The Talking Dog

April 30, 2007, Villainy

I'm sure many of us will get a kick out of this cartoon teaser-trailer featuring our favorite Democratic front-runner Super-Duper Friend heroes battling Bush Administration villainy...

The problem is, the Bush Administration has engaged in actual villainy far worse than the cartoon variety, unleashing torture and horrors in its wake everywhere. From our friends at Cage Prisoners,
we are sent this report (in pdf) documenting torture and other human rights abuses being done in the name of combatting terrorism with the full cooperation of the United States government in the Horn of Africa. From Cage Prisoner's press release:

Cageprisoner’s report, Inside Africa’s War on Terror, released today reveals the extent of detentions that have been taking place in the Horn of Africa. The rendition of detainees between Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia already exposed through the work of human rights organisations has only served to show part of the problem that is taking place in the region.

According to spokesman for Cageprisoners and former Guantanamo Bay detainee, Moazzam Begg [interviewed by me here],

“Cageprisoners is alarmed by Guantánamo-style prisons being set up and utilised in the Horn of Africa after documenting a series of abductions in which men, women and even children were unlawfully detained. The seizure of civilians, the usage of converted metal shipping containers as holding cells and summary court hearings used to charge those rendered to Ethiopia as ‘illegal combatants’ bears particular resonance with the notorious ‘processes’ established and practiced in Guantánamo Bay.”

What is particularly harrowing about these detentions though, is the extent to which there has been foreign involvement in the detention and interrogation process, but further in the torture that has taken place. Released detainee, Safia Benaouda states,

“…the torture was clearly being planned and orchestrated by the Americans or other western interrogators, as it was only them who were doing any of the interrogations. It was only westerners who were interrogating me while I was in Ethiopia and according to all the info i got from others who were interrogated, it was only westerners interrogating them too, never Ethiopian.”

Any semblance of international humanitarian law and human rights law has been refused to those that have been detained and again the War on Terror has placed detention without due process above protecting the rights of men, women and children.

The Bush Administration believes that it is not constrained by anything-- not American law, not international law, not constraints of civilization or human decency-- not by anything, in the name of combatting "terrorism", whether those caught in the wake are innocent men, women, or all too frequently, children.

What else can one say? I certainly wish this were the least bit surprising. But you all know that as troubling as Guantanamo itself is, it is just the tip of a rather large and fetid iceberg. Is there something we can do about this?

There sure is. May 1st is the national day of action: contact your legislator in Congress, your member of the House, your Senators, and let them know that it is time to close Guantanamo, restore habeas corpus rights, and return to the days when this was a civilized country that respected the rule of law. To quote the father of a Republican Presidential candidate... if not now, when? If not us... who?

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April 29, 2007, Protecting Us from Foreign Threats...

That would be the Bush Administration's protecting us from foreign threats of aid, offered after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, according to this account from WaPo.

The offered aid appears in the range of just under a billion dollars; total Katrina clean-up and recovery is at $125 billion and counting, and quite frankly, much remains to be done. It's not as if the foreign aid could have completely alleviated suffering of Americans-- but it sure as hell could have helped alleviate some of it, especially if the Bush Administration permitted its timely delivery. But, of course, there are people in this country whose suffering is just a tad less important than the suffering of others. Better that the foreign nations "be thanked" for their concern, while their actual physical and monetary aid be kept from those who might need it, lest they realize that their own government wasn't able to provide assistance on its own.

Note the article's use of the term "echo chamber" by Karen Hughes:

As the winds and water of Hurricane Katrina were receding, presidential confidante Karen Hughes sent a cable from her State Department office to U.S. ambassadors worldwide.

Titled "Echo-Chamber Message" -- a public relations term for talking points designed to be repeated again and again -- the Sept. 7, 2005, directive was unmistakable: Assure the scores of countries that had pledged or donated aid at the height of the disaster that their largesse had provided Americans "practical help and moral support" and "highlight the concrete benefits hurricane victims are receiving."

In other words, even Karen Hughes calls the echo chamber technique (mastered by the right wing after years and billions of dollars in research demonstrating that just having enough government officials repeat things consistently in the media would get people in general to believe things, whether true or not) by its name.

In this case, the Bush Administration preferred the illusion that the United States did not need the aid offered in some cases by key allies... as with Iraq, death [of ordinary Americans] before dishonor [of George W. Bush, personally].

The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results. This does, of course, also apply to any observation whatsoever of the operation of the Bush Administration, in any category.

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April 28, 2007, Honors Among Thieves Bushmen

Coming the same day a leading international aid official abruptly resigned over allegations concerning his generous use of an escort service (and while Paul Wolfowitz continues to hang on at World Bank despite findings of an ethics breach amidst allegations of favoritism for the benefit of his Tunisian-Saudi girlfriend... and Alberto Gonzales hangs on despite being a freakishly scary incompetent crony yes-man) we see that the Christianist soldier-bots have infiltrated yet something else close to home, the once-proud Attorney General's Honors Program where many attorneys (including, btw, m'self) start their careers with the United States Department of Justice, which, according to this WaPo piece, had been dominated by Bush-appointed politicos and packed with righties and purged of lefties (using such criteria as "found bad stuff on internet").

None of this is a surprise, of course... still, the article notes the overt political tone of the interviews for the program, such as giving high marks to a Regent University grad for (correctly) citing a Supreme Court case overturning a Texas ban on consensual homosexual relations as the case he most despised, or other young cub lawyers duly praised for taking... unusual... positions in civil rights cases.

For its part, the Justice Department still points out that it has more slots than Christianists and Federalists who want to work there, and hence, some people without the appropriate conservative or Republican campaign credentials could conceivably get hired.

Small comfort to those of who might feel that the attorneys privileged enough to represent the Republic in its courts should be those most outstandingly qualified to do so, rather than those simply aligned with the party in power at the time they were hired.

But then, this is a microcosm of the entire world view of the people now in power, from the "K Street Project" to packing the military with yes-men to the U.S. Attorneys scandal and on... the government is seen not as a means to provide needed services to the people (or even as a means to help people help themselves) but simply as a partisan piggy-back, to use everyone's revenues for the benefit of a privileged few. But hey... they see the rest of the world as existing for this purpose as well. So why stop now?

My count-down calendar tells me that there are 633 days left of the Bush Administration. Who knows what more mirth and merriment will follow in that time?

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April 26, 2007, Black hole is the goal

In its own version of "asymmetrical warfare", the Justice Department has asked a federal appeals court to limit lawyers' access to Guantanamo detainees as part of its ongoing efforts to restore GTMO's status as "America's Legal Black Hole".

Even as "the terrorists" down there are so dangerous that the only one even charged was sentenced to a draconian nine months in an Australian jail, and half of "the worst of the worst" have just been released without charge or trial... those left must be treated more severely, in order to justify having held them for no reason in the first place.

