The Talking Dog

August 31, 2007, Another fox little white mouse departs sinking ship

In an unusual move for a Republican (I last remember first Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge using it), citing personal financial reasons, White House chief shillpress secretary Tony Snow announced his resignation. One assumes that Rupert has kept Tony's chair warm for him... Tony would be smart enough not to leave a job with health insurance in the United States today if another weren't waiting for him, especially given his personal health issues (including colon cancer that has spread to his liver, though his current condition appears stable, at least by his account).

They say things come in threes (deaths, anyway), but shall we count this in tandem with Gonzales and Rove, as the third major Bush Administration departure in September? Who knows, really. While his $168,000 salary in the relatively low cost Washington, DC area (low cost relative only for we in the New York area and for Californians; not so low cost compared to everywhere else, as I understand it) seems like a lot of money, it doubtless constituted a serious pay-cut for Mr. Snow. Hey, it's a free country (for affluent White men, anyway), albeit, no thanks to Mr. Snow's boss.

No matter. The final phase (or 17 months or so) of the Bush Administration will involve some less familiar faces (Snow's deputy Dana Perino will be taking over), though Junior and Deadeye Dick will still be there, in our faces, along with Condi, presumably, for the duration. The American people needn't worry: the same practices of heartless social policy, reckless fiscal policy, clueless foreign policy, and endless continuation of pointless wars lest we have to admit they are dead losers not going well... will go on as before, whether Karl, Alberto and Tony are drawing governmental salaries, or not.

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August 29, 2007, $50 billion here, $50 billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money

That kind of sums up my feeling toward the latest financial sleight of hand associated with funding Dick Cheney's retirement the Iraq War, to wit, the latest request for a supplemental to the supplemental, or another $50 billion in previously undisclosed spending for the Iraq (and Afghanistan!) wars, running their current costs to over $3 billion per week.

This, boys and girls, is the one thing a Democratic Congress could do: it can cut off funding. It doesn't need Republican permission to do that-- because the Dems get a veto in reverse: they can either not bring this to the floor, or not pass it. And that's that. The war ends, because it can't be paid for.

But, despite the fact that the American people have made it abundantly clear that they have the Dems' backs on this, in order to play out a 2008 Presidential campaign issue, and most importantly, because they fear David Broder and Tim Russert more than any of us, we know we can expect the Dems-in-majority to hold some kabuki hearings (if that) followed by the issuance of a blank check for $50 billion more payable to the order of "George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney, in trust for the United States of Amurka".

And we won't even think about what $50 billion (let alone that amount tenfold or more thus far spent) could do for national infrastructure, or education, or health care, or any of the other stupid priorities that only stupid (and probably gay) liberals think government is about, instead of manly stuff like discretionary wars that make us look tough, even if they do no good (and quite a bit of harm). Which is what really counts. Take that, Defeatocrats.

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August 29, 2007, Reality based... meltdown?

The stock market is usually regarded as a "leading indicator" of economic activity, to wit, the traders and speculators who dominate it are usually placing bets on economic activity in the short and intermediate term futures... which makes it all the more worrisome as the market reacts by tanking (around 280 points in the Dow) to the priorities of the Federal Reserve re: "fighting inflation" in response to the current sub-prime mortgage and housing woes. Apparently, the seeming record decline in U.S. home prices -- which overwhelmingly impacts those who are not super-rich-- is less of a problem than inflation which might, of course, impact those beloved coupon-cutters (code for people whose income is derived from bond interest, rather than thrifty super-market goers).

That's a bit of an oversimplification-- the Fed (and presumably our government?) must concern itself with a myriad of problems, and right now, one of those problems is that it would rather not admit its own complicity in having helped marginal homeowners (many or most of whom should never have gotten such loans in the first place) acquire their risky variable rate mortgages, and then assisted as many of those same people (and many, many others) borrowed against their home equities to finance consumer spending (or other spending)... in short, the principal driver of economic activity in a country with a minimal or non-existent savings rate.

We'll see where this all goes; if the economic ship of our nation starts to run aground... we have to note that it is a much bigger ship, these days. Further, there are many, many fewer lifeboats (bankruptcy "reform", welfare "reform" and so forth) for those likely to be thrown overboard first.

But at least, the top marginal tax rate, and tax rates on investment interest and inheritances are lower. Those should help... those who least need it.

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August 27, 2007, King weasel departs sinking ship

One begins to feel bad for George W. Bush, what with many of his childhood friends abandoning him left and right, particularly two important ones by the end of August-- first Karl, and now, Alberto "Fuck You, Congress" Gonzales has announced his resignation as Attorney General. He'll likely be replaced by Michael "Heckuva Job with Hurricane Katrina" Chertoff, our current Homeland Security Secretary, a tried and true proven Bush loyalist (the only criteria for service in the Administration).

It was almost amusing, if not pathetic, watching Gonzales's (few) defenders insist he was being treated "unfairly" by being asked questions by Congress. The nerve of those senators! Not to worry: the resignation, like Karl's, will be spun as under his own power. Not necessarily to "spend more time with his family", but clearly not the result of political or partisan pressure from those mean Democrats. And after the FISA sell-out, I must say... I believe that. In terms of day to day change... don't look for any. The name and face will change; the official obfuscation and political fixing to prop up the permanent minority party of big-money and big-ots... will not.

Nowithstanding the happy retirement of the Attorney General, this is on the whole not all that good a day for liberal blogging, as we learn that we will be losing the blogging of Max Sawicki , and the blogging of Bob Geiger, the former because of professional obligation, the latter on hiatus; at some point, both may be back, though probably not for a little while. We do look forward to seeing Max and Bob at some point in the future, and not seeing or hearing from Alberto Gonzales again (though as with Karl, I don't wish Mr. Gonzales ill... I just don't wish him well.)

Update: It looks like Julian Sanchezwill also be taking a blog-hiatus. The hits just keep coming.

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August 24, 2007, Outcome oriented justice and other oxymorons

I'll stop seething long enough to pass along this (hat tip to Mahablog's Barbara): "this" being from Judge Michael Mukasey, who gives us
this Rupert's Journal op ed. Judge Mukasey outlines his case why, contrary to the actual historical facts and our legal, ethical and Constitutional principles, he contends that our justice system is just not up to trying terrrrrrrorists like Jose Padilla (you will recall that Judge Mukasey first issued the material witness warrant pursuant to which Padilla was first arrested, and originally handled Padilla's first ill-fated habeas corpus petition in which the Supreme Court eventually found that the Great Writ was a creature of venue statutes, rather than Constitutional principles.)

Some of Judge Mukasey's points, such as a need for "national security courts" have been raised elsewhere (such as here, in my interview with Commander Glenn Sulmasy.) Even Commander Sulmasy, however, acknowledged that this could not-- ever-- apply to citizens (such as Padilla) because of Constitutional concerns. But overall, the subtext is that Padilla converted to Islam and is just a bad guy so... you know... due process... it's just too much. Damn the fact that every "threat" attributed to him has been debunked, or that "super-terrorist" Abu Zubaydah, who fingered Padilla, did so while under extraordinary torture (and, btw, while clinically insane in any event.)

What the good judge (appointed by Poppy Bush, btw, and long the chief judge of the district in which my office happens to be) suggests is that the federal courts just don't work... that we need outcomes that will get us what we want-- i.e., terrrrrorists have to be stopped, whether we can find them guilty under our "quaint" systems of Constitutional justice... or not. Well, that quaint system of Constitutional justice, as irksome as it is, just happens to be the American system, which served us through a Civil War, two World Wars, and a Cold War with nuclear armed ICBMs never more than potentially hours away. And somehow... we made it.

I'm sorry, Your Honor, but I'm not just going to stand here while you bad-mouth the American system.

