The Talking Dog

February 27, 2007, Autopilot blogging...

Super Dave Johnson treats us to this daring counter-attack against the standard issue right wing echo chamber assault that (get this!) Al Gore has high electric bills! Well, he probably has a big house, and a lot of kids... oh, and that green energy option tends to cost more than standard electricity... but, goes the charge picked up by the usual suspect... "Al Gore is a hypocrite". If that's right wing code for "saint" and "hero", then, yes he is. The intent is obvious: to scare Gore off from actually running, because the right wing is deathly afraid of him.
They know how vulnerable they are: their front runner is St. Rudy, who can easily be taken down simply by enough 9-11 families pointing out that his arrogant siting of an emergency response center in the World Trade Center, already a well-established terrorist target, coupled with ignoring the advice on modern communcations systems that would have better coordinated a rescue effort, probably got a lot of people killed unnecessarily on that famous September morning. Indeed, while claiming hero status, all Rudy actually did WAS APPEAR ON T.V. (and that only because the then Republican President peed in his pants and went on an Air Force One joy ride). In short... Rudy is susceptible to his own swift-boating... and unlike the original Swift Boat Veterans for Truth... Rudy's takedown WOULD ALL BE TRUE!

So... Al Gore held off announcing at the Oscars...

Maybe he'll announce later this year when he wins a Nobel Prize. BTW... notice that Al Gore was prepared to fire back at the bogus charges... He's ready for the swift-boating... and he hasn't even officially announced... John Edwards could learn a thing or two... speaking of which...

Super Lindsay Beyerstein (our friend and neighbor) lets us in on a little secret: she was asked to be the Edwards' campaign blogger before Amanda and Shakes, but turned him down.

In other news, following a massive sell-off in the Chinese stock market, the U.S. stock market tanked to the tune of over 400 points in the Dow Jones Industrial Average... who knows what would have happened had the Taliban pulled off what they claim to have been an assassination attempt on Dick Cheney . Cheney was (insanely) visiting Aghanistan in the middle of a war when a a suicide bomber killed at least 23 at the gate of an air base around a mile from where Cheney was.

Dick Cheney's February adventures really can't be good for his heart, whether it was nearly blowing away his friend Harry last year (while placing himself in a remote area with civilians armed with firearms and stoked with alcohol)... or this year, placing himself quite literally in a war zone.

This has been... autopilot blogging...

Comments (4)

February 24, 2007, TD Blog Interview with David Rose

Oxford, U.K. based David Rose is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, and has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and the BBC. He was one of the first journalists to have visited the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and is the author of Guantanamo: The War on Human Rights. On February 23, 2007, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Rose by telephone. What follows are my interview notes as corrected by Mr. Rose.

The Talking Dog Where were you on 11 September, 2001, and on 7 July 2005?

David Rose: On September 11th, I was actually in a remote valley in the North of England in Northumbria, working on a story about an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease that had killed thousands of sheep. The farmer I was talking to got a telephone call telling him to turn on the television. The Farmer and I sat and watched the television, and said to each other “ we can’t talk about sheep now”. We watched as both towers collapsed, and at that point, I drove home to Oxford.

On July 7th, I was at my desk in Oxford at the time of the attacks.

The Talking Dog: Have you had a chance to return to Guantanamo since he publication of your book, Guantanamo: The War on Human Rights?

David Rose: I tried to go to Guantanamo last June (of 2006). I was all set to cover the first military commission trials, when the news broke of the suicides of three detainees. The Pentagon suddenly revoked my clearance. Then, as I was in Washington, I managed to get a new clearance, faxed to my hotel, and we arranged transport by a circuitous route on civilian aircraft via Miami and Kingston, Jamaica, but ultimately, the Defense Department refused to let me in at that time, and I have not been back.

The Talking Dog: Do you have a comment on why, to this day, American detention policy, whether at Guantanamo, Bagram, Kandahar, Iraq, or elsewhere, including the ghost prisons and rendition program, remain a much bigger issue in Europe and outside of the United States than they do inside of the United States?

David Rose: In all fairness, it has become a far bigger issue in the United States since I wrote the book. Of course, John Kerry did not mention this at all when he ran for President– not one mention of Guantanamo. Large numbers of Americans think it is just perfectly fine to hold people this way. They don’t see the broader issues– that Guantanamo and America’s treatment of detainees is virtually a recruiting sergeant for terrorists, and that the policy is misguided ethically and counterproductive in achieving the supposed goals of fighting terrorism.

The Talking Dog: What were your impressions of General Geoffrey Miller, formerly commanding officer at Guantanamo and later at Abu Ghraib, when you met him?

David Rose: General Miller is a forceful, gung ho character to be sure. He was very keen to talk of his achievements, and the achievements of his staff. He is also very scary. He had no background whatsoever in intelligence or in interrogations- he was an artillery officer. In his view, intelligence gathering was a volume business- so many pages of transcripts, as if interrogations were equivalent to hitting targets with artillery rounds. He was very dogmatic, and very difficult to talk to. Quite frightening, actually.

The Talking Dog: Were there any other military or government officials that made an impression on you when you met them at Guantanamo?

David Rose: Two certainly come to mind. One was Louis Louk, then the chief surgeon, who left Guantanamo before the advent of the force-feeding regime. He made a comment about a detainee who wanted to kill himself being “a spoiled brat”. I found that troubling, actually.

The other was the chaplain (not Captain Yee, the Moslem chaplain), but the chief chaplain, a Baptist, I believe, Steve Feehan. He viewed the detainees as second class human beings– which I found quite troubling for a man of the cloth.

The Talking Dog: Do you have a comment on American media coverage of its government’s detention policy?

David Rose: There has been very distinguished reporting in the Washington Post and the New York Times, with the Washington Post probably the best. I have enormous admiration for Jane Mayer and the work she has done in the New Yorker on this. Of course, large swathes of Middle America read nothing about any of this, and certainly, the networks are not covering it. But for various reasons, including early acceptance of governmental statements about holding “terrorists”, many people, including many in the media, have uncritically accepted the government’s explanations.

The Talking Dog: One section of your book is called “The Least Worst Place” and notes that one of the original premises for the selection of Guantanamo as a detention facility was that it was, uniquely perhaps, beyond the jurisdiction of the country it was in, Cuba, and yet still arguably beyond the jurisdiction of the USA, the country that controls it. That fiction seemed to have been previously rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, but now seems to have reemerged in a decision this week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in Washington. Do you have a comment on that?

David Rose: The Court of Appeals Judgment deferred to the Congress. I’m sure that there is some constitutional authority supporting that. The Supreme Court is in no hurry to hear the case. British jurist Lord Steyn called Guantanamo a legal black hole– and the legal black hole has been dug again. The only way this will change is politically. This Administration has resisted the impact even of adverse decisions of the Supreme Court.

To change this, one would think that a crushing defeat for the Republican Party might help...

The Talking Dog: Haven’t we just had that?

David Rose: Well, a crushing defeat and a Democratic President. Eventually there will be a pendulum change– the values that made the United States unique– the power of its Constitution– will reassert themselves. Enough people will regard Guantanamo with the same shame as the detention of Japanese in World War II... or the Red Scares... We’ll just have to see if and when this happens.

The Talking Dog: At least one of our Congressmen, Jack Murtha, and two of our Senators, Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter, who voted for the Military Commissions Act in the first place, now propose to restore the habeas corpus rights withdrawn by that Commissions Act. Do you have any comment on the likelihood of either of these endeavors succeeding, and from your perspective, would either do very much with respect to American credibility on human rights matters as seen from your perspective, and from what you view as European popular opinion?

David Rose: It wasn’t as if people in Congress weren’t told. While what McCain and Graham told everyone they were doing something tremendously progressive, it was quite the opposite. And the Administration got the measures through.

My suspicion is that the President would veto anything in the nature of an attempt to repeal the Military Commissions Act. A real substantive change will probably have to wait until there is a Democratic President. And even there, Hillary Clinton has not been known lately for having a particularly liberal attitude! Perhaps of the other candidates, Edwards or Obama might be likelier to change these policies.

The Talking Dog: Now that Prime Minister Blair has announced a troop reduction timetable of sorts for Iraq, do you see any impact on “the special relationship” between the USA and the UK, specifically with respect to the “war on terror”?

