The Talking Dog

June 30, 2008, Apostasy Now!

Yes, we know stupid is also usually good politics in the United States. Which is why Sen. Obama is unquestionably on his way to becoming our President, as he has shown the ruthlessness to adopt the evidently expedient ("tough sounding") position on three troubling issues of the day, damn how I feel about them...: (1) FISA telecom immunity, (2) the Supreme Court child rape caseand (3) the Supreme Court gun ban case.

The point... if there is one... is that no one who can get themselves elected to any office in this country (let alone Senator... or President) can divorce themselves from the political reality that "appearing tough," even in... stupid ways... is how you get elected here. Which is why in my view "character" has always been more important than "issues"... and why I'm far less concerned with particular stands on issues than I am with what I perceive as the arc of someone's life factored in to their overall world view. "Policy pronouncements" can change... "character" rarely, if ever, does.

As to the FISA sell-out, mostly I blame Reid and Pelosi, either of whom could stop this egregious assault on our Constitutional rights... Obama has to appear "tough on terror". No brainer for Obama: the Congressional leadership didn't have his-- or our-- back on this. What exactly did we "win" when we took back Congress in '06, anyway? [BTW...Candace has some advice on this fight... you might want to follow it...]

On the Louisiana death-penalty-for-child-rape case, once again, Obama cannot appear to be a squishy liberal, so he must sound tough, on this absolute freebie (free because there's nothing he can do as President, only to promise to appoint even more liberal judges likely to make similar rulings!) But he sounds tough, without having to go down to Arkansas and personally sign any death warrants!

And on the D.C. gun ban, we have a difficult position... I have long said that a Supreme Court decision recognizing an individual "right to bear arms" (rather than a collective "militia" right) would help Democrats by shifting the debate to "reasonable regulation," away from the kind of absolute ban the District of Columbia undertook (even if I think such an absolute ban is very sensible policy). So, Obama's apparent "embrace" of the decision makes a lot of sense, even if an increase in legal firearms ownership will only increase accidental and intra-familial homicides... funny how Antonin Scalia isn't nearly as concerned with how many (more!) Americans will die as a result of his guns ruling than with the habeas corpus ruling... oh well.

Anyway, there you have it. The arc of character actually favors both candidates this year: Sen. McCain, whether he himself would characterize it or not, is a genuine hero, and in both his performance as a military man and as a Senator, has often bucked expedient positions at cost to himself. Sen. Obama has achieved what had heretofore been considered inconceivable: a man of color is on the cusp of the Presidency of the United States. Ah, but, aside from the chasm between the two on policy (hint: this favors Obama in my view), some elements of character matter: Obama is the super-cool, cerebral, laid back guy (kind of how I see myself)... McCain, by contrast... is somewhat more rash and angry.

As the world grows hotter and crazier and potentially more perilous... and as each candidate tries to race to the center... I'll take the cooler guy... the guy cool enough to appear to be an apostate on some things, and yet, not cause me to waver in my support for him one bit. Yes we can, America. Yes we can.

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June 30, 2008, Read it and weep (or... bleep)

"It" is the Grey Lady's account of the resurgence of al Qaeda strength in the form of training camps and evident operational capacity now located in the tribal areas of Pakistan (a distance of perhaps 100 miles or so from their previous epicenter in Afghanistan) as a direct and inevitable result of the Bush Administration's diversion of assets from The Hunt for bin Laden (TM) to The Excellent Iraq Adventure (TM). The conspiratorial among us will say things like "oil is thicker than blood..." or, well, things like that.

The more realistic will simply point out what Sen. Obama has been saying: some policies are just stupid, and "stupid" is about as accurate a word as can be used to describe Bush II policies on... just about everything, but war policy moreso than anything.

The good news is that, having caved to bin Laden's most cherished demand that the U.S. of A. bug out from Saudi in 2003, it's not clear that A.Q./H.Q. is as motivated to attack us here in "the Homeland" as it once was. The bad news is that we are as clueless as to its motivations as we ever were. Not to mention our own.

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June 25, 2008, Vox parvi populi

I'm Demi Lovato. This is me.  Deal with it.

Daddy's breaking all the rules and letting me do a mid-week V.P.P., since tomorrow is the last day of school (and only a half day at that!) Today was pajama day, which sounds more fun than it is, since mostly, we all lie down on the floor with our blankets and pillows and stuffed animals and read to ourselves, because by this time of the school year, the teacher has had it.