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August 22, 2007, This White House wrote the book on stifling dissent

It should come as no surprise to anyone that there was a method to the unConstitutional madness that has fallen over Presidential events, i.e., the impressive absence of all dissent (the standard being "Hey, would Riefenstahl have filmed it?"). That method is laid out in a White House manual, obtained from the government in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two irritating dissenters in God- and Bush-fearing West Virginia, as reported here by WaPo.

All of those elements we have come to know and love-- allowing in only pre-vetted gung ho ticket holders, searching for anything that might have a message of dissent (while encouraging all supportive messages) and prompt responses (whether shouting down or arresting recalcitrant, meaning anything other than totally pro-Administration attendees)... are all conveniently laid out, in short declarative sentences of limited syllable words.

I'll paraphrase from the late, great Steve Gilliard, God rest his soul, who suggested that it should be enacted, as federal statute, that the Imperial March from Star Wars be played at all Vice-Presidential events. And I'll quote from Katharine Lee Bates's America the Beautiful (btw, sung in a beautiful a capella at the commencement of the Pikes Peak Marathon), i.e., that second stanza I referred to a couple of days ago:

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

What do I think of the Bill of Rights protections of speech, including the right to express dissent to our highest government officials? As Mahatma Gandhi said about Western civillization... I think that would be an excellent idea.

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August 20, 2007, Spin cycle

I was quite literally "out in the wilderness" when the Padilla verdict came down (Hassan bar-Sinister phoned me while I was on a practice "run" on the Pikes Peak Marathon course). I think what matters, aside from the travesty of justice angle (Mona of Unqualified Offerings gives us some grounds for reversal) is the fact that the true significance of the Padilla case, which regular readers know that I consider the most important case of our lifetimes, indeed, a case so important that I actually interviewed two of Mr. Padilla's attorneys (Donna Newman and Andrew Patel), will be deliberately obscured from the American people by a media that is not merely feckless and incompetent. I will, in the manner of the President, "dare to call it by its name": it is evil.

Well, let me get right to it, from our friends at Media Matters, we get this spot-on analysis of "reporting" from Charles Gibson of ABC News ("where more Americans get their news than from any other source")... while Gibson reports on Padilla's conviction of "aiding and abetting terrorism", he overlooks-- as in, entirely, by not mentioning-- Padilla's three plus year ordeal (including two forays to the United States Supreme Court) as the only American citizen picked up in the United States and held without charge, trial or counsel. In short... the significance of Padilla's case. Lots of men have been convicted of "aiding terrorism"... only Padilla was held incommunicado and tortured (even if not beaten up, isolation in a small cell and the other conditions Padilla was held in are torture, and it seems clear that the government drove Padilla insane while held in those conditions). No. Mention. At. All.

And that seems to be how "more Americans get their news"... i.e., as if it were dictated from Karl Rove. Which, it likely was. And that's just it. Millions of people tune in to "the news" to see their trusted spin-doctors, like Charles Gibson at ABC (or Bush family friend Bob Schieffer over at CBS, or whore-of-all-time Tim Russert at NBC... we won't even start with Fox, which, IMHO, is actually cleaner, because people expect it to be slanted with no pretention of objectivity, "fair and balanced wink wink"...)

And so, the most important legal story of our time-- a literal end-run around not just our entire Bill of Rights, but the Magna Carta... and our complicit commercial media won't even tell us what happened. Most Americans will simply nod their heads... 'we convicted us a terrorist or two", without realizing that the President can now lock up any one of us for any or no reason at all, and turn the Constitution into a complete dead letter... and most people don't even know, even if they cared to know.

Since I've been doing a lot of quoting, I'll just quote Marvin the Martian:" This makes me angry. Very angry indeed."

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August 19, 2007, Pointless mission... accomplished

Sorry that some cat seems to have the talking dog's tongue... blogging has been light non-existent of late, as your talking dog was on a personal physical and spiritual quest... to complete the Pikes Peak Marathon, believed to be one of the five hardest marathon races in the world, in an official time (i.e. less than ten hours, when the course is closed.)

I am pleased to say... pointless mission accomplished! I trained extra hard, and had to leave the East Coast for the first time in six years... but in the end, when I was handed my finishers jacket and medal (retail value $8.95)... well, it just makes it all worth it. Part of the difficulty of Pikes Peak as a marathon is that, other than a few super-humans who live and train on the mountain, most people aren't actually running most of it. The uphill portion amounts to a hike/death march, followed by hours of rock scrambling (up and down), with a six or seven mile finishing sprint (thankfully... downhill).

What does this have to do with the usual themes of this blog? I'm glad you asked. Because one fun fact I learned is that Katherine Lee Bates wrote "America the Beautiful" after being inspired by a trip to Pikes Peak.... just check out the second stanza.

That is all.

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August 15, 2007, First thing we do, let's lawyer all the kills

Or some other fractured version of Shakespeare, that post-title seems to make about as much sense as the USA Patriot Act provision that removes the power to effectively determine the pace of state executions from federal courts, and hands it to... you got it... Attorney General Alberto "Fuck You, Congress" Gonzales.

Defense attorneys are outraged. Like we care what they have to say! It is widely believed anathema to execute an innocent person. Except in the United States, where, let's face it: if they were innocent, they would have been able to afford a decent defense attorney, now, wouldn't they?

Scott Lemieux wisely points out one advantage of not removing Alberto Gonzales, to wit, a decent attorney general might preserve the myth that providing excessive power might be o.k. because "we could trust" the nice professionals in our government.

The problem is that we have learned by the summer of 2007 that Ralph Nader-- bastard that he is-- is more right than he is wrong about the two national parties being effectively indistinguishable on most things in the clutch, to wit and most especially, the galling national security state that they are foisting upon us (which, of course, includes the ability to arbitrarily execute us... to keep us safe, of course!)

Even as, for example, polls show extraordinary strong opposition to warrantless eavesdropping, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid instead value the opinions of Tim Russert, David Broder and the assorted other inside-the-Beltway-people that they listen to, rather than the American people (whom they clearly do not listen to), and overwhelmingly. Hence, the bigger the failures of the Bush Administration, this particular (allegedly Democratic majority) Congress's answer will be to provide it with yet more extensive powers, even as it shows that it only abuses the ones it has.

Such as, in this case, handing the power of life and death to Alberto Gonzales, the same power that he exercised so responsibly in Texas.

Well, just another day. 525 days left of them in this Administration, as a matter of fact (to the extent that it even matters that much).

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August 13, 2007, King Rat announces departure from sinking ship

From Rupert's Journal, we give you this breaking news that Unindicted Co-Conspirator Karl Rove has announced his resignation from the government payroll, effective the end of August. Per how these things are done, he quite literally said "he wants to spend more time with his family". Some highlights from the announcement, reflecting things that only Karl would have the nerve to say:

In the interview, Mr. Rove said he expects Democrats to give the 2008 presidential nomination to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom he described as "a tough, tenacious, fatally flawed candidate." He also said Republicans have "a very good chance" to hold onto the White House in next year's elections. Mr. Rove also said he expects the president's approval rating to rise again, and that conditions in Iraq will improve as the U.S. military surge continues. He said he expects Democrats to be divided this fall in the battle over warrantless wiretapping, while the budget battle -- and a series of presidential vetoes -- should help Republicans gain an edge on spending restraint and taxes.

Obviously, Karl's work is done here. I've thought for some time that the Republican mau-mauing of John McCain signified that the party poobahs were all but conceding 2008, with the hope that they can come back and have JEB knock out Hillary in '12, or possibly even hold him to '16 (JEB's not that old). The fact that Karl will now be consigned to the private sector, where he can presumably do less damage, seems to confirm this.