David Rose: There are far more important variables likely to determine that relationship– in part, based on the personality of the next Prime Minister. Right now, the likeliest candidate, Gordon Brown, would represent no big change. He has been a major America-phile. His biggest liability politically may well be his support for the Iraq war! If someone else gets elected Labour leader, then anything is possible. Iraq has certainly become a burden around the neck of Labour– but an alternative candidate could change things.

The Talking Dog: Are you still in contact with former Guantanamo detainees, detainees’ families and others associated with Guantanamo? What can you tell me about that– how are they reacting to the continuation of the American detention policy?

David Rose: I talk to a number of them by telephone and we exchange e-mails. Needless to say, they are outraged. Really, what else can you say?

The Talking Dog: You close your book by observing that Samuel Huntington’s grim prediction of a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam may be coming true, and that in any event, it is advanced by Guantanamo and American detention policy. I had heard it (perhaps incorrectly) suggested that some of those involved in the 7 July 2005 London bombings were “inspired” by, among other things, Guantanamo. You also document a number of abuses that took place of prisoners at Guantanamo. Is there any evidence (for example, I understand that before the Abu Ghraib photographs became public, no American uniformed soldiers– as opposed to contractors– were killed in captivity in Iraq, though after, many have been beheaded or otherwise brutally killed)... is there any evidence that you are aware of that the open-ended detention of these men, besides destroying the thousands of individual lives of the detainees and their families and loved ones, is causing general damage to the supposedly orderly world that the United States is trying to maintain?

David Rose: I certainly don’t know that 7/7's perpetrators were specifically upset by Gitmo. It is certainly part of the background of radicalization. I can’t say there is specific evidence of what you are asking– though for example, the UK hostage in Iraq, Ken Bigley, was wearing a Guantanamo style orange uniform and in a Guantanamo style cage at the time he was murdered on film– the jihadists were certainly sending a symbolic message.

Pentagon officials have said that for every detainee we create 10 or perhaps 100 future terrorists... No question that the detentions have had a radicalizing effect, whether in Britain or in the Middle East. How much, given adding in, for example, American support for Israel (including in the recent conflict with Hezbollah), or for American policy in Iraq... is difficult to say. But Gitmo has cut away the moral high ground for America. The United States used to say “we won’t sink to this... torturing people or detaining them arbitrarily is not what we do under our Constitution. Well, Gitmo was set up to avoid the Constitution. The damage has been pretty big.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else relevant to this subject that I should have asked you but didn’t, or that my readers and the public need to know about these topics?

David Rose: What depresses me most is that this is going on for so long. The mental health of the detainees has deteriorated enormously– without any hope of them ever going home, or even being tried. We don’t think about the impact on individuals– on human beings. It is clear that the toll is enormous for the individuals and their families. One of them [Sami Al Hajj] is an Al Jazeera cameraman with a wife in Doha who I have spoken to... for her, this just drags on and on. And yet, to this day, the Pentagon still spreads the same old lies of “these are all terrorists”... even after five years without proving allegations against any of them, the efforts at demonizing them continue. This has caused an enormous amount of misery at a basic, human level. It is just terrible that this has been going on for so long.

The Talking Dog: I join my readers in thanking David Rose for that compelling and enlightening interview. Interested readers should take a look at Guantanamo: The War on Human Rights.

Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys H. Candace Gorman, 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, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, and with author and geographer Trevor Paglen and with author and journalist Stephen Grey on the subject of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, to be of interest.

Comments (2)

February 23, 2007, A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall

Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid has been hinting at possible legislation to alter the Congressional authorization for use of force in Iraq, such as possibly just to fight al Qaeda and train Iraqi forces, for example.

Unlike the non-binding resolution which still couldn't come out of a filibuster, this type of legislation would be subject to an almost certain Presidential veto. Of course, in framing the issues for any leading Democratic candidate except Hillary Clinton, one couldn't be clearer about pitting the interests and desires of the American people writ large versus those of the Beltway and military-industrial complex super-elite classes, now, could one? I remain amazed that Democrats fail to see that by "being all patriotic and bipartisan", they lost control of the Senate in 2002 and allowed Bush and GOP control of both Houses to continue in office in 2004, whereas by finally showing some cojones in 2006, they took back Congress... they draw the lesson "we better listen to our well-paid consultants and do what we did in '02 and '04..." Anyway...

Assuming that the pro-Hillary forces (possibly backed by "yea-for-war" voters and prez-candidates such as Biden and Dodd) don't manage to kill Reid's initiative (Reid voted for the original Iraq war authorization too, btw) before it even gets out of the box, we'll start to hear about "Constitutional Crisis" from the usual chattering asses. This is what we always hear when Republican thugs try and make things ugly (think "sending Congressional staffer thugs to intimidate canvassers conducting vote counts in Dade County, Florida" for example). But THE CONSTITUTION makes Congress the superior branch-- that's why it gets Article I. That's why Congress can remove the President, AND NOT VICE VERSA.

In short, crisis, schmisis. It's Congress's JOB to rein in the President, if that is its desire, including in matters of war and peace. Now we'll just see if, despite overwhelming popular support to dramatically alter course in the Iraq war (if not to end it and end it yesterday), Congress will follow through...

Oh, what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what'll you do now, my darling young one?
I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin',
I'll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest,
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty,
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison,
Where the executioner's face is always well hidden,
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,
Where black is the color, where none is the number,
And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin',
But I'll know my song well before I start singin',
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Comments (2)

February 22, 2007, Mission Accomplished, Part ___

According to this report in the Grey Lady, Iraqi insurgents (we can assume that's code for Sunni insurgents, though we are not told explicitly that it is Sunni insurgents doing this) have taken up a new tactic and weapon of choice: truck bombs that also release chlorine gas. You will recall that chlorine gas was banned in warfare following its widespread use in the First World War (the one to end all wars), and it is nasty if breathed in or contacts the skin... painful, and often fatal.

I vaguely remember the threat of Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons (widely believed to have been supplied by the United States; the old joke has Tony Blair incredulous about evidence on the subject, but Dubya assures him that he is quite certain Saddam used chem weapons because "my Dad kept the receipts"). This supposedly altered the urgency and timetable of our invasion (lest the chemical suits be too hot in the summer)... that and the mere possibility the weapons inspectors would finish their report and sanctions might come off, permitting Saddam to continue his reign of terror on world oil prices.

All water under the bridge now, I suppose. The "insurgents" are "adaptive"... or whatever term you like. They are, with the help of Saudi (and not Iranian) supplied equipment, shooting down our helicopters, killing our troops, and keeping things nice and disorderly...

This has been... Mission Accomplished, Part ___.

Comments (1)

February 20, 2007, Habeas schmabeas

Well, the final battle over just how far we have fallen in the annals of 800 years of Anglo-American jurisprudence is on, with the intermediate appelate court known as the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, by a 2 judge to 1 margin, answering "Nyet" on the question: "Are there ultimate judicial checks on arbitrary executive power especially when ratified by a feckless partisan Congress?", in dismissing habeas corpus petitions brought by the nearly 400 remaining Guantanamo detainees.

Unlike prior judicial outrages along the way, I am actually less troubled by this one for at least two reasons: (1) a Democratic controlled Congress may well force the issue, with a bill co-sponsored by Democrat Leahy and Republican Specter (who voted for the current abomination known as the Military Commissions Act before co-sponsoring a bill to repeal it... he's not running for reelection until 2010, if he dares...) [I won't even mention Jack Murtha's efforts to close Gitmo altogether... which are coming...], and (2) even if it lost at this level, the Bush Administration was not planning on altering its outrageous detention policy one iota unless and until the Supreme Court, and only the Supreme Court told it to... so frankly, a "win" might be even more troubling in terms of "victory" being academic, pyrrhic, or whatever...

And even there, the Bush Administration has now lost virtually every time a detainee case has gotten to the Supreme Court (Rasul, Hamdi, Hamdan, with two duckings of the issue in Padilla), and quite frankly, the current 2-1 decision of the D.C. Circuit is premised on (deliberately) violating the Supreme Court's own precedent in Rasul, which refused to acknowledged the fiction that the 40 square mile enclave of America at the tip of Cuba is somehow beyond the juirsdiction of American courts... so we'll see.

But there you go. Yet another case going up to the Supreme Court; now with over five years of arbitrary detention, and counting, with nearly half of the "worst of the worst" already released, because, well, they weren't quite so dangerous after all. This will matter probably very little in the lives (what's left of them) of the nearly 400 we are still holding... or maybe it will be the beginning of the end... or the middle of the middle...

