legal trouble, as was (my former boss) Ed Meese. But Sandra Day O'Connor? LMAO, I think is the expression. Bad enough Jim Baker is in charge... so we have O'Connor, who proved so instrumental in getting Bush elected in 2000, along with Hamilton, who was so helpful in getting him reelected in 2004. And Vernon Jordan for good measure... so helpful to the last President (Panetta and Perry, who were supposed to be helpful to the last President, as our tax money paid their salaries, are less interesting.)

Well, what can I say? Given the firepower of that group and what it concluded, why not add Morgan Fairchild, Sherman Hensley, and Carrie Donovan... I'm sure they could have at least added some fashion sense to "gradual withdrawal."

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November 29, 2006, Fun and Games with Homeland Security

We'll start with this WaPo piece on a decision by Judge Richard Leon of the federal district court in Washington D.C. finding the Bush Administration's arbitrary cut-offs of rent aid to tens of thousands of refugees from hurricanes Katrina and Rita to be... arbitrary to the point of unconstitutional. (Judge Leon is a commie pinko appointed by... George W. Bush.)

Elsewhere in Homeland Security World, Secretary Michael Chertoff apologized for fucking up , blaming administrative "bean-counting" for screwing New York, the nation's primary terrorist target, from receiving tens of millions of dollars in homeland security grants which were instead ear-marked for places more likely to vote for Republicans. Given that the plan didn't work, and the Republicans lost control of Congress... Chertoff now acknowledges that the plan might not have been... good. Or something.

It appears that the border control system requiring fingerprinting and photographing of furriners to make sure they're not terrorists at great expense and inconvenience has been remarkably successful: it netted a terrorist suspect (in 2005). So... the system must be deterring all those terrorist wannabes... that, or we've successfully tied them all down in Iraq...

Speaking of which, the Iraq study group, headed by Bush-family-retainers James Baker and Lee Hamilton (I realize he's nominally a Democrat, but he did such a good job helping to whitewash things with the 9-11 Commission that he's always welcome... not like that backstabber Woodward...) have sorta reached their conclusion: keep the troops in Iraq, but move them back to barracks and bases. I don't quite understand what it means either-- I guess it's "pragmatically staying the course" without "cutting and running" and "helping them stand up so we can stand down"... and whatever other cliches are currently available for the situation. Let's just say that I'm just not gleaning the magic bullet that will somehow turn Iraq from what it is and has always been intended to be-- a bloody and expensive diversion designed to keep Iraqi oil safely in the ground and not sloshing around world supply lines-- into the glorious military and political victory that will somehow lift Dubya's legacy above "disaster". Of course... that's just me.

This has been... fun and games with homeland security.

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November 27, 2006, TD Blog Interview with Michael Berube

Michael Berube writes the very popular eponymous blog of that name, teaches English (holding a chair as Paterno Family Professor of Literature at the Pennsylvania State University), is the author of "What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?" , a discussion of so-called liberal academic bias that effectively dismembers the charges of the right-wing of a bias reflected in America's classrooms, and a plethora of other books and other works appearing in publications such as The Nation and The New Yorker. On September 27, 2006, I had the privilege of interviewing Professor Berube by telephone; Professor Berube also significantly expounded upon on his answers by e-mail. What follows are my interview notes as extensively supplemented by Professor Berube's e-mail answers (or perhaps, vice versa).

The Talking Dog: You know, of course, that the first question is invariably "Where were you on 9-11"?

Michael Berube: Merely sitting at home here in central Pennsylvania-- and because I was reading, not listening to radio or watching TV or anything, I actually didn't hear anything about the attacks until it was nearly 10 am. The odd thing, though, was that I had just visited lower Manhattan and the Battery a week earlier with my younger son, Jamie, who has Down syndrome and was about to turn 10 at the time. During the long Labor Day weekend, we stayed with a friend who lived not far from the WTC; we took the ferry to Staten Island, walked around the Wall Street area, and debated for a long time whether we wanted to wait in line to go to the top of the WTC (as I had done with my older son nine years earlier). We decided we'd do it . . . next time. So even though I was 250 miles away when the planes struck, the buildings-- and the city, and my friends-- felt especially close to me that morning.

The Talking Dog: Let me jump right in to where your book jumps in, that being the so-called charge of "liberal bias" in American universities, which, as you point out, is supported principally by a tiny group of very mediocre students complaining about bad grades for objectively poor academic work. Isn't the very speciousness of David Horowitz's "evidence" of liberal bias actually part of its power-- that the mere accusation seems to be enough to get some resonance, even if the "supporting" facts are complete nonsense (or worse)? Indeed, given that this has extra political leverage at public universities, where craven state legislators might and have taken up Horowitz's cause, isn't this sort of thing not only inevitable, but not even all that unprecedented, particularly given the sterotype of professorial liberal bias?

Michael Berube: Well, I think the power of Horowitz's charges depends a great deal on the echo chamber created over the years by the great right-wing noise machine. If you understand that, then you can understand why Horowitz is so very, very furious at being met with what he calls "nit-picking" complaints-- the kind in which people try to verify his claim that a Penn State biology professor showed Fahrenheit 9/11 to his students just before the 2004 election, and then fail to verify that any such thing happened (because it didn't). As Horowitz has often said, it doesn't really matter whether any one specific allegation about liberal bias on campus is true, because we know that something like it is true somewhere or other. And that's what the hard-core culture warriors of the right believe about universities; there's nothing you can do, no study you can cite, no reality-based demonstration you can perform to persuade them otherwise. Accordingly, the accusations of liberal bias and persecution have such resonance, as you say, that even an undergraduate who's a serial plagiarist (and whose serial plagiarism was uncovered by a blogger in the course of a few hours on the Internet) can be featured on Fox News as a victim of pervasive liberal bias. The truth, in that case, was that the student didn't complete an independent study tutorial-- a tutorial on journalism ethics, of all things, to which she'd been assigned precisely as a result of her plagiarism. You'd think the right would be ashamed to rely on students like that as standard-bearers. But you'd think wrong.

The Talking Dog: On the subject of Mr. Horowitz, in an NRO online interview with Kathryn Lopez, Horowitz made the following statement:

"The "dangerous" idea is a marketing strategy which my publisher attached to the book after it was written. The only appearance of the word "dangerous" in the text is in the coupling of the words "dangerous sophistry" to describe some writing by Professor Juan Cole. Nonetheless, I think "dangerous" can fairly be applied to the collectivity, not least in terms of what they have done to the academic enterprise. Readers of the book will see that the profiles are both accurate and fair. There are several professors ” Michael Berube, Todd Gitlin, and Victor Navasky to name four” who are there because they have been collusive in the efforts of political activists to purge the university of conservatives and subvert its academic mission in the service of radical agendas. I point out that Berube and Gitlin supported the war against the Taliban; and that they have been critical of the pro-Saddam left in the anti-Iraq war movement. But if they have been critical of the terrorists, Communists, and leftwing racists on university faculties, I missed it."

Now... our beloved alma mater (Columbia) has a journalism school that counts Navasky as a prof, and he was a major figure at the Nation; Gitlin is also employed by our alma mater, and is a former SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) president who has been very crticial of that organization in his older life in retrospect; Juan Cole, like you, has been around the Big 10 (BA Northwestern, prof at Michigan)... Now... Two questions emerge from this. let's take the first one:

Mr. Horowitz's targets of opportunity tend to be not merely publicly outspoken, but publicly visible (both in old media and new media alike), which might explain why what concerns Mr. Horowitz (that and your failure to appropriately denounce terrorists, Communists and leftwing faculty racists, Comrade). In fact, the criticism, of course, is not about what goes on in your classroom (which, while you discuss it extensively, Mr. Horowitz... doesn't say much, other than to insist that you try to work in economic determinism into literature, which, I guess if you include that as part of "cultural context" might be true!")... but Horowitz, for example, objects to civil public protests of government policy, for example...(i.e. in his view, we are no longer a free country if the President says we are at war... or if the President even thinks he is going to say it.) In short, is it fair to say that at least when we get down to specifics, notwithstanding the polemic about academic leftwing bias (which, as you ably note, is based on a factual foundation of virtually nothing and nothing), but is simply using this as an overlay to attack his more media-savvy political opponents using the frame and cover of "bias in the academy"?

Michael Berube: Hey! This is a leading question. Let me back up a moment.

