The Talking Dog

December 31, 2006, Yet another New Year's Eve

And so, here we go again... another year shot to hell!

For the remaining detainees at Gitmo (the vast majority of whom did nothing but be in the wrong place at the wrong time), another year of Kangaroo Kourt extensions of their indefinite sentences without any due process, as set forth in this lengthy Grey Lady story. For other pawns of the Bushmen's machinations, like the families of the nearly 3,000 3,000 American service personnel who have been killed in the Iraq campaign, or the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis... and God knows who else... it won't even have been good as that. For the rest of us... it may have been a mostly good year, or a bittersweet year, or some variation... for next year, we'll try to do the best we can.

I'll try to restrain myself from ongoing predictions or resolutions or wrap-ups; my post of a year ago attempting to do that missed some big ones this year: I (happily) failed to anticipate Foley-gate or Macacalypse Now, and expected the outright fraud and thievery exemplified in the Florida 13th House District to be much more widespread, and incorrectly figured the GOP would, by hook or especially by crook, hold Congress... and (happily) they did not. Didn't matter: this was the year I didn't limit myself to throwing a few bucks at Democrats. Even I got off my tush to not merely bitch about the weather, but call prospective voters (thank God for MoveOn), and monitor polls in a swing state. I also, incorrectly, figured we would start the draw-down in Iraq... looks like I underestimated the Bushmen's resistance to that suggestion... even as the Bush-family-retainers came up with the very same suggestion. Had that prediction been accurate... who knows what would have happened re: Congress?

As to the Congress thing and getting off the tush, I obviously wasn't alone. Enough of us finally realized that our government is not some cynical atavism that exists only to tax us peons to give cash to friends and cronies of government officials and to screw the rest of us, but exists to actually perform critical services and to solve problems. And, God damn it, that's what we're going to do.

And oh, do we have problems. For one thing, there's that Iraq thing, and all that we have wrought. For another, our Constitution and our freedoms are under attack. And I don't mean by OBL, or by anyone who resides somewhere other than Washington, D.C. (or perhaps Crawford, TX). BTW... notice that we began the year with the President on vacation... and it appears we will end it that way as well. Quelle surprise!

Oh... I should also mention that our planet is under attack, oddly enough, by virtually every member of our species (to some degree, though we Americanos are 24% responsible, all by ourselves, despite being only 5% of the planet's population) and this issue actually dwarfs any and every other, because if we fuck it up, we will condemn our children to live in a world of drought (and its companion, famine), endless heat waves, more widespread diseases, and more vicious hurricanes, all where ever more of us compete for ever more limited food and water. And we can (hopefully) stop this nightmarish descent into a Mad Max hell with a few relatively minor lifestyle changes... if only there were the political will to do it (Shorter TD: "We're Probably Fucked.")

No matter. I had no idea at the start of the year that by the end, I would have amassed twenty-two of my interviews... but there they are, on the side-bar. Regular readers are, hence, fully informed about the issues covered, probably as well or better than they would be informed by virtually any other media, because the "source" is the horse's mouth, given a full opportunity to present his or her perspective. Hence, you know all about the war on terror and especially the circumstances of our detention policy, and you know all about "meta-politics" (and meta-journalism)-- the very mind-sets underlying how political messages are presented to you for maximum effect, including how the concept of fairness has been perverted from "everyone is entitled to an opinion" to "all opinions- now matter how lame or transparently wrong must be presented to the public as if they were of equal value", in the interest of "balance." (Worse still, well-reasoned, well-studied and documented expert opinion is not merely "just another opinion", it is entitled to even less weight because it comes from "some secular elitist who doesn't share our values.")

Needless to say, we'll keep going here. We'll try to continue to find relevant, interesting and important interview subjects, and mostly, to keep those eyes and ears open... and you'all do the same. Apologies to Orwell, but ignorance is not strength... not, say, for more than for some short nightmarish "Orwellian" periods (say, 12 years of GOP House rule for example). Knowledge is power. Wisdom is power. Good sense is power. Reason is power.

So, best wishes from Mrs. TD and the Loquacious Pup, and me. Peace. Good day, and good luck. Hope to see you'all next year.

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December 30, 2006, There is no joy in Dub-ville

The Grey Lady reports that the President somehow lacked the exuberance he displayed when Saddam Hussein was first captured at the time of the execution. The President issued a statement that the execution would not end the violence in Iraq (and indeed, bombings just today have already killed at least 68). Then, after being told that the execution of Saddam Hussein was imminent... the President quite literally slept through it.

After all the years of telling us about what a bogeyman and monster Saddam was (Hitler meets Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Darth Vader and the Grinch)... to then just sleep through his execution? This is a man that the President kept telling us tried to kill his Dad! The evil tyrant responsible for most if not all of the evil in the universe! The tyrant, now finally facing justice.

And at the very moment of "justice" being meted out... the President is asleep, with orders not to wake him. What an amazing personality and conscience the President has. Or at least, what an amazing pharmacologist.

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December 29, 2006, We loves us a hangin'

And so it appears, at least according to one Iraqi judge, that Saddam Hussein's execution will take place around 10 pm EST (0200 Zulu (GMT)) (its now around 1900 EST/2300 Zulu... so maybe 3 hours from when I write this now. Somebody now screwing around with his chainsaw in Crawford, TX wants the diversion of a Saddam execution to get him through until next week when it can be all-Gerald-Ford-all-the-time... worse, the Bushmen may well want an escalation from the Iraqi side which will inevitably be part of the shit-storm they are trying to cause by executing Saddam. (Note that the proposed location of the execution will be in the American-protected Green Zone... the symbolism of that will be missed on nobody.)

Kevin from Amstreet sends us to this from Iraqi blogger Riverbend, in which, with her usual poignance, River describes life in the hell on Earth we have created in Iraq:

A day in the life of the average Iraqi has been reduced to identifying corpses, avoiding car bombs and attempting to keep track of which family members have been detained, which ones have been exiled and which ones have been abducted.

and notes the futility at best, disaster at worst that awaits, after the Washington-controlled execution of Saddam:

Why make things worse by insisting on Saddam's execution now? Who gains if they hang Saddam? Iran, naturally, but who else? There is a real fear that this execution will be the final blow that will shatter Iraq. Some Sunni and Shia tribes have threatened to arm their members against the Americans if Saddam is executed. Iraqis in general are watching closely to see what happens next, and quietly preparing for the worst.

This is because now, Saddam no longer represents himself or his regime. Through the constant insistence of American war propaganda, Saddam is now representative of all Sunni Arabs (never mind most of his government were Shia). The Americans, through their speeches and news articles and Iraqi Puppets, have made it very clear that they consider him to personify Sunni Arab resistance to the occupation. Basically, with this execution, what the Americans are saying is "Look- Sunni Arabs- this is your man, we all know this. We're hanging him- he symbolizes you." And make no mistake about it, this trial and verdict and execution are 100% American. Some of the actors were Iraqi enough, but the production, direction and montage was pure Hollywood (though low-budget, if you ask me).

That is, of course, why Talbani doesn't want to sign his death penalty- not because the mob man suddenly grew a conscience, but because he doesn't want to be the one who does the hanging- he won't be able to travel far away enough if he does that.

The simple reality: regardless of what one thinks of the travesty that we called "a trial", there will be consequences to executing Saddam Hussein... consequences that will be borne on the streets of Iraq, mostly by Iraqis living there, and of course, to American troops.

Let me quote a certain American Defense Secretary:

And the question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth?

And the answer is not very damned many.

That of course, was Dick Cheney, speaking in 1992. He happened to be right then; he and the Sociopath-in-Chief would do well to heed his statement now. Not that they will, of course.

Update: Saddam Hussein has been executed, evidently right around 2200 EST (0200 Zulu). Now, of course, everything is alright, and the whole Iraq invasion was worth it.

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December 29, 2006, More posthmous bombshells

Bob Woodward has, evidently, decided to keep them coming... yesterday of course, we learned that Ford didn't like the Iraq war thing so much... today Woodward tells us of Ford's lengthy and secret friendship with Nixon. Not that this is a surprise; the two were moderate Republicans, Ford in a leadership position in the House. Nixon a House and Senate member and later Vice-President and President... they certainly knew each other, and could certainly have been friends. Ford struck everyone as a most affable fellow...