Who knows any more?

Comments (1)

February 19, 2007, The Rape of Sabrine

I don't know why I knew River would be writing something today, but, after a long layoff, she posted a few hours ago, on the subject of a young woman who was raped by [our allies, American trained] Iraqi security forces. Read this... from Iraqi blogger River Bend. Just. Read. It.

I'll give you the last paragraph, but that does not excuse you from READING IT.

Let me clear it up for any moron with lingering doubts: It’s worse. It’s over. You lost. You lost the day your tanks rolled into Baghdad to the cheers of your imported, American-trained monkeys. You lost every single family whose home your soldiers violated. You lost every sane, red-blooded Iraqi when the Abu Ghraib pictures came out and verified your atrocities behind prison walls as well as the ones we see in our streets. You lost when you brought murderers, looters, gangsters and militia heads to power and hailed them as Iraq’s first democratic government. You lost when a gruesome execution was dubbed your biggest accomplishment. You lost the respect and reputation you once had. You lost more than 3000 troops. That is what you lost America. I hope the oil, at least, made it worthwhile.

Comments (1)

February 19, 2007, All Along the Watchtower

On this President's Day, let's all take a moment to salute one of the most consistently performing Presidents in American history, that, of course, being the current one. Unfortunately, he has been consistently performing at the level of disaster, and this observation in the Grey Lady about the reemergence of some centralized control of its network by the al Qaeda leadership should give us all pause, if not complete and total apoplexy. (It would seem, btw, that as yet another article in The Times laments the new design of the Freedom Tower for the World Trade Center site as reflecting anxiety and paranoia rather than ambition... maybe that makes some sense...)

In short, over five years after September 11th, nearly four years after the invasion of Iraq, after spending hundreds of billions out of pocket so far, over three thousand of our service personnel dead, tens of thousands maimed for life physically, probably hundreds of thousands scarred psychologically, hundreds of thousands of dead civilians in Iraq... not to mention the moral authority that this country once had flushed-down-the-toilet so we could expediently defy our own Constitution, laws and treaties by detaining and torturing the people swept up in our wake without care to whether they even remotely had anything to do with terrorism... in short, the premise of our entire so-called "war on terror"... appears now to have all been for little or naught, as the original perpetrators seem to be up and about, regrouping, and, if anything, beyond our control, as they lie protected by the sovereignty of a "friendly" country that we dare not push too hard, lest we irremediably destabilize it.

"No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke,
"There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

Happy President's Day.

Comments (2)

February 17, 2007, Talkin' World War III Blues


In a follow up from my American Street piece House of Pain (discussing the House vote on a non-binding resolution condemning "The SurgeTM"), it seems that the Senate Republicans, in contrast to their own threats to end fillibusters for their own purposes... now that they are not in the majority... the GOP Senators used a fillibuster (with the expedient of nine GOP senators not even showing up to vote) to block a non-binding resolution in the Upper House.

Go ahead and say what you like about Joe Lieberman: he appears to have bucked the rest of (what he purports to be) his own party members (and seven Republicans) for 56 votes for cloture (or to end the fillibuster and have the damned vote) against only 34 against (9 Republicans conveniently not showing up, and South Dakota's Tim Johnson still in hospital.) [Apparently, while some dogs can talk, they can't count; Jeralyn's count set me straight... I mistakenly forgot that with Lieberman and Sanders in caucus, there are 51 Dems... 50-49, with Johnson incapacitated...] Interestingly, with all the Democrats plus Sanders (Socialist-VT), Specter (Fascist-PA) and Coleman (Opportunist- MN) all voting to end the fillibuster, I believe that makes Lieberman the only Jew in the Senate (I think there are something like 13 now!) to support the President on "the SurgeTM"... and he voted on Shabbos to do it!

So... the President will claim victory, because he used the undemocratic rules of the already undemocratic Senate to undermine the overwhelming sentiment of the American people (and indeed, anyone on Earth without his head up his or her ass... or that of their Saudi overlords). The overwhelming sentiment opposes not only "The SurgeTM", but realizes that the only remaining question for our option as to Iraq is whether we leave now, on our own terms, or later, via helicopters from the Embassy roof.

Well, a big one today... squashing a non-binding resolution that the President himself said he would ignore. Good for you, Mr. President. I'm sure you, Mitch McConnell and the rest of your party must be so proud.

Well, now time passed and now it seems
Everybody's having them dreams.
Everybody sees themselves walkin' around with no one else.
Half of the people can be part right all of the time,
Some of the people can be all right part of the time.
But all of the people can't be right all of the time.
I think Abraham Lincoln said that.
"I'll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours,"
I said that.

Comments (1)

February 16, 2007, Day of the Locusts

Submitted for your approval:

Global temperatures (overall, not necessarily in any particular one location, such as the Northeast United States, for example) for January, 2007, were (surprise, surprise) the highest global temperatures ever recorded.

You have just read our interview with Adam Stein of TerraPass, covering the gamut of global warming related issues.

You might want to look at this fabulous takedown of what now passes for global warming skepticism by Kevin of Lean Left.

As seems to be some kind of trend here, I'll leave with you a little Dylan while you ponder all that...

Outside of the gates the trucks were unloadin',
The weather was hot, a-nearly 90 degrees.
The man standin' next to me, his head was exploding,
Well, I was prayin' the pieces wouldn't fall on me.
Yeah, the locusts sang off in the distance,
Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody.
Oh, the locusts sang off in the distance,
And the locusts sang and they were singing for me.

I put down my robe, picked up my diploma,
Took hold of my sweetheart and away we did drive,
Straight for the hills, the black hills of Dakota,
Sure was glad to get out of there alive.
And the locusts sang, well, it give me a chill,
Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody.
And the locusts sang with a high whinin' trill,
Yeah, the locusts sang and they was singing for me,
Singing for me, well, singing for me.

Comments (0)

February 16, 2007, With God on our side

An Italian judge has gone ahead and indicted 31, including 26 American CIA and military officials, for their role in the kidnapping (for "extraordinary rendition" and torture) of Abu Omar in Milan. This, of course, was one of the subjects of my recent interview with Stephen Grey, author of Ghost Plane, addressing the whole CIA kidnapping program.

Kidnapping, it seems, is against the law in Italy, even when part of an expedient American policy. Although many of the indicted have assumed names, in some cases, the indicted used aliases jumbling character names from Friends and Will and Grace, in others, the Italians know exactly who they are indicting, such as the CIA bureau chiefs in Milan and Rome. As you will recall, the Italians were somewhat pissed about all this, because they were actually trying to make their own case against Abu Omar (Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr), through (get this!) a court, with actual legal and judicial process. Instead, the Americans just came, and, after charging up hundreds of thousands of dollars at luxury hotels, snatched Abu Omar off the street. This, it seemed, doubly screwed the Italians by (1) demonstrating that they could not protect someone to whom they granted political asylum from Egypt from being returned to Egypt where he would, and did, face torture, AND (2) screwing up an ongoing terrorism investigation.

But hey? Due process schmocess, as they say. Somewhere in CIA headquarters even as we speak, the Vice President is doubtless on a conference call with some of the indictees telling them that they are welcome to spend their holidays with him at one of the undisclosed locations... and who needs Italy anyway? (After all, says the Vice President, "it's full of Italians..." ) The Vice President famously doesn't enjoy travelling, which, given the sort of thing the Italians just did... will be a smart move, once he leaves office... the President and any number of officials may want to think about that as well...

So now as I'm leavin'
I'm weary as Hell
The confusion I'm feelin'
Ain't no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God's on our side
He'll stop the next war.

Comments (1)

February 15, 2007, Long Ago, Far Away

In this case, that would be hours and hours ago, and hundreds of miles away... where the President's people, sensing the momentum for their Persian-Incursion warmongering letting up a bit, staged a Presidential press conference, at which the President continued his irrational and unsupported bantering as to why he is now ramping up staging and logistics for an attack against Iran.

Because it's getting late and I'm tired (and not just from the highest rated show in television history, "Meet the Nielson Families Up Close" John Edwards re-plays Bill Clinton's best Lonnie Guinier moments the Amanda and Melissa show)... I'll just blockquote from WaPo...