It's important to attend to how the shell game is played, first. The fact that liberals outnumber conservatives on campus-- by a ratio of roughly 2.6 to 1-- is indisputable. What the culture-war right derives from this fact, however, are two highly disputable conclusions: one, that the ratio can be explained only by active collusion among liberals (note that Horowitz makes this suggestion in the NRO interview)-- a belief that, in my opinion not only expresses a good deal of right-wing projection but also provides convenient cover for the fact in the arts and humanities as well as in some of the sciences, there simply aren't very many smart young conservatives in the academic-market pipeline to begin with. (In other words, it allows them to say, "well, we would be more numerous on campus-- we're simply told that we're not wanted.") Two, that this preponderance of campus liberals actively discriminates against conservative students as well as potential conservative colleagues. As I note in the book, this second charge-- the most incendiary one, for most parents, alumni, trustees, legislators, and bystanders-- is supported by exceptionally weak and anecdotal evidence, much of it provided by students themselves in an almost comically self-undermining manner. The first charge is something I take more seriously, because, as I argue in the book, domination of certain academic fields-- like mine-- by liberals is good neither for those fields nor for liberals. (I can't believe that conservatives are complaining about a dispensation in which they run the country and we teach the American Novel survey.)

So because Horowitz has almost no evidence about anyone's actual classroom behavior, he goes after the public statements of professors instead. (Which also means, by the way, that when he says he doesn't do this, he is lying.) And he does so partly because he has nothing to bring to the table when it comes to serious discussions about classroom matters, and partly because it's a convenient way for him to attack people like me and Gitlin-- and Navasky, and Eric Foner, as liberal-leftists at large. I might add, under this heading, that Horowitz has exceptionally thin skin and takes perceived slights very personally, so some of the entries in his book-- like his attacks on a handful of notable black scholars-- stem from nothing more than an unhealthy obsession or two.

The Talking Dog: Let me go to the second question that emerges from Horowitz's NRO interview. Given the condensed enemies list presented to National Review Online (you, Cole, Navasky, Gitlin), it sure seems obvious that in terms of allegiance to the Central Committee, our alma mater (Moscow on Morningside Heights), boasting two of the Gang of Four on its faculty and a third as an alum is clearly the center of the subversive universe. I must confess that other than a very irritating "radical chic" streak among the student body, in my own political science major (featuring international politics and political theory, and among the pedagogues was Carter's national security advisor), I really didn't, with perhaps one or two exceptions, encounter a particular discernible left wing bias. For those who don't know, I should point out that I consider myself a centrist, or perhaps center-left or even center-right, though there, of course, is no longer such a thing as a centrist as these days "you're either with us or against us" (btw, my bizarre voting record for President includes Gore and Kerry, of course, but it also includes Dole and, to my perpetual chagrin, Poppy Bush; as I didn't vote for Dubya, of course, you may consider me a fellow member of "the hard left".) My question is, aside from your obvious liberal bias (Horowitz says it so it must be true), do you recall the refreshing waft of liberal bias during your undergrad experience (which coincided for at least two years at the same time and place as my own)? Because I gotta tell you... my recollection is that if there was a "liberal bias", it didn't seem to be in the faculty of early '80s Columbia. What's your view?

Michael Berube: Much of Columbia's aura of radical dangeralness derives not from the students or the faculty but from the frieze of Trotskyite groups that ring the campus. For those groups-- whose newspapers I used to read regularly in the late 70s, especially before the fall of the Shah-- 1968 was the year that Giants Walked the Earth. Whereas in 1978, when I entered the place, only three percent of the freshman class recognized the name of [former SDS leader] Mark Rudd. And when I took a course in Jacksonian Democracy with Chilton Williamson at Barnard, and Professor Williamson announced (in January of 1981) that we were in for a major moral revival now that Reagan was president, I wondered whether he would look kindly on a young democratic socialist like myself. As it happened, I wrote my term paper on Jackson's settlement of the spoliation claims against France, and I can't see how my political convictions-- or my professor's-- had anything to do with the material of that paper or the way it was graded.

So no, I didn't experience Columbia as a hotbed of leftist anything, though I knew plenty of people who looked upon Columbia (usually longingly) as a former hotbed of student radicalism. These days, by contrast, most of Horowitz's ire-- when it's not directed at personal targets like Gitlin and Navasky-- is devoted to Columbia's Middle Eastern studies program, which is a live target for obvious reasons. But then, the Middle East has a way of deranging all the usual left/right alignments (as evidenced by the fact that Sami al-Arian of the U of South Florida, one of Horowitz's Dangerous 100, was an organizer for Bush in 2000). You've got a lot of people on the left who are uncritically supportive of Israel, and a lot of people on the right who don't believe in the right of Israel to exist (or who support it chiefly as a launching platform for the Rapture). So here too, I think Horowitz is engaged in something of a shell game.

The Talking Dog: You have an extensive discussion on post-modernism in your aptly named "Post-Modernism" chapter, which I suppose is easy enough to understand in art and music as "after modernism", and as you readily tell us, "not so easy" in literature, and mere surrealism wrapped in unlimited irony (Buffy the Vampire Slayer?) isn't somehow enough of a description either (though you start your post-modernism seminar course with a showing of Blade Runner, director's cut of course.) Still, the premise of your discussing Habermas, Lyotard and Rorty is, I suppose part of a broader exercise in grounding your students in the techniques of evaluating works of literature, as much for the hermeneutic exercise of being able to "reverse engineer" how these things should be studied as much as for the assistance these methods will provide with respect to the actual works of literature. How would you respond to that?

Michael Berube: I'd respond by saying I think you've got all that exactly right.

The Talking Dog: Continuing on in my endless question... You count yourself as an "anti-foundationalist", by which, you mean, that you are willing to actually question whether or not there is or are "fundamental truths that we do or should hold self-evident", and say "those seem like a good idea, let's talk about them" without necessarily conceding the existence of such fundamental truths (and by this you mean "goodness, truth and beauty" as opposed to "gravity, electrical attraction and thermodynamics", i.e. "human truths" as opposed to truths or rules of nature). Is it not fair to say that once one can understand and unravel arguments at this level of depth, don't you have a very, VERY powerful tool at hand by which to question authority on its own terms, and as such, is this not something that certain elements of the right wing might find extremely dangerous, again on its own terms (and worse, you do it at a land-grant college) when put in the hands of young, impressionable, intelligent minds? In other words, you're helping to provide the tools that will ultimately be used to challenge authority, are you not? Indeed, is it not necessary that authority be challenged (i.e. following the boss uncritically to the letter might bankrupt the company, lose the case, kill the patient, etc.) to function as a society, despite the resentment of right wingers?

Michael Berube: Yes, yes, and yes. And this is why I think that many postmodernists should have rethought their attacks on the Enlightenment, particularly those whose attacks on the Enlightenment consisted (as I point out in chapter 6) of arguments that the Enlightenment was principally a stalking-horse for imperialism. (Indeed, shortly after the Kitzmiller v. Dover case last year, I suggested that the Enlightenment and post-Modernism should call a truce.) I agree with Habermas that the universalizing project of modernity is unfinished-- except that, on my reading, it is unfinishable in principle, because anyone can appear under the heading of universalism and say, "your so-called universalism is not truly universal, insofar as it has failed to account for the exclusion of X." For this reason I think of universalism as endlessly self-revising; it can always be hoisted on its own petard.

When you combine this belief in an always-unfolding universalism with the belief that we ourselves are doing the unfolding-- that, in other words, we are inventing moral law as we go along rather than "discovering" moral laws that have the status of laws in physics-- then yes, you've got a very powerful tool for challenging received authorities of all kinds, and I can see why a certain kind of conservative would be opposed to (or just skeptical of) the project. But I think it's true that the antifoundationalist philosophy of Richard Rorty (and, in a different register, John Rawls) consists of attempts to extend the premises of the Enlightenment to the history of philosophy itself, and to secularize what remains of the enterprise. Is this a liberal bias in my teaching? Yep, it sure is.

But I don't penalize anyone who disagrees with me about this, precisely because I think that antifoundationalism provides a more useful way to think about human disagreement than do its foundationalist competitors in the world of thought. The problem with thinking that you're discovering transhistorical, extra-human moral laws-- or at least one problem with this-- is that when you tend to think you're latching onto the truths of the moral universe, you sometimes have the temptation of failing to understand why anyone would disagree with you-- except to think them mistaken or defective or perverse or evil. These, I think, are not good ways of understanding disagreement in moral affairs.

On the other hand, I am sometimes surprised at the self-representations of people who consider themselves antifoundationalists. In Rhetorical Occasions, I tell the story of appearing, ten years ago, on a panel discussing the fallout from the Sokal Affair, which so many people believe proved once and for all that postmodernism is just jargon-ridden bullshit. One of them, (Andy Pickering) a distinguished historian of science, asked angrily why we were supposed to defend the history of science all over again, after it had been established that all knowledge, even scientific knowledge, was social in character (whatever that might mean-- since historians of science differ on the question). My response was that it was strange to hear antifoundationalists say that they have demonstrated once and for all the social character of knowledge. One would think– or, at least, I would submit– that the recognition of the social character of knowledge would prevent one from believing that any proposition about the social character of knowledge could achieve such a permanent status.