Oh yes... that's Demi Lovato up there, from "Camp Rock," as if I've seen it, which I haven't. Anyway, Daddy (supernatural? alien? just plain mean?) cut off the cable, so I can't see any of these new flicks, until the videos come out. Boring. I just sit home with my blankets, pillows and stuffed animals and read to myself (because by this time of day, Daddy tells me he's had it.)

But Daddy tells me that besides our next President (Barack Obama) and not-our-next-Supreme-Court-Justice, Miguel Estrada, his obscure little college class also boasts a candidate for national office from the Libertarian Party (is that some kind of a joke?) Actually, Wayne Allyn Root does seem to be something of a joke, though admittedly, a funny one.

Anyway, Wayne, I think Demi is too young for you. Even if you "libertarians" might think otherwise. So back off. And vote for Barack. This has been... "Vox parvi populi." [BTW, does anyone seriously think that a child actually writes this?]

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June 24, 2008, Arresting questions

It seems like its going to be a big week for U.S. District Court Judge John Bates in Washington, D.C. Bruce the Veep sends us this from TPM in which Judge Bates, handling the litigation from the House of Representatives to enforce its subpoena against Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten, asks the logical question "why are you running to court to enforce your subpoena by litigation when you already have the power to arrest?"

Judge Bates, appointed by George W. Bush, who has already ruled in favor of the Administration in the lawsuit brought over disclosure of records of the Vice President's secret energy task force, and in the Vice President's favor in a suit brought by Valerie Plame, is hardly speaking out of turn here. He may well find in favor of the Administration, or he may find in favor of Congress, but as the good judge says, either way, an appeal is almost inevitable, by which time the Bush Administration will have left office and the investigation of the U.S. Attorney firing scandal will be a matter of ancient history. Judge Bates, alas, has put his finger on the pulse of this Congress: they want the appearance of doing something, without actually risking having to do it. And this with an Administration with record low approval ratings. "Feckless" seems a good word to describe Speaker Pelosi and the Gang especially coming as it does shortly after their recent telecom-immunity sell-out, permitting the Bush Administration to (once again) get away with spying on its (millions of) political enemies under the guise of "national security." Deep sigh.

And, also in the Judge Bates department, Candace reports that her historic original Supreme Court habeas corpus petition (to which she was kind enough to let me make suggestions before filing) has been denied, without prejudice, in light of the Boumediene case, which means that it will revert to the District Court, where, like the House subpoena case, it is assigned to... Judge Bates.

In other GTMO news, it appears that in a case called Parhat, the Neocon All-Star Team U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed the government's "unlawful combatant" determination and has ruled that in the case of one Chinese Uighur prisoner at GTMO, the government must charge him, or release him. The beginning of the end? After well over six years of unjustified detention and accompanying mistreatment... we can hope so, but one suspects that the ultimate exit strategy for GTMO will be in the hands of the next President. Still, as GTMO attorney Joe Margulies has quipped, the Bush Administration will likely fold as soon as it hears the words "call your first witness."

Stay tuned.

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June 23, 2008, National treasure lost

It's hard to put enough superlatives on comedian George Carlin, who passed away at 71 of heart failure. He took "edgy" comedy all the way to mainstream. Most famous for "the seven dirty words" that was just one bit of an infinite variety that basically came down to the theme of how absurdly hypocritical our entire social order is, and how, when it is called out, the only rational response is laughter (albeit often uncomfortable laughter).

One bit, for example, concerned a suggestion "by the government" that Mohammed Ali "change jobs". The government said "we want you to kill people now." Mohammed thought a moment and said, "I'd just like to keep beating them up... I don't want to kill them..." The government said "sorry, if you won't kill them, we won't let you beat them up."

He was that kind of a gad-fly: a man who dared touch the uncomfortable raw nerves of the hypocritical edge of social glue... and drew... laughs from it. In other parts of the world (places like Burma, Iran or elsewhere), comedians of this kind-- who take on the existing power structure-- often find themselves in jail. And yet, despite the fact that the United States was not such a country where one needed to fear such things-- few dared to go where Carlin went routinely.