And quite frankly, given what the Republicans have accomplished in just six years-- record deficits, incredible tax cuts for the rich, tremendous growth in income inequality, national fear and paranoia that has made racism (at least when directed against swarthy Middle Easterners... and Mexians in some sectors) cool again, tremendous growth in the national security state including the aparent ability to arbitrarily detain anyone including citizens, as cowed an opposition party as has ever existed, tax cuts, environmental degradation, and even a Supreme Court willing to un-legalize abortion, it really is hard to see how much more needs to be done.

Karl can rightly go back to Texas and proudly announce "my work here is done".
Karl, it should come as no surprise that I don't wish you well, but I certainly don't wish you ill. I know you're a guy just doing your job. It's just the liberal in me (though, as I'm constantly screaming... I'm not that liberal... and yet, even I know that you are pretty much the antichrist... or at least you serve the cause of the antichrist). Sayonara, Karl. I hope we don't see or hear from you again, though, thanks to prosecutorial discretion, you are now free to enjoy the rest of your life. Hopefully in quiet obscurity.

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August 11, 2007, Nice republic... if you can keep it

Well, our friends at the Center for Constitutional Rights have brought suit in federal court in San Francisco to set aside the Protect America Act of 2007, a/k/a the bipartisan attempt to abrogate the Fourth Amendment by repealing FISA. Our interview with CCR's President Michael Ratner may be found here, and the interviews of numerous attorneys working with CCR in representing Guantanamo detainees may be found on the side-bar (or check the end of this post, our recent interview with Mike Otterman).

The CCR attorneys, of course, claim that their conversations were likely monitored, including presumably telephone calls overseas which would have constituted attorney work product as they were in the context of providing legal representation... it is unlikely that the CCR attorneys spoke by telephone to actual GTMO detainees while being detained, because, well, it strikes me as unlikely that the government would allow the detainees access to a telephone. CCR, of course, has other clients who aren't detained at Guantanamo, who they doubtless do talk to on the telephone. The attorney work product angle for GTMO detainees... and the attorney client privilege for everyone else... is certainly there.

The government, unsurprisingly, will rely on the "state secret" doctrine to try to get a repeat of what it successfully did earlier this year in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, to wit, argue that because the plaintiffs don't know for sure they were eavesdropped upon because the government won't tell them, that ergo, even if they were eavesdropped upon, they lose, so nya nya nya nya nya.

Given the people I have called, e-mailed and met in the course of bringing you the unvarnished truth on this blog, including some of the plaintiffs and attorneys involved in CCR's suit, let me just say that I take more than a rooting interest in the outcome; it's certainly possible that some, most or perhaps all of my own conversations were and are still being monitored. Who knows? (I do try to keep things lighthearted, and let my interview subjects know that I use no recording devices save a pen and paper, and the NSA never provides me with transcripts.) I know, I know... I have nothing to worry about if I'm not plotting with al Qaeda terrorists. Me and all of the other millions of people who may be being monitored and invaded without probable cause in derogation of the Fourth Amendment. We all have nothing to worry about.

We already live in a country where both parties really couldn't give two s**ts about any of our privacy or Constitutional rights (save gun ownership), or for that matter, about much else besides money (Democrats maintaining their political base by making sure that social security continues to be available to the middle and upper middle classes, and Republicans maintaining their political base by making sure that kickbacks are available to government contractors and that certain social programs are administered in a way that can be portrayed as racist). Let's face it... Jim Henley nails it in one by pointing out that the Democrats invented the national security state... our privacy (or Constitutional rights at all) are simply not worthy of either party's discipline; it's about the economy money and power, stupid.

The courts used to be about the Constitution (well, that was what the Civics course said, anyway). It seems that an awful lot of judges are also now about the money and power, stupid. I've said before that the future of this republic rests heavily on the vagaries and whims of Justice Anthony Kennedy... and it may well again in this case, when and if it reaches the Supreme Court. If we hang tough, and demand to be treated as a strong and free people (as Jim Henley would say, a pack and not a herd), then I think we can preserve the precious freedoms our Founding Fathers aspired to give us. Or we can continue to wallow in the fear that the President and his bipartisan allies in Congress want us to feel.

I've quoted Ben Franklin and Will Rogers; now I'll quote St. Thomas More, as theorized in Robert Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons" (speaking to Roper):

More: Cut a road through the law to get after the Devil? Roper: Yes. I'd cut down every law in England to do that.

More: And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned on you...
...where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted with laws from coast to coast... Man's laws, not God's, and if you cut them down... and you're just the man to do it. you really think you could stand upright in the wind that would blow then?

Yes. I give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety's sake.

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August 8, 2007, TD Blog Interview with Marshall Onellion and Steven Fortney

Marshall Onellion and Steven Fortney are the co-authors of "Seeking Truth: Living with Doubt", a variation on those ambitious books seeking to constitute a brief history, or a unified field theory, of everything. Onellion and Fortney's book discusses hermeneutic aspects of evaluating knowledge in an uncertain universe, from the standpoints of scientific, religious and artistic angles, and they are quite critical of all aspects of dogmatism, particular in fundamentalist religions, though whereever found. Both reside in Wisconsin; Steven Fortney was a high school English teacher for 31 years, has written a number of works of fiction, and practices Buddhism. Marshall Onellion is a physics professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, previously served in the Air Force, and practices agnosticism. On August 8, 2007, I had the privilege of interviewing Messrs. Onellion and Fortney by e-mail exchange.

The Talking DogWhere were you on September 11th?

Onellion and Fortney: At our homes in Stoughton, WI.

The Talking Dog: :  September 11th seems a nice jumping off point for asking about the overall theme of your book.  Certainly, you are harsher in your treatment of fundamentalist Islam than fundamentalist Christianity or fundamentalist Judaism; is this a conscious decision, and if so, to what extent is this because of the events of September 11th? 

Onellion and Fortney: We are more critical of fundamentalist Islam because of what we have learned, not as an emotional reaction to blame Muslims for the attack of 9/11/01. Our criticism is very much a conscious, considered judgment arising from what we have learned. One of us, Onellion, has spent 3 1/2 years of study and writing while Fortney's writing and studying antedates 9/11 by many years. All fundamentalists share some common attitudes. As we emphasize in our book, Christian fundamentalists pose a danger to our country and would subjugate other religions, atheists, homosexuals and the secular if only they could get the political power to do so. Unfortunately for Muslims, fundamentalists have more influence in many Muslim communities than Christian fundamentalists have- at present- in our country.

The Talking Dog: : As an aside, what's your view of why, at least prior to the final ousting of the Moors in Spain in 1492 (a big year all around), the Islamic world was ahead of the West technologically, scientifically, economically, etc, and yet after that, things went downhill for it and have since?

Onellion and Fortney: We discuss this very point at some length, and benefited from The rise of early modern science by Toby Huff and similar books. Here we give only a partial answer. First, we were lucky. Rationality was, although criticized by the Roman Catholic Church, also used by Christian religions. Science, specifically, was not seriously attacked by the Roman Catholic Church until just a bit too late. The Protestant Reformation helped tremendously to buttress science and rationality. Islam, unfortunately for Muslims, treated science as "foreign" knowledge- suspect- and closed the door on any reformation in the 1300s.

The Talking Dog:  Does knowing the religious extremism of many in the Islamic world actually help, or hinder our understanding the events of September 11th? 

Onellion and Fortney: Yes it helps. Understanding that what we might call 'religious extremism' in Islam is not viewed by many Muslims as extreme is important. We spend quite a bit of the book discussing the motives and goals of Islamic fundamentalists, both Sunni and Sh'ia, because Islamic fundamentalists are prototypical ideologues.

The Talking Dog: : My primary question about September 11th and its aftermath, however, concerns not the perps, but us.  To what extent has our national reaction-- a sort of counter-jihad--  perceived by the Moslem world as "a Crusade" and sometimes called that by our officials in their rare moments of candor-- a reflection of our own knee-jerk fundamentalism, to wit, the "You're for us or against us" and "we're battling evil-doers" and other easy sounding sound-bites reflecting a Manichean view of the world... To what extent is this really an actual reflection of our actual values, i.e., our national psyche has been so addled and riddled by orthodoxies, whether religious, or political, that this (stupid) view was actually a pretty good fit with where Americans (25% of whom as it is believe the Rapture will occur this year) pretty much think the world is going anyway?