But, of course, beyond affable, Ford struck everyone (me included) as a decent fellow, who tried, even if by no means perfectly, to "do the right thing". Hence,
this sort of thing is... a tad disconcerting:

"I looked upon him as my personal friend. And I always treasured our relationship. And I had no hesitancy about granting the pardon, because I felt that we had this relationship and that I didn't want to see my real friend have the stigma," Ford said in the interview.

That acknowledgment represents a significant shift from Ford's previous portrayals of the pardon that absolved Nixon of any Watergate-related crimes. In earlier statements, Ford had emphasized the decision as an effort to move the country beyond the partisan divisions of the Watergate era, playing down the personal dimension.

This certainly doesn't rise to the sinister level of "a deal", i.e. Nixon selected Ford as vice-president in exchange for a later pardon. It doesn't even mean that Ford didn't believe that it would be a "healing" gesture for the nation. But then, it's arguably just as bad as the most cynical "deal" scenario: Nixon picked the one guy who he knew would value their personal friendship above respect for the rule of law.

To be sure, for what Ford did as President, i.e., a caretaker function, he handled the task adequately, if not admirably. And it's not to say, btw, that from a realpolitik standpoint (Ford, apparently, had to perennially stroke Kissinger to keep him around-- it was still the Cold War, and it was believed Henry the K. was necessary...), getting Nixon out of the way as a day to day distraction had value, even if it would cost Ford possible election to a full term in 1976. This nonetheless speaks volumes.

It also makes us have to seriously wonder what the hell was up with his selection of his two White House chiefs of staff, with whom he is pictured below (the one on the left, of course, is Rumsfeld; the one on the right is now our Vice-President, btw...) Perhaps next week Woodward will tell us about how the three of them used to... oh never mind.

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December 28, 2006, Big deal

It seems that it's o.k. for Republicans to criticize the President and even the inconceivably unpopular Iraq war if (1) they're dead, as in the case of the late President Ford, who strongly opposed the President's handling of the war (including the decision to have it) according to Bob "Head Courtier" Woodward writing in WaPo; or (2) if their party's been thrown out of the majority, as in the case of Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, who gave a rousing speech critical of the Iraq war and its escalation (complete with reference to the word "criminal").

Smith, of course, voted for the war, along with John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and former TD Darling John Edwards, Joe Biden and others, which, alas, disqualifies him (and them) from having any moral authority on the subject (or most likely from being elected President, another matter entirely; say what you will, but John McCain remains insanely gung ho on the whole war thing, which probably won't do him any good anyway because the rank and file GOP typical primary voter just doesn't like him, even if everyone else does... or used to, before he tried to court the rank and file GOP primary voter...)

My point? Oh yes... Gordon... you may be a decent man, but you're an enabler of very venal, awful people and their extremist policies, which, you have just called "criminal" and I frequently call a lot worse. I didn't see you lead a filibuster of the repeal of habeas corpus, now did I? You come from a state that has been the coolest (in the good way) on the subject of global warming, and yet you continue to vote and caucus with the party that would prefer that we not even talk about it so we can keep on jacking up oil and coal industry profits, even as we huddle up in hurricane shelters and fight for the world's last usable water (speaking of which... perhaps the Bush family will be kind enough to invite you in to their new spread in Paraguay... or not...)

After a while, Gordon, I just look at you, and Snowe and Collins of Maine, and the soon to be ex-Senator Chafee, and say... WTF? YOU ARE ENABLING PEOPLE WHO DO THINGS THAT YOU KNOW ARE WRONG. The overhwhelming majority of the time. And you frequently vote with them (though the vote for caucus leader is the only one that counts.)

So... as interesting as the occasional speech you just gave might be, indeed, it might even be refreshing rhetorically, it ultimately means little or nothing, Gordon. And worse, I tend to agree that you are doing this out of conscience, rather than a craven desire to appease your state's voters. To which I say: BIG DEAL. What you are is an enabler of an extremist party... worse... a party you (and your constituents) mostly disagree with.

So spare us.

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December 27, 2006, R.I.P., Gerald Ford

The 38th President of the United States, Gerald Ford, passed away at age 93. He managed to just barely outlive Ronald Reagan (who helped cost him the 1976 election with a primary and convention challenge) as the oldest man ever to serve as President, and Ford was the only man to serve in that office without having been elected to either it or to the vice-presidency, having taken that office after Spiro Agnew resigned, and then assuming the presidency after Richard Nixon resigned in 1974.

Despite having officials around him that included Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State), George H.W. Bush (CIA Director), Dick Cheney (Chief of Staff) and Don Rumsfeld (Defense Secretary), all of whom had previously served Nixon in some capacity, Ford himself was (perhaps unbelievably) still a decent man who invariably tried to do the right thing, even if in his mind "the right thing" included pardoning Nixon. Ford believed that the gesture was a healing one for the nation (even if it set the unfortunate precedent that no matter how big a scumbag he is, once one gets elected President, he can get away with anything... and I'm not talking about blowjobs.) Still, the gesture managed to help cost him the 1976 election, which was won by Jimmy Carter (another by-and-large decent man who proved to be a less than fully effective President; the two men were actually life-long friends after Carter's presidency ended.)

Ford famously bumped his head getting out of a helicopter, and tripped while getting off of Air Force One and while skiing... so naturally, this is what we all remember about him because Chevy Chase did pratfalls; Al Franken, who wrote many of those sketches for the then brand-new Saturday Night Live, pointed out that Ford, an all-American football player at the University of Michigan, was probably the greatest athlete ever to occupy the White House. Notice, btw, that we are in a different era, where our current President, who is constantly falling off of things in hilarious ways, and whose favorite leisure activity is chainsawing things, gets a complete and total pass from that very same media. What you gonna do?

R.I.P., Mr. President.

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December 26, 2006, Victor's justice (Texas style)

In the most unsurprising affirmance in the history of unsurprising affirmances, the Iraqi appeals court set up to affirm death sentences imposed by Iraqi death sentence courts has affirmed the death sentence of Saddam Hussein by hanging (he said he preferred to be shot).

Given that the Vice-President has recently suggested that American forces take sides in the escalating Iraqi civil war on the side of the Shiites, executing the former Sunni President would be a nice way to kick off the festivities. I suggest former New York Jet Mark Gastineau as honorary executioner (or at least, part of the halftime show, so he can perform his legendary sack dance). Given that a number of defense attorneys have been killed during the trial, and a judge replaced for suggesting the mere possibility that he had an open mind as to Saddam Hussein's guilt, pretentions of a "fair trial" have long given way to "the due process he had was close enough." Besides... who really cares if we give Saddam Hussein a fair trial?

Given that the Iraq war has outlasted American involvement in World War II, American combat deaths in Iraq will likely soon exceed the 9-11 death toll (this will be the one occasion for which the President will not juxtapose 9-11 and Iraq in the same sentence), and the mid-terms have been safely lost by the GOP as the American public continues to express its outrage at how things are going in Iraq... one does wonder just who (besides, perhaps, the Mahdi Army and its allied Shiite extremists) will be impressed by our orchestrating of the execution of Saddam Hussein. Well, surely some Americans will approve of anything that involves a good hangin'.

Just something else to think about as the President goes off to Texas to ponder just how long he can thumb his nose at the American people and defy national will (and the Iraq Study Group report... and reality...) and extend, if not even escalate (or "surge") the successful continuation of O.I.L. (Operation Iraqi Liberation) and its 46th consecutive successful month of keeping Iraqi oil in the ground.

Yee ha.

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December 25, 2006, R.I.P., Soul Brother Number One

The singer known among other things as the Godfather of Soul, the Hardest Working Man in Showbusiness, Soul Brother Number One and Mr. Dynamite, James Brown, has died at age 73.

And on Christmas day, no less.

I don't feel good.

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December 23, 2006, December 23rd has finally arrived.

A holiday for the rest of us. Although, one fears that maybe this guy has changed things forever.

(For some more Festivus miracles, check out our post "Kabuki of karnage" over at AmStreet.)

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December 21, 2006, Fascinating and fascinatinger

It's actually kind of interesting that Iran, a country that we are officially not speaking to, values its foreign exchange reserves in our currency... but it's even more fascinating that Iran has just announced that, "in light of all the pressure we are putting on" (that, and that the dollar's value is falling... a lot), Iran will now shift its reserve currency out of dollars and into euros sayeth the BBC. Indeed, Iran will now aspire to conduct all of its foreign business in euros. None of this is greatly unexpected.