The president spent much of the hour-long televised session in the East Room addressing skepticism about his government's assertions regarding Iran and fears of a widening regional conflict. "The idea that somehow we're manufacturing the idea that the Iranians are providing [explosives] is preposterous," Bush said. Repeating a reporter's question, he added: "Does this mean you're trying to have a pretext for war? No. It means I'm trying to protect our troops."

Bush rejected suggestions that his administration has provided conflicting accounts of the Iranian leadership's involvement in arming Iraqi extremists. On Sunday, U.S. military officials briefing reporters in Baghdad on the condition of anonymity said that the "highest levels" of Iran's government are involved, but Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later said he would not say the Iranian government is complicit.

"There's no contradiction that the weapons are there and they were provided by the Quds Force," an Iranian paramilitary unit, Bush said. He added: "We know that. And we also know that the Quds Force is a part of the Iranian government. That's a known. What we don't know is whether or not the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds Force to do what they did."

The administration has long asserted that Iran has been fomenting trouble in Iraq, but the issue has taken on new urgency in recent weeks as Bush dispatched an additional aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf and confirmed orders to capture or kill Iranian agents caught in Iraq. Democrats and other critics have accused Bush of exaggerating the situation to justify new military action.

You have all that? Not merely our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Pace, but the President himself has just told us that there is no evidence that the Iranian government is involved in smuggling weapons used against our troops, but he is nonetheless going to use it as a casus belli anyway! Funny... maybe those "Quds Force" guys are, you know, a few bad apples...

's piece goes on to recite Senator Clinton tepidly suggesting that the President "must get Congressional approval" to attack Iran, as the Iraq-attack resolution does not authorize this. Well then, Senator, why not introduce an express resolution (under Article I of the Constitution and the War Powers Act) expressly withdrawing the President's authority to engage in military action against Iraq altogether (Obama's timetable for withdrawal would work, for example) and in the same resolution, expressly state that defiance of the will of the American people as expressed by its elected Congressional representatives in either this context (failing to withdraw as directed) or invading someone else (i.e. Iran) without express Congressional authorization) will be grounds for impeachment... period. No outs for "emergencies"... the President may act at his own risk for a change, instead of our risk. I mean, either go all the way to take measures to stop the President on what matters (that would be upping the ante to Iran, and not the political-feel-good nonsense of trying to stop a "surge" in Iraq that is, quite frankly, well within the President's purview as troop movements...) or just get out of his way... or hell, join his cheerleaders. Because we've kind of had enough posturing and middle ground stuff. Especially from you, Senator Clinton, even as you still refuse to apologize for your own complicity in the Iraq fiasco (it's not as if you wouldn't have been handily reelected, now is it?) And yet... here we go again...

Gladiators killed themselves,
It was during the Roman times.
People cheered with bloodshot grins
As eye and minds went blind.
Long ago, far away;
Things like that don't happen
No more, nowadays.

And to talk of peace and brotherhood,
Oh, what might be the cost!
A man he did it long ago
And they hung him on a cross.
Long ago, far away;
Things like that don't happen
No more, nowadays, do they?

Comments (1)

February 12, 2007, TD Blog Interview with Adam Stein

Adam Stein is the co-founder and vice president of marketing of TerraPass, described on its own web site as a means for concerned people to combat global warming. On February 9, 2007, I interviewed Mr. Stein by telephone. What follows are my interview notes, as corrected by Mr. Stein.

The Talking Dog: Everybody these days seems to be talking about the weather... and climate change... but you and TerraPass are actually doing something about it. Can you briefly describe what you do for TerraPass, and what TerraPass does for the rest of us (full disclosure--aside from TerraPass's blog being on the blogroll, I happen to have bought a "Cross-towner Terrapass" this year)?

Adam Stein: I am a co-founder of TerraPass, and am also presently "the marketing guy" (right now there are only 5 of us!) TerraPass is a way for people concerned about global warming to balance out their own CO2 emissions. By driving or flying or heating our house or using electricity, we all create carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. These emissions add up to our "carbon footprint". TerraPass balances your carbon footprint with a reduction in carbon emissions -- we fund an "offsetting" reduction in greenhouse gases.

The Talking Dog: In other words, this amounts to a forum for individuals to "carbon trade"?

Adam Stein: Yes... this is the voluntary purchase of these carbon credits -- individuals don't have access to private markets to do this, usually. They’re just not set up for individual citizens-- so we aggregate our customers' money to enable them to do this.

The Talking Dog Is anyone else doing this?

Adam Stein: There are about 45 companies or orgaizations doing this. Most are tiny, but some are establishing themselves.

The Talking Dog: Are you structured as a for-profit, and do you take an ownership or investment stake in the carbon reduction projects?

Adam Stein: We are a "for profit". We are a social business enterprise. Our goal is to make this self-sustaining. Climate change is a long-term problem, and we want to ensure that we will be around for the long haul. We set this up on a retail organization model.

We make purchases from carbon-reducing projects, but we do not take an ownership stake, nor are we making "a grant". Someone is creating a carbon credit by generating clean energy (such as a windfarm). We are purchasing that credit for our members, and the funds help to sustain the carbon-reducing projects and make them financially viable.

We are addressing a market flaw: you can now buy carbon reduction. For example, we invest in methane (CH4) digesters on dairy farms, methane being 23 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as CO2. The methane digester captures methane from a dairy farm-- where cows may produce 6,000 gallons of milk a day, but as a byproduct, also create 20,000 gallons of manure, loaded with methane... our project enables the farmer to recapture that methane without discharging it into the atmosphere.

The Talking Dog: Where were you on September 11th? The fast follow up is to what extent do you believe that the American reaction (or, in the view of some, such as the rest of the world, overreaction) to September 11th has set back the cause of combatting climate change?

Adam Stein: I was then living in San Francisco. I remember I was in the shower, and I got a phone call from my girlfriend who told me to turn on the TV. I remember it quite vividly. As far as how 9-11 changed the United States response? Probably not very much, honestly. It’s impossible to say, of course, but the debate over global warming has been playing out for decades.

On a more personal note, 9-11 certainly instilled a sense in me that my work should be important and reflect my personal values. Certainly I didn’t have climate change on my mind that day, but I did switch careers shortly after that, and now I find myself at TerraPass.

The Talking Dog: But what about the sense that we might not have a second Bush presidency if not for 9-11, and Bush’s administration has been an obstacle to action on climate change?

Adam Stein: That’s true, but you could also say that a change in the shape of ballots in Palm Beach County in 2000 would have dramatically changed our response to global warming and climate change. It's all water under the bridge now; we can't go back.

The Talking Dog: It seems that in the last year (specifically, in the last six months) climate change, which has been looming as a potential problem for decades, if not centuries, has suddenly caught on to the public consciousness, at least in the world's number one with a bullet CO2 producer, in the United States... to what do you attribute that to? Forced follow up: to what extent do we owe the consciousness to Al Gore, his movie and other efforts?

Adam Stein: I think Al Gore deserves an awful lot of credit for raising popular awareness. His movie was extremely well done, and tackled an extremely complex and hard topic to get one's attention around.

But had the movie come out two years earlier, it probably would have gone nowhere. Gore certainly influenced the media-- that's a big factor, but the science is just getting further and further locked down and certain in the last couple of years. Yes, the public's understanding lags that of the scientific community-- but only for so long; reality eventually catches up.

Also, Katrina was a factor. I am not suggesting that climate change caused Hurricane Katrina, but I am suggesting that it dramatically woke people up to the potential effects of extreme weather.

The Talking Dog: The President, when he's not trying to suppress government science from disclosing anything deviating from the Republican party line best expressed by Senator James Inhofe that global warming is either the greatest or second greatest myth perpetrated on the American people (the other first or second greatest myth being evolution), he has recently suggested in his State Of The Union speech that climate change... is a problem. His prior proposed solutions include hydrogen power, and now presumably, alternative fuels, presumably meaning ethanol. Can you comment on the pros and cons of these proposals?

Adam Stein: I am reluctant to pick winners, because there is no silver bullet for climate change. The solutions will be broad-based; technology is critical, but so is conservation. I’ve noticed an unfortunate tendency for people to anoint this or that technology as the savior.

I can say that, right now, ethanol is pretty useless. Corn ethanol is just not the answer, but we can hope that maybe it will prove to be a helpful bridging technology coupled with increased fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks. We really have to improve mileage standards. But if we do, ethanol could certainly be a part of a broader solution.