Onellion and Fortney: The last of our 12 chapters- a la the 12 Apostles- is "Hope". In it, we contrast the certitude of fundamentalists, Islamic and other, with the moral vaporware of so many who claim to seek truth. In some ways, what we say is similar to the article published just after our book by Paul Berman, Who's afraid to Tariq Ramadan? in which he goes right to the end of the diving board but cannot bring himself to jump- to call his fellow intellectuals cowards. Two things are missing from the false dichotomy of Christian Soldier or secular wimp that so many portray. One is gumption, a courage, a fortitude that refuses to knuckle under to the fundamentalists. Many people seeking truth, both religious and non-religious, have gumption. More will need it, because, as we argue, matters will get worse before they get better. Just as there were liberal, progressive anti-communists after World War II, one of us, Fortney, is a liberal progressive anti-jihadist. It needs to be remembered that our stance fits into the larger context of anti ideology of all sorts, not just religious. Islamic, Jewish, Christian, economic and political ideologies are all targets of this book.

The other is a misunderstanding of doubt. Our view of doubt- that it is valuable, indeed essential, that it keeps us honest about what we do and do not know- is unconventional. Make up your mind- be decisive- don't doubt yourself- we get such epigrams our whole lives. Not only is one of the chapters entitled "Doubt" but much of our discussion centers around the value of living with incomplete knowledge- with doubt. Indeed that one major message of the entire book.

The Talking Dog: : This point segues with my question of the themes of your book regarding this: to what extent is the explanation of what fundamentalist religion is nothing short of a matter of the development of one's character and the relationship of that character to interrelationships with authority (a point made directly or indirectly at various times by Jean Piaget, Alice Miller or Ken Wilber)? 

Onellion and Fortney: We argue that there are three main motivations to embracing any fundamentalism: fear, social acceptance, and need. Much of our thinking on this issue was helped by and anticipated by Eric Hoffer in The True Believer and other books. As Hoffer says (sect. 61): "…The fanatic is perpetually incomplete and insecure. He cannot generate self-assurance out of his individual resources- out of his rejected self- but finds it only by clinging passionately to whatever support he happens to embrace. This passionate attachment is the essence of his blind devotion and religiosity…". There are cultures (Bali, Tibet) that in fact have a tradition of the social acceptance of a more tolerant world view than does our own country. We agree that social influence is important.

The Talking Dog: : In other words-- "modern" churches, say, Episcopalians or Methodist or Unitarians, or Reform Judaism, presents a limited kind of authority, and treats its adherents in a sort of "adult to adult" authority relationship; mystical traditions may go "trans"- adult levels, and try to connect adults with the collective of the universe, but again, to the extent the "guru" or "teacher" has an authority, it is mostly an instructive or guidepost one; by contrast, fundamentalists, such as the worst aspects of fundamentalist Protestantism, or the Roman Catholic Church as its more conservative elements view it, or certainly fundamentalist Islam (and less so, though still present in elements of Orthodox Judaism) involve authority really at the parent-child relationship level-- often at a small child level at that, of the "you will do this because we tell you to" variety.  Can you discuss that observation (or speculation) with what you see as the overall theme of your book?

Onellion and Fortney: As in the last question, it is a wish to be subsumed- "The Borg" as it were- that is part of a fundamentalist's motivation. We repeatedly emphasize acting as an adult, standing on your own feet and doing your individual best to understand this world of ours. In this sense, even moderate expressions of the doctrinal religious traditions of the West must be regarded with caution since they hold fast to the single, complete-truth authority of the creeds and the church as do their extremist brethren.

The Talking Dog: You raise a very interesting and not often discussed enough aspect of the history of scientific advances and developments-- to wit, the degree a given scientific observation is given general validity and consensus is heavily dependent on (as much or more so) than the value of the advance or development itself... based upon the standing of the scientist involved (e.g. Einstein's break-throughs were no less brilliant when made as a Swiss patent clerk than with a chair at Princeton, though they were easier to accept and disseminate in the latter position!)  I would argue that this is part of the human condition ("no one ever got fired for buying IBM"), and is, if anything, even more true in the other two sectors your book discusses ("art" and "religion") than even in science.  How would you respond to my proposition that there is just something innately cautious or conservative-- people are just afraid of novelty or change, whether it be in their science, religion or art, almost as an intrinsic matter (whether innate or learned)?

Onellion and Fortney: We agree. This is why, as we discuss in our book, social influence over science, for instance, is always a tension between opposing impulses. Too much influence and science advancements die. Contrast, for instance, Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo with the subsequent almost 400 years of stagnation in Italian science until the Papal States were ended and the Papacy no longer had dominant control over the intellectual life in Italy. On the other hand, too little influence and scientists do not benefit their society much. The social attitudes in Latin America, for instance, drawing a bright line between intellectual activity and the larger society, has resulted in much less benefit to the society from scientists compared to, say, Germany before World War I.

The Talking Dog: Let me jump back to an earlier point about deference to authority-- since it clearly appears to me that those most comfortable with authority in their religious lives happen to be the same people most comfortable with authoritarian governments (such as, of late, "big R" Republicans in the United States), how does one combat this?  To flip the argument that "the Constitution is not a suicide pact" to justifying compromising our civil liberties and fundamental rights in order "to protect us," how would you suggest "protecting us" from the permanent assassination of progress in science, art, and all human knowledge (including, btw, progress in religion), from what is clearly a fundamentalist backlash and resurgence right now (particularly in a country where a much, much higher percentage of such people vote than do everyone else)?  Put another way, how can the "how can we be expected to lead to the world where we can't even keep our bridges from falling down?" degree of reality break through to a country where 25% of the people believe that the Rapture will occur this year, the vast majority refuse to accept the validity of the theory of evolution on religious grounds, etc.? 

Onellion and Fortney: As with the Islamists, we argue in our book that even among Christian fundamentalists there is a grey scale. The key is to appeal to the less delusional part of this grey scale. Again as with Islamists, the wrong approach such as taken by Dawkins (The God Delusion) is to dismiss and deride the religious impulse. Instead, as we argue, the religious impulse per se is a valid 'channel' for truth seeking. The argument to make is to decouple this impulse from any inerrant religious doctrine. Progressive Christians, whom we mention along with Buddhists, Taoists, and Hindus, are examples of religious truth seeking in touch with reality. You are right that the majority of Americans with their odd devotion to outmoded religious doctrines has a long way to go before they become adults in religious knowledge. We regard this as a lamentable situation.

The Talking Dog: How would you respond (presumably in defense of such thinkers as John Dewey, or perhaps Richard Rorty who died not long ago) that with the exception of perhaps "brute facts" like gravity or thermodynamics, or other established and indisputable (i.e. universally observable) attributes of the physical world, there really are no absolute truths (given your particular intellectual bailiwicks, you may well dispute the intractability of even these "brute facts")... i.e., everything [else] is "provisional" and based on evolving agreements and consensuses, but always open for discussion?  Or put another way, how do you deal with the widely spouted view (and yes, I mean from blowhards like Joe Lieberman) that there are absolute, intrinsic, inherant moral truths and rules handed down from God Himself (at Mt. Sinai)...definitions of beauty, truth, right, wrong, are somehow innate, eternal and intrinsic to us all, and atheists are less able (or unable) to live "as moral" lives as God-fearers (and especially, how do you deal with it, when I tend to think Lieberman may be reflecting the views of huge segments of the American electorate?)  