The Talking Dog: Following up on that, the university is, in essence, trying to teach students what I will call "competence," the ability to critically assess a given set of facts and then integrate those facts into a set of actions leading to a desired outcome, whether this be in the use of language (or the analysis of others' use of language) in the liberal arts, or social data in the social sciences, or scientific data in the "hard" sciences, or of course, the professions. In fact, this explains why (to the chagrin of Mr. Horowitz and his allies), "the elites" continue to send their children to places like Moscow on Morningside Heights, Kremlin on the Charles, Oberlin and so forth... (and NOT to Hillsdale College or Liberty University) the elite institutions (i.e. Harvard, Columbia, Oberlin, et al.) are consistently able to graduate "competent" people. Worse for the right, the universities appear to by and large (spurious, or at least thus far unsupported, charges of ideological bias in grading notwithstanding) appear to be genuine meritocracies as far as their students go, at least insofar as our business and other institutions continue to respect the university's grading system. Is there something to the fact that this is, indeed, the very essence of the complaint of Horowitz (and those like him): that we are, in fact, seeing objections to an area of our culture and society NOT dominated by crony capitalism, where, in essence "merit" still matters regardless of partisan and personal loyalty... in fact THIS is the fundamental objection of the Horowitz crew (notwithstanding the irony that it was lockstep ideology not grounded in actual reality that helped kill off Soviet communism)?

Michael Berube: On this front, what's going on with Horowitz and the others on the right is an attack on certain forms of expertise, if not on expertise per se. The opinions of researchers are not mere "opinions." They may be, instead, well-founded and rigorously researched conclusions. Treating them as "bias"-- or, even worse, as beliefs no more meritorious than the beliefs of undergraduates-- is one of the ways the right has attempted to delegitimate the work of queer theorists and climatologists alike.

Now, while I can be wrong (and have been!) in my opinions about tax policy, or immigration, or nationalism, in certain subjects, such as the analysis of literature and culture, I have acquired a certain expertise by reading extensively in the area. My colleagues and I have more instruments at hand for the analysis of literature and culture simply because we have undertaken more extensive and serious study of these matters than the average 20-year old student sitting in a class.

On topics such as climate change or evolution, professors walk a fine line when we try to demonstrate our "accountability to the public" Because it's one thing to make scientific knowledge available to the broader public; it's quite another to submit it to the public for approval. What I find in some conservative critiques of academe is a deliberate confusion of these two things. And that's why, in my public lectures on the subject, I try to distinguish among different kinds of accountability, and to argue that the content of a university education should not depend on whether 40 percent of the population of a state believes homosexuality is a sin or whether 60 percent believe Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs to church or whether 80 percent believe in angels. Because the fact is that some "opinions" are better researched and defended than others. Ultimately, we cannot put knowledge itself to a plebiscite; there must be some deference to expertise. Scientists' work on the theory of evolution or on global warming-- and humanists' work on gender and sexuality!-- should not be understood as "opinions" or "preferences" or "biases."

Chris Mooney [ed. note: "!"] has covered a good deal of this terrain in the Republican "war on science". When we're dealing with the Christian right, we're not just dealing with people who have strong convictions about the study of sexuality or evolution; we are looking at a group of people who are literally at war with modernity.

The Talking Dog: Let me jump back to post-modernism for a second, and ask you if you would agree that at least one example of where Habermasian "consensus" is, in fact, applicable is my business, "the law"? In fact, we have a genuine consensus that "the law" applies to everyone (except certain rich powerful White males, of course), and that it is enacted by the consensus of politically selected legislators, executives and judges, and should govern social interaction... Do you see a relationship between that proposition and post-modernism, and is it of any relevance to your academic work?

Michael Berube: Yes, it is relevant. Look at the fact that there is an entire branch of law that is all about the law as procedure. The most important meta-critical issue has to do with how law can be self-adjudicating, and the determination of self-adjudicatory power in a democracy is provisional. We go back to Marbury v. Madison where the Supreme Court endowed itself with the power of self-adjudication as well as adjudicative authority over the other two branches. And the question is, by what authority does the Court determine that it has this kind of authority? The same question animates one strand of postmodernist thought, as when Lyotard notes that the Martinican can appeal to the French court for the redress of injustices-- save, of course, for the injustice of being subject to the French court in the first place.

That's why in my discussion of postmodernism, we go through the discussion of Pulp Fiction, because no serious discussion of justice and self-adjudicating authority would be complete without Pulp Fiction and the debate over whether a foot rub is equivalent to oral sex. Seriously, when Jules and Vincent debate the point, and when Vincent finally convinces Jules that a foot rub might, indeed, "mean something," there's a much larger interpretive question at stake. The question is this: even if I cannot change your mind about X, what resources does your language game have that would enable you to change your mind? Is there an evidentiary standard, a procedure, an appeals court, a desire to avoid self-contradiction, a Council of Elders, what? I don't think it requires too much imagination to see that the question of how institutions can be self-adjudicating, and how individuals or institutions can be induced to (so to speak) change their minds (say, from Plessy v. Ferguson to Brown v. Board, or from Bowers v. Hardwick to Lawrence v. Texas), is central to the problem of democracy itself.

So yes, this is of direct relevance to my academic work, which is one of the reasons I see interpretive theorists and legal scholars as people working different sides of the same street. How societies go about settling interpretive disputes-- substantively and procedurally-- is at the very heart of my argument about postmodernism and incommensurability in chapter six. And the question of how to conceive and negotiate fundamental disagreement -- without relying on the Habermasian goal of "consensus"-- forms the basis of my hopes for liberal democracy, and the basis of my pluralist pragmatism in human affairs. Which is to say that the forms of consensus enshrined in law (since your field has to come to decisions more readily and more emphatically than mine does) should, if they are truly liberal forms, attempt to accommodate and account for the inevitable dissensus that constitutes human political life. How best to do this, when it's a question of keeping Intelligent Design out of the biology classroom, or debating whether Muslim schoolgirls in France should be allowed to wear head scarves in public schools? Well, the devil is in the details, is he not. But it really wouldn't hurt to start from the premise that there will be dissensus about such matters, and that civil societies should devise ways of reaching provisional consensus about such matters without resorting to brute force -- or a Council of Clerics.

The Talking Dog: My favorite part of the book is your chapter called "Race, Class, Gender" which I'm guessing is your favorite chapter as well, though you don't have to tell me if you don't want to...

Michael Berube: My fave is chapter six, though I'm fond of five as well...

The Talking Dog: In chapter 5... you break down your in class discussions in an American literary survey class of works by William Dean Howells and James Weldon Johnson, with whom I am not so familliar, and by Willa Cather (just about my favorite American writer, though my favorite Cather work is My Mortal Enemy) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Gatsby being one of my favorite American books, notwithstanding that it is a critique of capitalism and bourgeous individualism, along with perhaps Moby Dick, nothwithstanding that it too, is a critique of capitalism and bourgeous individualism), wherein you integrate (as it were) social commentary and historic reality with the literature, evidently to provide the appropriate context in which these works can be understood on their own terms, and of course, to start to show what all literature (or at least Chekhov and Japanese anime) tries to do, show what it is to be human in an inhuman world. Have you any notion on why it is that this is a controversial thing to do, i.e., other than the Colbert-type joke of "reality has a liberal bias", why should the right wing object to discussions of literature with the context in which they were created as at least one of the tools to better understand the literature?

Michael Berube: You know, on some level I just don't get it, and at the end of that chapter I almost throw my hands up in befuddlement, because I think Lionel Trilling was entirely right to say, "To perceive a work not only in its isolation, as an object of aesthetic contemplation, but also as implicated in the life of a people at a certain time, as expressing that life, and as being in part shaped by it, does not, in most people's experience, diminish the power or charm of the work but, on the contrary, enhances it." As I suggest a few times in the book, I'm getting nostalgic for good old-school conservatives who loved literature and thought the great books were worth a lifetime of study and effort. I read Allan Bloom's translation of, and extended interpretive essay on, Plato's Republic and thought it was the stuff of genius. Then I read Bloom's "no context, never" argument against historicist interpretation in "The Closing of the American Mind" and wondered why in the world anyone would argue such a thing-- unless, of course, they had a firm convinction that they and they alone had one of those patented Straussian exclusive claims on the truth.

So I think I may be the wrong person to ask about this. I'm beginning to suspect that some forms of conservatism simply involve excessive deference to authority, and I'm beginning to wonder whether some conservatives don't see the purpose of education as a matter of getting the kids to defer properly to the right authorities. If this keeps up I'm going to wind up quoting Paolo Freire and Ivan Illich. And then who knows what will happen?

The Talking Dog: I join all of my readers in thanking Professor Berube for that thorough and enlightening interview, and I commend our readers to take a look at "What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?"

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November 25, 2006, WTF?

That's about all I can say to accounts of a groom being shot and killed in a hail of police bullets on his wedding day, right after his bachelor party somewhere in Queens.