The contention is that the lawyers-- already under extreme restrictions, such as having to have their notes transmitted to a secure facility in the D.C. suburbs and subject to arbitrary scheduling of the military authorities, etc., etc., are allegedly "a security threat", i.e., some of them actually talk to the media (I suppose that includes me), give speeches, etc., or worse, convey greetings from detainees' families, or news of their cases. Tellingly, there is not a single allegation that classified material of any kind has been improperly released, or disclosed to the detainees. But then, it's not about any kind of reality, now is it?

We'll say this for the Bush Administration: when it arrives at an untenable [illegal, immoral, unconstitutional, counterproductive, etc.] position, it is not easily shaken from it. The assault on the lawyers that Cully Stimson began... continues. Black hole or bust!

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April 26, 2007, Elections have consequences

Despite the ongoing threat of a veto from the President, the House passed its war-funding measure by a 218-208 margin, and that war-funding measure includes time-tables for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. As noted in the linked WaPo piece, it is remarkably rare for Congress to engage in this level of management of an ongoing war.

Of course, it was remarkably just as rare for the Congress to have utterly abandoned its oversight responsibilities of the Executive branch for the last six years, including the handing to the President of a blank check authority to carry out the war in the first place with virtually no debate, despite some of the largest protests in American history against that war. The argument at this point, I suppose, is that the President has overdrawn that blank check, and... well, it's back to oversight. In response, we can all expect rhetoric about cheese-eating surrender monkeys... oh wait, that's the French isn't it? Well, we all know what's coming... expect to hear about "voting for defeat"... and I daresay... is it too late to call a measure favored by the vast majority of Americans polled and now the majority of Congress "treason"? Of course it's not!

The Senate is expected to pass the same bill shortly, and hand it up to the President by May Day, just in time for the fourth anniversary of the famous "Mission Accomplished" speech on the HMS USS Lincoln.

Well, this is the bill that Congress wants to pass. Maybe the President will get the bill he wants after vetoing it. He's certainly counting on that. But maybe he won't... indeed, maybe he won't get any war funding bill at all. If that's the case... what's the phrase we've been hearing for over six years now? Oh yes: GET OVER IT.

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April 25, 2007, Come on down!

Various Congressional committees unleashed a hail of subpoenas and other "invitations" on current and former members of the Bush Administration, including a subpoena to Secretary of State Incompetetentalleezza Rice concerning pre-Iraq war intelligence indicating Saddam Hussein's purported attempts to acquire "yellowcake uranium" (the subject of my interview with Knut Royce), another committee sought the testimony of Karl Rove's deputy Sara Taylor, and yet another granted immunity to our old friend, Alberto Gonzales's assistant, Monica Goodling. Rice's testimony comes at a very interesting time; it could be designed to take on a President trying to go schoolyard on war funding; perhaps with Rice demonstrating we were lied into war... the war funding dynamic will shift some more...

Ah, the feel of sunlight. It's almost as if there is a branch of government that the Constitution gave oversight power to... as if, you know, the Founders gave it... Article I... because it was intended to be the superior branch in making the laws, and the executive (Article II) would only execute the laws Congress made, indeed, diligently following them. Well, call it nostalgia.

If watching Condi and Sara and Monica and the gang squirm is all that comes out of it, frankly, that would probably be good enought... but wait... there will be so much more! These Congressional committees will just be emboldened for yet more oversight... yet more accountability... as if the executive branch answered to... the people.

Well... one can dream, I suppose. It's not as if Gonzy is leaving, or anything... even if, apparently, the bees are... (Looks like I picked another bad week to give up drinking...)

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April 24, 2007, Das Vidanya, Boris Yeltsin

Our comrades at Pravda give us this chronology of the career of Boris Yeltsin, and the Grey Lady gives us this far longer narrative, in light of Yeltsin's death, at 76.

Hard to sum up Mr. Yeltsin (other than to note an uncanny resemblance to pro wresting's Bobby "the Brain" Heenan). Had Yeltsin and Gorbachev been different men, the transition from Soviet Union to successor states could have been far more chaotic and troubling than it was, particularly given all of those nuclear weapons.

Perhaps (like its last mayor believed to be the case with New York City), Russia is simply ungovernable except by autocratic means, which might help explain why Yeltsin, despite introducing reforms such as a constitutional democracy (pursuant to which he himself voluntarily gave up power), a relatively free press and a proto-open economy, was wildly unpopular, and even those things for which he was rightly vilified (such as the war he started in Iraq Chechnya) stuck more to him than to his far more popular successor Vladimir Putin.

I don't know. Yeltsin gets that "mixed legacy" tag that at least one miserable failure will some day only dream of.

And there you have it. R.I.P., Mr. Yeltsin.

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April 20, 2007, Gonzy, you're doing a heck of a fantastic job

It seems that the White House official who quipped that the Bush Administration made up its own reality wasn't kidding, as the White House reaction to a performance by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that was so God-awful that Republican Senators are calling for his resignation is, of course, an expression of renewed confidence in Gonzales by the White House.

Was anyone expecting anything any different? And does anyone doubt for longer than a micro-second that if Gonzales is, indeed, forced out, he won't be replaced with yet another crony potentially even more loathsome and incompetent than Gonzales himself? And even if such official is so unacceptable that even the Democratic majority won't approve him (or her), is there any doubt that we would see yet another recess appointment?

The point of these hearings is, technically, to get to the bottom of the U.S. Attorney firing scandal-- to demonstrate, once and for all, that George W. Bush and Karl Rove (in that order) wanted to use our justice system the same way Vladimir Putin uses his: not to prosecute crimes impartially, but to prosecute partisan enemies, and not to prosecute favored friends... just like the Russians, Chinese, and most banana republics operate, though not the way countries that allegedly respect "the rule of law" operate. But you knew that.

So... in the great scheme of things... best to expose these bastards, rather than to let Gonzales wiggle away with a quick resignation, and have the Administration try to avoid answering these questions.

That's just me, of course. Then again, I'd actually like to see the Virginia Tech shootings investigated in a non-political manner, with a commission that does not include Bush-tool Tom Ridge, and hence, comes up with something other than a cover-up that ignores and glosses over some potentially rather troubling issues. Of course... that's just me, as well.

Update (4-22-07): Slithery Senator Spector of Pennsylvania shows us the same snake-like "flexibility" that allowed him to criticize the Military Commissions Act as throwing back Anglo-American jurisprudence by 800 years... and then voting for it! Specifically, Specter now says that A.G. Gonzales is "undermining" and "damaging" to the Bush Administration and the Department of Justice... but then Specter is not joining fellow Republicans in calling for his resignation! No matter... I figured Gonzy to be gone before April. At this point, he may well be serving the salutory purpose of keeping Iraq off of the front pages... I'm betting that he rides this out. Though, I'm not betting very much.