Before jumping to the immediate conclusion that a war-- possibly a nuclear war-- with Iran is now imminent (especially if you're hip enough to remember what happened the last time an OPEC member stopped denominating its oil in dollars and began doing so in euros... or indeed, how warmly our government treats an OPEC member when it even suggests that it might) ... let's just keep one thing in mind.

The Beeb's Iran piece contains one key glimmer of hope for humanity:

The currency move will apply to oil sales although it is expected that Iran, the world's fourth largest oil producer, will still accept oil payments in dollars.

That means we can all sleep more soundly tonight. Don't think I'm kidding.

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December 21, 2006, First day of winter

On this, the shortest day (and longest night) of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the Boston Globe urges us all to make some noise about global warming (and of course, bashes Bush in the process, because let's face it, if he's in favor of something, it's almost certainly catastrophically bad for the rest of us, be it continuing the carnage in Iraq, or blocking dissemination of information on climate change.)

FWIW, we'll try to do our part here at the talking dog... we'll see if we can't expand our ongoing "war on terror" coverage to include the "war on terra". Until then... enjoy the weather.

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December 20, 2006, Bush to Public: Drop Dead

I suppose you could read the President's insistence that "victory" in Iraq was still possible, whatever that means, and that "we need to increase the size of the military"-- as a repudiation of public opinion and will, particularly as expressed in the recent mid-term elections. Because the public has said it wants out. In no uncertain terms. In overwhelming numbers. And the public means out NOW. Bush's approval on Iraq is around 24% and 70% affirmatively disapprove... "No mandate" is quite the understatement. So... when Bush pouts like the spoiled child he is and insists that nothing much will change re: Iraq (or worse... as in he'll send more Americans to die or be maimed in this counterproductive seemingly quixotic quest)... one wonders what the game is.

Josh Marshall has a pretty good take on how "the surge" is just a "run out the clock" game for the next two years ... which is consistent, because everything-- and I mean everything between George W. Bush's alarm clock going off in the morning and Laura tucking him at night-- is just a politically motivated game.

So... we have a public that has now overwhelmingly (and finally, years too late, of course) concluded that everything Bush touches is per se a mistake, and that, ergo, his Iraq policy is wrong simply because it is his policy (which was not far off from my original reason for opposing it....)

Anyway, FWIW, the public wants at least lip service paid to the Iraq Study Group report... just because, well, at least it seems a little different from blind "stay the course and keep the flag-draped coffins and head traumas coming." There was, at least, some glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel in its conclusion that things are going badly so we should do something different (insanity being defined as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result.)

But for the umpteenth time, boys and girls... something else is going on ... the very chaos and violence in Iraq was the mission all along... and anything that ends it, even if it saves hundreds or thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars... is just not in the program.

It's just not. The public and its opinions be damned.

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December 18, 2006, TD Blog Interview with Deb Werksman

Deb Werksman is an editorial manager at independent publisher Sourcebooks, and is the author and compiler of the George W. Bush Out of Office Countdown Calendar (as recently featured on... the talking dog!) On December 18, 2006, I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Werksman by e-mail exchange.

The Talking Dog: My traditional first question (largely because I'm assembling alibis!) is "where were you on September 11th"?

Deb Werksman: I was in my office in Connecticut, working, and a friend called me and said, the World Trade Center has collapsed. I ran downstairs to a neighbor’s office that had a TV and watched the second tower collapse. Everyone was stunned. My kids’ school called and said they were sending everyone home and to come pick up the kids. We’re less than 1 1/2 hours from NYC, so it was very local here.

The Talking Dog: I see from Sourcebooks' web-site that the Out of Office Countdown calendar is your biggest seller right now. If you can tell me, how is it selling in red states vs. blue states? Is there any kind of bipartisan consensus on people counting down for the end of the Bush presidency that you have observed?

Deb Werksman: The very first place it started selling was in Washington DC! I don’t think I can give you a geographical breakdown, but I’ve done radio interviews all over the country and I think it’s selling across party lines. With Bush’s approval ratings at their lowest point ever, a lot of people are counting the days...

The Talking Dog: I understand that you have sent samples out to members of Congress... was that to members of both parties? What kind of feedback have you gotten for the calendar?

Deb Werksman: We sent them as gifts to every Democratic Senator, House Members and newly elected Democratic Governors (for obvious reasons), along with many prominent members of the media. For Congress members, we included a letter congratulating them on their victory, and said we're happy that they're at the forefront of the American people's desire for change. We also let them know that humor is probably one of the most powerful elements of any free-spirited public discourse, thus the calendar. Many of them have sent letters back to say "thanks," that they find the calendar "amusing" and reconfirming their commitment to changing the nation's course. A lot of media people are emailing cautiously to thank us (not for quotation, you understand) and telling us they can’t hang it up in their office but they’re definitely going to take it home , or give it as a gift. As for the Republicans that did get it (yes, there were a few with a good sense of humor) the favorite answer is that they have some "Lib friends or relatives" that they can give it to for a gift as well.

The Talking Dog: Was any particular decision made with respect to the pictures-- to depict the President as "Presidential?" I ask this because I noticed that in 10 of the 12 pictures selected, he is wearing a suit and tie, in the other two, pictured with his father the former President Bush, "at leisure". You haven't picked either the famous "Mission Accomplished" flight-suit picture, or the President brush-clearing or falling off a segway or bicycle for example... How come? Is this to respect the dignity of the office (even if the President himself does not)?

Deb Werksman: We were constrained by what photos were available at the photo agency we used (for budget reasons we had to license all the photos from one place) and by the technical aspect of photos with enough resolution that they could be blown up that big. Aesthetically, we were looking for dumbness, not necessarily wardrobe. We went for the laugh factor as much as possible.

As for the dignity of the office: Again, political satire has a long, illustrious history in our country and the First Amendment is part of what makes this country great. We say, there are no sacred cows.

The Talking Dog: You've called this calendar a source of horror and hilarity at the same time (an experience I fully agree with.) For example, you offer one quote from 2003 where the President "confesses 'I'm the master of low expectations.' " The same month, you quote Bush as saying "It's amazing I won, I was running against peace, prosperity and incumbency." The first is a shockingly candid 6-word explanation for his entire presidency if not his entire life on this planet. The second is actually very witty... and accurate. I found them both... scary. Did any of the quotes, pictures, or other materials you used in compiling the calendar manage to scare the hell out of you?

Deb Werksman: I was particularly appalled by “If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier...”

Also, “I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace.”

But one of my absolute favorites is, “Border relations between Canada and Mexico have never been better.”

The Talking Dog: I understand you previously edited "Quayle Quarterly", so I'm going to (dangerously) assume that you are somewhat familiar with Poppy Bush's Vice-President (who is, if nothing else, a far better golfer than either of the Bushes... and never said "now watch this drive."). How do Dan Quayle's verbal missteps and miscues compare to Goerge W. Bush's? Were there more of them? Do you have an opinion on who the bigger mangler of our language is?

Deb Werksman: It seemed obvious to us once W. took over that Dan Quayle must have reminded Poppy of his son.

Quayle was remarkable for such statements as “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind...” (paraphrasing the United Negro College Fund motto, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”) Quayle’s misstatements had a certain poetical quality that is lacking in Bush. In Quayle’s case the humor was also more on the surface because he was a full heartbeat away from the presidency. But Quayle was definitely a bi-partisan problem and it looks as though W. may be that now, too. He sure is doing a heckuva job...

The Talking Dog: Besides the Out of Office Countdown calendar, do you have any other gift ideas (whether from Sourcebooks or elsewhere) for those of us who are eagerly awaiting the end of the President's term?

Deb Werksman: Our book You Know You’re a Republican/Democrat if... is also very popular, as is The George W. Bush Out of Office Countdown Handbook, which has a lot of material that didn’t fit into the calendar and is really funny (and scary, of course). I’ve heard there’s a countdown keychain, but I haven’t seen it.

The Talking Dog: Are there any other questions I should have asked you about the calendar, your work, or anything else, or anything else that my readers should be aware of?

Deb Werksman: No, I think we’ve covered everything! Hang in there! It’s almost over...

The Talking Dog: I join all my readers in thanking Deb Werksman for that amusing interview, and you might want to take a look at the George W. Bush Out of Office Calendar. Really, the best way to get through the next 762 or 763 days...