Hydrogen is very interesting. I have been in hydrogen-powered cars and buses, but this technology is still a long way off, and it’s only useful if you have renewable sources of hydrogen production. Right now, the most basic changes we can make involve efficiency in our use of energy, coupled with increased research and investment in renewable carbon-free energy.

The Talking Dog: Well, regardless of where it fits in the President's agenda, I have read (and heard a lecture program provided by my employer) suggesting that, at least in the short term, as another bridge technology, nuclear power--particularly in India and China, is probably the best option for producing a great deal of electricity without significant CO2 emissions-- again, nuclear waste generation is a problem but one that we may be able to solve in 50, 100, 150 years... whereas if we cross the climate change threshold, there will simply be no going back-- all human life-- if not all life-- will be changed forever. What's your view on that statement?

Adam Stein: Well, I am not, and do not purport to be, a nuclear expert. I admit that I tend to see a lot of sense in the view that the benefits of nuclear energy outweigh the very real downsides. I should mention that I am not speaking for TerraPass here, and some of my colleagues see things differetly than I do. But I view climate change as a much, much more pressing problem than nuclear waste.

But nuclear is not, of course, the ideal solution. Also, it is not clear just how "short term" a solution nuclear energy really is, as nuclear plants take years and years to come on line, and they are very expensive, so not many will be built. But in the context of India and China, I would agree that nuclear should be looked at as a potential part of the mix.

The Talking Dog: Following up on the last question, of course, the Europeans are reconsidering their embrace of palm oil, given that the clearing of tropical forests for palm plantations has made Indonesia the third largest carbon emitter (according to a recent New York Times article). This leads to a number of questions... For one, to what extent are TerraPass's efforts at biofuels measured to ensure that they amount to net carbon reduction?

Adam Stein: That's an easy one: TerraPass avoids projects like that. We avoid forestry projects. Although, to be honest, our reasons for avoiding these projects really aren’t related to all the issues you hear about with clearing of tropical rainforest. At a more basic level, there are still a lot of questions around the basic science of accounting for carbon reductions from forestry projects. Personally, I would very much like to see forestry brought into the fold, because deforestation accounts for about 20% of climate change. But we just don't feel that these projects are the best use of our members' dollars at this time.

The Talking Dog: To what extent are changed agricultural practices (or food purchasing practices) available that can reduce CO2 emissions, and is Terrapass involved in any projects in that area?

Adam Stein: Again, TerraPass does not have projects in this area; for one thing, it is just very difficult to generate carbon credits for these activities. Still, some of these practices sound like great ideas, and they should definitely be pursued. It’s just that in order to generate a carbon credit, you need to meet certain baseline criteria of measurability and verifiability. So some programs might be great for the environment, just not a great source of carbon credits. The problem is global in scale-- the solutions will have to be broad based.

In the food purchasing area, the Tesco chain in Britain (equivalent to the UK's Walmart; it's their largest retailer) has added Carbon labeling to all 70,000 products on their shelves. I'm not aware of any similar Carbon labeling program in the U.S., as of yet.

The Talking Dog: You recently wrote of "the changing debate" (in particular, also the subject of a recent New York Times article) of a growing "middle ground view" on climate change-- that it is a serious problem and must quickly be remedied, but that "extremism" and "alarmism" are somehow counterproductive; this, indeed, is somewhat of a positive shift, because, Senator James Inhofe aside, the side paid by oil and coal companies to deny the existence of global warming or climate change is now forced to be less outright dismissive of it... A couple of questions emerge from this... For one, how do we (all people, of course, but we'll start with, for example, so-called "progressive" bloggers) address so-called "climate skeptics"?

Adam Stein: Well, you address a climate change skeptic politely and respectfully with solid arguments based in science and fact. We have to realize that most Americans just don't know about climate change. Many people are still learning about this for the first time. This can be frustrating, but it’s a long-term problem, and a certain amount of patience is necessary.

When encountering a diehard skeptic, one need not convince them -- you can't necessarily. But in any debate, there are always people on the sidelines listening in, and these are the people that your arguments should be aimed at. We need to convince less partisan onlookers with the reasonableness and soundness of our position. It’s a hard task, though. The science is complex, and even those of us who understand the scope of the problem can’t always be up to date on the latest climate research.

But a key point is that there is no scientific debate -- there is not a single peer reviewed scientific journal article that disputes the reality of man-made climate change at this point. Indeed, the scientific climate change does something unique-- they get together every 5 years and issue a report that summarizes the latest scientific evidence on climate change. This is the IPCC report that has just come out, demonstrating that there is a greater than 90% chance that climate change is not only real, but caused by man-made emissions. The scientists have made up their minds; the vast body of data is now indisputable. We now have the science-- CO2 records go back 600,000 years, and there is now no alternative explanation-- in short, the "debate" is over. The only question is just how long it takes for most people to understand, and act on this.

Another interesting fact to confront skeptics with is that the oil companies themselves have all given up their opposition to the notion of man-made climate change. They don’t dispute it anymore – Shell, Exxon, all of them. You would think that if there were any doubt left, these companies would be the most eager to reinforce it.

The Talking Dog: How would you respond that, in some ways, the American people are so jaded that unless something is portrayed as an absolute crisis, the political pressure to do something just isn't there (see "September 11th")?

Adam Stein: This is by far the biggest problem with climate change as a political issue-- it is a slow motion problem, and its effects and the consequences of actions take decades or longer to play out. It is just not something that can be easily dealt with politically, given how we now do things. Several decades of climate change are already baked into the system, even if we stop emitting carbon altogether immediately -- that's just the effect of lags of processes we have already put in place.

This is why events like Katrina have such impact, even if it is unclear that global warming had anything to do with Katrina itself. Indeed, Lee Scott, CEO of Walmart said that he "got religion" after Katrina. He regards global warming as "Katrina in slow motion", which is a pretty apt metaphor. How do we fix all of this? We will have to have a steady drumbeat of popular sentiment, followed by effective legislative action.

The Talking Dog: Are you optimistic we can solve this problem before catastrophe sets in?

Adam Stein: Am I optimistic? I have to feel that we have to, and we will, get on top of this problem in time to forestall the worst effects. We cannot stop all of them-- we are well past that, and many are already happening. There are a number of different scenarios that can play out, but I have to believe that the other benefits of getting beyond fossil fuels will be enough for us to get to that point. This will take decades at a minimum and major effort, but I believe we will get there.

The Talking Dog: With a minimum of "The Day After Tomorrow" hyperbole as best you can, can you briefly describe some of the consequences of climate change, assuming the "business as usual" scenario, and CO2 emissions continue unabated for the next 10, 20 50 years... for example, the increased strength of hurricanes of which Katrina is but one example?

Adam Stein: Hurricanes are still being debated scientifically, but there is no question that oceans will be getting warmer, which potentially will strengthen hurricanes.

Sea level changes are one of the most salient effects of global warming, though, again, there is debate over just how much. Our current models of sea level changes mostly reflect the fact that water expands as it heats up. But glaciers are also melting, and it now appears they are melting faster than we originally thought. Right now, scientists are predicting a rise of several feet in this century, although these figures may have to be revised upwards.

The effects of even a few feet are enormous. Some low lying islands near Indonesia have already begun to disappear, and thousands of people have to be relocated, right now. The United States will be effected, for sure. Parts of California's Highway 101 near the ocean will be submerged, for example! There will be serious shifts in weather patterns-- some areas wil get wetter, and some drier. This impacts food production and the water supply-- there will be ecoomic consequences and geo-poltical consequences. Arguably, we are seeing them start to play out now in places such as Darfur. Australia is already experiencing severe droughts, and that will only get worse.

The price to the planet in terms of biodiversity will be high: plant and animal species' traditional reaction to weather and climate change was to move; our cities will make that harder or impossible, and many species will become extinct. And not just on land: oceans are getting more acidic-- we may lose many, if not all, of our coral reefs. Plankton will be heavily effected, and plankton sits at the bottom of a food chain that goes all the way up to whales. At this point, it really is hard to estimate just how far reaching all the effects of climate change could go.

The Talking Dog: Notwithstanding that climate change is a global problem requiring global action, what (besides buying a TerraPass!) can we as individuals (and individual community members) do on our own, say, today, this week, this year, and in the next 3-5 years?