Evidently, the police were staking out a night club with a history of drugs, prostitution, etc., which, with one more slip-up of that kind, faced being closed down. Out of that night club came 23 year old Sean Bell, scheduled to be married later that day to the mother of his two small daughters, with (at least) two friends, who had just been at Bell's bachelor party. Evidently, the Nissan Altima that Bell was driving struck an undercover police officer, and then struck a police van with eight officers inside, possibly striking it more than once, after which, five police officers opened fire at Bell's vehicle, firing at least 50 shots, striking all of the occupants, killing Bell and sending his two friends to the hospital, one in serious condition, and one in critical condition.

Not wasting any time, it seems that the Rev. Al Sharpton is already on the scene, trying to demagogue this into a full-blown racial incident.

Needless to say, I was hoping that the departure of St. Rudy from his service as our Lord Mayor would have led to the merciful end of racially charged incidents of this kind; recall the Giuliani era killing of unarmed Black men by police officers, of whom Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond were the most notable examples. Of course, it is not realistic that in a city of our size that the police will never be forced into circumstances of opening fire on potentially unarmed people (although in this incident, for example, the five officers involved had never previously fired their weapons... most unlike many of the incidents of the Giuliani era).

Investigations will follow. Many people tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the police, all too often after it becomes obvious that they don't deserve it. We'll see what happens here; we can all hope that there is a thorough investigation. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the police officers involved legitimately believed that they were in personal danger, and whether armed with guns or not, if Bell had struck a police officer and then a van with people in it, he may well rightly have been regarded as using the vehicle as a weapon.

OTOH, it is also not unreasonable to conclude that the police might have overreacted, particularly if the accounts of Mr. Bell's driving... are not borne out. Hence... we'll just have to await an investigation. To his (apparent) credit, it does not appear that our current mayor has immediately pre-judged all of this (as his predecessor would surely have by now.)

This is just one of those horrible tragedies, from every possible angle, most especially for Bell's fiancee and children, and the families of all involved, including the police officers. Just horrible. (While any tragedy of this kind is a horror for all involved, when one realizes that incidents of this kind are what our troops in Iraq, and the Iraqi people, face dozens of times every day... one just gets numb thinking about it.)

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November 25, 2006, talking doghouse-keeping...

You'll notice some minor changes to the side-bar; I've separated out the blog interviews, for example, into their own heading. You'll also notice a few less blog links overall, and some of the links that remain have actually been updated to reflect their current URLs! Given the hundreds of links involved, it is really not possible to timely keep up with URL changes, or for that matter, the abandonment of many blogs. So periodically... I do this kind of culling and updating.

If your URL has changed, but I haven't kept up, or if I have deleted your blog because I thought you abandoned it but you haven't... by all means... let me know (I do sometimes respond to e-mail!... is probably the best way to get my attention...) Also, if you think I should be linking to your blog... especially if you're linking to here, though there is no requirement that you do... let me know... I'm easy!

And there you have it.

Here we will put in extended archive entries from that black hole period from May of 2003 until August of 2004, when we had server problems caused by spam attacks... finally, I am making an attempt to recover posts from that era, here and now. And without further adieu... the posts from May, 2003 through August 2004, to the extent we are able to recover them; before fully complete, I will have posts around twice a month as benchmarks, and you can maneuver in between posts for other dates...:

May 14, 2003

June 17, 2003
June 18, 2003
June 19, 2003
June 20, 2003
June 22, 2003
June 23, 2003
June 24, 2003
June 26, 2003
June 27, 2003
June 29, 2003

July 1, 2003
July 3, 2003
July 4, 2003
July 7, 2003
July 10, 2003
July 11, 2003
July 12, 2003
July 13, 2003
July 14, 2003
July 15, 2003
July 16, 2003
July 17, 2003
July 18, 2003
July 19, 2003
July 20, 2003
July 21, 2003
July 22, 2003 ("Remember the War on Terror?")
July 23, 2003 ("the Constitution lives")
July 24, 2003 ("A Tough Day for Politicos named Davis")
July 25, 2003 ("Name that Kingdom")
July 26, 2003
July 27, 2003
July 28, 2003
July 28, 2003
July 28, 2003
July 28, 2003
July 29, 2003
July 30, 2003
July 31, 2003

August 1, 2003
August 2, 2003
August 2, 2003
August 2, 2003

August 8, 2003
August 14, 2003

September 1, 2003
September 11, 2003

October 1, 2003
October 15, 2003
October 16, 2003
October 16, 2003
October 16, 2003
October 17, 2003
October 17, 2003
October 18, 2003
October 18, 2003 (Saturday Night Massacre)

November 4, 2003
November 15, 2003

December 1, 2003
December 15, 2003

January 1, 2004
January 15, 2004

February 1, 2004
February 15, 2004

March 1, 2004
March 15, 2004

April 1, 2004
April 15, 2004

May 1, 2004
May 16, 2004

June 1, 2004
June 15, 2004
June 20, 2004

July 1, 2004
July 15, 2004
July 21, 2004
July 27, 2004

August 1, 2004
August 7, 2004
August 13, 2004
August 20, 2004
August 27, 2004

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November 24, 2006, Between Iraq and a hard place

And so it continues... the insane spasm of violence yesterday that left hundreds dead in Iraq has led to threats by Moqtada "Baby" Sadr to withdraw the support of his 30 or so seats (and 3 ministries) from the Shiite faction of the al-Maliki led ersatz Iraqi government, that is, if our President goes ahead and meets with al-Maliki in Jordan next week. The fear is that this will further "destabilize" the Iraqi government... one wonders how much more "destabilized" things could be... but one learns not to ask such questions.

Ay caramba! Our troops are still getting gunned down at the rate of a couple a day; we have now been in Iraq just about longer than we were in World War II... with no end in site. And the Sunni and Shia militias are getting ever more efficient and murdering each other's populations (and our troops).

Here is an overdue link to (Iraqi blogger) RiverBend. While her main thrust is the preordained death sentence against Saddam Hussein, note her punch-line:

A final note. I just read somewhere that some of the families of dead American soldiers are visiting the Iraqi north to see ‘what their sons and daughters died for’. If that’s the goal of the visit, then, “Ladies and gentlemen- to your right is the Iraqi Ministry of Oil, to your left is the Dawry refinery… Each of you get this, a gift bag containing a 3 by 3 color poster of Al Sayid Muqtada Al Sadr (Long May He Live And Prosper), an Ayatollah Sistani t-shirt and a map of Iran, to scale, redrawn with the Islamic Republic of South Iraq. Also… Hey you! You- the female in the back- is that a lock of hair I see? Cover it up or stay home.”

And that is what they died for.

Compare and contrast Greg Palast's assessment of why we went to war in Iraq (hint: it's about the oil, but more about keeping it in the ground, where it won't be a threat to Saudi oil hegemony.) And while we're on Palast, let's consider this essay on cutting and running...

My advice to Democrats in Congress is to realize that this country is still not sure what to do about Iraq... most know instinctively that our leaving quickly (or at all) probably will lead to some spillover into Saudi, Kuwait and the Gulf States that might lead to... higher oil prices (the only thing we are concerned about... our invading Iran would, of course, also lead to this...) The thing is, these would not be the kind of high oil prices that merely let Saudi princes live debauched lives with greater intensity... but the kind of higher oil prices that lead to actual economic slowdowns and lifestyle changes (things like energy efficient vehicles and efficient power usage... and more efforts at domestic energy production... that just... aren't part of the plan.)

In short... the Bushmen aren't leaving. We didn't build over a dozen bases and the world's largest embassy in Iraq just to leave. We mean to KEEP that Iraqi oil in the ground as long as... well, as long as George W. Bush has anything to say about it. Which means that harping on timetables or the draft ain't changin' anything... The appropriate focus for Democrats has to be to (mostly) bypass Iraq... yes, the voters are pissed about it, but unlike Mark Foley and corruption, there is no consensus as to a particular strategy to deal with Iraq right now. Best to launch investigations demonstrating conclusively once and for all that the entire Iraqi adventure was a sham based on lies (and exploiting 9-11 emotion) from day one (giving Democratic senators who cravenly voted for the war... John Kerry, Evan Bayh, Hiillary Clinton, John Edwards, etc.... cover to say "we wuz duped.") Ditto, btw, things like torture and detainee treatment, warrantless eavesdropping and that sort of thing.

And best of all... Democrats in Congress should do what you wuz elected to do: check Bush's excesses, maybe control his insane crony-spending, do something about global warming, raise the minimum wage, do something towards making the tax system fairer, maybe expanding federal health insurance to children, and that sort of thing... Believe it or not, a not-particularly-Earth-shattering-agenda, that more or less draws the lines for the 2008 Presidential election.

As to Iraq... Bush and Cheney got us in (and we must make it VERY CLEAR that they and they alone bear full and complete responsibility for all of the implications of that)... so they'll just have to figure out how to get us out of it (as if... see above re: why Bush has said only the next President will get us out.) Any earlier "timetable" for withdrawal will almost certainly require the removal of Bush and Cheney from office, either by expiration of their terms... or perhaps by other means provided for in the Constitution...

Just saying...