At 71, he was still as fresh as he was in the 1960's and 70's... he was, I suspect with no hyperbole whatsoever, America's greatest living comedian, and given the length of his career, quite possibly America's greatest comedian, ever, period. What else can you say?

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June 20, 2008, TD Blog Interview with Rebecca Dick

Rebecca Dick is Counsel to the Washington, D.C. office of the law firm of Dechert, LLP. Ms. Dick represents four Afghan nationals currently detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, two more previously detained there but transferred to a prison in Afghanistan, and two more released home to Afghanistan. On June 20, 2008, I had the privilege of interviewing her, by e-mail exchange.

The Talking Dog Where were you on September 11th?

Rebecca Dick: I was at work in law offices on the banks of the Potomac River. We could see the smoke rising from the Pentagon, and I remember thinking, "this means war."

Because of the traffic jams, many of us stayed at the office for a while. Then, suddenly, we were told to leave immediately. There was a rogue plane and they were going to try to shoot it down over the Potomac. This was the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. The passengers who tried to retake the plane may have saved many lives in Washington.

The Talking Dog Please identify your clients, by name, nationality and current location (e.g. Camp 6, Guantanamo Bay; released to Afghanistan, in custody Afghanistan, etc.) Could you tell us where your clients' legal cases stand, and if any have been either "cleared for release" or designated for commissions?

Rebecca Dick: My clients are Abdul Haq Wasiq, Ghulam Rohani, Mohammad Nabi Omari, Abdullah Wazir Zadran, Dr. Hafizullah, Abdullah Mujahid Haq, Mohammad Zahir and Mohammad Rahim, all Afghan nationals. None of my clients currently at Guantanamo has been approved to leave. One was approved to leave in July 2005, however, and another was approved in 2006, but neither of these prisoners was sent home until December 2007. Throughout, Afghanistan actively sought the return of its prisoners, so the Defense Department's usual line -- "we're looking for a country to take them" wasn't the explanation here.

The Talking Dog What personal impressions of your clients stand out, if any? Anything significant about their cases (such as their purported acts warranting their being in custody, or any allegations of abuse or mistreatment that you can talk about) or anything else that you can tell us about? Anything significant about your observations of Guantanamo Bay itself that you believe worthy of note?

Rebecca Dick: Of my 8 clients, 4 remain at Guantanamo, 2 are still being held in prison in Afghanistan following their transfer from Guantanamo, and 2 are now at home with their families. None of my clients was arrested on the battlefield. Several were arrested in their homes; others were arrested in meetings with U.S. or Afghan officials. None expresses any interest in harming the U.S. Most affirmatively express support for the Karzai government; the others simply do not want to think about or discuss politics. All are from the same region southeast of Kabul.

In other ways, they are quite different from one another -- in temperment, education, and interests. One wants news of the Afghan cricket team. One wants scientific articles to read (clearance always denied). Another wants general news of the world (which under the Protective Order governing my access I cannot disclose).

Two of my clients were on the first flight in to Guantanamo and were in the picture of men in orange suits kneeling on the gravel.

The Talking Dog You have been quoted recently observing that the current regime of near total isolation in which most of the Guantanamo detainees are now being held has contributed to a deterioration in their mental health. To what extent have you observed this with your own clients, and what, if anything, has the government said in response when you have raised these issues?

Rebecca Dick: All clients have become more depressed in solitary. One told me, "I look alive, but actually I'm dead." Some also become somewhat paranoid and at the same time, intellectually paralyzed, unable to make even small decisions. I meet with them every 3-4 months, and each time I see further deterioration.

The government has not responded directly to complaints about solitary confinement. Its public tone has shifted, however, from defending solitary as the only way to handle "the worst of the worst," to suggesting that the prisoners aren't really in solitary after all. One official actually said the prisoners are just in "single-occupancy cells." He neglected to mention that the prisoners don't get out of these cells very much, and, when they do, don't always see anyone else who speaks their language.

Camp authorities transferred one client with a spotless behavior record out of solitary and into the dormitory-style camp immediately after I wrote a letter observing that keeping this prisoner in solitary did not create the right incentives for other prisoners to follow the rules. Whether his transfer resulted from my letter, there is no way to know.

The Talking Dog I understand you were also among a group of habeas attorneys that endorsed Sen. Obama for the Presidency; can you comment on why you are supporting him, and specifically, why you believe his Presidency might lead to a more favorable outcome vis a vis Guantanamo?