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December 17, 2006, Same old Fresh approaches

While all of official Washington awaits the long-awaited major strategy change to turn Iraq away from a bloody and expensive unmitigated disaster for American foreign policy (though it does remain a huge win for anyone with substantial interests tied to the price of petroleum... and hence, a huge win), the military has also come up with a fresh new approach to dealing with those irksome alleged terrorists confirmed super-terrorists at Gitmo: as Bruce the Veep so elegantly puts it, "The beatings will continue until morale improves."
Or, "No More Mr. Nice Torqueamada."

In short, as construction of a new "super-max", Camp Six, nears completion, the usual sadist in charge of Gitmo (Rear Admiral Harry Harris) and the new Stupid Sheriff in Town (Col. Wade Dennis) have both insisted that the coddling will end for the nearly 400 men, some of whom (the alleged "worst of the worst") have already been acknowledgedly tortured for the last 4 or 5 years, and the rest who have simply languished in their arid Caribbean prison for years, without charge, trial, or any hope of release save at the whim of their captors. BTW... most of them were turned over for a bounty, and usually were not even in the same country as "the battlefield," let alone captured "on the battlefield."

Most Americans will, of course, simply take this in as whatever "these terrorists" (only 10 out of hundreds have even been charged with anything and most of those charges being the nebulous "conspiracy" to violate the law of war, a non-existent charge in the canons of the laws of the war) deserve... but this detention (and worse) of hundreds or thousands without any transparent means of determining that we are not holding innocent men (a proposition which is supported by our release of nearly half of those held at Gitmo, and our failure to charge over 98%) continues to be a blot on our moral standing, especially in the Islamic world, which is something we are purportedly interested in improving.

As if.

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December 16, 2006, One step closer to Clinton/Obama '08

That would be the hasty departure of another Presidential contender, Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, who announced that he will not be seeking the Democratic Presidential nomination just 13 days after announcing an exploratory committee. That's got to be one of the fastest acts in the history of exploratory committees: Bayh concluded that the likely "pre-primary primary" fund-raising would likely favor Democratic juggernaut Hillary and current favorite "Not-Hillary" candidate Barack (my college classmate) Obama. Still out there are one-time TD Darling John Edwards, and all-time TD Darling, the sainted Al Gore.

The Republican side features the once-and-no-longer-sainted John McCain, St. Rudy of Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and presumably JEB Bush... Bill "Kitty-Killer" Frist has dropped out. Others in the game include George "Who?" Pataki, Sam Brownback of Kansas, and possibly others to be named later.

It seems like a long time from now; the new Democratic Congress hasn't even been seated yet (in a semi-crisis anyway dependent on Sen. Tim Johnson's health).

But it seems that the American political scene, which was once dependent on the raw real-politik of backroom bosses, has become dependent on the raw real-ekonomik of backroom donors and the ability to come up with campaign cash. While I remain perplexed as to which states that Al Gore lost that Hillary Clinton might win (btw, the voters of the Iowa caucuses may feel the same way, and if so, good news for John Edwards), she still seems to have that juggernaut thing going, for now... and with Evan Bayh out (joining Mark Warner and Russ Feingold) another one bites her dust...

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December 16, 2006, For those last-minute holiday giving needs

Yes... the "George W. Bush Out of Office Countdown Calendar" from our friends at Sourcebooks... guaranteed to both amuse and horrify you, as it contains Freudian slips and malapropisms and just outrageously stupid things that have come out of the mouth of... you know who... the man from Connecticut Texas who we all love to misunderestimate... along with pictures. Oh, the pictures.

The only bad part is that at the end of 2007... there will still be 386 days to go!

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December 14, 2006, You win some... you lose some

Fresh after his stunning Supreme Court victory last summer, former alleged OBL motor pool member Salim Hamdan (for some background, try our interview with his Supreme Court counsel Neal Katyal), apparently, learned that his victory was just a tad Pyrrhic, as (via TalkLeft) federal judge James Robertson of Washington, D.C., who halted Hamdan's military commissions trial in the first place in 2004 which ultimately led to the Supreme Court's decision... ruled that the new Military Commissions Act ostensibly screws Mr. Hamdan out of any legal process whatsoever, save the kangaroo kourt he can expect from the military kommissions themselves... i.e., notwithtanding the suspension clause, habeas corpus is gone (except for citizens... for the time being, anyway...)

To be fair to Judge Robertson, that's pretty much what Congress intended, and our friend Scott Lemieux agrees that the outcome was as good as could be expected given what Congress did...

(For those wondering, Mr. Hamdan, who has yet to be tried, has, like hundreds of other men, been languishing at Guantanamo and/or other American detention facilities for the last five years, with little or no end in site... while Hamdan has at least been charged with something, only 10 out of nearly 500 men stiill there have been charged at all...)

It seems, that once again, we've all misunderestimated Bush. I have from time to time accused him of a Neo-victorianism, trying to lead us forward... into the 19th Century...

In fact, he's actually trying to lead us forward... into the 12th.

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December 13, 2006, How do you start a hurricane?

Such is the punchline of an old joke featuring two codgers on a park bench in Miami Beach describing their respective paths to yon park bench, one of whom had a store in the North, destroyed by a fire after which he collected the insurance and retired, the other had a store in Florida, destroyed by a hurricane and then he collected the insurance money and retired... so the man from the North asks the man from Florida... Well, never mind.

WTF does that have to do with... Democratic Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota entering the hospital with a possible stroke?

I have no idea. None at all. Let us just all pray for Senator Johnson's speedy recovery.

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December 10, 2006, TD Blog Interview with Trevor Paglen

Trevor Paglen is currently a Ph.D. candidate in geography at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the co-author (with A.C. Thompson) of "Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA Rendition Flights", the first book to systematically investigate the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, whereby suspected terrorists are simply kidnapped by the CIA without trial or any due process whatsoever and frequently detained and interrogated (invariably under torture), either by the CIA itself or by cooperative third countries. Messrs. Paglen and Thompson ostensibly "reverse engineered" the program using data collected by "planespotters", accounts of those few men who have been released from the CIA "black prison" network and foreign dungeons in such locations as Afghanistan, Morocco, Syria and elsewhere, and through investigating stateside CIA front companies, from rural airfields in North Carolina to suburban law offices in Massachusetts and Nevada. Mr. Paglen's academic interests include "black sites" (secret military bases) and prison expansion. On December 7, 2006, I had the privilege of speaking with Mr. Paglen by telephone; what follows are my interview notes, corrected as appropriate by Mr. Paglen.

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

Trevor Paglen: At that time, I was a graduate student at the School of Art Institute in Chicago. I was teaching a multi-media class. I was having coffee before teaching a class, and a friend came up to me and told me that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center.

The Talking Dog: Can you tell me (briefly) about your work about secret military bases? And can you tell me (briefly) about your prisons project(s)?

Trevor Paglen: The base project will be the subject of a new book devoted to the entire history of what people in the defense industry and military call "the black world"-- the collection of people, programs, projects and places whose existences are secret. Basically, the “black world” is the totality of programs funded by what’s called the “black budget” – the discrepancies between the published totals of the defense budget versus the sum of the line items. It’s about $30 billion annually. The project is a historical and geographical look at this "world".

As to the prisons, I had done a big project on the California prison system in the late 1990s, and the early part of the 21st century. I was trying to come to terms with California having incarcerated over 175,000 people, the 3rd largest prison system on Earth. This is a giant operation, largely invisible to most people, yet entirely enmeshed in our lives. The project ended up being a series of articles and visual projects.

The Talking Dog: In my earlier life (high school, actually, circa 1979) I did some work (at an undisclosed university in Terre Haute, Indiana) in remote sensing using data generated by Landsat (Landsat 1 and 2, IIRC), and other civilian satellites, that I am told, were turned off when they flew over the USSR (and I was told that the Soviets did the same with their civilian data satellites). My rudimentary project was to search for oil shale deposits in the Mountain West... If they're there, they remain undisturbed by any discoveries I made! I'd imagine that the data then available from the early Landsats was pretty primitive compared with what's now available-- then, data points were, 50, 100 meters apart in the pixellated image you got... one could recognize vague outlines from afar ("if you look carefully, you'll see Lake Erie."). Also part of that work involved airplane photos, and some airplane radar images, which were, of course, much better, though they covered a much smaller area and were much more expensive and hence limited. Now, we have Google satellite and other things; can you tell me what tools are PUBLICLY available for an individual interested in looking at a given location somewhere, and can you tell me what additional tools might be available to, say, the military or intelligence communities to do the same? To what extent are the "black areas", i.e., military bases, prisons, etc., still discernible from this "remote sensing" perspective, and how dependent are we on, for example, your "photo-stakeouts" from relatively nearby, for information on this.