Onellion and Fortney: This to us is the central question because it goes to the heart of "doubt". As many have been taught, doubt is the same as "don't know" so if information or models are tentative this means you don't know anything. Instead, in our book we argue for doubt to denote the limits of our knowledge, not whether we have any understanding at all. For instance, in physics the motion of objects is very accurately known and predicted by Newtonian mechanics when the objects are moving at speeds low compared to the speed of light. It is only when the speed of an object approaches the speed of light that Einstein's special theory of relativity is needed. In fact, at low speeds Newtonian and Einsteinian mechanics give the same answer! So do I know anything if I know Newtonian mechanics? I surely do. At the same time, if all my experience has been with low speed objects, I would, if prudent, have doubt about whether my idea, my model, worked at all speeds.

Now let's consider the apparent paradox of living with doubt and having moral and behavioral standards. We discuss this in several different ways in the book. To begin with, you- you the individual- and I, and each one of us is not merely of some value, we are uniquely valuable, irreplaceably valuable. No one else living or dead has our combination of DNA and life experiences. No one, which makes us of unique value. Next, every philosophy and religion has some variation of the Golden Rule, so God Himself at Mt. Sinai is not needed to get and try to live up to the Golden Rule. Beyond this, do we want to live in a mutually beneficial society or as individualistic cannibals? We discuss this very point, and argue that certain consequences follow from wanting a beneficial society. Finally, we discuss how you deal with outsiders, "The Others". None of these issues require Mt. Sinai. The Golden Rule we have asserted is a rational deduction from the cosmology science has given us. That is to say ethics belongs to the rational order of things, not to revealed or doctrinal religious "truths".

As to the idea that those who profess to be God-fearing are more moral than the rest of us, there is no evidence I know of for this, and a fair amount of evidence against such an assertion. One key difference is that, as you raised in a question earlier, a person acting as a responsible adult is more likely to act in a moral way than a person in the role of a child, a role that absolves people of responsibility.

The Talking Dog: Am I correct that given your analysis of "wasteland", and the fact that arguably atheistic regimes (Communist China and the Soviet Union and other communist states) have been every bit as devastating or more so than religiously motivated ones, you would acknowledge that the "enemy" of freedom and progressive thought and advancement is not so much "fundamentalist religion" per se (of any denomination) so much as orthodoxy and certainty itself-- i.e., we should beware of anyone, in any field, that claims to have the answers to everything?  That said-- if you agree with it-- please reconcile this with our democracy where people equate cocksure certainty with strength, and even people's own experience with the problems caused by this doesn't seem to matter? 

Onellion and Fortney Yes, we argue repeatedly that the "enemy" is orthodoxy and certainty, which can and has appeared in science, religion, politics and economics, just to name a few areas we discuss. As to reconciling this with equating certainty and strength, we discuss- and agree with you- that this is one reason we worry about our society's future. We need to emphasize the fact that unrestrained capitalism is guilty of intimidating and diminishing vast numbers of individuals. This is not merely a religious issue.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else on the themes of your book "Seeking Truth, Living with Doubt" that I should have asked you but didn't, or anything else that you believe that my readers and those who might be interested in your book should know?

Onellion and Fortney: In emphasizing doubt as a positive rather than a negative or weakness we are definitely contrarians. In endorsing both rationality (a/k/a science) and introspection (a/k/a religion) we refuse to say one is right and the other wrong since we believe both are valid channels of truth seeking.

We criticize science, doctrinal religions, postmodernism and examples from the arts, so our criticism is far from limited to fundamentalist Islam.

We also make two arguments we have rarely seen elsewhere. We argue that the religious fundamentalist praying and the writer or scientist using introspection are doing exactly the same thing. We also argue that the Buddhist concept of Emptiness is exactly the same as the Christian concept of Grace, without the need to invoke a God. Finally, we argue for viewing the world as a monistic unity, not separating it into a dualistic Heaven and Earth. We discuss the consequences of monism rather than dualism in several places in the book.

The Talking Dog: Let me join all of my readers in thanking Professor Onellion and Mr. Fortney for that very interesting interview, and invite interested readers to take a look at "Seeking Truth: Living with Doubt".

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August 7, 2007, Imperial hubris on borrowed money

Teddy Roosevelt said "Speak softly and carry a big stick", presumably meaning (I think, anyway) that "actions speak louder than words..." or something like "if you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds are sure to follow."
George W. Bush's mantra would be something like speak incoherently and bellicosely and bluff the ability to back it up, and failing that, just say "9-11" a lot. Or something. And spend ourselves into oblivion against enemies who pose no threat to us, opposing any conceivable good government could do for all but the super-rich on "philosophical" grounds... and otherwise run government like a business. Unfortunately, if you're George W. Bush, the only "business" you "ran" was Arbusto (or perhaps Harken Oil)... businesses duly run into the ground... only when the United States is run as such a business, not even Daddy's friends have the money to bail it out.

Which takes us to a rather large group of Daddy's friends... around 1.4 billion of them, actually, a/k/a the population of China, which, in response to veiled threats at retaliatory action either by Congress or by the U.S. Treasury, has made a not so veiled threat to dump its (around a trillion dollars in) U.S. Dollar reserve holdings. In common parlance (or to quote a line from Ghostbusters), this would be "bad". The value of such holdings would decline, if they were dumped on the open market, and U.S. interest rates would have to go up to offset the devaluing currency, triggering a further erosion of housing and other asset values here, and... well, let's just say that it would be bad. Particularly if we were to say...

Let's juxtapose the story above (from the U.K.'s Telegraph, btw) with another story, this from Australia's (I didn't forget you, Rupert!) Wall Street Journal, discussing the coming credit crunch, fueled by the perfect storm of Alan Greenspan's irrational exuberance for credit expansion to make Bush look better than he should have in his first term (why St. Alan has been regarded as a genius rather than a partisan hack and a Randian idiot is a testament to some of the many things wrong with this country), the excesses of the sub-prime mortgage market, and a flood of foreign cash keeping our interest rates artificially low against our preposterous trade and government deficits, fueled respectively by SUV's and Walmart and tax cuts and Republican profligate spending... all of which, when "natural" (or at least inevitable) market forces react... will go the other way, and it is likely that lenders will make credit substantially harder to come by, both via higher interest rates, and probably, as in the S&L crisis, by refusing to make certain categories of loans at all.

In short, fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride. The Chinese, at least according to the Telegraph piece, are reacting in part to Hillary Clinton's somewhat aggressive stance that under her administration, we would not be as vulnerable to potential economic attack by countries like China. [The Chinese actually don't fear her; they know that their interests are aligned with Walmart's (i.e. keep selling us slave-made cheap-shit and often tainted tchotchkes, while piling up our dollars to have fun with us and our economy)... and they know damned well that Hillary was Walmart's lawyer (and a Board member, btw). No, no... their message is directed right at the Bush Administration, i.e., don't try to cover your failed bets everywhere else by messing with our favorable currency conversion rate. And to some extent, it's direected at more union-friendly candidates like Obama. (Query, of course, who might be looking out for our interests... well, keep querying... I'd sure like to know.)]

Anyway, the interesting thing from this... as you can see from last week's stock market jitters... is that there are some problems in some major economic fundamentals. For one thing, another crisis similar to the 1997 Asian crisis is widely perceived by Wall Street as not likely to be handled as well; Fed Chair Bernanke and SecTreas Paulsen are regarded as intelligent and competent men to be sure (as were the idiot Randian Greenspan and the legitimately intelligent Robert Rubin, back in the Clinton days).

The difference (and the problem) is... that's where it ends. In the late '90's, we could count on a competent cadre of professionals in finance and diplomacy to do the right thing. Now, beyond Bernanke and Paulsen, we have the man-child Bush and the deranged Voldemort Cheney... and Incompetetentalleezza Rice. Meaning, a legitimate shock akin to the Asia crisis, and rather than have just a localized problem, we could well see a global downward cascade reminiscent of the kind we had in the 1930's-- a perfect storm of bad news (see above re: a simultaneous dumping of Chinese dollar assets when we have a financial crisis caused by the sub-prime market, hedge fund failures and other foreign investors pulling out).