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November 23, 2006, Happy Thanksgiving

The hackneyed way of dealing with this holiday, declared to be the fourth Thursday in November in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, is for everyone concerned (especially school children) to recite what they are thankful for. In my case, it is even more hopelessly hackneyed, as, despite the (macro) political ruminations you see played out here, I have no cognizable (micro) real complaints: I am certainly thankful for my wonderful family, my lovely home, and my most pleasant overall circumstances (including certainly good physical and mental (!) health, as rewarding and fulfilling employment as I have ever had, freedom from most material wants... and... freedom in general.)

Many people would then go forth into a recitation of how great it is to live in this wonderful and prosperous country, where we can all be free. Free... to irresponsibly despoil the environment, to discriminate against those from different tribes or creeds (if not annihilate them, whether here or abroad), to squander generations of accumulated wealth, moral authority, and goodwill so that we can be undisturbed on our Playstation 5.2 ...

Ooops. I lost myself there. Lookit: we are in an amazing age where some nudnik in Brooklyn can tap out things on a keyboard and have somewhere between three and four hundred people a day, most of whom he has never met, all over the planet, tune in to read... where armed only with the power of this neo-medium, he can get some of the most interesting people in the world to talk to him about the most compelling issues, and then condense their thoughts into a format for the edification of those same three or four hundred people a day (more on occasion, when others, many of whom said nudnik still hasn't met, find his blog dialog interesting enough to refer to in their own ethereal publications.)

Which is all... revolutionary. Certainly in speed and scope, although, we have to realize that the founders of this country, when plotting what ultimately became a revolution against the then-mightiest empire in the world, used quill-written notes and letters transmitted by horse or sailing ship... So... we can communicate faster, now. We have more access to information at light speed. And yet... what is the quality of that information? As digby frequently laments, our Washington press corps, which should be more sophisticated about telling us about the workings of our ever more complex governing mechanisms, choses instead to focus on the juvenile and puerile as if they were what mattered (the irony being, of course, that in the last election cycle, this focus led to what I believed to be the overplay of the Mark Foley scandal, which ended up resonating with key sectors of the electorate). Yes, there are now millions of these web-logs out there (though I read that still only around 10,000 or so are, like this one, actually read beyond the circle of family, friends, co-workers and acquaitances of the blogger)... as we get into information overload, what matters is not the speed or the quantity, but the quality.

I have lamented that, like television, which had the potential to be the greatest cultural and educational phenomenon ever, but devolved to instead give us Charlie's Angels, Survivor! and The Bachelor, so the internet would disappoint as well. I feared it would devolve largely into distribution mechanisms for pornography, gambling, and heated debates among geeks as to whether Kirk or Picard was the cooler Enterprise captain (answer Kirk... obviously). And, frankly, I think that lament is still right: there is an awful lot of chaff out there. And I do mean awful.

But there is, thankfully, an awful lot of wheat as well... For one, you can start with the blogs on our side-bar (or in the Dog Run), written in many cases by people I am proud to call my friends, whether I have met them in the flesh or virtually, friends that I would not have met but for this revolutionary medium...

Ah. Something else to give thanks for.

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November 21, 2006, Reno 911

Weighing in on matters "war on terror detention and purported adjudication policy" is none other than former Clinton Administration Attorney General Janet Reno, who joined a number of former Justice Department officials in filing an amicus curae (or friend of the court) brief before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond opposing the government's asserted authority to detain and try (as enemy combatants outside the regular court system) resident aliens, such as the subject at hand, Saleh Al-Marri of Qatar.

Regular readers are, of course, quite familiar with him, having been first introduced to him in our interview with David Hicks' lawyer Josh Dratel, and then, of course, in our interview with Al-Marri's own counsel, Jonathan Hafetz.

You will recall that the Bush Administration has asserted the authority to detain anyone at all, including citizens (such as Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi) whether picked up "on a battlefield", like Hamdi, or at an airport in Chicago, like Padilla; Illinois seems especially battlefield-like to the Bush Administration, as Mr. Al-Marri was picked up while a student at Bradley University in Peoria, and after a time as a regular criminal defendant, has spent the last few years as a prisoner in the same naval brig in Charleston, SC that Padilla once called home. Even as it appears that the case against Padilla himself brought in the court system may crumble (and has been sharply criticized by a federal judge for problems in charges and evidence), and hence, the basis for the open-ended detention of this supposedly dangerous terrorist appears ever more shaky... the government continues to assert its right to hold whomever it wants for however long it wants without the usual niceties of... constitutional due process... of any kind.

Since the Supreme Court conveniently allowed the government to transfer Padilla to the civilian criminal justice system just in time to enable it to duck the hard question of whether a "war on terror" can justify an end run on the Constitution at least as to citizens (probable answer: NO)... the Bush Administration is repackaging the question as a matter of immigrant bashing (Mr. Al-Marri happens to be a resident alien, legally here, at the time of his arrest, and ordinarily, hence entitled to the full panoply of due process rights that citizens get... or so we all thought...)

The Bushmen hope that if they "win" this one (and they will have a very friendly forum in Richmond, insofar as it already said it was a.o.k. with extra-legal and extra-constitutional unlimited in camera detention of citizens in the Padilla case... still unclear what the Supreme Court might do), they can reassert their divine right to detain citizens who they accuse of being political enemies unlawful combatants, and hence keep us safe from those terrorists whose greatest fear might be that we remain a constitutional republic. This is sort of the way that the Russians used to burn down villages ahead of Napoleon's or Hitler's advancing armies i.e.., we must destroy our Constitution to save it, or else the terrorists will have won... that kind of thing.

Perhaps the new Democratic controlled Congress might consider enacting an appropriate limitation or two on this sort of executive overreaching. Particularly as it becomes clear that the Bush Administration has yet to prove virtually anything against those to whom it has given this extraordinary treatment... whether in the brig, at Gitmo, at the "black prisons"... or anywhere else... (except for those rare occasions when it has actually brought cases in the regular court system.)

Some of us find that kind of situation... more than a tad troubling.

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November 21, 2006, The Race to the Lede

Or vice versa...

Race issues are a huge part of the current thread of the Grey Lady's new blog, The Lede, mostly from the rarefied (or whatever the opposite of that is) world of popular entertainment. In particular, we offer you this discussion of Michael "Kramer" Richards non-apology apology for his recent paleo-racist tirade on a stage in Los Angeles, and this discussion of Rupert Murdoch's abrupt decision to yank the O.J. "hypothetical" murder reenactment (both the book and the t.v. show) given the (all-bad) controversy it has generated.

Richards' tirade, while hurtful, was, in the end, a tirade that said more about him than anything else; he certainly offended feelings and reopened troubling emotional wounds... and frankly, he destroyed his own career. But who knows? We are, of course, a nation of second chances, where a former Klan wizard is now the dean of liberal senators... so perhaps Richards can spend the rest of his life making amends... who knows?

Simpson's malfeasance (assuming one accepts the verdict of a civil jury and rejects that of a criminal jury) involved killing two people, one of whom was his ex-wife and mother of his children. And there was, of course, a huge racially charged element to the whole thing... still, another wound suddenly reopened (especially for the victims' families.) Bad taste was... an understatement.

And there we are. The year that the Republicans (arguably) lost control of Congress because racial demonizing (in particular, that of Latinos, though some... like me, for example... might accuse them of using "gay" as code for other things) finally backfired on them... race still has the potential to remain a hair-trigger issue. And, as the racial economic gap widens and other objective measures arguably get worse, we get no closer to an appropriate reconciliation and ultimately solving these charged problems...

Le plus que ca change... Deep sigh.

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November 20, 2006, A break in the clouds?

Mahablog's Barbara sends us this discussion of legislation about to be introduced by Connecticut's Democratic Senator (Chris Dodd... the Democrat who isn't being cagey about his party affiliation)... to amend the Military Commissions Act to make it more in conformance with the legal and moral traditions of this nation... and civilization in general.

Good luck to Senator Dodd, as certainly, regular readers know what an abomination I personally consider our detention and purported adjudication policies. I would like this to be one of the four or five pillar pieces of legislation that the new Democratic led Congress immediately introduce, the others being an immediate tying of the minimum wage to Social Security cost of living increases (i.e., each will rise by the same percentage each year automatically), tying the "kick-out" wage rate of Social Security to automatically increase by the same amount, mandating paper back-ups in all federal elections, and perhaps expanding Medicare to all Americans under 18 (the last one will be... a little harder!) Also, the American people want immediate action on global warming. That will be a lot of new legislation, to be sure, not to mention mandating enforcement of our existing legislation, a lot of which is already very progressive and helpful.

Bipartisanship to get these things done would be wonderful; bipartisanship for its own sake is stupid, counterproductive, and indeed, it has been called just another word for date rape.