Trevor Paglen: The technology in this area has improved incredibly. Commercial one-meter resolution imagery is now widely available, and quite inexpensive. There are programs like Google Earth or Microsoft Terra-surfer that are widely available. Keep in mind, however, that image resolution is not just a measure of meters per pixel... there is a time issue as well. These programs are not good for temporal resolution-- looking at the development of the same site over the course of time. For that kind of data-- the historical, we still go back to older historical satellite data (of the variety you've described) and aerial photo archives when available.

The Talking Dog: One of the sources of information from your book is "planespotters" and I suppose comparable "hackers", or at least, hobbyists interested in observing things. Much of this activity takes place in the US and Western Europe. Was there much plane spotting in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East?

Trevor Paglen: To be sure, much of the data does come from "planespotters" in the United States and even more from planespotters in Europe. But something very interesting has happened. It's certainly a big hobby in the United Kingdom, and in Western Europe. A lot of guys who have this hobby actually work in the aviation industry. What has happened is that they are frequently stationed around the world, often in jobs either in, or at least supporting, the military. And they continue to do their work, and their hobby, even after they are sent over there. So what has happened is that we end up with some very good data from these transplants in locations where they are "following the wars around." We got some very interesting data from planespotters posted in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example.

The Talking Dog: I note that the CIA rendition flights included such places as Somalia, Sudan and Libya, Jordan, Syria, Morocco, and so forth. Given these shadowy relationships, one question is whether you see any real possibility for actual political pressure on issues like Darfur if we're involved in back door relations of this kind with Sudan, (such as transporting their intelligence officers to Washington in "the torture plane" and other CIA executive jets) for example? I take it this is something of which the public knows virtually nothing...correct?

Trevor Paglen: No question that the American public seems to know nothing about any of this. The European public is much better informed. One of the things about the flight data is that every flight represents some sort of hidden or unacknowledged relationship. These planes are used to hide these relationships. One of them, as you point out, is a flight from Sudan to Baltimore using these CIA planes. It turns out that the head of the Sudanese intelligence service, a guy named Maj. Gen. Salah Abdallah Gosh (not a nice guy, I can assure you), was probably on that plane. It turns out that the Sudan was holding secret talks with the CIA.

The Talking Dog: In your work on "black sites", you've noted the racial and inequality element-- for example, in our country, black sites in the USA tend to be oblivious of nearby Native Americans, behaving as if they're not there, and willy nilly occupying space, spewing pollutants, and so forth, and in other countries, like the former Belgian Congo, more or less follow good old colonialism. You also noted a pervasive racist tie to militarism-- i.e. our enemy has to be somehow LESS than us... I take it you believe that this is a huge element of the rendition flights-- we're not kidnapping Caucasian Anglos to Egypt and Syria-- but swarthy Moslems from the Middle East and North Africa... isn't this a key part of the game-- both to internally justify it among the participants and to the public when and if caught? BTW... hasn't this been a hugely successful component of the PR associated with the "war on terror"?

Trevor Paglen: There is definitely a relationship between "black sites" and doing the sort of things that are being done to people who are "not White". Warfare, and in particular colonial warfare, has everything to do with racism -- your enemy is somehow less than human, God is on YOUR side, and not theirs. I’m not sure that we’d be able to have all of these extra-legal designations like “enemy combatants” and “ghost detainees” if there weren’t a structure of racism underlying this “war on terror.” Racism certainly doesn’t explain the whole structure, but the structure of the war on terror is certainly built upon some assumptions that wouldn’t be possible without racism.

The Talking Dog: You've pointed out that vast swathes of this country are "black spots" on maps, not merely offical military bases in remote areas, but often, buildings and compounds in the middle of cities... further, the CIA (or the "Other Government Agency") seems to be operating a fleet of open civilian aircraft and black prisons (the "Salt Pit", the "Dark Prison", and evidently, around 20 sites in Afghanistan, etc.with covers weak enough that you have effectively broken some of them (Aero Conctractors of Smithfield, NC for one, whose officers include the non-existent "Colleen Bornt", Crowell, Tepper, Premier, and other successors to "Air America"). I understand that there are a whole lot of gerry-rigged legal reasons why the CIA does it this way-- it can claim the host government is doing these things and not it, than for example, if it took foreign prisoners to the Nevada desert. I guess I'll ask a two-part question-- to what extent is the CIA just "not as good" as it once was (if it was ever that good) at keeping secrets (or does it just have so much more to keep secret that more is just going to leak out by the sheer scale of it all), and the other is your understanding of the legal and/or historical legal reasons for why this particular rendition structure emerged. Can you comment on any of that?

Trevor Paglen: There are a couple of answers to this. It's true that the CIA is a civilian agency, and as such, is not subject to the same kind of strict chains of command that the military itself is, or subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Let's face it: the CIA was created to do illegal things. The military is not. The military is very regulated, formal and is subject to strict rules. The CIA was created to be covert, i.e., not to be subject to strict and formal rules! While a big part of the CIA is gathering intelligence, another big part is covert action, which, frankly, is basically illegal. To do this kind of action, it is better to be a civilian agency: you don't have to abide by rules. Further, unlike the military, you can hide in plain sight... CIA personnel can masquerade as embassy employees, academics, corporate employees...

The Talking Dog: Or journalists...

Trevor Paglen: Or journalists. Civilian companies can take advantage of the Chicago Convention on aviation-- they can basically fly wherever they want-- again hiding in plain site. No one will bat an eye if a corporate jet lands at Dulles Airport... or at Karachi Airport in Pakistan. What we are seeing is a contradiction between the secrecy necessary to the agency's actions and the openness necessary to operate in our society. In the aviation area, they have to deal with civilian air traffic controllers, they have to file registrationa of ownership, incorporation papers, flight plans... it's all one of the downsides of being a civilian agency (using corporate covers and the like): the civilian world leaves a publicly-accessible paper trail. Add something like an aviation company – which is a highly regulated industry – and you start to generate a pretty extensive trail of your activities..

This paper trail allows us to identify certain activity-- and this is, of course, part of the contradiction at the very core of how the CIA operates. It also leads us to quite a bit of the geography involved in their activity... just following these paper trails, as we did.

To be sure, the CIA screws up all the time, leading to further revelations. We can tell that certain activities are very fishy on their face... a case in point seems to be the situation of how the agents behaved in Italy with respect to the Abu Omar kidnapping.

The Talking Dog: In an interview, your co-author A.C. Thompson suggested that if and when the American people actually believed, by and large, that torture wasn't something we should do, then (and I would add and only then) would the pressure mount to stop doing it. In an interview with me, Dr. Steven Miles suggested that one of the victims of torture was society itself-- a torturing society is a degraded one, at all levels. To what extent do you believe that the public, by and large, can STILL be quickly be dispatched with "yes, but these are bad people and potential terrorists who mean us harm, so anything we do to get information from them to protect your families and your children is, however unfortunately, justified"?

Trevor Paglen: This is a tricky area. I actually disagree with my co-author on this one: public outrage against torture is certainly a precondition to stopping it, but, I don't believe it will be enough to stop it.

I think that it’s very difficult for us to have a national debate on something like the rendition program, because our everyday language isn’t really set up to deal with things like disappearances, ghosts, unacknowledged locations and the like. We’re used to thinking in binary terms: guilt or innocence, soldier or civilian, for example. The rendition program, and the war on terror more generally, is set up in such a way as to thwart these linguistic or epistemological norms.

The program is set up so that is not about "innocent or guilty"-- there is no process of a "trial" (or socially accepted mechanism for determining guilt.) These people are all outside of that. What we have to do is recognize this for what it is: not even as much for what it means to the victims of all this (those that we "disappear" and kidnap and torture...) but so much about what it does to us when we become inured and indeed, comfortable about all of these situations.

The Talking Dog: Congress has now more or less gone along and institutionalized torture and its use in the Military Commissions Act (along with stripping habeas corpus). How important do you think it is that the new, Democratically controlled Congress, try to reverse this? Do you see any real public outcry, or political pressure to do so?