Not to say this will necessarily happen... we are a bigger and bigger economy every year, with arguably more diversity than ever, and we are running at remarkably low unemployment. And the Saudis might do what they can to prop us up. But... most of our people are in debt, are heavily exposed to the real estate market which may be the first casualty, and don't have the kind of capital to slosh around to absorb serious shocks... the capital is mostly being sucked up by the super-rich (who by and large are "super" for their richness, rather than their generosity.) So who knows what's going to happen?
(If you have a few extra bucks lying around, you might want to consider having a few Euros lying around the house. You never know. Just saying.)

This has been: Imperial Hubris on Borrowed Money

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August 5, 2007, House collapse

Coming as no surprise whatsoever given the Senate's recent action described here, the Democratic-led House of Representatives, which has proven every bit as worthless as the Democratic-led Senate, joined the upper house in selling out further vast swathes of civil liberties to the Bush Administration and passed the "temporary" FISA repeal (thereby permitting unlimited electronic eavesdropping by the federal government, as long as an appropriate official utters the phrase "it's to protect us against terrrrrrrrorists"), rather than take a vacation in August and be called bad names by those mean Republicans.

Here's the thing: in practical terms, the Bush Administration had apparently been doing this warrantless eavesdropping on Americans for years already, notwithstanding that it was expressly a felony and that the government officials involved up to and including the President himself should be in jail for it. Also, I think a fair number of Americans really have nothing to worry about: those who don't use the internet, or the telephone, for example, won't be eavesdropped upon. And given the inconceivable amount of data we're talking about, sheer volume will keep most of us safe, unless of course we have specifically pissed off the government enough to give it an incentive to find our particular communications, by, say, criticizing it, or perhaps by communicating with those who the government has falsely accused from time to time (or their lawyers).

As a public service, I'll just recite the Fourth Amendment from (that quaint document, widely feared to be a suicide pact) the U.S. Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

I'm sorry, but I didn't see any exception for "politically expedient terrrrrrrorist thumpin'". But that's just me. It clearly isn't the President, or at this point, either house of Congress. Ultimately, we didn't have to flush the Bill of Rights to defeat the Confederacy, Germany and Japan, or to outlast the Soviet Union and its thousands of nuclear-armed ICBMs pointing at us... but 19 Arabs with box-cutters apparently constitute the ultimate existential threat to us all, for which the play-book written by our Founding Fathers must be scotched and real men like Dick Cheney and (the now green!) Jack Bauer must step up to save us without constraint by those quaint rules that civilized law abiding people must follow.

As yesterday I quoted Ben Franklin, today I'm quoting Will Rogers: "This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer." He also said "Ancient Rome declined because it had a Senate; now what's going to happen to us with both a Senate and a House?" And he said, "Our constitution protects aliens, drunks and U.S. Senators."

But as noted, supra, apparently it offers no protection for the rest of us.

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August 4, 2007, Party like it's 2002

Ah, don't we all remember August, 2002? We were all getting ready for that manly celebration of September 11th +1.0, when the President could tell us how manly he handled the whole thing because he showed up a week later with a bullhorn, kind of like how he did back at dear old Yale and Andover with the boy-cheerleader teams. Andy Card told us we didn't roll out new products in August. And I concluded that a war in Iraq was being played for domestic political purposes, to wit, to corner Democrats into a no win situation of either supporting an unjustified war or being paiinted as "soft on terrorism" (as if they wouldn't be anyway), and decided once and for all that I was opposed to the Iraq war for good.

Its 2007, now, and Democrats are in control of both houses of Congress (really?), Iraq has gone to hell in a hand-basket (and will keep going further and further to hell), the President's ideological and heavy-handed tactics have been widely discredited, the Attorney General blatantly lies to Congress and no one takes any action to stop him, the President's approval rating hovers in the 20's... and yet...

As in 2002, when, lest we forget, the Senate Majority Leader's name was Tom Daschle, the President quite literally says "boo!" and Democrats in Congress fall over each other to give him what he wants, in this case, the Senate overwhelmingly passed legal ratification of the ability to conduct warrantless surveillance on American citizens for political purposes by modifying the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ("FISA") to eliminate judicial oversight, at least for the next six months.

Harry Reid voted against it in every way except the one way that mattered: he had the power to keep this piece of shit off of the Senate floor altogether, and to tell the President that when the President started respecting the Constitution and the rights of the American people, then he could start suggesting legislation of this kind... and not dictating to another branch of government what it should pass or when it should recess. And instead, on this, we get "an up or down vote". Jebus.

But, as digby suggests, we can presume that the D.C. cocktail party circuit is all abuzz about fear of terrrrrrrrrorists attacking Washington any God damned moment... and, unbelievably, Democrats believe that they would be blamed for it. And again, methinks, why was it I worked so hard to get this party in the majority again, so we could get exactly the same results as if they weren't?

Hackneyed and overplayed as it is, I guess the guy whose office happens to be a block from the World Trade Center site, as it was on September 11, 2001 (that would be me) is once again reduced to stunned speechlessness, and quoting Ben Franklin: "They who would give up their precious liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security." And if George W. Bush is in charge, we will likely end up with neither anyway.

And after over 6 1/2 years of disastrous administration of our government by George W. Bush, Democratic members of Congress seem incapable of figuring this out. Remarkable. A long-- a very long-- 534 days to go.

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August 2, 2007, A bridge too far

Not much to add to the commentary surrounding the tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis yesterday that has killed at least four people. Others have expressed anger that America's obsession with tax cuts at the expense of maintaining infrastructure has resulted in, well, this.

I will simply recall that shortly after September 11th, one of my fears was crossing the bridges here, either into Manhattan or other points, for fear of terrorism. Turns out, of course, that as we learned from the steampipe explosion next to my old office building, or the bridge collapse in Minnesota... we need to be eternally vigilant against the effects of time and weather.

I've said numerous times that Americans are remarkably irrational about assessing risks. The I-35W bridge in Minneapolis had been rated as problematic for five years... but nothing significant was done, other than simply hoping that, well... you know. The required maintenance would have been very expensive. And thousands of more bridges like it have similar problematic ratings.

Then again, as I alluded to some time ago, it so happens that I-35 is part of the proposed "NAFTA Superhighway" designed to wave trucks from Mexico right through the middle of the United States, absolutely untouched by union labor. The bridge in question was nearly 40 years old... this is certainly one way to secure an upgrade.

Well. Another cautionary tale. Will Americans heed it in a meaningful and productive way? Maybe. But that's not how you bet.

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August 1, 2007, TD Blog Interview with Kenneth Ackerman

Kenneth D. Ackerman practices law in Washington, D.C., and has served as a government official in both the legislative and executive branches of government. He is the author of four books, his most recent, "Young J. Edgar: Hoover, The Red Scare, and the Assault on Civil Liberties", chronicling the response of then Attorney General Mitchell Palmer to a series of anarchist bombings and other violence around the United States in the aftermath of the First World War, including one at his own house that nearly killed him and his family. Palmer directed a series of raids to round-up, and eventually deport, thousands of suspected aliens, an effort later derided as a gross infringement on civil liberties, events that have clear resonance today. That effort was orchestrated by none other than J. Edgar Hoover, who would go on to direct the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 48 years. On July 30, 2007, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Ackerman by telephone. What follows are my interview notes corrected as appropriate by Mr. Ackerman.

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

Kenneth Ackerman: I was in Washington, DC at my law office in Dupont Circle. Someone mentioned that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. We all watched together on a TV in the office. The immensity had begun to sink in when people in Washington were told to go home. 16th Street was jammed with cars.