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April 20, 2007, Synergy

Call me gob-smacked to find that Sun-Kyung Cho, the sister of the Virginia Tech mass-murderer, is employed by the Bush Administration in an Iraq reconstruction function. At the moment, she appears to work for a contractor called McNeil Technologies, but the Princeton grad seems to have worked for the State Department in the successor to the Coalition Provisional Authority, either directly or indirectly in at least three stints.

Given the Coalition Provisional Authority's sordid history of hiring only inexperienced but connected Republican operatives for its crucial budgetary functions, we can more than reasonably conclude that in order to get her job, Ms. Cho is, presumably, somewhat well-connected to Republican circles. I'll acknowledge that in some sense, hiring a Princeton economics grad seems a vast improvement from the likes of Monica Goodling and the other unqualified Christian soldier-bots who seem to have Administration prominence.

Small world, I suppose.

Kind of like when John Hinckley's brother Scott was supposed to have dinner with Neil Bush some evening back in 1981... or perhaps like Marvin Bush being intimately tied with the security contractor for (1) the World Trade Center, (2) Dulles Airport and United Airlines and the reinsurer for the World Trade Center and just "coincidentally" happened to be in downtown Manhattan on September 11th... or numerous other convenient conspiracies coincidences.

Let's just say that the abysmal performace by miserable-excuse-for-Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales got a tad less airtime than it would have, say, had some maniac not murdered 32 people earlier in the week, and leave it at that.

Synergy... for a strong America.

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April 18, 2007, Theocracy Now!

Those of us who were kind of troubled by the inability to mount a successful fillibuster of Scam Alito's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court get to shake our heads and say "surprise, surprise"... the High Court voted to dispense with a number of earlier precedents and outright find a so-called partial birth abortion ban constitutional (5-4... of course.)

I'll defer to Scott Lemieux's observations on this; I think the short answer is "it's about the patriarchy, stupid." You little ladies don't really know what to do with your bodies so we'll tell you for your own good. Note that the High Court found the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to be a perfectly valid basis for Congressional action here. Well... let's think about what that says... as if we didn't realize that we are all commodities of those more powerful than us. Isn't that the principal that Scam Alito has stood for since those halcyon days at Princeton?

Well, let's hear it for the Republican framers: they have picked a peculiarly unpopular aspect of a peculiarly popular right [this poll, albeit a bit dated, shows overall 57% support for all abortions legal in all circumstances, up to 88% in some circumstances, though still 69% favor a "partial birth" abortion ban.] And now... they have rammed it through. Elections have consequences indeed.

It seems the right finally has the Supreme Court it has always wanted. Democrats could pass a bill reversing the 2003 ban... let the chips fall where they may... either play a fillibuster or a veto against the Republicans. Of course, such a move requires... spine. Just as those bills to restore habeas corpus have been so successful... Maybe it will happen. And maybe...

As Scott notes, this is NOT a moderate decision, by any means: this is an extremist decision, opening the door to an eventual reversal of Roe, and the opportunity for a Congressional ban on all abortions in the United States. That's the goal. That's one of the many reasons why competent professionals have been replaced by Pat Robertson's otherwise unqualified Macchiavellian theocrats in the highest ranks of our government.

Good old American exceptionalism... well, there you have it. I guess I picked another bad week to give up sniffing glue.

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April 18, 2007, Profiles in courage

Frankly, there is no particular reason to talk about the issue of gun control, one way or another... let the Virginia Tech shooting sink in a bit, give it the distance of at least a few weeks. That's not how politics works, of course. So naturally, it's nice to see the Democrats in majority, led by Harry Reid. conceding the issue before it even starts. As always, Democrats are keen to believe Republican talking points, such as that it was the assault weapons ban back in 1994 (and that law alone) that led to the 1994 "Republican Revolution."

We won't talk about disgust generated back then that the President and both Houses of Congress were Democratic, that the President then, the spouse of the current Democratic frontrunner, fecklessly squandered his first term on office on carping about, and then selling out gays in the military, or touting, and then failing with, a hopelessly complex health care plan that he assigned his incredibly unpopular spouse (now the Democratic frontrunner) which consumed acres of forests just to avoid the words "employer mandate" (which was, of course, the fundamental element of that so-called plan)... we especially won't talk about Lonnie Guinier, Dan Rostenkowski, or even Speaker of the House Tom Foley bringing an extraordinarily unpopular lawsuit (which he won... though he lost his own seat!) challenging his own state's passage of Congressional term limits, or a perception of a party in power that lost its way and was more interested in its own petty perks, engaged in corruption, etc., than in good government. Perhaps reminiscent of, you know, the 2006 election. We'd rather talk about an assault weapons ban.

The only appropriate political response IMHO to this week's events is the correct one offered by Sen. Leahy, now Judiciary Committee chairman: hold hearings on the Virginia Tech tragedy itself, without any promise of broader action. We are not Britain, which, after one school shooting in a kindergarten in Scotland, virtually banned private gun ownership overnight... we could have such incidents in this country every day, forever, and it would not likely diminish our national obsession for guns and gun violence. (Does this say anything about Americans? A great deal; none of it good. But I defy anyone to prove me wrong about that.)

That said, the Democrats speaking on the issue are probably right-- there isn't likely to be a political groundswell for a broad gun-ban. But just as Republicans have played the abortion card for years by selecting extreme snippets ("partial birth abortion"), Democrats could approach the issue incrementally (such as questioning the super-fast gigantic clips of bullets that allowed Cho Seung Hui to keep firing and killing unabated... i.e., there is no conceivable reason any member of the public should have such things).

IMHO, that's a much smarter move than what I see going on now-- i.e., giving away the game before it starts. Of course, Harry Reid seems to have other ideas. Still and all, kind of a
perverse break for Alberto Gonzales, though, who hasn't been on page one in days... kind of reminds one of Gary Condit and 9-11...

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April 17, 2007, The Horror

Words fail me in talking about the worst-ever-gun-rampage-in-American-history that left 32 people dead after a shooting spree at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, VA yesterday.

Perhaps there is something frightening about April in this country... (T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land called April the cruelest month)... we had the Oklahoma City bombing 12 years ago this week, the Columbine shootings 8 years ago this week... and now this.

I don't know. What events like this show is that neither I, nor anyone else I know, seem to know anything about what makes the universe-- or especially the human soul-- tick. An utterly senseless horror, about which we will learn nothing. As "the facts" and the presumably irrational motivations of the gunman (a radio report I'm listening to identifies him as an "Asian male student") are learned... they will, in the end, still mean nothing.

Because this act of horror was, like all acts of horror, in the end, totally senseless.