Rebecca Dick: I support Senator Obama for a number of reasons, and did so even before I knew his position on Guantanamo. The country has suffered a lot of damage in the past eight years. It's unclear how much of it is reversible, but Senator Obama is facing the problems honestly and has proposed practical ways to try to address them.

As for Guantanamo, I am hopeful that under President Obama, the U.S. will promptly send home the many detainees who are not a threat and who have a country to go to, that the dangerous ones will be prosecuted in accordance with long-established and fair legal procedures, and that by retracting our claims about the "worst of the worst" and making more serious diplomatic efforts, we will find reasonable homes for the stateless prisoners who are not a threat.

The Talking Dog. On that same theme, can you be so bold as to make a general prediction about where you see Guantanamo and American detention policy in the war on terror (we can include Afghanistan, Iraq and God knows where else along with GTMO ) say, one year from today? Do you see an "exit strategy"?

Rebecca Dick: We can begin observing the laws and treaties governing detentions that were in place for decades if not longer before 2001. We should be able to do that within in a year.

The Talking Dog. Can you be so bold as to make a specific prediction, say, one month from today, as to how the Supreme Court's Boumediene decision will change "the facts on the ground"...i.e., more of same, clear the logjam of stayed habeas cases, something else?

Rebecca Dick: I am hopeful that with our resounding victory in Boumediene, the lower courts will be much less willing than they have been to permit the government to throw up roadblocks preventing review of the merits of these cases.

The Talking Dog. What is your impression of media coverage of these war on terror detention issues and Guantanamo in particular? Anything you'd like to see more of vis a vis media coverage?

Rebecca Dick: I would like to see more coverage about individual detainees. The government has largely succeeded in keeping them faceless, making it much easier to demonize them.

The Talking Dog. Do you have a comment on the recent bizarre events taking place at the so-called military commissions, including the sacking of Gen. Hartmann for overreaching, the sacking of Judge Brownback for apparent appearance of fairness, and the sacking of counsel by KSM and his fellow defendants, who, despite residing in total 24-7 isolation were somehow allowed to confer in open court...? Any comment on the commissions in general, and whether you believe the next Administration will (have the good sense to) scrap them?

Rebecca Dick: The Administration created a show-trial process, then labeled it a military commission. There have been military commissions in the past, but they were nothing like these. Until fair standards are adopted, military lawyers of good will -- prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges -- will continue to create problems for those who want the show to go on.

The Talking Dog. Has your Guantanamo representations effected your regular legal practice? Any fallout of any kind, for example, from last year's Cully Stimson remarks seemingly intended to invite corporate clients to retaliate against law firms doing Guantanamo habeas work?

Rebecca Dick: No fallout from Mr. Stimson, I'm glad to report.

The Talking Dog. Is there anything else I should have asked you but didn't, or anything else my readers and the public need to know about these issues?

Rebecca Dick: You've been pretty comprehensive.

The Talking Dog I join all my readers in thanking Ms. Dick for that informative interview.

Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys Wesley Powell, Martha Rayner, Angela Campbell, Stephen Truitt and Charles Carpenter, Gaillard Hunt, Robert Rachlin, Tina Foster, Brent Mickum, Marc Falkoff H. Candace Gorman, Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in "the war on terror"), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing "unlawful combatant" Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainees Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Bay Chaplain James Yee, with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, with author and geographer Trevor Paglen and with author and journalist Stephen Grey on the subject of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, with journalist and author David Rose on Guantanamo, with journalist Michael Otterman on the subject of American torture and related issues, with author and historian Andy Worthington detailing the capture and provenance of all of the Guantanamo detainees, and with Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch to be of interest.

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June 20, 2008, Just say no

Thomas Nephew, with his spanking new web address (sidebar duly updated), takes a page from... someplace vaguely familiar... and delivers this hard-hitting original piece of citizen journalism, which he creatively calls "Interview with an Interrogator." Specifically, Thomas interviewed a retired military interrogator designated "Ray" who tells us that he been ordered to "waterboard" someone, he simply would have refused such an illegal order, and documented his refusal, damn the consequences to his own career.