I didn't comment on the Steny Hoyer/John Murtha thing, but I'm glad it came down that way. Steny is more liberal; I remember him from my short stay at the then General Accounting Office-- he was taking it to the Reagan Administration, and I think he'll be the guy to take it to the Bush Administration. No, he's not perfect, but on net, he's damned effective-- and that's what our guys were elected to do: get things done. Gridlock, if it checks extremism, is an absolute good. If we get good things done as well, we can consider it a bonus.

Among those things not to get done are reinstating a draft... at least, not at this stage of the game.

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November 16, 2006, And in the middle of everything...

Let's all wish a happy birthday to Mrs. TD.

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November 15, 2006, Sad news close to home

After a lengthy illness, Mrs. TD's step-mother has passed away.

Condolences to TD Father-in-law, and to all near and dear.

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November 14, 2006, Click that little red "X"...

It seems you are, probably, addicted to the internet, according to this from WaPo. Well, you might be, anyway, if you spend hours and hours a day online, and thereby spend less time and effort at work, with your family, your friends, on self-maintenance or paying the bills, etc., and if you believe that this presents a problem (or your loved ones do...)

Certainly, in my case, internet use diverts valuable time that might otherwise be spent watching television.

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November 12, 2006, Our next President will be...

Someone other than Wisconsin's Russell Feingold, who, joining Virginia's Mark Warner, just announced that he would not be seeking the Democratic nomination in 2008. In my exceedingly rare "who in public life has sufficient principles and character to satisfy my insanely exacting standards to justify supporting them for President", Feingold, a man who voted against the latest Iraq war, a man who nearly lost his own senate seat by adhering to his own McCain-Feingold Act principles and refusing to accept money from Political Action Committees, a man who voted for the confirmation of John Ashcroft on the grounds that, procedurally, the President is entitled to his cabinet (assuming the nominee never cheated on the nanny tax)... was one of those rare birds who cut it. Others would include the sainted Al Gore, Barbara Boxer, and maybe occasional members of the House (perhaps Henry Waxman... or not.)

No matter. Feingold's principled stands rendered his ascendance to any office beyond the realm of progressive Wisconsin... pretty damned unlikely. So it is just as well he realized that the Democratic wins in both the House and Senate present a legislative opportunity, but more to the point, they present a high profile showdown-- the big-time, big-money Democratic candidates (Hillary for sure, Al Gore maybe, Barack Obama certainly a possibility... hopefully Kerry's recent gaffe can dissuade him but Edwards may be back...)-- will be there, and someone like Russ Feingold would be crowded out, rather quickly, in any event.

Worse: to hold power, the Democrats will actually have to propose policies that smack more of being popular (and to some extent, sensible) than of being traditionally liberal. This means that principled progressivistas, like Feingold, will be somewhat more marginalized in a presidential context, but in a legislative context, can try to shape the sensible, long-term helpful policies that, for the first time in twelve years, might actually pass both houses of Congress.

So... we can take Feingold at his word. He sees an opportunity to make a difference in the legislature. And he has wisely concluded that even his "outside" chance at a presidential nomination, which probably required even greater national polarization, had gone to the "almost inconceivable" category.

And there we have it. As others have said better than me, it's not as if we who oppose the short-sighted self-dealing of the President and his (all-too-often-criminal) minions are groovy granola hippy liberals... most of us would, at one time in our adulthoods, have been considered moderates or centrists before "you're with us or you're against us" or even "you're with us or you're with the terrorists" became the prevailing sentiment...

Which is why the new Democratic incoming class includes a lot of military veterans (including at least two who held the rank of admiral), and a lot of candidates who ran well to the right of liberal bete noire Joe Lieberman. They aren't there to restore 1960's and 1970's era social welfare policies... or even to roll back NAFTA, CAFTA, etc.

This one would seem to be about good government. And if managed that way, look for the slim majorities in both houses to expand, and a Democratic president (who isn't Feingold or Warner... or Kerry, of course).

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November 10, 2006, R.I.P. Jack Palance

I know, I know... enough with the celebrity deaths. Still, Jack Palance, who won an Oscar for City Slickers, and an Emmy for Requiem for a Heavyweight, who passed away at either 85 or 87, depending on who you believe.... Palance happened to be the only celebrity who I saw in person on both the East and West Coasts...

And, of course, he was a funny man, who was always cast as the heavy... (kind of a reverse Jerry Lewis in that way.)

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November 9, 2006, Bush resumes drinking

There would appear to be no other explanation for the President's bizarre insistence that the lame duck Congress consider (1) confirming John Bolton and (2) approving unconstitutional warrantless surveillance.

The President evidently had lunch with Nancy Pelosi, who will have to control her own personal hatred of fellow Californian Jane Harman, lest she quickly snatch defeat from the jaws of the recent stunning electoral victory.

I would suggest that (1) the President go back on the wagon, and (2) Speaker Pelosi (and Majority Leader Reid) realize that they owe their majority status not to their own brilliance or the popularity of Democratic programs or policies, but to the anomolous combination of Marc Foley, Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, Don Rumsfeld and George W. Bush, and a group of Democrats that could win in not particularly liberal states because they are not particularly liberal. In short, "no mandate". What the country wants is simple accountability: keep the President in line. He's obviously unhinged, as demonstrated above.

So... the Democrats have been elected to control his ass. Investigate him up the wazoo. Maybe (hopefully) even force Duck-hunter Dick from office... but keep Junior in line. NOT to adopt an affirmative liberal agenda. Please. Senator Webb was Ronald Reagan's Navy Secretary for God's sake.

A simple, middle of the road agenda, including (1) increasing in the minimum wage (preferably by tying it to the same percentage as Social Security COLAs, thereby ensuring the long-term economic security of both lower income Americans and the Social Security program!), (2) mandating voting paper trails in federal elections and banning mid-decade gerrymandering, (3) reversing the most egregious of the Bush tax cuts on those earning over $300,000 per year, (4) doing something about global warming, such as mandating rules on efficient appliances, less polluting power plants and automobiiles, and (5) requiring the Geneva Conventions to be followed in all of our conflicts, period, no exceptions, and no retroactive exonerations of war criminals (especially of those in the Oval Office)...

These would all be a good start. And all of them are kind of hard to argue with, if done in the appropriate moderate spirit. No massive restoration of social welfare, not even socialized medicine (much as we need it), would be necessary. Simple, long-term responsibility measures is what we have to be about. And Bush would likely be forced to either succumb to most or all of them, or else to veto them, thereby ensuring the election of a Democratic President in 2008 (and expanding the Democratic majority).

Now is the time to be magnanimous, good winners, and indeed, downright generous, as Democrats. Especially generous... with subpoenas.

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November 9, 2006, R.I.P., Ed Bradley

The 60-Minutes and CBS News correspondent, Ed Bradley, passed away at age 65, from leukemia. Very sad. Bradley was a class act, and a consummate professional.

Some day, if I'm lucky and work very hard, maybe I'll be as much as half of the interviewer he was.

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November 8, 2006, Let the games begin!

Let's see...

It's now being widely reported that it's over in Virginia... giving the Democrats control of the Senate. Yes, yes... the Allen people won't concede. But who cares. This one appears to be over,

Well, win or lose, now that the election is finally over, oil prices were just bound to be going to go up.

Things are so cynical and vicious in GOP circles now that the White House didn't even have the decency to wait until it could confirm that the GOP lost the Senate... the loss of just the House was enough to declare Donald Rumsfeld an ex-person, and finally jettison his ass from the Defense Secretary position, making way for that Spook of Spooks, Bob Gates, to replace him. It looks like Poppy and the Gang want to keep Junior a little closer to their vest... It's one thing to forgive Junior's eccentricities when they are winning elections... it's quite another when they are not. Remember: Poppy never really liked Karl Rove. And it's not like Poppy was a clean campaigner himself (remember Willy Horton?) Anyway, look for Jim Baker to be assigned a cubicle near the Oval Office in the near future. And Poppy himself may suddenly be more visible.

Junior has betrayed the movement. There will be consequences. Indeed, like Bill Clinton before him, George W. Bush becomes one of very few Presidents ever to successfully manage to cost his own party control of the all important lower House (and I do mean that; the body that constitutionally has the initiative on taxing and spending is the all important one, even if the Senate is cooler and more glamorous because of treaties and judges). But Junior did it. For which he has our gratitude.

And in other developments on this most slow of news days, the Supreme Court considers some minor issue that no one cares about, the same day Iran-Contra villain Robert Gates is promoted defense secretary, the United States tries to make nice nice to newly elected Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega, and for good measure, Israel decided to shell houses in the Gaza strip, killing at least 18 (14 of them women and children).

Repercussions from all the above to follow in due course. Thing is, the day ain't over yet!

Comments (4)

November 7, 2006, Report from the front-line

Just got back from a poll observation mission as a volunteer lawyer with the Pennsylvania combined Democratic campaign, assigned to walk around and observe polling stations (with fellow lawyer-monitor Philadelphia lawyer Phil) in an urban suburb in Delaware County, PA, where it looks like Joe Sestak is on his way to becoming a member of Congress... and Curt Weldon to... retirement.
(BTW... we should also wish a hearty "sayonorum" to Rick Santorum...)