Adam Stein: There are a few categories of action. First of all, be sure your elected representatives know how important these issues are to you-- voting is one way of letting them know you care, but another is calling and writing to tell them directly. Trust me, they pay attention to that. Another is to just tell your neighbors and friends-- start getting the word out. And, of course, there are a lot of personal actions that you can do to reduce the size of your own carbon footprint.

Beyond changing your light bulbs to compact flourescents-- which by the way is an excellent idea-- there are, for example, many things you can do as far as efficiency. Heating and cooling your home and your water is one of the major categories of energy use, and one where you can make dramatic improvements in efficiency. Or you can call your power company and ask for the green energy option. TerraPass happens to have a product in that area if your utility doesn't.

Just as you vote on Election Day, you vote every day with your dollars. Large companies are highly attuned to their customers’ desires, and they have leverage. Wal-Mart is an example of this. Regardless of what else you think of the company, Wal-Mart has the potential to have a huge positive impact due to its incredible reach. It’s compact fluorescent program is a great thing, and we can hope for more programs like it in the future. As customers, we have some real points of leverage here, and companies-- especially larger ones-- really do listen to consumers. So shopping green and letting people you buy from know of your preferences can have a host of benefits.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else I should have asked you on these subjects but didn't, or anything else that my readers and the public need to be aware of?

Adam Stein: We've covered a lot of ground. I would say that in the climate change area, right now is not the time for panic... nor is it the time to relax.

The Talking Dog: I join all my readers in thanking Mr. Stein for that enlightening interview, and for being so generous with his time.

Comments (4)

February 11, 2007, Masters of War

Despite the fact that... it's not true... the Bush Administration is hellbent on asserting (via anonymous officials no less!) that Iran is smuggling weaponry used to attack American (and Iraqi) forces in Iraq. It certainly seems implausible from the get-go, because "Iraqi forces" tend to be overwhelmingly Shia, indeed, that's the problem-- they patrol with Americans by day, and by night, they form death squads and attack Sunnis (and Americans who might be trying to protect them).

Indeed, the Bush Administration's claims are preposterous on their face. Professor Juan Cole offers this rather extensive debunking; note that once again, The New York Times uncritically prints Administration propaganda as "news". [Pinch, you f***ing moron... these bastards will not hesitate to call you a traitor the second you cross them even 1 inch... you will never EVER be respected by them... your only hope is to play it straight... and yet Judy Miller seems to have taught you nothing...] But I digress...

Professor Cole's analysis is so dead on, and so important, that I have to provide a rather lengthy quote from it:

Over all, only a fourth of US troops had been killed Baghdad (713 or 23.7 percent of about 3000) through the end of 2006. But US troops aren't fighting Shiites anyplace else-- Ninevah, Diyala, Salahuddin--these are all Sunni areas. For a fourth of US troops to be being killed or wounded by Shiite EFPs, all of the Baghdad deaths would have to be at the hands of Shiites!

The US military often does not announce exactly where in Baghdad a GI is killed and so I found it impossible to do a count of Sunni versus Shiite neighborhoods. But we know that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was running interference for the Mahdi Army last fall, and it seems unlikely to me that very many US troops died fighting Shiites in Baghdad. The math of Gordon's article does not add up at all if this were Shiite uses of Iran-provided EFPs.

So the unnamed sources at the Pentagon are reduced to implying that Iran is giving sophisticated bombs to its sworn enemies and the very groups that are killing its Shiite Iraqi allies every day. Get real!

Moreover, there is no evidence of Iranian intentions to kill US troops. If Iran was giving EFPs to anyone, it was to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its Badr Corps paramilitary, for future use. SCIRI is the main US ally in Iraq aside from the Kurds. I don't know of US troops killed by Badr, certainly not any time recently.

It is far more likely that corrupt arms merchants are selling and smuggling these things than that there is direct government- to- militia transfer. It is possible that small Badr Corps stockpiles were shared or sold. That wouldn't have been Iran's fault.

Some large proportion of US troops being killed in Iraq are being killed with bullets and weapons supplied by Washington to the Iraqi army, which are then sold by desperate or greedy Iraqi soldiers on the black market. This problem of US/Iraqi government arms getting into the hands of the Sunni Arab guerrillas is far more significant and pressing than whatever arms smugglers bring in from Iran.

We now know that Iran came to the US early in 2003 with a proposal to cooperate with Washington in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, and that VP Richard Bruce Cheney rebuffed it. The US could have had Iran on its side in Iraq!

The attempt to blame these US deaths on Iran is in my view a black psy-ops operation. The claim is framed as though this was a matter of direct Iranian government transfer to the deadliest guerrillas. In fact, the most fractious Shiites are the ones who hate Iran the most. If 25 percent of US troops are being killed and wounded by explosively formed projectiles, then someone should look into who is giving those EFPs to Sunni Arab guerrillas. It isn't Iran.

Finally, it is obvious that if Iran did not exist, US troops would still be being blown up in large numbers. Sunni guerrillas in al-Anbar and West Baghdad are responsible for most of the deaths. The Bush administration's talent for blaming everyone but itself for its own screw-ups is on clear display here.

(emphasis supplied).

What else is new? It appears that the Bushmen may be doing something even more venal evil troubling than what I first suspected: I just thought that provoking some fireworks in the Straits of Hormuz would serve the salutory purpose of driving up oil prices significantly without a risk of decreased demand for Saudi oil, as Iranian supply would be reduced (until its shipping lanes and blown up refineries and pipelines got cleaned up)... a win-win situation in the President's service of the Saudi royal family (at the expense of... everyone else... on Earth.)

But Professor Cole ties in the domestic political purpose, which, given the recent mid-term losses, I (heretofore) viewed as secondary at best. But things are worse than I thought: it would seem that these maniacs are "playing for their legacy". Not content to be deemed responsible to posterity for the loss of two major American wars (Iraq, of course, and ...the Taliban are making a major resurgence in... that other place we forgot about where Osama bin- someting or other was once), the Bushmen's answer would seem to be to open a third (and equally hopeless) front. Unable to nail down a win against (ragtag basket-case) Iraq, the Bushmen are now hellbent on taking on the much more populous, much better armed and organized Iran... [one wonders how soon Condi will appear before the U.N. with aerial pictures of an Iranian chickpea processing plant that she claims to be a nuclear or bio-weapons laboratory...] It seems that they must think that by tying us down in [an even bigger disaster in] Iran, the public will be more forgiving of the Iraq debacle... or something equally insane, reckless, and, not to mince words, stupid. Words fail me... so I'll use Dylan's:

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul.

Comments (3)

February 10, 2007, Obamarama

Fellow Columbia '83'er [yes, on THIS blog, it IS always about me] Illinois' junior senator Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President from the state capitol in Springfield, the situs of Lincoln's "house divided against itself" speech to a crowd of onlookers and supporters... and we'll be damned if Obama's message wasn't largely of the same theme as many of Lincoln's... we'd better come together, we'd better end a lot of the pettiness of our current political era... that sort of thing.

While I doubt that Barack is going to reach back to his college class for campaign staff [no, I didn't know him; indeed, no one I know knew him, which is interesting, given that (1) the class size was only around 800 gentlemen-- Columbia's last all male class, and (2) like mine, Barack's major was political science, specifically international politics; I understand that was a transfer student, he lived off-campus and he kept a low profile]... he enters the 2008 race as the second giant in the race (the first being a former First Lady, with whom I share a birthday and now a state-- see above re: "it's always about me"). This already separates this race from that of 2004, when a group of dwarves vied for the Democratic nomination. (A third Democratic giant will, in my peculiar fantasy, announce his candidacy while accepting a Academy Award in a few weeks... but I digress.)

Most of the blogosphere applauds the third or fourth place guy, John Edwards (one of the dwarves from last time) for hiring two of our own, but then left blogistan is not at all necessarily pleased with the backpedaling "apologies" of those concerned... Let's just say that as a fourth-place guy (third if Gore isn't in), Edwards should either show some backbone and take some chances (and let his new hires stand up and be proud of every God damned word they ever wrote)... or he should, quite frankly, get out of the race. But... that's not how things are done, apparently, at least thus far.

Anyway, Obama (unlike Edwards) remains the shiny new [Lincoln] penny of this race: we still know very little about him, but he continues to impress. Despite his lack of experience, this does seem to be his moment, if he's going to have one. George W. Bush has, in the last six years [with two to go] left a sufficiently large train wreck where the Presidency used to be so that it looks pretty good that the electorate (except Dixie, of course) will be willing to consider either a woman or a man of color, like never before. Indeed, being a Democrat will be a huge advantage in the next cycle... Well, that's what I think anyway. Meaning, the time for Barack Obama may be right now.