My heart goes out to all of those touched by this horror.

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April 14, 2007, TD Blog Interview with Knut Royce

Knut Royce is a journalist who was a major contributor to three Pulitzer Prize winning stories for such publications as Long Island's Newsday before joining the Center for Public Integrity as a Senior Fellow. He has won numerous journalism awards, and the Washingtonian named him one of the two best investigative print reporters in the nation's capital. He is the co-author (with Peter Eisner) of "The Italian Letter", the first book providing a detailed journalistic account of the background of the forged documents that linked the African nation of Niger and its yellowcake uranium to Iraq (care of the Italian intelligence service) and which was one of the justifications used for the Iraq war (as well as the underlying subject of "the 16 words" in the 2003 State of the Union address and eventually of L'Affaire Plame). On April 11, 2007, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Royce by telephone; what follows are my interview notes, as corrected by Mr. Royce where appropriate.

The Talking Dog: I frequently ask this question first, for a variety of reasons... could you tell me where you were on September 11th? Can you tell me where you were on January 29, 2003 when the President was delivering "the 16 words" in the State of the Union address of that year? At what point did you first become aware that "the 16 words" presented an issue of untrustworthiness?

Knut Royce: I was driving into work with a colleague at Newsday in Washington, D.C. We heard that the first plane hit, and we drove on. I was thinking that it was a commercial plane that lost control or an accident or otherwise nothing Earth shattering. When the second plane hit, my first words were "Al Qaeda". Two planes could not have accidentally hit the World Trade Center and it did not take a genius to figure out that Al Qaeda was going to be the prime suspect.

As to that State of the Union Address, at that time I was working at the Center for Public Integrity. I recall reading transcripts of the speech. The 16 words themselves did not stand out, because, quite frankly, I was already very skeptical and there were many things in that speech that I did not take at face value-- I interpreted that speech as meaning we were already preparing for war.

The Talking Dog: Your book documents how Elisabetta Burba of the Italian magazine Panorama through how she was contacted by information peddler/SISMI operative Rocco Martino and provided with a dossier of documents that included "the Italian letter" and other documents used by the Bush Administration to support its contention that Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq was seeking to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program. Did you have an opportunity to interview Mr. Martino? Do you believe that he knows who forged the documents? Do you believe that anyone you have spoken to knows who forged the documents, and/or why?

Knut Royce: We went to Italy to work on the book. We spoke to Martino's attorney; he told us that at that time, Martino had "gone deep down". The Italian elections were coming up then, and this was a very hot issue there; he didn't want to talk to us, though he had talked to reporters earlier. We don't know if Martino knows who forged the documents. He knows that a group of SISMI (Italian intelligence) officers were involved. They were also involved in setting up an operative at Niger's embassy in Rome (staffed by "La Signora"), which provided key documents, including otherwise legitimate documents, used to create the forgery. Martino had reconstructed what happened and told his friends and others... he believes that he was set up by particular SISMI officers, although the forgeries themselves were not a SISMI directed official operation by any means.

Mr. Rossella was certainly close to Berlusconi-- he was editor of a major Berlusconi owned paper, for one thing. But there is no evidence he was in on some kind of grand conspiracy. According to both Burba, and to Rossella himself when we spoke to him, he was simply close to officials at the American embassy, and actually believed they would be helpful in providing a clear-eyed analysis of the documents... of course, things didn't work out that way.

The Talking Dog: Do you have any doubt that if either the Italian forgeries (the relevant documents were in the French language, interestingly) had never existed, that the Bush Administration would have either highlighted other strands of information, such as the famous aluminum tubes that it claimed were intended for centrifuges to process uranium although all the evidence suggests that they were to be used for Iraq's existing artillery rockets, or the purported meeting between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague, or perhaps something else, even some other strand that was otherwise discounted, would have been highlighted instead, Judith Miller would have played her part, opposition to the war would have been duly ridiculed by the usual news outlets, and we surely would have gone to war in Iraq anyway, pretty much no matter what? If that's the case, could you tell me the particular significance of this particular forgery-- or is it more significant as a larger paradigm?

Knut Royce: No question, that the context of all this was that the Administration had already decided it was going to go to war, and the issue for it was how to make that decision palatable to the American public, and palatable to Congress... so, the Administration was trying to make its case as compelling as possible. Overall, that's a hard question. The Administration would probably have used other intelligence sources-- the nuclear issue was obviously the scary one-- maybe it would have made more of the aluminum tubes, but uranium is appealing for presentation purposes because it's not technical. As to the Mohammad Atta meeting with a supposed Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague, that was certainly played for as much as it could be, though the CIA and the FBI both expressed serious doubts about it having really happened as early as June of 2002.

The Talking Dog: Perversely, isn't the fact that (1) the Bush Administration didn't see the need to plant WMDs in Iraq or (2) plant other forgeries or other "intelligence" in the debate... somehow reassuring? While the Administration (particularly Vice President Cheney) may be grossly negligent, even criminally incompetent, at least the notion that there was a grand conspiracy has been somewhat debunked... notwithstanding that the intelligence it relied on was of poor quality, at least, as far as we know, the Bush Administration officials who actually made the decisions believed they were real-- or at least, could have... it's more a matter of bad judgment rather than bad faith... or am I missing something? Is there any evidence whatsoever that PM Berlusconi ordered the forgery to help out his friends in the Bush Administration, or perhaps even ordered it at their request?

Knut Royce: I think you're right about that. They wouldn't have planted WMDs-- that was far too dangerous a proposition, and would have involved far too many people. And they didn't have to fabricate forgeries-- they already had Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress and its team of professional fabricators already on board. The bogus bits of intelligence they generated-- even as the CIA was skeptical of them-- made their way into reports..

The Talking DogDid this include the famous "defector", I believe known as "Fastball"?

Knut Royce: That's Curveball, actually, and no, Curveball was not an INC fabricator, or even part of INC... but someone German intelligence had picked up. The INC certainly did provide intelligence that was used, such as the mobile germ warfare labs, or the Iraqis supposedly training terrorists how to hijack airplanes.

We found no evidence that Italian intelligence was prodded in any way or directed from the outside to manufacture documents. The Italians actually manufactured bogus packages of documents... beginning in the 2000 time frame-- even before Bush was elected-- they continued to try to sell these packages and disseminate them through Martino, and were doing so for a two year period.

What they were doing, of course, was freelancing phony documents for money! Rogue SISMI agents are actually legendary for this kind of thing! In other cases, they have generated fake evidence of illicit arms sales, or illegal telephone intercepts for politicians.

While Berlusconi publicly supported Bush, he actually didn't want us to invade Iraq... he privately didn't believe that Saddam had WMDs or that we should invade... so there is no evidence of Berlusconi's direct involvement in any of this.