If conditions nationwide parallel the sliver of the Keystone State I saw today, then the nice weather and a general feeling of the importance of this election will bring out a heavy turn-out... and a probable big Democratic win.

I got back here to Brooklyn... and voted.

So... if I can get up at 4 in the morning (2 days after the marathon) and drive over 100 miles each way to help keep this election clean... and still make it back to vote, the least you'all can do is vote too... for the candidates of your choice (though... I might have some suggestions!)

So get out and vote! All we're playing for is the future of the planet and our eternal souls.

No pressure.

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November 6, 2006, TD Blog Interview with Eric Freedman

Eric M. Freedman, a Professor of Law at Hofstra University School of Law, is the author of "Habeas Corpus, Rethinking the Great Writ of Liberty," and numerous articles on constitutional law and related subjects. He is one of the attorneys working with the Center for Constitutional Rights with respect to of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. On October 25, 2006, I had the privilege of interviewing Professor Freedman by telephone; my interview notes, as corrected by Professor Freedman, follow.

The Talking Dog: Where were you on September 11th?

Eric Freedman: When I got the news reports about September 11th
and the events of that day, I was preparing to teach my constitutional law class, on McCulloch v. Maryland, no less. There was a great deal of chatter among my fellow law professors about how they could teach antitrust or environmental law or whatever their subject was in light of what had happened. But it was obvious to me at that moment that there would be no public policy debates more important in the days ahead than ones about the constitutional restraints on governmental power. I said that to my students and went ahead and taught my class. Everyone was there... they were physically there, anyway... a number of people were checking in to find relatives. My wife happened to be working at the World Financial Center, quite close to the World Trade Center. She managed to get out of downtown on a city bus that had been commandeered by the police to take people uptown.

The Talking Dog: Have you been to Guanantamo Bay, and if you
have, what are your impressions and what can you tell me about your clients?

Eric Freedman: I have not physically been there. My name does
occasionally appear on court papers, but my personal role is not to be
responsible for individual client interests. That way I can provide unbiased advice to the representation as a whole, and assist in coordinating strategies of all of the related litigations. For example, in 2004, I helped coordinate the positions of the individual lawyers in three separate cases, Hamdi, Rasul and Padilla, that went to the Supreme Court.

I continue to play that role today, helping the lawyers handling the representation of specific individuals to work with other litigators to maximize everyone's overall probability of success.

The Talking Dog: You've commented before on the use of the
term "enemy combatant" as a portmanteau, or made up phrase by combining
words (Alice in Wonderland or Orwell are the most ready examples). Other
examples might be "war on terror", or now, "unlawful combatant". I would argue that the government has been remarkably successful at getting the
general public NOT to care about the fate of those we capture (including
citizens like Padilla or legal residents like al-Marri). To what extent would you attribute this to (1) skillful Orwellianisms (ie making these "unpersons" through language and deceptions), (2) media complicity in not letting the public be informed about this other than on the Administration's terms and (3) an outright character deficiency in the American public (e.g. David Cole's suggestion of "no natural constituency"?

Eric Freedman: One must understand that all of the Administration's policies begin with the conclusion and the attempt to concoct post hoc legal rationalizations was an effort to give a veneer legality to actions that had already been determined upon without consideration of their legality. The initial policy determination was to apply unconstrained force against "terrorists". Since our society has no legal framework permitting the executive "liquidate enemies of the state" -- our government needs to abide by either a war paradigm, or a
criminal justice paradigm -- the Administration needed to rewrite the
necessary legal terms and principles to conform to the original policy decision.

That was why the first instinct was to call the situation "a war", even though it was, of course, NOT "a war" in any recognized sense. But then, even the term "war" proved to be not good enough, because then - under the legal ramework applicable to wars - there would be privileged belligerents; soldiers for the other side would be entitled to combat immunity. After all, such a soldier is just doing his duty, like our soldiers. Indeed, that recognition was one of the major advances of civilization.

Hence, the term "enemy combatant" was designed to obscure the difference between privileged and unprivileged belligerents, and make it a war crime simply to fight against the United States of America. Until the passage of the Military Commissions Act, the Administration took the position that everyone who is hostile to the interests of the United States is "aiding the enemy" and can be charged with that...notwithstanding, of course, that if they ARE the enemy they are supposed to be aiding it!

Language has been twisted into a pretzel in a reflection of the desperate effort needed to conceal the fact that this Administration wishes to be bound by no legal constraints, of any kind whatsoever, and so it is trying to invent a law free zone, where neither criminal law nor law of war limits on its activities exist. Of course, in our system, the American executive does not have unconstrained power... the legal result has ended up being a failed Rube Goldberg device.

The Talking Dog: Let me follow that thought up, a second...
President Ford famously issued an executive order barring assassinations. I'm not aware that has been rescinded. Does that in any way effect the non-existent "liquidate enemies of the state" issue?

Eric Freedman: Look at it this way. We have launched Predator
missiles in Yemen-- not a country in a war zone-- to kill passengers in a car. If this IS a war against "terrorists", and we can legally do that, then why aren't the terrorists equally legally at war with us? So would they then be acting perfectly within their rights to assassinate one of our generals in London-- or Washington?

The Talking Dog: Do you see an exit strategy from the government's detention policy? Will there come a point (it hasn't happened after 5 years) but at some point where the public wiill just say "hold it-- you've now held people for 6 years 8 years, 10 years 20 years WITHOUT CHARGING THEM (after releasing hundreds)... do something about this?

Eric Freedman: I don't doubt for a minute that the combined effects of pressure from multiple sources, including the courts, public opinion here and abroad, fueled by continued revelations in the press and by watchdog groups, will eventually force a change. The government has followed an appalling course of conduct in this matter, but this is hardly the first time in our history that it has done utterly pernicious things. Our system is strong enough to correct itself in time, and has a rich enough network of democratic institutions to bring that about. To the extent that the government has already retreated from some its more extreme positions, this has been less a result of efforts made in the legal system and more to do with what has appeared in the press. That is a testament to the system's strength. And I would add that it is no
coincidence - and a should be a most serious cause for bipartisan public alarm - that the press is under unprecedented government assault.

The Talking Dog: That said, I note that the fact that I am talking to you, and indeed, to many others involved in war on terror matters, while other members of the press (and especially broadcast media) are not, indicates that the press has, to put it politely, left an awful lot on the table on these issues. How would you comment on that?

Eric Freedman: One can certainly criticize the press, and indeed, every other institution including and especially Congress, but one of the strengths of our system is its redundancy. There are a whole variety of mechanisms in our system to enable it to self-correct its course. Of course any designed machine will potentially exceed the robustness of its fail-safe systems, which is why continued pressure from an aroused public is so critical.

The Talking Dog: You have written extensively about habeas
corpus (including your book Habeas Corpus, Rethinking the Great Writ of
Liberty.) Congress, of course, in the recent Military Commissions Act, purports to eliminate the right of those accused of terrorism by the government (including perhaps citizens and certainly legal residents) to challenge detentions in that regard by habeas corpus. The LOWER federal courts, of course, are courts of limited jurisdiction, and Congress can expand and contract that jurisdiction by legislation (which they appear to have done) subject to constitutional limits, if any. Now, of course, in the 1780s, there were no lower federal courts-- and only a Supreme Court is enumerated in the COnstitution. That said, let me ask a three part question... The first part...

A. Can't Congress taketh away what it giveth to lower federal courts, i.e., since federal court habeas corpus is statutory, can't it eliminate it by statute, notwithstanding the suspension clause?

Eric Freedman: Answering the first part of your question, in the
book on habeas corpus, I write about the Bollman case, and deal at length with unresolved question (or a wrongly resolved question!) about what the Founders meant with respect to the Constitution's Suspension clause, which was later addressed in St. Cyr .

The suspension clause simply has to mean that the United States Supreme
Court has habeas corpus power, regardless of Congressional action, or else Congress could simply do nothing (i.e. not pass a Habeas Corpus Act), and thereby suspend habeas corpus. In Bollman, Marshall adopted this second view. But his words are dicta in the case, and ignore the history that he himself acknowledged.

As I explain in my book, saying that the Court would not have habeas corpus power unless Congress granted it would be contrary to English history, and otherwise, would render the suspension clause meaningless. It would place the power in the hands of the very institution that the Suspension Clause was intended to constrain in the first place.

Today's the Supreme Court sees the issue and has done its best (successfully so far) try to avoid facing the question. Instead, it has chosen instead to misinterpret Marshall. I would rather see them repudiate his view, but I am certainly much happier to see them get Marshall wrong and the Constitution right rather than the other way around.