Assuming he survives the onslaught of smears and attacks he can expect from both his fellow Democrats and from the right... we may be watching the stuff of political magic. Or, he may prove to be a political flash in the pan. Right now... it's still magic, though... as Mr. Smith Obama goes to Washington...

Comments (4)

February 8, 2007, Rainy Day Women #12 and 35

Other than to say, perhaps, "You go, Girls!" to Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte and Shakespeare's Sister's Melissa McEwan, I was going to try to avoid the whole issue of the John Edwards campaign hiring those two big-time lefty feminist bloggers as part of his campaign's web operation.

But alas, the non-controversy controversy (the always polite, civil and courteous Michelle Malkin says that Amanda is potty-mouthed... the unbiased and non-partisan Mr. William A. Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, says she is "anti-Catholic"... I hear she might even be some kind of feminist or something... and take some kind of umbrage at the Catholic Church's stance on birth control, a position held by a great many Catholics... but I digress)... the New York Times front page has picked up the story, proving that blogs have finally become important for generating controversy, if nothing else.

I was reading something extremely intelligent by Mary Beth at Wampum on this very subject, indeed, very presciently directed specifically at Senator Edwards, pointing out that the very over-the-top flame-throwing red-meat tossing style that big-time bloggers do in order to generate their big-time traffic numbers might well be wholly inconsistent with a Presidential campaign, where something far more cautious was called for... Alas, Senator Edwards apparently didn't read the extremely intelligent Mary Beth Williams (herself a candidate for state office in a recent cycle)... at his own peril. Because that is precisely the issue that just came up to bite him on the tuches.

In some sense, Edwards has just generated a great deal of free publicity for himself, and he has also demonstrated that he can display some backbone and some personal loyalty, as Amanda and Melissa, for the time being, are still employed by his campaign. He has also demonstrated with this silly incident that the right is ever-shameless about finding things to attack (perhaps a not-so subtle message directed at Al Gore if he jumps in?)

OTOH, turnabout is fair play: John McCain, for example, has gone out of his way to hire Terry Nelson one of the very dirty tricksters who helped undermine his own campaign in 2000, and most recently, helped undermine Harold Ford's with some ads that many people considered racist. Feel free to call the [formerly sainted until he sold us all out on torture... and other things] John McCain on it, if you want. It's all fair, and Nelson appears far more integral to McCain's operation than Marcotte and McEwan are to Edwards... It's also quite clear that the press considers these bulls**t sideshow and inside baseball campaign stories to be far more important than actual news... so what else is new?

So... for example... how about the fact that the Senate Republicans have just used the same kind of procedural gamesmanship to block a non-binding war resolution that they have long railed against Democrats for doing (so ineffectively!) and yet, why do I not now hear Harry Reid (and Chuck Schumer... sorry, but I always wonder just what it is that my State's senior senator does in the Senate, let alone does in some kind of leadership position) rail for "an up or down vote"? "UP OR DOWN VOTE." "UP OR DOWN VOTE." Why are we not hearing about it? IT'S FREE. And yet... it's left on the table. ("UP OR DOWN VOTE!")

Well, there you have it. Lesson learned. For the moment, John Edwards (who, barring catastrophic missteps by (1) Hillary Clinton, AND (2) Al Gore, AND (3) Barack Obama... has virtually no chance whatsoever at the Democratic nomination... there, I said it... ) has at least showed us some backbone. Though I must say that if he didn't see this sort of thing coming... that really does not bode well for his judgement, and hence, his candidacy: it reminds us that Kerry didn't expect to be Swift-boated.

Politics is no longer for the squeamish, especially for Democrats. Because it's open season on Democrats-- especially the more visible ones... and it has been for... ever. Nothing, of course, stops Dems from firing back, of course... but the donkey party seems to have a unilateral disarmament thing going. Of course, as bloggers, Amanda and Melissa were unafraid to fire back... and that's apparently exactly what they are now being called on the carpet for. Of course, I'm not so sure that sort of thing will be permitted much, or at all, as members of a campaign team... I can't see why it would...

Well, they'll stone you when you walk all alone.
They'll stone you when you are walking home.
They'll stone you and then say you are brave.
They'll stone you when you are set down in your grave.
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

Comments (4)

February 7, 2007, Times they're a changin'

Alas, we see that aside from losing the talents and inbound links of some of the greatest bloggers ever to... blog (Berube and Billmon, in recent weeks alone), we see from our new friend, Jon Swift, that the Mighty Atrios has taken to de-linking some of us less-kewl kidz...

In lieu of actually thinking, let me just re-post, taken from my comment at Jon's site (and corrected for, you know, grammar and s**t):

Bless you, Jon Swift, for pointing this out. I see that the great Duncan has seen fit to jettison m'self (which given my recent traffic trends amounts to bayonetting the body; but so it goes).

The blogosphere was a great deviation from the human (or at least American) reality known as "perpetual high school."

The nerds and the geeks were as welcome at the table as the kewl kidz, the football players and the cheerleaders. Indeed, my own blogroll includes a number of right wingers, many one or two of whom link back to me, from those heady, ecumenical days before the Iraq War and the total partisanship all the time thing kicked in.

But there you are. While Kos (like Kaus for that matter) could never be bothered to link to mere mortals... Atrios was always very good about that.

I guess even he is just getting too big for the rest of us. It's a free country, and a free blogtopia (y.i.k. skippy, etc.) This elitism thing is just so darned... Republican, is all.

I see (naturally, after I posted my comment!) that Duncan is considering adding blogs back to his mighty blogroll... One day maybe Fred will win the fight Atrios (or one of the other blog behemoths) will see fit to link here, either permanently, or to one of my (brilliant and sui generis) interviews, or to one of my other fountains of wit... or not. In the end, only this is my blog: I really have no right to demand anything of anyone else on their blog. Still, this does feel like the end of what had been a different, and more pleasant, era.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

Comments (1)

February 6, 2007, The Show Trial Must Go On

The military authorities have announced the first three contestants among the Gitmo "worst of the worst" for the first three military tribunals under the new "Congressionally approved" show trials military commissions... meaning these three must be "the worst of the worst of the worst".

Fortunately for our readers, we happen to be familiar with all three of them, having, coincidentally, interviewed attorneys for all three. The lucky first of the worst are... David Hicks from Australia (Joshua Dratel is one of his attorneys); Omar Khadr from Canada (Rick Wilson is one of his attorneys); and the famous Supreme Court case winning Salim Hamdan of Yemen (Neal Katyal is one of his attorneys).

To recap, Hicks' purported "war crime" was guarding a Taliban tank position in the Taliban's war against the Northern Alliance; Khadr's "war crime", committed when he was 15 (yes, this does mean that the United States is violating customary international law simply by not treating him as a juvenile, as if details like the law mattered for any of this; all of those responsible are, thereby, themselves war criminals-- for this alone... we won't mention the actual physical and mental abuse Khadr has taken in our custody... quite apart from the general abuse the detainees receive) was throwing a hand grenade and killing an American soldier, in a combat situation, after American forces blew up the house that Khadr was in, killing everyone else in it; Hamdan's crime, of course, was winning a Supreme Court case... he is also alleged to have been a member of OBL's motor pool and occasional driver... remember how we tried Hitler's valet and chauffeur at Nuremberg? You don't? Me neither.

And so you get it: these don't exactly seem like the hardened super-terrorists that justify holding 800 men for years, half of whom have now been released, some of the other remaining 395 may never be released (3 have committed suicide so far)... You get the picture: this is a cock up. Even if we accept that these men are somehow "war criminals", assuming they committed anything vaguely resembling an actual war crime, which they did not... they are at best of the foot-soldier variety...

Yes, yes... the 14 "high value" terror suspects, including Ron Jeremy Khalid Sheik Mohammed, were brought to Gitmo... but interestingly, because they were "renditioned" and tortured... the government isn't in such a hurry to make them the first case. Or the second. Or the third. Or quite possibly ever.

All part of the exit strategy known as "On January 21, 2009, this mess is someone else's." That seems to be the Bush Administration's plan for a lot of things.