"Ray" readily notes the deliberate muddying of waters with Presidential and Attorney General edicts that "wrong is right" which lead to confusion, permissiveness, and to Abu Ghraib. (Similar complaints about this path-- and how "high and dry" it left low ranking soldiers-- was poignantly expressed by former military linguist Erik Saar in our interview with him).

On the subject of Abu Ghraib... "Ray" tells us:

[I]t’s important to keep facts straight and in reasonable proportion. Abu Ghraib, for example. The abuses and resulting pictures were not an interrogation tactic, but a guard force night shift run amok. Don’t get me wrong: this was without question a horrific abuse of detainees in U.S. custody, and must be addessed and those responsible held to account. All I’m saying is that it’s a different discussion. Yes, there were comments from interrogators to “make sure he has a bad night” etc, maybe even with a nudge/wink, and those interrogators share the resulting fiasco, because they were not clear in their instructions. But I don’t think what resulted was really what the interrogators had in mind. Nevertheless, it is this nudge/wink and between the lines communication that were part of the permissive environment that ended as it did. Most of the orders leading to the abuses were not in writing, if any of them were. The only exception I can think of would be the use of “military working dogs”. That was a technique promoted by a general (who was not an intelligence officer, let alone an interrogator). Unfortunately, by virtue of his rank and position, he held authority over detainee treatment and interrogation procedures. As for the ex-military blogger you mentioned, I only say that we all see clearly in hindsight. The answer, again, lies in not putting these soldiers and other intelligence professionals into this netherworld of blurred lines and questionable legal definitions, for soldiers are conditioned to follow lawful orders. They are not lawyers, and we can not expect them to be. They must have clearly defined delineations, which were provided under the Laws of Land Warfare and the Geneva Conventions, and don’t need the waters muddied by policymakers and their lawyers, who in the end don’t know anything about interrogation beyond what they’ve seen on television.

And there's the rub; the confusion (which could and did lead to abuse) was quite deliberate. The intention was to end up with the abuse, and quite frankly, torture, because of a fantasy. A. FANTASY. We have morally debased our nation and undermined its laws for the fantasy of effectiveness because a few idiots (including at least one who sits on our Supreme Court and another member of some undisclosed branch of government who goes duck hunting with him) are stupid enough, crazy enough, or both, to believe that Jack Bauer blowing off a suspect's kneecaps on 24 is an actual effective interrogation technique, rather than a heinous crime, and even worse, if possible, this torture does not accomplish the gathering of usable information or intelligence: only the pain-staking process of rapport-building does that.

The expression is "amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics..." and... any guesses as to which group is running our country these days? (Admittedly, this is probably a gross insult to amateurs.)

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June 18, 2008, Media legend passes away

That would be the incomparable Cyd Charisse, who passed away at 86. IMHO, she was the fireballer of American cinematic dance... just wham, down the middle, often at 100 m.p.h. or more.

While one can understand NBC's interests in touting the late Tim Russert, who untimely (and most unfortunately) passed away at 58, one does wonder why other media outlets are in full hagiography mode. Danny Schechter comes pretty close to mirroring my own thoughts on Russert. I will just say that Russert had the most intimidating wind-up in the game, after which the ball would invariably cross the middle of the plate at... 45 m.p.h. (except for Cheney, with whom he played T-ball.)

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June 16, 2008, Why does Ben Bernanke hate our troops?

It's pretty much the only question one can ask of that sell-out of a G.W. Bush appointed Fed chairman, given that Bernanke had the audacity to tell a Senate panel that improving the nation's health care delivery was one of the most serious challenges facing the nation. Hasn't Bernanke figured out that if the 47 million Americans without health insurance want it, they should just pay for it themselves? That Republican ideology dictates that the most sensible health plan of all comes down to just three words: don't get sick, and that affirmation of American rugged individualism is, by definition and party fiat, a good thing?

I mean, what's Bernanke going to say next... that the country can no longer afford to simultaneously fight two fruitless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or deploy our military forces in over 100 countries, or continue to cut taxes for those most able to pay them at a time of the most obscene income and wealth disparities since the Gilded Age when our government is running record deficits as it is? Or is he going to lapse into crazy talk like our deliberate policies to maximize the inefficient and environmentally destructive use of energy should be altered to reduce our dependence on petroleum from unstable regions and to help stabilize climate change, or that "gasoline tax holidays" are stupid?