The Talking Dog: The second part of my question on this point, is this:

(B) Since in the 1780s, nothing presumably limited a STATE COURT from
granting a habeas, would it not be correct that a non-federal court, say, the Virginia Commonwealth courts or the D.C. Superior Court, could direct a federal official to produce a prisoner in his control on the grounds that the detention violates FEDERAL LAW and the Constitution? Arguably, Congress hasn't stopped this, correct? (Would immunity lie against enforcement OF A FEDERAL CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT?)

Eric Freedman: Professor William Duker argues, and I agree, and
Prof. Bill Nelson agrees and indeed all historians agree-- that the state courts have an independent power to issue writs, and indeed, independent obligations to do so.

However, that line of argument has been rejected in Abelman v. Booth. The historians think the case wrongly decided-- but it is not at all likely that the Supreme Court will revisit this. This result was reached to strengthen federal supremacy over the states, tamping down on Confederate legal theories.

As Tarble's case confirms, there is no likelihood that the court will overturn the results of the Civil War judicially, so I would not expect this line of doctrine to change.

In short, the answer to your question is "Yes... but the Supreme Court has ruled otherwise."

The Talking Dog: Let me ask the last part of this group of
questions... (C) In the case of Guantanamo defendants, I understand that
every single one has at least one case pending in the District of Columbia federal court; can Congress change the rules like this after a case has commenced?

Eric Freedman: Aside from the suspension clause issues, this
attempt to retroactively deprive the detainees of their Rasul rights is most troubling. These people, of all people, are entitled to habeas corpus rights, having initiated their action pursuant to an existing statute. It is a most serious constitutional problem to deprive people of their rights in pending cases, no matter whether the underlying claim is for antitrust violations, civil rights violations or whatever.

However, the rules regarding the application of new law to pending actions are not as well developed as the rules regarding the application of new law to already-reached judgments. Instead there are strong presumptions against reading statutes to have retroactive effect, and the courts are always receptive to arguments that enable them to avoid concluding that Congress meant to wipe out pending cases. That happened
in Hamdan , and may well happen again. Certainly, the lawyers for the Guantanamo detainees are urging the courts to adopt that course with respect to the new Military Commissions Act. (see here and here.)

The Talking Dog: Do you see any political will, say, if Democrats retake both houses of Congress, to reverse this situation?

Eric Freedman: The right political strategy is to apply pressure through any means available in a democratic society, be it litigation, legislation, lobbying, public pressure, etc. It is more than possible that a combination of these sources may make the President- as he did with the McCain bill-- alter course. After all forty-eight senators voted against the habeas stripping provision of the Military Commissions Act... it lost 51-48. It is not absurd by any means to foresee the possibility of a switch, particularly given possible shifts caused by the coming election.

Thus far, Congressional intervention has been unproductive, and the President has been unsympathetic to any change in his policies. But no issue is ever settled in Washington, and in the current climate I think that pressing for positive legislative change on an issue that is after all at the core of American values is the right thing to be doing.

The Talking Dog: Do you see any likely "legal strategy" angle-- such as attacking extraordinary renditions, or citizen round-ups (like Padilla), or taking on habeas, as likely to be more successful given the current make up of our courts as opposed to others?

Eric Freedman: Yes. But I'm not going to publish it!

The Talking Dog: Do you have a long-term view on the viability of the Bill of Rights and Constitution? Do you see us all snapping back from this, or can the terror card keep things moving toward less freedoms indefinitely?

Eric Freedman: Judge Learned Hand said that the spirit of liberty lives in the hearts of the people. If it dies there, no court or judge can save it. The historical record is that after unduly long reflection and consideration, the American people ultimately return to their core values, because those values are right on multiple levels. The history of responses to overreactions, from the Palmer raids to Japanese internment and other examples, show us that eventually, the country snaps out of it, and
returns to its basic belief in fairness. I wrote an article in the ABA Criminal Justice Section's March 2002 Journal on this point, and I only wish I had been able to get it into print even sooner after Sept. 11 than that.

Will enough individuals see the importance of these issues to insist on having their voices heard? The trends are favorable. The public understanding of these issues has increased dramatically in the last five years. I would say, to swipe from Churchill that if we are not at the beginning of the end then at least we are at the end of the beginning.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else I should have asked
you, or anything else the public needs to know on these subjects?

Eric Freedman: Due process of law is not an optional luxury that we afford simply because we're a rich country. It is designed to reach accurate results. One of the largest delusions is that there are lots of "terrorists" at Guantanamo Bay. Every professional evaluation that the government itself has conducted has shown overwhelming majority of people being detained there shouldn't be there at all. Even now the government can formulate charges against only 2 dozen people, and it is unclear whether the charges can stand up against even those.

Assuming that the law and the facts support the long term imprisonment of 2 dozen, that leaves are about 450 other men still there. The purpose of the "enemy combatant" category is to hold them forever without having to show any wrongdoing on their part. One of them was picked up in Gambia-- far from any combat or combat zone, because the Gambians got into a dispute with him. Others have been cleared by courts of other countries... but the Americans decided they were suspicious anyway... and we have cases of mistaken identity. The purpose of due process is to ensure accuracy, as well as fairness, and when but due process is not been applied both suffer.

Remember the case of Wen Ho Lee. Even in an environment where due
process does apply, it is very easy for the government to make charges by issuing public statements, but proving those charges is something very different.

Jose Padilla was transferred to civilian custody, and suddenly, the most outrageous accusations against him simply disappeared. The government couldn't prove them, nor could it prove any charges at all against Hamdi. When the government has been forced to defend its "enemy combatant" accusations in court it has folded at the court hearing every time. We have due process of law to make sure that, in fact, we are holding the right people.

The United States military simply cannot occupy every inch of the globe. To win a war against ideologies opposed to us, we will have to win the hearts and minds of people around the world The biggest cost to the United States of the executive branch's insistence on arrogating unlimited power to has been is the loss of the moral power that comes from being an example to the world, a country that others justifiably to emulate.

But today, a young person in a country of totalitarian ideology may well respond, if asked to compare his own government with that of the United States, that there might (tragically) not be that much difference. That, long term, is by far the greatest damage that has been done to the United States, its interests and its values, and why the strongest blow that could possibly be struck against ideologies opposed to ours would be to recover our commitment to the rule of law.

The Talking Dog: Professor Freedman, on behalf of myself and my
readers, thank you for that fascinating 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 physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, 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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November 5, 2006, Tough day

My day (a 5:12 finish in the ING New York City Marathon, respectable by my standards, though a little disappointing after a 2:16, 2:17 first half, though still better than last week by 15 or 16 minutes)... was, regardless of aches, pains and blisters... still quite better than Saddam Hussein's.

In the most unsurprising verdict in the history of unsurprising verdicts, the former Iraqi dictator was sentenced to death by hanging for his role in the crackdown of the Shiite town of Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt on him. The trial was marked with replacing judges for expressions of possible fairness, the murders of three defense lawyers and a legal assistant, and dubious connections of the Dujail atrocities to Saddam Hussein himself.

But the show trial must go on, and after all, you can't expect John Kerry to give the GOP something to talk about every day, can you? The timing of the verdict was, to say the least, delayed... for maximum impact on the American election.

Too late. It shouldn't effect so much as a single House seat, let alone any Senate seats, where the three main contenders (MO, TN and VA) include two rather conservative Democrats... and a former admiral.

But it was a good try; you do have to admire Karl's stick-to-itiveness...

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November 4, 2006, Everready bunny talking dog

It keeps going... and going... and going...

Fresh (!) from last week's triumph finish in the Marine Corps Marathon in our nation's capital, we cap our cross-country season in the home town, with this weekend's ING New York City Marathon, where I'll be joining a few dozen thousand friends (I'll be wearing number 43 thousand something or other...) I'll be the one in the white baseball cap...

Alas, work commitments and other issues (see, e.g. above) have reduced blogging to... less than usual... but not to worry dear readers (those of you left...) there are more great interviews and other great stuff in the hopper... and should be up and posted in the near future.

Among the "other issues" is this here coming election. The Republicans are resigned to losing some seats, and indeed, possibly losing control of the House (though, if so, barely). I will say that I still have to give the GOP an edge in holding the senate, particularly given that it needs only "hold" two of three in MO and VA, where they have incumbents, and TN, where they have a very close race... We may take the Senate, but the House is where it's at. And frankly, a big enough rout in the House may put some unexpected senate seats in play. Not how you bet... and not the issue. We have to do what we can to take the likeliest wins...

So... I'm putting my money where my mouth is; last evening, I made some phone calls to voters in the district where Democrat Jack Davis is battling the Foley-tainted RNCC leader Tom Reynolds with our friends from Move-On, a group that has some of my time and some of my money, and I urge you'all to consider giving it yours.

On Tuesday, I plan on being down in PA poll-watching... helping to keep it clean...

And that's where we are. We're about three days to go. GO. Let's get it done. We're in a good position to restore some level of accountability to our national government, and maybe even restoring the Congress, which our Founders intended to be the strongest branch, to at least co-equal status with our running-amok executive. And if we don't this time, let's not it be for want of trying...

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