The Talking Dog: Your book identifies two incredible missteps by the widely-believed-to-be-sainted Joe Wilson: (1) he inadvertently kept the Iraq-Niger uranium connection story alive by alluding to a conversation in 1999 between Niger's President Tandja and an Iraqi diplomat, incorrectly believed to be Wissam Al-Zahawie and in fact it was foreign minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf (aka "Baghdad Bob" or sometimes "Comical Ali"), and (2) he believed that Vice President Cheney had personally seen the report he prepared for the CIA. Can you further elaborate on the effects that each of those missteps by Wilson had on the overall story of the Italian letter and how it was used to fix American intelligence and justify attacking Iraq?

Knut Royce: Well, one of those, of course, was not necessarily a misstep, so much as Wilson doing his job, but it certainly became an issue. This was the issue that Wilson learned that Niger's former President Mayaki had met with "Iraqi businessmen"... there was speculation because the only thing Niger had that Iraq might want was uranium and goats... so MAYBE they wanted to talk about uranium. But of course, it never happened. But in order to make his report complete, Wilson said that Mayaki had speculated that the Iraqis might have wanted to talk about uranium. They never did. The word unranium never crossed their lips. The CIA decided this was of some significance, and indeed, in mid-2003, the White House had a press conference on this... then deputy NSC head Steven Hadley even used this as a justification that the White House "was not totally wrong" in believing there was a Saddam- Niger uranium connection, as after all, "even Joe Wilson" alluded to it!

The one that really was Wilson speaking out of turn was his insistence that Cheney "must have read" his report. There was a credible context in that Cheney was most definitely interested in this kind of intelligence, but Wilson had no knowledge that Cheney had actually seen his report (and at that time, he hadn't). That misstep was in turn used by Wilson's detractors as evidence of his duplicity-- that Wilson himself was some kind of fabricator, in a further effort to discredit him.

The Talking Dog: As the Bush Administration launches on again and off again public relations offensives seemingly designed to justify military action against Iran, do you see any analogies in the "intelligence" being used to justify that potential action?

Knut Royce: The White House leadership has clearly learned that it had better not go half-cocked in public with weak intelligence, while everyone is watching! An illustration of this was the briefings by military officers in Baghdad claiming that Iran was providing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to the Iraq insurgency... the briefing was in the works for weeks, and was supposed to be presented at certain dates, but kept being postponed.

Several agencies assessed this intelligence, and one of the briefers was read the riot act by Washington when he speculated that the IEDs must have been provided by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard with the knowledge and approval of the regime itself. The Administration and the intelligence community are not sure about that. At least for public dissemination purposes, they are now more careful than they were before the run-up to the Iraq war.

Of course, there is clearly a psy-ops, or psychological warfare going on with Iraq, and the Administration is still trying to instill fear in the Iranians.

The Talking Dog: How do you feel the media in general has handled to whole issue of pre-war intelligence? (Feel free to blast Judy Miller and the Times, or anyone else you feel appropriately worthy of attention on this subject!)

Knut Royce: Overall, there was insufficient skepticism by the press. As the war drums started, they made people more jingoistic. The media were no exception. We didn't have enough skepticism. We have to respond to daily opressures of the daily news story. If the President or Vice President makes any statement, it gets page one coverage.

I must say that the Washington Post was quite good-- it got a number of stories that questioned the allegations of the Administration. The problem was presentation-- often those stories were in the middle pages of the first section. They didn't get prominence, and later, the Post expressed regret for this.

But reporters in general don't have that much time to check out the backgrounds of these stories-- to find the basis for challenging them. I myself wrote a few stories in Newsday, after I left the Center, questioning a lot of the Administration's intelligence.

The New York Times was certainly not as aggressive in its skepticism. Newsweek did a pretty decent job coverning this. But overall, the media did not show proper skepticism.

The Talking Dog: Please discuss the role of the British in this... particularly since the SOTU speech itself referred to the British government? To what extent do you believe the famous and supposed American reliance on expensive high tech gadgets vs. the British reliance on "human intelligence" contributed to this?

Knut Royce: The British had no different intelligence than we did. They had quite decent technical intelligence gathering capabilities of their own, by the way. But the issue with the Italian letter was a human intelligence matter. They got it from SISMI, just like we did. The CIA tried to warn them off from including the Italian letter and other intelligence in Britain's discredited September 2002 public white paper on Iraq . But the CIA told MI 6 -- this intel is weak and we recommend against using it. The CIA itself did not include the Niger claims in its own white paper published a few weeks later .

But the British are different in that MI-6 is much more of an instrument of 10 Downing Street than the CIA is of the White House-- there is some level of brick wall between the CIA and White House... much less so for MI-6.

I did talk to U.K. officials and confirmed that the Brits had nothing beyond the same SISMI stuff... but they elected to go with it anyway.

The Talking Dog: Could you discuss any basis you have to believe Colin Powell and Richard Armitage were intentionally involved in trying to leak Valerie Plame's identity and/or in discrediting Joe Wilson?

Knut Royce: There is no information indicating that Powell himself was involved. And I personally do not believe he was. We quote Powell's former chief of staff speaking in hindsight that he had a suspicion about Armitage possibly being involved in this, but I don't think that's the case either.

There was no love lost between Armitage , Powell and the White House... indeed, Armitage was opposed to the Iraq policy. But Armitage has a reputation as a blowhard and a gossip... he told Woodward about Plame, as an apparent aside!

Still, it was extraordinarily strange for him to be calling Bob Novak, for an interview... there was no indication he even had personal contacts with Novak before that... so it is still strange. And yet it didn't impress Patrick Fitzgerald enough to bring any charges.

The Talking Dog: Do you have any inkling as to why Dick Cheney (and hence, Scooter Libby) were so hot to trot on finding a justification for this war (including destroying all of its critics)... and I am specifically asking about a monetary incentive, but do you have any inkling for that or any other basis?

Knut Royce: That's a fair question because of Halliburton and Cheney's relationship to it. But I don't think so. They were motivated-- as Paul Pilar observed in our book-- by an ideological desire to rearrange the Middle East into something economically and politically more palatable to the West -- to instill an open economy in line with Western standards, to make a Middle East more democratic and friendly to the United States and nicer to Israel. This rearranging the Middle East was an extremely risky gamble, and our GIs are now paying the bill on that bet.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else my readers, or the public needs to know on this subject, or any questions I should have asked you but didn't?

Knut Royce: To me, the big issue is the lesson learned-- if you get a combination of bad intelligence and users of intelligence who stretch it past the breaking point, on war and peace issues, you can create enormous dangers.