Trevor Paglen: This is a hard question. Yesterday, Arlen Spector and Pat Leahy introduced a bill that they called the "habeas corpus restoration act." I find it hard to see this as a big step forward. It actually makes me very nervous that this is a "progressive" idea... that in the year 2006, we are debating the applicability of a convention that has been fundamental to modern notions of justice since at least the 13th Century.

And then there is the question of whether it will even pass. It is certainly hard to divine the future, but the problem with things like the Military Commissions Act and similar laws is that once done, things like that are very often hard to undo; indeed, history shows that it is very hard to undo things like that.

Note what the Bush Administration did earlier this year with the 14 "high value" terror suspects from the black sites when it moved them to Guantanamo Bay. It was both ingenious and chilling. The Administration issued a challenge to Congress, and to the American people. Every one knows that Khalid Sheik Mohammed is a bad guy. The choice was that the government could leave him incommunicado, and continue torturing him... or to find a way to try him and imprison him. But evidence obtained from him is tainted by illegal things,,, so to put him on trial, it was necessary to retroactively legalize what was already done to him!

That's extraordinarily frightening: a government that says-- either institutionalize and legitimize torture, or we will release an extremely dangerous terrorist. And yet, this seems to be the whole basis of how the war on terror is being conducted.

The Talking Dog: A lot of the raw data for your book was done by "plane spotters" and other hobbyists, and I take it some was publicly available from the FAA and other government agencies; I take it that you are a member of this particular (planespotting) hobbyist community? Can you tell me what led you to investigate this particular collection of data?

Trevor Paglen: I don’t want to overemphasize the importance of these planespotters, because the kinds of data that they collect can be quite limited, actually. More important is the investigative paradigm that something like planespotting suggests. The hobby represents a certain way of looking at systems and an approach towards decoding them. That paradigm was very useful.

The idea of following airplanes around – not only to their flight destinations – but also looking at their histories, ownership records, maintenance records and that sort of thing was very powerful. It allowed us to begin describing this global geography that was largely invisible but was nevertheless possible to decode.

You can find a great deal of data when you look closely at airplanes. When you look at flight records, for example, you get a certain historical-geographical record. An outline of sorts. If you then start getting other sources of data - accounts of former rendition victims, for example – you can use the flight patterns as a basic framework that you can correlate to other pieces of information. With a lot of patience, some larger stories begin to emerge.

The Talking Dog: I have read a description of you as an "outlaw academic;" right now, you are a Ph.D. geography candidate at Berkeley, you have an MFA from the Chicago Fine Arts Institute... your other academic or artistic interests seem to be efforts to map America's vast prison system and America's vast military base network, particularly the secret ones... I take it that the rendition program is something that is kind of a culmination of all of it... all of your concerns that we are becoming a culture with whom mass imprisonment (around 1% of the population at any given time) and vast military secrecy (billions of dollars and lots of people and space) are becoming enmeshed and "regular"-- the banality of evil, or the evil of banality... doesn't it all come together in the rendition program? In some sense, HAS our "extraordinary rendition" and other programs (like abusing Jose Padilla and others politically convenient to do so) become SO enmeshed that to most people the rendition program is not such a big deal...? Can you comment on that?

Trevor Paglen: No question that this is an area where all of my work comes together. At Berkeley, my thesis advisor brought me an article in the Washington Post about the rendition program, the secret prisons and the black sites-- which used the term black sites, not then in regular parlance... when he told me, I let him know I had already been working on it for quite a long time without really telling anyone in the department.

As to the next part of your question, there is no question that all of this is fully institutionalized and enmeshed into our society. Now, there is a big difference, however, as to whether this is a big deal to most people, or whether this is "what the state does". It certainly is what the state does-- and the state keeps doing it. In this case, what the state does now includes rendition and outright torture (either itself, or through cooperative assistance of other states.) I'm not sure about the public's acquiescence in this. Remember-- all of this is compounded by the utter secrecy of the programs. Indeed, secrecy is absolutely critical to its maintenance. When we’re talking about state power, as Max Weber pointed out a long time ago, secrecy tends to justify itself.

The Talking Dog: I've read (and when I say that, most of what I read is linked to on your own web-site) that around 40% of the professional geographers (though apparently none of the Arabic translators) in this country work for the CIA. So that means that there is a 2 in 5 chance your colleagues at Berkeley do, and indeed, you might (possibly without even knowing it!); you DO point out that military guys tend to be some of the most interested in your work about secret bases, as even they are usually kept in the dark! (I do not, though I should point out that when I drove down to Washington a few weeks ago and passed NSA h.q. at Ft. Meade, Maryland, I wanted to stop by and introduce myself, noting that "you guys are my biggest fans!") I guess my question is whether this enmeshing-- of the CIA into your profession, of a CIA front into every day life at rural Smithfield, NC, of the military into vast swathes of our geography (such as virtually all of metropolitan San Diego, CA) and prisons and military bases everywhere... make it that much harder, even in our supposed free society (even as surveililance cameras pop up all over "public" space) to get anyone excited about any particular aspect, or "little picture" slice of a few communities being involved in the very gruesome business of aiding the international kidnapping of uncharged, untried men for torture in Middle Eastern dungeons, given what the big picture now is? Can you comment further on your thoughts about this "ordinary" geography-- suburban law firms, rural airfields and so forth?

Trevor Paglen: You have two questions there, one concerning the every day nature of "the geography", and one about the profession of geography. Let me take them in order.

What you see when you take a look at this is that there are landscapes involved that are not just "over there". The torture and kidnappings are facilitated here: we have mirror images here, and not just in Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and "there", but an invisible world woven into our every day life-- air fields, divorce lawyers, even Phillip Morse, the owner of the Boston Red Sox whose airplane-- complete with the removable Red Sox logo that will transport the Sox to the World Series on one day, and take men to be tortured in the Middle East the next-- in short, an entire infrastructure that facilitates the entire process.

As to the geography profession, we certainly have a huge percentage of professional geographers employed by the CIA, or perhaps the National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency or the National Reconnaissance Office... Indeed, there are schools that feed straight into them (Berkeley is not one of them, by the way.) Still at meetings of academic geographers, you’ll always find agencies like the NGA handing out literature and making recruiting efforts right at the meetings. Geography teaches skills that are very useful for the work of these agencies. And there is another very significant reason for this as well: our economy is oriented and directed toward defense; there is a great deal of money in this area. This is what Eisenhower warned about with respect to the military industrial complex. Military spending is a basis for huge portions and organizing principles of our economy. When you look at where the jobs are for geographers, you find two big employers: the intelligence establishment, and the oil industry.

The Talking Dog: Even though it has been caught dead to rights in some cases, and sued in at least two (Al-Masri in Washington, and Arar, Arar right here in Brooklyn), the government still gets away with it in court as federal judges invoke national security, state secrets, etc., and toss the cases out on dubious grounds that will doubtless be affirmed... still, the public outcry is... limited... As you and A.C. Thompson (and Stephen Grey in his book "Ghost Plane", Dana Priest in her work at the WaPo, and others) and doubtless there will be more and more coming out on this... other than changing plane registration numbers and moving ghost prisons about (apparently no longer operating in Romania and Poland)... I guess the question is "where do we go from here?" Congress changed hands, but the DEMOCRATS sport two new members who bore the rank of Admiral, and hardly seemed primed to do anything about this... Do you have any thoughts?

Trevor Paglen: Interestingly, there are huge investigations in Europe, right now (though there is virtually nothing of the kind going on here.) There is the Italian investigation regarding the rendition/kidnap of Abu Omar. In Germany, there is a similar investigation with respect to Al-Masri. The Council of Europe and the European Parliament are both investigating these rendition matters (and European government cooperation), though the EU bodies lack subpoena power. But details of the programs are coming out, and over time, only more will come out. That details emerge does not in and of itself mean that these programs and activities will change, though it is certainly a precondition of such change.

In the United States, of course, we're not even having the conversation. While Senator Carl Levin has promised hearings on the rendition program, we don't know what that means, or whether it will change anything. For all of this to change, we’d need something on a vast scale: something akin to the Church and Pike committee hearings-- ostensibly an overhaul that ended up cleaning the CIA's closet, which led to serious staff changes, activity changes, and things like FISA and the FISA court. Cheney and Rumsfeld, of course, would and have opposed this, insisting that the CIA needs to have extraordinary power to do what it does... but something dramatic needs to be done at this point to rein this in.