No, no... please, PLEASE stop Bernanke now before he lapses into any more of this lunacy. I can't hear you... na na na na na ... my fingers are in my ears... na na na na na na... I can't hear you... na na na na na na...

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June 15, 2008, Recurring nightmares

While fear of terrorism has, mostly thanks to the political needs of our current ruling party , become a national obsession, the reality is that Americans have much more sensible reasons to fear natural disasters, and of such disasters, the only ones I am aware of that consistently inflict death and destruction in all fifty states... are floods. And currently, there is a doozy of a flood that has resulted in the evacuation of much of Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Mahablog's Barb has more.)

Cedar Rapids was the venue of the first trial I handled as an attorney, back in 1987, when I was then working for the U.S. Justice Department. Cedar Rapids was a pleasant enough place; its municipal center was on an island in the middle of a river, but I didn't (just as doubtless the urban planners who put it there didn't) anticipate that the Cedar River was likely to swell its banks and swallow up a well-developed downtown area of about 400 city blocks. There seemed to be plenty of flat land in all directions, and the Cedar just didn't seem capable of that kind of volume. But to quote Forrest Gump... "stuff happens."

As Barb notes, the usual suspects are reasserting the usual self-reliance myths, comparing "self-reliant" Iowans (read "White people") favorably to the New Orleaneans (read "Black people") who insisted on hanging around for a government hand-out.

Obviously, anyone can read anything they want into anything they want (in the internet context, we call that "blogging"), but the point is something like this. Given population densities and sprawl and climate change and overall pressure on the environment, we can be reasonably sure that as regularly as natural disaster scenarios have occurred, they will recur at least as regularly for the foreseeable future, and anyone with a brain will realize that future disaster scenarios will almost certainly be worse.

And as those scenarios are coming, we pretty much are down to two ideologies: "rugged individualism", in which, I suppose, those who can afford their own helicopters, boats, levies, etc., may (or may not) do o.k. and everyone else "should've prepared themselves better"... or dare I say it, the sensible "collectivist response", of building appropriate collective approaches (adequately funded and engineered levies, low density, if any, development in likely floodplain areas, well-stocked rescue facilities, constantly updated evacuation plans, etc.)

We seem (or do we?) capable of understanding that there are functions that individuals cannot handle on their own, thanks to the structure of the "free" market; these include, of course, national defense, the police, and the courts, but should also include infrastructure (highways, canals, bridges, airports, national defense, the police and the courts, for example). And one of those functions will be adjusting to ever more prevalent flooding. The choices are to be prepared for these events by spending adequate money to prepare for them, or to back the ideology that wants to "starve the beast" of government and "drown it in a bathtub"... will enough of us realize that "the beast" is us... and the drowning is a tad too literal?

Update: Speaking of starving, this Grey Lady follow-up reminds us of a detail of Iowa that I forgot to mention: a good part of our food is grown there. Flooding throughout the state means that in a time of already sky-high food prices, expect them to rise some more as one of America's premier agriculture regions just had a bumper crop of woe...

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June 12, 2008, Halle-(freaking)-lujah

I have said before that the future viability of our republic rests perilously in the pen-wielding hand of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Thus far, at least, Kennedy has, as he did two years ago in Hamdan, held fast... as he did again in today's (naturally, 5-4) decision in Boumediene, holding that the Constitution's express prohibition against suspension of habeas corpus means exactly that, and hence, Guantanamo detainees have a Constitutional right to habeas corpus relief in American federal courts.

Much more will be written about this in terms of "rebuke" to the Bush Administration, though this is arguably the third such "rebuke"... the difference being that this time, there likely won't be a Congressional undoing of the
Supreme Court's ruling, especially this close to an election.

Time will tell. For the moment, for those of us who believe in our Constitution and the primacy of the rule of law, though, this is a good day.

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June 11, 2008, "It's Part of Life"

"It's part of life" is Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski's explanation for "sexually explicit material" apparently found on a web-site maintained by... him. Kozinski is a rock-ribbed Republican. He is, for example, the judge for whom Volokh Conspiracy's Eugene Volokh clerked. Let's face it, were he anything but an arch-conservative jurist, it would be his own party calling for his resignation or impeachment, if not an outright auto-de-fe. But he is, so they're not... anyway... from the WSJ piece...