It's easy enough to blame the Administration for how it used and mutilated bad intelligence. But Congress had access to much or virtually all of the intelligence. The famous National Intelligence Estimate was prepared at the behest of Congress in October 2002-- and yet only 3 or 4 members of Congress even bothered to read it! IF they are going to vote to send American troops to fight and taxpayers to fund a war, you'd think the least they could do was read it... the intelligence was caveated all over the place-- there were cautionary flags throughout! Maybe they would have still voted for the war-- but at least they would have known the doubts the intelligence community had.

The Talking Dog: People need to be reminded, in my view, that the majority leader at that time was Democrat Tom Daschle... of course, who knows how he was affected by receiving anthrax-laced mail!

Knut Royce: Congress didn't do its job. Both the Republicans, willing to rubber-stamp the Administration, and the Democrats, who were just plain chicken about showing any backbone on this.

The Talking Dog: I join all of my readers in thanking Mr. Royce for that informative and fascinating interview, and readers interested in the subjects discussed here should check out The Italian Letter.

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April 12, 2007, Surge Depressor

Another day, another set of bloody bomb attacks in Baghdad. No surprise there, sadly. But this day, a suicide bomber made it well inside the Green Zone to blow up inside of the Iraqi parliament building, kiiling two Sunni members of parliament, wounding others and killing at least six more. Also in Baghdad, another bomber managed to blow up the Tigris River crossing known as the Sarafiya Bridge, killing at least six more.

It's really hard to know what exactly is happening over there; River hasn't posted in nearly two months. Senator McCain and Congressman Dunce Pence tell us things are going swimmingly... just like outdoor markets in dear old Muncie, Indiana... except where the shopkeepers get tied up and murdered execution style the next day... It all just seems like grimness without end.

The SurgeTM obviously needs some time... of course, it seems that all that's about is extending already overtaxed soldiers' tours of duty... Don't know. Could this vulnerability even in the mighty fortress Green Zone be a "turning point"? From what? To what? Hard to say, really. None of us are really in a position to comment, and it seems, even generals want no part of this.

No matter. I daresay whatever the situation ends up will be of far less concern to most Americans than Don Imus being sacked from his radio station or whatever it was Simon Cowell did recently... but if we thought about things too much, we probably wouldn't still be in Iraq... or even have invaded in the first place.

Update (4-13-07): John Donald "Don" Imus just seems to be the gift that keeps on giving; while racing Northbound to be part of Imus's meeting with the Rutgers basketball team, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine was critically injured in an automobile accident. The governor broke a leg, a dozen ribs and other bones, as the SUV he was in crashed on the Garden State Parkway. Proof of the existence of order in the universe... or the lack of it? The only thing for sure is that there seem to be an unlimited number of jokers in the deck. Get well soon, Governor. Get well soon.

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April 12, 2007, God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut

Author Kurt Vonnegut passed away at age 84. Either you are already familiar with such works as Slaughterhouse Five, the Sirens of Titan and God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater, and Vonnegut's 14 novels, and his alternative universe style of humoristic, science-fictionistic... reality, asking the great questions in the tradition of the all time greats like Chekhov and Shakespeare and Voltaire, et al., i.e. "what does it mean to be human in a mostly inhuman world?"... or you're not.

I met Vonnegut [yes, it's always about me on this blog] in 1983, around the hey-day of anti-nuclear activity, at an anti-nuclear event at Dartmouth College; he was one of the two featured speakers ... the other being Al Haig, who withdrew at the last minute and was replaced by Vermont Senator Pat Leahy... what's old is new again, I suppose...

Mr. Vonnegut's talk riffed on "Rule, Brittania..." and its line "rule Brittania, Brittania rules the wave, never, never, never Britons will be slave..." He pointed out the fundamental immorality... of such a sentiment. Yes... this sentiment tied directly to the sentiment of a nation that insisted that its ability to vaporize the rest of the world and/or to kill a lot of peple by other means gave it some kind of moral authority... (and, what's old is new again.) But the sentiment that the ability to project force, and to aggressively go out and kill other people, in the interest of some purported "freedom", or "lifestyle"... really was, and is, outrageous, if you stop and think about it.

Things we don't normally think about-- patriotism... jingoism, really... lead human beings to do outrageous things... such as, oh, the firebombing of Dresden, a historically significant and militarily insignificant target, selected as part of a "shock and awe" campaign near the end of WWII... proving that even "the good guys" can sometimes commit atrocities against "the bad guys". Then POW-of-the-Germans Vonnegut was kept prisoner at Dresden; he survived the firebombing only by having been assigned to serve as a slave laborer underground... that event became an inspiration for Slaughterhouse Five.

His point was, and will always be, well-taken. It's a simple one, really. ARE WE THINKING ABOUT WTF WE ARE DOING? ARE WE? Or are we just acting because, well... that's just what we do. Does being human mean being conscious of our actions and their consequences? Because when you do stop and think about the big picture... things look different... and all too often, not so handsome as all that.

It often takes incredible visionaries to make us look at very simple propositions (especially when those are propositions we would rather avoid looking at.)

R.I.P., Mr. Vonnegut.

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April 11, 2007, Catch-43

The same day that Democratic hawk Senator Joe "Imus Regular" Biden announced his view that the Iraq war cannot be won under Bush's policies (including The SurgeTM), and that General Petraeus is misleading us with his optimism... the new Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, announced that the active duty military would see their tours of duty in Iraq extended from 12 to 15 months, making them the longest tours since the Second World War, and extending the ongoing tours of thousands of troops already there, and thousands more about to go, often for the second or third time. [It all makes sense when you think about it, since the purpose of the Iraq war is to fight "the terrorists(tm)" who we all know are far more dangerous than Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan combined (with the Soviet Union, the Confederacy and the Klingons and Romulans thrown in).]

I offer (c/o our old friend the Unseen Editor) this in the Huffington Post from Tish Durkin, more or less making a very interesting point about why she personally is still ambivalent about Iraq, and indeed, hoping against hope that The SurgeTM doesn't prove to be just more of the same disappointment... especially in the hope that we can do something good for the Iraqi people, who after all, really did suffer horrendously under Saddam. Quite interesting, even if I readily admit that I, as a knee-jerk matter, believe that anything-- anything at all-- with Bush's, Cheney's and Rove's fingerprints on it is per se doomed to failure, out of their peculiar combination of corruption and incompetence. Still good reading, regardless of where you come in on this.

And there you have it. The SurgeTM, like the rest of the Iraq war, will largely be on the backs of those unfortunate men and women who volunteered for military service, thinking that their commander in chief would use them judiciously in the interests of defending the vital interests of this nation, and not in some frivolous and ideological quest for some unattainable vision of a democratic, America and Israel loving Middle East that probably cannot and never will exist... (and that's assuming pure motives to the Bushmen, rather than what I really think!) Well, them's the breaks.

To paraphrase the late Joseph Heller... Catch-43... it's the best catch there is!