The Talking Dog: Anything else I should have asked you but didn't, or that the American public should know about your work on tracking the rendition program, or your other work?

Trevor Paglen: When we’re talking about torture, there’s kind of a cliche which says that torture transforms not merely the torture victim, but the torturer as well through the act of torture. We can extrapolate that to our society as a whole. Let's think about who our society has changed by all this-- through the now routine disappearing and torturing of significant numbers of people. We actually have seen "debates" about torture coming from people like Alan Dershowitz who think we should legally authorize torture with judge issued torture warrants. We're having a DEBATE about the LEGITIMACY OF TORTURE. If you take a step back for a moment, this looks absolutely crazy. Torture is one of the very few things where there is universal agreement, and international law reflects this. It is never allowed under any circumstancees whatsoever. The conventions against torture are totally unambiguous. There are no exceptions, period. We need to take cognizance of this. The fact that there is even a debate on this subject, shows that we have indeed changed, and dramatically so. And this is, in a word, horrifying.

The Talking Dog: We'll let that be the last word. I join all my readers in thanking Mr. Paglen for that eye-opening interview. I commend interested readers to take a look at "Torture Taxi".

Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys Eric Freedman, 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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December 10, 2006, Self-proving cliches

The old joke about New Orleans in particular and Louisiana in general (very much like my home County of Kings) is: "We don't tolerate corruption. We DEMAND it."

And so it seems, they do, as the Second Congressional District of Louisiana, which includes most of New Orleans, merrily returned scandal-ridden Congressman William Jefferson to office with 57% of the vote in a runoff election. Jefferson, you will recall, was found with over $90,000 in his freezer by the FBI (and two associates have pleaded guilty to bribing him); only legal wrangling about documents arising from an ill-advised raid on his Congressional office are standing between Jefferson and an indictment. Still... to a ninth term we go.

For a Democratic Party who did not win a majority this round because of any favorable perception of it or its policies, but simply because the Republicans had managed to implode on an endless series of disastrous policies (Iraq, deficits, etc.) and disastrous scandals (Foley, DeLay, Foley, Abramoff, Foley, Ney, Foley, Cunningham... did I mention Foley?) all without doing a single decent thing for the American people pretty much ever... for the Democrats to start the session with Mr. Jefferson in their delegation... doesn't help.

It will just put a little more pressure on the Democrats to pass a popular agenda (minimum wage increase, for one), to hold the President accountable on Iraq, and to otherwise actually stand for something. And pretty quickly, before the '08 Presidential Derby drowns everything else out. William Jefferson, ladies and gentlemen... he'll be here all week... or until the grand jury says otherwise...

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December 9, 2006, Italian Dressing Down

In an angle on the Bush Administration's insanely botched (and immoral... and illegal... and evil...) handling of yet another aspect of the war on terror, our once-weekly-but-now-irregular-visit-to-Pravda gives us this discussion of the criminal probe in Milan over the kidnap of then-asylum-seeker Abu Omar (a/k/a Hasan Mustafa Osama Nasr) [for those unfamiliar, "Abu Omar" means, more or less, the honorific "Omar's Dad"].

Abu Omar was pulled off the streets of Milan by a CIA rendition team with the connivance of the Italian intelligence service, driven to the Aviano air-base and hailed off to Egypt in one of the CIA's rendition/torture planes, after which he was, to put it politely, abused and mistreated at the hands of Egyptian authorities before eventually being released.

An Italian prosecutor in Milan has taken great offense to an orchestrated kidnapping in his jurisdiction, and has handed down indictments of 34 people, 26 of them CIA operatives, and others including Italian intelligence. The prosecutor is about to hand this off to a judge for further action; it is possible for trials in absentia under Italian law.

This is all... a tad embarrassing. Americans know next to nothing about this whole rendition thing, though details are emerging... Ironically, we will learn about our own government's misdeeds from legal proceedings taking place in other countries... With a Democratic controlled Congress, we can hope that we learn an awful lot more, and fast, via subpoenas to the appropriate officials here. Well, we can hope, anyway. Until then, we'll just see what comes from Milan this season...

Update 1: Former CIA darling and CIA-assisted-coup-beneficiary Augusto Pinochet finally kicked off, at 91. Pinochet's record of torture and other atrocities speaks for itself. needless to say, it appears that Baroness Thatcher mourns his passing, even if the only regret of many others is that Pinochet escaped earthly justice (take note Henry... God will get you...)

Update 2: We are incredibly privileged to have an interview discussing the whole extraordinary rendition program that led to the Abu Omar kidnapping, with Trevor Paglen, co-author of "Torture Taxi: On the trail of the CIA rendition flights".

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December 8, 2006, Whitewashing the House

The Ethics Committee of the House of Representatives decided that no one involved in the Foley scandal did anything worthy of taking any action, although "mistakes were made".

I suppose the conclusion was something like "Wasn't costing these bastards their majority punishment enough?"

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December 7, 2006, Pearl Harbor... 65 years on

A group of survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hickam Air Base, etc. gathered in Honolulu... in what they anticipate wiill likely be their final reunion, given their aging demographic.

It has, of course, been noted that we have now been engaged in Iraq longer than the time between Pearl Harbor, and the Japanese surrender. The Iraq Study Group TM has concluded that current policy has led to a grave and deteriorating situation, i.e. a failure (i.e., the GOP lost both Houses of Congress...) The report, in true bipartisan fashion, accomplishes... well... nothing. Or, in other words, Iraq kind of sucks... ya' think?

And thus we give you the difference between non-discretionary and discretionary wars... Or, in another parlance, the difference between "wars" and "wars on ___". The difference? WARS END.

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December 4, 2006, Small world department

This Wednesday (6 December) the media of book publishing and the media of blog publishing collide at an event in lower Manhattan. Bill Scher, e-mails to tell us:

Hi everyone. Just wanted to let you know that my last NYC book tour appearance is this Wednesday 12/6, 8 to 9 PM, for a panel discussion, "Blogs 'n Books: A Conversation with Three Authors," including Eric Boelhert ("Lapdogs"), Michael Berube ("What's Liberal About The Liberal Arts?") and myself [Bill wrote "Wait! Don't Move to Canada!"], moderated by Elana Levin of the Drum Major Institute.

It will be taking place at The Tank, located on 279 Church Street between Franklin and White.

By subway, take the 1 to Franklin Street, or take the A, C, E, J, M, Z, N, Q, R, W, Z, or 6 to Canal Street.

Regular readers of course, are aware that this humble blog has interviewed not just one, not two, but all three of these esteemed blogger authors, Boehlert, Berube and Scher.

Also in the small world department, and without even leaving that smaller-than-the-Green-Zone area known as lower Manhattan, we give you this account of the destruction of the mind of American citizen Jose Padilla, at a time when he wasn't even charged with a crime, but still held FOR YEARS under conditions (Padilla claims he was forced to stand in painful stress positions, given LSD or some other drug as a "truth serum," subjected to loud noises and noxious odors, and forced to endure sleep deprivation, extreme heat and cold, and harsh lights... again, consistent with what others held in the war on terror have contended, often verified by FBI agents and others) that can only be described as torture (other than in the self-serving descriptions of the Bush Administration, accounts and definitions of torture designed as if by Mafia lawyers trying to come up with ways to get their clients off.) Of particular note were images of Mr. Padilla being led out of his cell for dental work, while wearing blackout goggles and chained in all directions, an account consistent with how our government has been abusing treating prisoners throughout the war on terror... it's just that Padilla happens to be an American citizen, and this was done to him within the United States. Again, not that, by and large, the American public really cares.

Regular readers here are intimately familiar with Mr. Padilla from our interviews with his attorneys, his original attorney Donna Newman, and the attorney later added to the Padilla legal team, Andrew Patel (who happens to have an office very near my own).

Mr. Patel is featured prominently in the WaPo piece. Readers will note that the subject of my interviews with Ms. Newman and Mr. Patel did not include Mr. Padilla's physical treatment; I was aware that this was one of the subjects they were not supposed to talk about as part of their representation (in contrast to some of the Gitmo lawyers, who have, at least in some cases, been cleared to talk about at least some of their clients' treatment.)

At this point, the treatment is coming out because the Padilla defense team intends to use the treatment as part of the defense; for example, Mr. Patel observes that Padilla may well believe that his entire representation is just part of the interrogation process-- an elaborate game akin, for example, to an old Mission Impossible episode... and this, of course, will compromise Mr. Padilla's ability to aid in his own defense or to receive a fair trial. While we know, of course, that there is no actual legally cogizable case against Mr. Padilla-- except perhaps one based on information obtained by torturing madman Abu Zubayah-- the government is pressing on anyway.