I live in Falls Church in Northern Virginia. I drive right past the Pentagon-- I saw the smoke smouldering up from the Pentagon-- you could actually smell it from the highway, and the magnitude of it really hit home.

The Talking Dog: To what extent did the events of September 11th and their aftermath inspire you to write a book about the Palmer Raids? Prior to researching this book, were you aware of how central a role J. Edgar Hoover had in them?

Kenneth Ackerman: Very much so. I was interested in that period of our history-- the similarities and parallels to how this country reacted to the panic and threat presented by the post-World War I Red Scare. There were numerous echoes of what is going on today.

As to Hoover's involvment, I wasn't immediately aware of it at the time I started. I became aware indirectly. Originally, I actually wanted to center this book around Clarence Darrow and focused my research on the trials that I discuss in detail in the book. Darrow represented many communists during the period of the Palmer Raids. Though we know him best for representing Mr. Scopes in the famous "Monkey Trial" in Tennessee, he made his reputation defending free speech during the Palmer Raids. In fact, the first version of my book proposal was titled "Clarence Darrow and the Red Scare." As I dug deeper, though, Hoover's role took over the story.

I went to college in the 1960's-- the Vietnam period-- and I believe that era shaped me. My question was how a young lawyer's attitudes would be shaped by the events of 9/11 and the post 9/11 world: how does that effect someone in the long term. J. Edgar Hoover in 1919 and 1920 was 24 years old-- his first real adult job was working for Attorney General Palmer and heading up the Palmer Raids. It was literally his coming of age experience, making it a compeling story.

The Talking Dog: Your book, besides featuring J. Edgar Hoover and his then boss A. Mitchell Palmer, has extensive discussions of Louis Post, Emma Goldman, Clarence Darrow, Felix Frankfurter, Harlan Fiske Stone, Oliver Wendell Holmes and others. In the course of doing your research, did any of the personalities of the individuals involved jump out at you as particularly striking?

Kenneth Ackerman: Louis Post is certainly one of the most interesting people in this story. For one thing, the fact that he is so obscure speaks volumes about the blind spots in our historical knowledge. Someone who stood up to the lawlessness of Palmer and Hoover at the time, and singlehandedly stood in the way of thousands of deportations based on nothing but guilt by association and the flimsiest of evidence... is nonetheless forgotten by history. I find that remarkable. Louis Post actually was simply a bureaucrat who followed the rules! He could not and would not support the policy that Palmer and Hoover set in motion-- and he opposed that policy at substantial personal risk. When we go back through the history of other panics and scares in our history, we have a good record of producing brave people willing to stand against the mob... without such people, the evils of these episodes would be far worse, and our liberties would be permanently compromised as a result.

Another example was Felix Frankfurter. Back in 1919, he was a young law professor at Harvard, and quite a radical. He is, of course, generally remembered as a much more conservative member of the Supreme Court, on which he later served. But at the time of the Palmer Raids, he used the habeas corpus writ as a platform to fight repression. Of course, today, under the 2006 Military Commissions Act, he could no longer do that. At the moment, it appears that the Great Writ has been suspended pending determination of status of "unlawful enemy combatants."

But in the Palmer Raid era, Frankfurter used it for 150 alien immigrants arrested around Boston. He used it as a platform to put on the stand Justice Department and Immigration Bureau officials and force them to testify under oath about how they violated the rules-- they arrested and searched without warrants, they demanded excessive bail, they engaged in excessive violence, they needlessly marched people through the streets in chains and shackles. This was a key event in turning the tide-- by making the details of the raids public.

Frankfurter was instrumental in doing this in Boston, Darrow was using his trials in Chicago and New York to uphold and defend free speech, and at the same time Louis Post in the Labor Department was using the forum of his own impeachment hearing to bring these facts to light.

The Talking Dog: The hysteria surrounding the bombings of 1919 and 1920 and the "Red" and "anarchist" scares seemed to ebb within a relatively short time-- certainly, by the time then Attorney General Mitchell Palmer's presidential ambitions fizzled in the summer of 1920; your book notes that the raids and lawless methods used were under challenge within a few months. By contrast, the hysteria surrounding 9-11 continued well beyond merely the 2002 midterm election well through the 2004 presidential election, and really only by the 2006 election-- over five years later-- had it started to subside and the American public by and large returned to its senses, at least in an electoral sense and in terms of polling vis a vis the diminished ability of government officials to just say "9-11" and end all reasoned debate (and I note that even as we speak, the President is still talking about "Al Qaeda Al Qaeda Al Qaeda"). Do you have an explanation for this... why the longer shelf-life on 9-11 ? Am I correct that the key difference is called "television" (or perhaps more accurately "cable television"), whereas in the teens and 20's this was still a country that read newspapers?

Kenneth Ackerman: To be sure, television is part of it. But there is another huge difference. On September 11th, over 3,000 people were murdered. This was a much larger and more direct threat than we faced in 1919, when the incidents were much smaller in scale. The follow-up to September 11th managed to get us into two international wars... Afghanistan, which was justified, though not finished, and the second invasion of Iraq, which was apparently unrelated to the events of September 11th though politically advertised as if it was. The threat against our country after 9-11 was palpable, and certainly very real. However, the implication that civil liberties must be sacrificed in the response is simply wrong. We are finally coming round to realizing that we have gone too far.

The Talking Dog: Another of the things I noticed from your book was a certain courage on the part of judges and some government officials to stand up to the government (I'm thinking in particular of the federal judge in Boston, Judge George Anderson, not to mention Oliver Wendell Holmes, and future justices Stone and Frankfurter, and of course, Labor Dept. officials like Louis Post or Labor Secretary Wilson), fairly early on... that seems to be absolutely absent these days particularly on "war on terror" cases, other than occasionally in the Supreme Court... do you have an explanation for why that is? Same question, vis a vis the media of that time, and ours?

Kenneth Ackerman: I would mention that recently there were military commission judges at Guantanamo who courageously tossed out some cases against detainees.

But on the whole, I don't have a good answer to that. It is certainly interesting. I note that the first group of people who took a stand against the USA PATRIOT Act was the librarians, who were being investigated by the FBI. Then came the booksellers. And they organized, and got Congress to make changes to the Patriot Act.

Each period in our history is different. In 1919 and 1920, these cases came quickly. Judge Anderson, of course, stood out as one of the few judges who outright ruled against Palmer. Later, in the Supreme Court, Holmes and Louis Brandeis dissented in the Abrams and Gitlow cases, but they were in the minority. The court in each case ruled 7-2 the other way, upholding the Espionage Act against First Amendment challenge -- though we now find such a rule abhorrent. The hysteria at the time even engulfed the Supreme Court. Famously, when Holmes was about to publish his dissent in the Abrams case, the other justice met with him (and his wife) to try to talk him out of it. But Holmes was stubborn!

The Talking Dog: The inexperienced (and frankly, sycophantic) bureaucrat that the young J. Edgard Hoover managed to get himself placed in disproportionately powerful positions... so disproportionately powerful that even those who Hoover regarded as his enemies had no idea of the importance of Hoover's role in the Palmer Raids (and other improper activities); indeed, your book opens by noting that Hoover even fooled then Attorney General Harlan Fisk Stone who couldn't fathom that Hoover would have been so important at such a young age. Monica Goodling, and John Yoo, perhaps are arguably analogies (Goodling may be a better one), however imperfect. Do you believe that this sort of young, manically ideological and ultimately, quite destructive bureaucrat is the product of peculiarly weak and egregiously bad leadership (say, like Palmer in Wilson's time, or Ashcroft or Gonzales or most especially George W. Bush in ours)... or is something else going on?

Kenneth Ackerman: Do weak leaders turn to younger people on their staffs at times of trouble? I don't know if I buy that entirely. I certainly see a parallel-- that people like Monica Goodling go to Washington, DC at a young age and are shaped by their environment, just as Hoover was doubtless shaped by the Red Scare... now, young people are shaped by the War on Terror, for good or bad (mostly for bad).