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April 9, 2007, Amazing grace

In a bizarre career saving move, the Rev. Al Sharpton helped manage to stave off the imminent (and well-deserved) end of the career of right-wing-radio shill Don Imus, by calling for his firing on Sharpton's radio program, which Imus appeared on. As a result of Sharpton's intervention, Imus was only given a two-week suspension, instead of what would have been a (more than well deserved) pink slip.

You will recall that the context of this is Imus's unprovoked remarks calling members of the national runner-up Rutgers' women basketball team "Nappy headed hos". Honestly... what in God's name brought that up? These young ladies played way, way over their heads just to reach the championship game... and as Imus is based in the New York area, nearby Rutgers was a local favorite. So... just... WTF?

I'm reminded of the fact that Sharpton refused to endorse Presidential candidate Barack Obama... and I guess the same question gets to be asked... how much did Obama's people pay Sharpton not to endorse him, and was it more or less than Imus's people paid Sharpton to call for Imus to be fired?

Imus pointed out that he has done a fair amount of charity work over the years, and indeed, is doing a telethon this very week that his corporate overlords didn't want to step on, so the two-week suspension will be served next week and the week after... still, Sharpton has promised to lead a boycott of sponsors, but frankly, if Imus manages to keep his job (and thanks to Sharpton, that's looking more likely than if Imus simply had to twist in the wind just on the outrageous remarks themselves) his career will go on more or less intact. [The fact is, Imus's paleo-racist remarks were arguably so far over the top that they might well have cost his employers money... well, no matter... two weeks it is.]

All in all, a remarkable showing that in right wing radio, anything really does go. And if, once in a while, just when there finally might be consequences for something truly outrageous... one of the great right-wing-helpers steps up... And let's face it: Al Sharpton has a political career that might make even Ralph Nader jealous. In his day, Sharpton has managed to help elect such luminaries as Alfonse D'Amato, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Bloomberg, and George W. Bush... just to name a few.

And now, the Rev. Al appears to have helped Don Imus stay on the air. I suppose, all in all, it's a living.

UPDATE: Let the corporate forgiveness continue! We can all be absolutely certain that the facts that Imus's flagship station is owned by CBS and that CBS is the television broadcaster for the college basketball championships have absolutely nothing to do with the announcement that members of the Rutgers women's basketball team will personally meet Imus to receive autographed books and basketballs, hear his plea for forgiveness, and permit him to continue making money that will flow to Blackrock.

While I have no idea what Imus will say exactly, the sentiment will be something like "Nothing personal, ladies. Just business." America-- where the only unforgivable sin is not making enough money. Hallelujah. Amen.

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April 8, 2007, A.I.: Gitmo Leaner, Meaner

Amnesty International has issued a new report stating that conditions for detainees at Guantanamo are... wait for it... deteriorating. As around just under half of the "Worst terrorists in the history of the world(TM)" have been released without so much as being charged let alone tried, the remaining uncharged, untried detainees find themselves more and more likely to be in super-max conditions, isolated from other human beings almost all the time, rarely seeing sunlight, subject to harsh interrogations... even after years of already being questioned and it being well-established they know nothing... already on top of five years of chargeless, trial-less, lawless, open-ended detention.

Again, in scale, this is hardly the worst atrocity in the history of the world, or indeed, even in the history of the United States... honestly, it's small potatoes, for example, compared to the internment of hundreds of thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, for example, let alone the numerous massacres of Native Americans. But it's hardly comforting to those of us lamenting our nation's loss of moral authority and respect for the rule of law to say "this isn't a gulag; it's so much smaller."

You know from reading our interviews that, for example, the military itself has concluded that nearly 100 of the nearly 400 detainees shouldn't be held, or that the overwhelming majority of detainees have no relationship whatsoever to al Qaeda or the Taliban, or that the suggestion that we are getting "valuable intelligence" is ludicrous.

And at some point, we can safely assume that even the members of the Bush Administration know that all is not what they say it is at Gitmo. They could follow the Iranian model and score a public relations coup by magnanimously closing the place down, releasing something around 90% of those currently held (for whom there is no reason to hold them... at all) and remanding the other 10%, meaning perhaps 30 or 40 people including the 14 "high value" suspects whose cases we have tainted by torture, to the American mainland for either military or civilian trial, come what may.

Well. I would have said that if an overwhelming majority of Americans start to demand action on this, the Administration would begin to give, but that is, at best, an imperfect correlation, as the recalcitrance to even adjust course in Iraq demonstrates. Don't know. All we can do is try to keep these things in our consciousness, in the hope that there is an opening for improvement... instead of yet further deterioration caused by the cruelty of small minded people willing to continue extreme evil rather than admit that they made mistakes.

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April 7, 2007, Goodling Riddance

I said most of what I wanted to say about our Miss Goodling in this post; nonetheless, it is gratifying to see that she will no longer collect a government salary, effective immediately, insofar as she has resigned the high level Justice Department post she should never have had in the first place (her presence, along with her boss Abu Gonzales, further besmirching the once proud department where I happened to have begun my own career.)

There is no room in my heart for vicious and incompetent Macchiavellians who devote their lives to saying Jesus's name a lot while living lives squarely at odds with Jesus's teachings. We who are privileged enough to be trained in the law learn that our primary duty is to the integrity of the law and the legal system, not blind obedience to authority, even if that authority pays our salaries.

Ms. Goodling is now famous for imposing such discipline as firing an intern for complaining about doing shit-work, and for being a good little Christianist Macchiavellian soldier... it is ironic that the woman who went to a "law school" that apparently teaches that the only value is advancing one's own career through talking religion while living a life of vicious corporatist backstabbing... ends up having to go precisely because she took legal advice from Karl Rove, who is not a lawyer, i.e. she pleaded the Fifth Amendment in such a way as to either establish that she is a criminal, an idiot, or both.

Well, good bye, Ms. Goodling. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. And please God, see if you can take some of your fellow alumni with you.

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April 5, 2007, Majoring in Recess

Recess appointments continue to be the President's favored way of "getting his team" on board (when other shady evasions of Senate confirmation aren't made available by sneaking them into the USA PATRIOT Act, such as with the recent U.S. Attorney scandal); in this case, the President makes three more recess appointments, led by Swiftboat Veterans for Truth contributor Sam Fox being appointed envoy to Belgium.

We shouldn't be all that appalled: sometimes, the Senate may miss out on the opportunity for great public servants, such as our recently "recess appointed" United Nations Ambassador John Bolton. Snarkiness aside, it reflects a fair degree of immaturity to get all that upset about these things: the issue isn't really which particular presidential cronies get to carry out the short-sighted, irresponsible and mean-spirited policies of the President, the issue really is those policies, and the short-sighted, irresponsible and mean-spirited President himself, rather than his supporting cast.