Comments (0)

February 4, 2007, Case study in perception

The Grey Lady gives us this discussion of the aftermath of the jury death sentence verdict of Ronell Wilson in a federal courtroom in Brooklyn (the first federal death sentence in New York City since the era of the Rosenbergs); Wilson had previously been convicted for the brutal execution style murder of two New York City undercover detectives, James Nemorin and Rodney Andrews, in Staten Island, a crime that shocked the City at the time. A death verdict in a case in New York City (not even Sheik Abdul Rahman, Ramzi Youssef and the perpetrators of the first World Trade Center attack, that killed six people, or the perpetrators of the Africa Embassy bombings that killed hundreds, got the death sentence) is itself newsworthy. Even still, in this case... at the reading of the death penalty verdict... amidst other things going on in the courtroom... Wilson apparently stuck his tongue out at the jurors.

This is one of the infinite number of wildcards that those of us who make our livings as trial lawyers have to face: clients and their actions which frequently undercut the case faster and more decisively than any adversary ever could. In my own practice (which, in 20 years of practice, probably includes around that many trials)... I have personally encountered (and thankfully for me, it has often been the other guy's or gal's client)... the client who sought out the hostile witness himself... the client who starts by answering cross-examination with "I didn't tell my lawyer this, but...," the client for whom it was too much trouble to even come to court for the trial... the client who, by their story, tried to reanimate the dead (forgetting that the other side just might have a certified death certificate in its briefcase)... and these are just civil trials, where the issue is "only money"... Criminal trial lawyers have their own "war stories" (the favorite I was told being of a defendant in some kind of fraud case who was cross-examined vigorously by a young prosecutor, so vigorously, that the defendant keeled over and died on the witness stand... the seasoned defense lawyer came over to the prosecutor when the paramedics left and slapped him on the back, saying "killer cross, Dude!")

The point here is that Mr. Wilson, though he has been convicted of murdering two New York City police detectives, is entitled to a vigorous legal defense, a defense that will include appeals of his conviction that, as the Grey Lady piece observes, future lawyers, appellate judges considering reversal or politicians considering clemency will have to deal with Wilson having stuck his tongue out in the courtroom. While I have no idea if there will otherwise be sufficient trial error there to garner a reversal or retrial... let's just say that Mr. Wilson made things far, far harder on himself.

The reason for the spin is that, as the Times piece tell us, like the killer of Polly Klaas in California (who was sentenced to death) who tried to portray the victim's father as a child molestor, the tongue gesture will become "the signature" of the trial... shorthand. His defense lawyers immediately tried to spin it as representative of Wilson's immaturity, indeed, some kind of mental deficiency that might mitigate (if certainly not justify) his brutal crime. Prosecutors and police officials, of course, immediately spun it as a sign of disrespect to the victim's families and for a lack of remorse. And this incident will probably define this case forever more...

Both explanations, btw, may be right to some extent... or neither. Indeed, there is always the possibility that Wilson wasn't sticking his tongue out at all, and this is just the misperception of onlookers.

The ultimate issue is the way the human mind works. (For some background on the political implications, my interview with George Lakoff sheds some light.) Just about every trial advocacy course I have had reveals that the most important part of the trial is the opening statement. This is where the all important preconceived perceptions for the case are formed... what the jury (or the judge in a bench trial) is told to expect, and how the all-important pre-conceived perceptions brought in from life before the courtroom will be tied into... "our side" is the side of the angels, people just doing their job, trying to make a living, trying to help humanity... "their side" are the snivelling money-grubbing con artists... or the cop-killers... or the corrupt N-word spouting constable planting evidence... or you pick it... And then having planted... and that's the word... the perception based on prejudice...

Because, sadly, all too often, trials are about prejudice: either spewing it, or, knowing that the other side is playing this game, managing it. This is why so much of jury instructions are about not being prejudiced... about checking preconceived notions at the courthouse door and considering only the evidence... because judges, too, know this... and they know that their own prejudices matter, and indeed, that the jury can detect them, and sometimes even look to the judge to provide their prejudice for them! The better judges, of course, are pure poker face in this regard... unfortunately, the not-as-good judges... are not.

Notice what I did not talk about. What was that word? Oh yes... evidence. The opening is the critical part of trial... while "the evidence" may change jurors' preconceptions, what has been shown to be more likely is that "the evidence" will reinforce those preconceptions, or, perhaps, the opening has failed to properly form those preconceptions, and the jurors will wait for closing argument (the second most important part of the trial) to tell them what the evidence means.

You may have noticed the importance of "the trial" part of the trial... the evidence itself, the testimony and documents that the jury will supposedly base its verdict on, unvarnished by lawyers' spin (was it Lincoln who defined a jury as 12 people who decided which lawyer they liked better?). The evidence itself is no better than third-most important, at least in the minds of jurors when these things have been studied. Yes... the jurors' deliberations will sound like they are talking about the evidence-- but what apparently matters still more is the starting point... where they are leaning before they open their eyes, or their mouths.

Which takes us back to the political process. Understand that many, many politicians were trial lawyers. There are good reasons for it. Thinking on your feet is one. Preparation is another. And financial success is certainly another (these days, apparently, someone who can't bankroll their own campaign, or have quick access to people who can, probably shouldn't bother... sad, cynical, but in too many cases true.) But there is something to this knowledge of how to artfully and seamlessly smear your opponent, either subtly, or not so subtly.

Politics is the art of getting elected (or getting your guy or gal elected). And that means portraying your guy or gal as doing the work of the angels, and portraying the other guy or gal as the spawn of Satan. There are infinite variations of this, but you get the idea. And in the political process, as with a courtroom where you are told explicitly to pay attention to the evidence... it is, all too often, the perception of who the better candidate is... what it is you think they stand for rather than their actual record that matters... why so much effort goes into imagery... into "opposition research"... as George Lakoff observes, billions of dollars have gone into developing "deep frames" that evade actual objective observation!

And so, like our perception of Mike Dukakis wearing a Rocky the Squirrel helmet in a tank... what we will all likely remember of Ronell Wilson, convicted for the brutal and shocking murder of two New York City police detectives, is that he stuck his tongue out at jurors. Regardless of whatever he meant by it, or indeed, if he even did it.

Update: Wilson, evidently believing his death sentence is some kind of a free pass, hurled a chair in a detention center waiting room breaking windows, supposedly frustrated that he would be separated from his mother by glass. (He might have thought about this before killing two police officers. His attorneys are already going to have a hard enough time keeping this jerk from being executed as it is, without him constantly helping the prosecution.)

Comments (1)

February 1, 2007, Baby steps

The Democrats managed to pass a minimum wage increase in the Senate (from a pathetic $5.15 per hour where it has been for over 10 years to a still low $7.25 per hour); against the threat of a filibuster, Harry Reid and the gang allowed some extensions of "small business" tax breaks, offset by some millionaire executive tax increases... a lot better deal, all told, than the Republicans had gone in with.

On the whole, really a small price to pay for dramatically improving the incomes (by nearly 40%!) of those workers at the bottom of the economic ladder who were still earning the minimum wage... now that he has his tax breaks for "small business," which somehow is never defined in terms of how lucrative the enterprise is, the President is all but committed to sign this into law, and take full credit for something he had been fighting for the first six years of his term.

The next logical step, of course, will be to automatically tie future minimum wage increases to Social Security Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs), to ensure that the Social Security system remains forever solvent. Although the House could-- and should-- pass that right now, reality dictates that a few more Democrats in the Senate may be needed for that to become law... as well as a Democratic President, because this President would surely veto any plan involving Social Security that is not actually intended to destroy the program.

Well... it's on to the rest of the agenda, including a toothless statement on Iraq (again, it remains unclear to me how a troop deployment can be overridden by Congress, though the war can be de-funded whenever Congress wants), some Medicare deckchair reshuffling, some homeland security... deckchair reshuffling...

As to suggestions for further action, via digby we have this excellent suggestion from Arthur Silber on how Congress can take action right now to force the Bush Administration to back off of its planned war against Iran. Honestly, will we all just stand by as this President manages to lose not one, not two, but three wars on his watch (counting the turnaround in Afghanistan where we had previously won)? Well... if we let him, he sure as hell will... which is why Arthur suggests "don't let him."

Hey-- the minimum wage was big, and it was important, and it looks like it's going to become law. Something to build on... good for you, Nancy and Harry...
But apparently, we will need to build on it... with some alacrity.

Comments (1)