And there we have it. For the umpteenth time (I have kept calling Mr. Padilla's case the most important of our lifetime, and I continue to assert that if Mr. Padilla can be put through what he has been put through, without due process of law and with the connivance of the courts of the United States, then none of us are safe from tyranny-- none of us), you can say what you will, but Brooklyn born Mr. Padilla is a citizen of this country who has been afforded none of the rights guaranteed to him by our Constitution. None of them. And his lawyers have now given compelling evidence that the government has-- not accidentally, but quite intentionally, literally at the personal direction of the President of the United States-- tortured him (and quite probably driven him insane.)

Small world. In many ways, too damned small-minded as well.

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December 3, 2006, Unfinished business

Notwithstanding the incoming Democratic control of the Senate and the House of Representatives, which, if the Democrats in leadership are smart, will include very early (if not the very first act) election machine reform as part of the agenda (along with tying the minimum wage to Social Security COLAs, thereby automatically preserving both a minimum wage to keep up with inflation and ensuring that Social Security revenues always keep up with rising costs, to some degree, and enabling any future attacks on the minimum wage to be rightly perceived as attacks on Social Security itself... and of course, undoing the abomination of a law that makes this a nation that legally sanctions torture...)... there are still some undecided House races out there.

One is a run-off in the Texas 23rd District, where Democrat Ciro Rodriguez is in a run-off (against Republican Henry Bonilla)... consider giving to Ciro's campaign.

The other unfinished business I can think of is over in Florida's "Lucky" 13th, where amidst 18,000 votes (from Democratic leaning precincts) just magically "disappearing" from the electronic voting machines, JEB Bush's machine has declared Republican Vern Buchanan the winner over Democrat Christine Jennings. Consider contributing to Christine's efforts at obtaining a recount, or better yet, a fair election in the first place.

Every little bit helps. I've vowed to put my own money where my mouth is this cycle, and I have... if you'all sincerely believe that this nation's future is best served with the Democratic Party's agenda and values... consider doing the same.

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December 3, 2006, The people's right to know... what?

In this case, we give you this WaPo discussion of cheating in school... not just any school, but at (my alma mater) Columbia University's School of Journalism. And not just any course, but the course on journalistic ethics! (Irony alert, as there is a reference to a similar event, and to Columbia's J-School, though not to cheating at Columbia or to this event, in my recent interview with Michael Berube.)

Some students have very wisely pointed out that they have learned more about journalistic ethics from this event, its aftermath, and its publicity, than from the course itself.

That seems right. Here's the thing: there are various degrees of ethics. As a lawyer, I am taught the bright lines, beyond which, if caught, I will likely be disbarred (and frequently, prosecuted.) We aspire to do better than that: to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. We are, after all, supposed to be members of "a profession", even if that is all too often in name only.

And the same could doubtless be said of journalists (though there is no bar or professional licensing category that they can be thrown out of, abusing journalists can at least lose their jobs and reputations.) Cheating on your ethics exam (!) obviously violates the bright line.

But what about sucking up to your corporate masters so that you will get the White House beat, as opposed to covering Tashkent or Teheran? Or re-printing government press releases so that you will continue to get "access" (not to mention cocktail party invitations), instead of actually "reporting"? Or worst of all (IMHO), pretending that simply because there is a denial of an obvious fact by the government (or by "one side") that somehow "balance" requires disseminating that denial as if it were (1) news, or (2) in any way valuable, or even (3) TRUE? In other words... why has the Colbert-like joke of "it's widely reported, therefore it's fact-esque", or "truthiness"... that balance requires printing "both sides" even when one side is transparently a politically motivated lie, become somehow a good in its own right? Because, you know, it isn't. It is a "bad". But you know where I'm going.

The thing is, even as more and more crackpot blogs proliferate (like this one!), the fact remains, most people get their media and information from a handful of sources (mostly t.v., a lot of radio, some from newspapers, though this is declining)... journalism is still of critical importance, and the press is a critical institution to protect our liberty... maybe more so than ever, given how willingly Congress and even the courts were to fall down on the job. In such an envirotnment, that even journalism's trainees seem to be... compromised... is... troubling.

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December 2, 2006, Overdue obit...

That would be for one of the giants of 20th century intelligentsia, Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman who died in mid-November at age 94, whose lengthy Grey Lady obituary is here. His is the (5'3" tall) "yan" to the (6'8" tall) "yin" of his friend and frequent debating partner, the late John Kenneth Galbraith, whose death I commented on here.

Friedman acknowledged his own extremism, pointing out that someone in each generation must go "all the way", and that was him. Some of his suggestions, the negative income tax (now incorporated in our tax code as the earned income credit) and the all-volunteer army, have become embedded in our system. Other aspirations of his, such as universal school vouchers, have not.

One of my formative experiences was watching (what I believe to be) one of the greatest events in the history of television, whether you agreed with Friedman in whole, in part, or not at all, the Free to Choose series run in the late 1970's or early 1980's on... taxpayer funded! public television. My favorite line from that series, which I sometimes still recite, is "Why should the taxpayers in Watts subsidize the children of Beverly Hills to attend UCLA?" I couldn't agree more: which is why I would propose certain set-asides based on that and similar geography, be it on race or zip code, because it really is not fair otherwise to have a so-called "public" university that excludes vast swathes of the public from its doors.

Of course, the other possible angle, the one Friedman favored, would have been to get the state out of the business of funding universities. And because most states are being bankrupted by funding the back-ass-end of health insurance because this country (alone among industrialized nations) refuses to properly socialize health care, many have cut way, way back in their funding of public universities, dumping much of the cost on tuition and endowments, just like private universities. (Indeed, what led me to write this today was my snap-recollection that Friedman, though his graduate degrees are from my own private alma mater, sported his own undergraduate degree from state funded Rutgers.)

And this leads us to the problem with taking "libertarianism" to its extreme. The great social experiment of public education, or for that matter, most government programs, often have a critical social levelling effect: Friedman himself would, in the world that would result from policy he advocates is one that would probably have kept his parents and himself back in the sweatshops in which they started out, (or at best, still in the shmata business), instead of into academic and intellectual greatness.

Further, I really haven't seen how Friedman's libertarianism (which rightly would have ended our asinine drug-criminalization laws, for example, but which also might well end our drug safety laws as well!) really mesh into the modern Republican party (note an award presented to Friedman from Dubya himself in the Times obit), the party in which Friedman was regarded as a darling. In other words, isn't a bloated, expensive and aggressive (rather than "defensive") military, and its recent add-on, the domestic stazi "homeland security" apparatus that scraps habeas corpus and allows warrantless monitoring of citizens, etc., essentially the biggest slap in the face imaginable to true libertarians?

And there's the thing: Friedman's allies loved the "free up the business side" aspect... but just what do we do with the rest of it... the war with modernity waged by the GOP's religious wing... or the GOP's totalitarian wing... or the GOP's the business-fascisti wing looking to hand themselves government contracts... ?

As I get older (if you're not a liberal at 21, you have no heart; if you are a liberal at 40, you have no money), my view on Friedman has come full circle: on critical issues (environmental policy, the "security state", public education), I come down on the side of what I believe to be Friedman himself (whether or not even he woulud have acknowledged them) rather than on the side of those most likely to embrace him politically (like Thatcher or Reagan... or the current Bush). In short, I err on the side of freedom of the individual from the government and especially from the powerful. That means preventing the despoiling of the air and water, preventing an aggressive foreign policy that will lead to a pretorian state and reduced freedoms domestically, and preventing to enforced social stratification by dismantling governmental social levelling mechanisms.

Friedman would have told us this was the goal of what he was advocating. The reality is that policies he advocated, that I often termed "sado-monetarism", of perhaps "free to choose neo-Victorianism", frequently had the opposite effect, and further stratified society or bolstered the powerful at the expense of the rest of us... and yet, he still seems to have advocated them! The late Barry Goldwater said that "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice."

Friedman would probably have insisted that this is where he was coming from (even if, I have to say, being an enabler to the modern Republican Party is the exact mirror opposite of "defense of liberty.") Well, what can you do? Friedman was second to none as an economic theorist, and, despite his diminutive stature, was... a giant.

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