Honestly, getting upset about this nonsense is exactly El Presidente's game: that's how schoolyard bullies play. Sure, somewhere in or near the Oval Office Karl and Dubya are snickering over one-upping John Kerry by putting a Swift Boat funder into an Ambassador's position... but so what? What real difference does it make who the Ambassador to Belgium is? Rewarding big donors like Sam Fox is, and has always been, a Presidential perogative. So what of it?

Frankly, IMHO this is a pretty good move by the Bush team: this is the sort of nonsense that Democrats in "the base" get outraged about, and even left blogtopia (yiksctt) mistakenly jumps on (I realize that's what I'm doing... albeit for a different reason)... I'm saying: stop it. Let Bush have "his team"... God knows, the creeps and bastards like Monica Goodling and the rest of the Hitler/Robertson Youth who don't even need Senate confirmation are far more troubling, when you think about it. Honestly, regardless of their ideology, kids out of the Ivy League (or the Big Ten, or the A.C.C., etc.) at least have to show basic competence in something to get their degrees; kids out of Regent and Liberty and Messiah and Bob Jones and Patrick Henry and whatever other feeder schools feed Karl's "pander to the base" fast-track program... need only show loyalty to the Bush family, Macchiavellianism, and outward piety/inward corruption... a fairly lethal combination for "public servants".

So... ignore the recess appointments. We have no choice, anyway. What matters is blocking the more outrageous policies-- such as failing to take strong, positive action on global warming now that the Supreme Court has ordered the EPA in effect to take, to continue our outrageous detention policies, to start wars against new countries that pose no threat to us other than threats we manufacture, such as Iran or Syria, or further fiscal irresponsibility, or countless other bad policies.

Your parents' advice is still good: ignore the schoolyard bully, and pay attention to what's important.

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April 4, 2007, Axis of Moral High Ground

It appears that the diplomatic and rhetorical stand-off between Britain and Iran over the plight of 15 British sailors captured in waters between Iraq and Iran has been resolved, with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad apparently "pardoning" the 15, and advising that they would be released shortly. You will recall our President's desperate efforts to escalate this minor standoff (a previous standoff like this resulted in the release of the British troops involved, unharmed) into a casus belli to save his own failed presidency by calling the captured (and soon to be released) sailors as "hostages" ini the hope of bringing his rolling world war to Iran.

Well, well. What has happened here? Iran now comes off as reasonable and magnanimous. IRAN.

The same Administration that had made Saddam Hussein into a martyr through its ham-handed insistence that he be executed, and then by handing him over for execution to our supposed enemies, Moqtada "Baby" Sadr's Mahdi Army, and then making 9-11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed look sympathetic (or worse, look like a joke) because of our government's criminal insistence on using torture to extract confessions... after our CIA "Black prisons" and the legal black hole of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib... we have now made Iran appear to be setting the gold standard for treatment of captured prisoners. And for what?

My Bush out of office countdown calendar tells me that there are 656 days to go in this Administration. One begins to wonder not merely if we can make it with any semblance of this nation's moral authority intact (that ship has sailed), but if we'll recognize this country at all. Time will tell.

This will likely be a very long 22 months.

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April 1, 2007, TD Blog Interview with Donald Rumsfeld

Donald Rumsfeld is our nation's longest serving Secretary of Defense, and the only Secretary to serve in that post under two different Presidents, Gerald R. Ford and George W. Bush. On April 1, 2007, I had the privilege of interviewing Secretary Rumsfeld by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The Talking Dog Secretary Rumsfeld, I can't thank you enough for agreeing to this interview. May I say how open-minded it is for you to speak with me, given how critical of you I have been, particularly of detention policies you administered and authorized that I believe verge on, if not outright constitute, war crimes. Do you have a comment on that?

Donald Rumsfeld: Stuff happens. It's untidy, and freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.

The Talking Dog On the subject of detention policy, can you comment on the recent confession at Guantanamo by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the recent guilty plea there by Australian national David Hicks, who received a 9-month sentence after we held him for over 5 years?

Donald Rumsfeld: You go to asymmetrical war with the rack and thumbscrews that you have, not with the rack and thumbscrews that you might want or wish to have at a later time.

The Talking Dog Let's turn to Iraq... as you know, Congress is debating whether to tie continued funding of the Iraq War to binding or non-binding schedules for troop withdrawal. If I might ask, how do you think this will work out... how long do you think our troops will remain in Iraq?

Donald Rumsfeld: The Gulf War in the 1990s lasted five days on the ground. I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks, or five months. But it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that.

The Talking Dog The President has threatened to veto any bill purporting to "limit his options" militarily... even if it delays funding of the war, do you believe that the President's position on that is justified?

Donald Rumsfeld: Needless to say, the President is correct. Whatever it was he said.

The Talking Dog: Do you have any overall thoughts about the wisdom of the view now seemingly held by over 59% of the American people that we should set a timetable for withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq?

Donald Rumsfeld: If we left Iraq prematurely, the enemy would tell us to leave Afghanistan and then withdraw from the Middle East. And if we left the Middle East, they’d order us and all those who don’t share their militant ideology to leave what they call the occupied Muslim lands from Spain to the Philippines.

The Talking Dog: If I might, can I ask you about some of the background for the ultimate decision to go to war in Iraq... for one thing, can you comment on the pre-war intelligence?

Donald Rumsfeld: Oh my goodness gracious, what you can buy off the Internet in terms of overhead photography! A trained ape can know an awful lot of what is going on in this world, just by punching on his mouse, for a relatively modest cost.

The Talking Dog: Well, given that the so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction were never found in Iraq...

Donald Rumsfeld: We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat. There's another way to phrase that and that is that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. It is basically saying the same thing in a different way. Simply because you do not have evidence that something does exist does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn't exist.

The Talking Dog Let me turn to a slightly different subject... what do you believe the prospects are that we will eventually bring Osama bin Laden and the other Al Qaeda leadership to justice?

Donald Rumsfeld: We do know of certain knowledge that he [Osama Bin Laden] is either in Afghanistan, or in some other country, or dead.

The Talking Dog Can you be any more specific than that?

Donald Rumsfeld: I don't know what the facts are but somebody's certainly going to sit down with him and find out what he knows that they may not know, and make sure he knows what they know that he may not know. Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know. I believe what I said yesterday...I don't know what I said, er, but I know what I think, and...well, I assume it's what I said.

The Talking Dog: Secretary Rumsfeld, I know your time is very valuable, so why don't I give you this opportunity to comment on anything I have asked you in further detail, or if there is anything I should have asked you but didn't, or anything else my readers need to know?

Donald Rumsfeld: I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past - I think the past was not predictable when it started.

The Talking Dog: Secretary Rumsfeld, I join all my readers in saying thank you for that interview.

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