But Hoover was a much more formidable individual. He was absolutely brilliant, with a forceful personality. He could manipulate older men. He led his boss, Mitchell Palmer! There were 5 levels of supervision over Hoover at the Justice Department, and yet Hoover called the tune. Another example is how Hoover dealt with Anthony Camineetti, director of the Immigration Bureau. Caminetti was much older, and was an experienced California political operator... and yet Caminetti yielded to Hoover.

Certainly, Palmer was not a particularly strong manager, and certainly the bombing of his own house had a profound effect on him. Indeed, before then, he was progressive and moderate, having released thousands of Germans held prisoner and other political prisoners after World War I, and he disbanded the American Protective League. But the bombing turned him into a zealot.

In that sense, certainly the current Adminsitration suffers dramatically weak leadership in its Justice Department-- and we are learning on a daily basis that this is more prevalent than anyone realized!! The current Attorney General insists he is hands-off on a number of critical issues. Is this bad management, or dissembling, or something else? We don't know yet-- but it is quite different from the Palmer era.

If a new young J. Edgar is going to emerge from the current era, we probably won't know for at least 5 to 10 more years. J. Edgar Hoover himself did not become well known publicly until the 1930s, a full decade after his initiation under Palmer.

Tallking Dog: You've hypothesized that had not certain officials (Louis Post and others in the Labor Dept. certainly come to mind) stood up and resisted the lawlessness of the Palmer raids, American precedent and legal tradition would have been quite different. Can you extrapolate on that?

Kenneth Ackerman: I actually do adhere somewhat to a "great man" theory of history . Yes, historical forces matter, but at key moments, someone just has to stick their neck out to get things done. Certainly, but for Frankfurter, Post, and Darrow speaking out against the Palmer Raids and the Red Scare, the damage done to countless people's lives would have been far, far worse.

Given the direction that Palmer and Hoover were going-- asserting that government officials, agents and bureaucrats, could conduct nationwide mass arrests and searches and seizures without warrants, based on giilt by association or undisclosed evidence... these practices would have likely become enshrined into the ordinary practice of American law enforcement.

This is the system that Frankfurter railed against at the Boston habeas corpus trial, and over which Post made his stand in canceling around 1,400 deportation orders. Post was very clear in laying out a list of 9 or 10 legal principles that had to be followed -- such as no alien could be determined to be a communist unless he actually knew he was a communist and knew what it meant. It was not enough that a person simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He also included no deportations based on coerced testimony, or on confessions obtained after a lawyer had been requested and refused, or upon an illegal search. At the time, these standards were in doubt-- hardly yet enshrined in American law enforcement practice.

Similarly, had Holmes and Brandeis not taken their stand in dissent on First Amendment cases, our view of just what is protected under the First Amendment would be different today. During World War I, a speech against the government could land you in jail -- period. Indeed, many people who spoke out in opposition-- and with nothing more sinister than criticism of the decision to go to war -- found themselves jailed. That is a key difference with our current understanding of First Amendment rights.

The Talking Dog: Why is it that the Palmer Raids-- which resulted in perhaps 10,000 or more people being rousted from their homes and arbitrarily arrested-- resulted in so much more public outcry than, say, the post-9-11 round-ups of Middle Eastern males? And yes, I am asking to the extent that race/religion/national origin mattered... why did it seem that the country much more troubled by a bunch of Russians and Eastern Europeans (including a large number of Jews) and Italians being rounded up in 1920, than they were with Moslem men after 9-11?

Kenneth Ackerman: My reaction is this: I don't think the difference is about racial prejudice. Back in 1919 and 1920, the bgigotry against immigrants and Jews was very comparable to the possible bigotry against Middle Easterners now, if not worse. Then, race was a concept even more in vogue-- people spoke in terms of the "Jewish race " or the "Irish race" or "Italian race." The difference between race and national origin had far less meaning then.

The reasons for the differences between then and now, as I see it, are really twofold. (1) Today, the jailings are much more secret. We haven't had a Frankfurter to tell us the size of the detention. And things are slower. The New York Times took years to disclose the full scope of the NSA surveillance program, for example. And it took even longer to learn of the secret CIA prisons. Indeed, the full extent of jailings associated with the war on terror in this country might not be known for many years. We know of Guantanamo-- but those are people captured overseas, and there are no Americans arrested on American soil held there -- at least as far as we know. In short, the government has kept much more of its activities in the war on terror secret, and this secrecy has been far more effective. And (2) In fact, as I said before, 3,000 people were murdered here on September 11th. The country has reacted quite strongly to that. We have a threat, and we expect the government to address that threat. Though we don't expect it to toss out the Constitution in the process.

The Talking Dog: Is it clear in your view that had there not been an enterprising young eager beaver like Hoover around, the Palmer Raids would have been less extensive than they ended up being, or is there evidence that Attorney General Palmer wanted something huge in response to the bombing of his house and the perceived overall threat, and was going to make this happen no matter what? Can you comment on the seeming historical irony that just as Palmer's overreaction probably allowed the actual perpetrators (most likely Italian anarchists) escape justice, Bush's overreaction to 9-11 (including attacking Iraq) allowed al Qaeda leadership to escape justice as well?

Kenneth Ackerman: Both points are well-taken. Palmer wanted to round up alien radicals and deport them. Hoover made that concept a reality. He worked up target lists, organized nationwide raids, and the rest. Hoover took a bad plan, and made it far far worse. A toned down version of the Palmer raids-- just a few dozen or so of the most dangerous radicals picked up and deported -- would actually have been healthy, and justified. Many of the radical leaders were, in fact, dangerous, armed, violent people.

But Hoover went way beyond the pale-- such obvious abuses ended up causing a backlash toward Palmer, and indeed, was counter-productive to Palmer's own interests, as the particular bad guys who blew up his house got away! They were eventually traced to two Italian anarchist groups, L'Era Nuova based in Paterson, New Jersey and the Galliani gang based in Lynn, Massachusetts... and the likely perpetrators all managed to get away!

The comparison to Bush and the al Qaeda leadership is striking! The mission creep is staggering-- we had al Qaeda on the run in Afghanistan, and then lost our focus and turned our attention to Iraq! Six years later, Osama bin Laden is a free man and Al Qaeda appears to be making a comeback.

The Talking Dog: After having researched this, to what extent do you countenance the "great man" theory of history, be it Hoover, or his antagonists like Frankfurter, Post, etc., or were these men products of the times... someone in a position to try to seize power because it was there, to be resisted by men of principle, simply because that's what men of principle do? And to what extent do you (like me) find the actions of the individuals you wrote about interesting because you (like me) are a lawyer?

Kenneth Ackerman: I think that individuals make a difference-- for good and for bad. But for Frankfurter, Darrow and Post and their actions, the aftermath of the Palmer Raids would certainly have been a lot worse, and a lot of principles of arbitrary, if not lawless, bureaucratic action would have become enshrined as precedent.

Certainly, we're lawyers, and we find much of this story compelling for that reason-- much of the drama in the story is of lawyers pushing the law beyond the pale-- and being skillfully resisted by other lawyers pushing back. Law is central to our social order... broken rules, such as in the Palmer Raids, result in real damage to real people.

The Talking Dog: I end with the "lawyer's weasel" question, is there anything else relevant to your book that I should have asked you but didn't, or that my readers, your readers, and the public at large need to know on these subjects?

Kenneth Ackerman: And I'll give you the "lawyer's weasel answer"... probably yes! That gives you a reason to have me back another time. I enjoyed it very much.

The Talking Dog : On that note, let me join all my readers for thanking Mr. Ackerman for tha fascinating interview, and I commend interested readers to take a look at "Young J. Edgar".

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