Kozinski, 57, acknowledged in an interview with the LAT that he had posted the materials, which included a photo of a naked women on all fours painted to look like cows and a video of a half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal. Some of the material was inappropriate, he conceded, although he defended other sexually explicit content as “funny.”

The man sounds like a freaking riot. In all seriousness, he has a reputation as a fair and thoughtful judge, and as a hilarious man (his thick German accent apparently just adds to the fun; I understand he once appeared on "The Dating Game"). But this "sexually explicit" stuff kind of sounds... a tad disturbing. And of course, he happens to be a federal judge sitting on an obscenity trial right now!

Frankly, Judge Kozinski suggested that he was not aware the site was publicly accessible: he saved this particular stuff for his... personal interest. Unfortunately, it's the internet age, and thanks to Judge Kozinski's political party, none of us seem to have any privacy rights at all from an ever more prying state (particularly if the words "national security" are invoked, and even more so if invoked without justification). I'm really not interested in Judge K.'s personal fetishes... but I tend to think that the John Ashcrofts and Michael Mukaseys and David Addingtons and Dick Cheneys... and Rupert Murdochs... are interested... and that's what makes this all so interesting.

Nothing will likely come of this... Judge Kozinski has life-time tenure, and he will not be removed from office over this trivial matter-- but only because of the "IOKIYAAR" rule... heaven help him and us all were he, say, regarded as some kind of "progressive." The ultimate significance of this, of course, is that in the internet age, more and more of us will post more and more disturbing details of our lives (or post things we later come to regret posting, or even just download something embarrassing), and our ever more vigilant and prying government will be there to use them against us... when politically expedient. And most of us won't have the stature (let alone Constitutional job protection) of a Judge Kozinski to withstand that kind of onslaught.

And that... is "part of life."

Update: At the prosecutor's request, Judge Kozinski has granted a 48 hour "suspension" of the criminal trial of filmmaker Ira Isaacs on obscenity charges while the judge's "possible conflict" is considered.

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June 11, 2008, Afterthoughts

With the sole exception of invoking the Article II Constitutional provision that would arguably remove the President's pardon power in cases of impeachment, I see no point in the forced-vote-on-impeachment that Congressman Dennis Kucinich is now bringing forth.

The good news is that impeachment doesn't have to leave the lower House unless it wins a majority, and it won't, so Obama needn't be embarrassed with this. But other Congress members will doubtless have to deal with this.

It's not the substance: the President has committed enough impeachable offenses so that just reading the articles took five hours (and that doesn't begin to come close!) It's the politix of it: Bush's term is, by and large, almost over, and he will be replaced in less than eight months. While I agree that limiting the ability to pardon minions is desirable, that doesn't seem to be the point of this exercise. Nor, for example, is it to restore Congress's Constitutional authority where, for example, a politicized Justice Department won't enforce Congressional subpoenas to investigate Justice Department politicization!

I'm just not sure what the point is; most agree that impeachment will go to committee and die.

Given the success of his Presidential runs, there is simply no reason to assume Dennis knows what he's doing. I just don't see the point of this, particularly in June of the President's last term. And when something that I actually agree with in substance just strikes me as so insanely counterproductive as to be dangerous... I begin to worry...

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June 10, 2008, "Mistakes were made"?

Not quite the self-critical evaluation we know President George W. Bush is utterly incapable of, but still, this Times of London article reporting an interview in which the President "regrets" his Iraq war rhetoric ("bring it on," "wanted dead or alive," "nucular") may come close. It seems that the Presidsent may have "inadvertently" convinced, say, everyone else on Earth that he wasn't "you know, a man of peace" and actually wanted to have a gratuitous, unprovoked war with Iraq. Funny how being reelected as "the war president" and beating your political opponents with the club of accusations of their being traitors and terrorist sympathizers will do that kind of thing.

The good news is that it sounds like there is a "good cop bad cop" thing going on with Iran... and for a change, Israel is playing the role of "bad cop" (for the record, the Europeans are playing "good cop," with the United States playing the role of "tied up in Iraq.") Maybe we won't have yet another war we neither need to have nor can afford to have. Maybe.

Meanwhile, the President is in Europe, at a US-EU Summit in Slovenia... as he desperately hopes someone somewhere thinks he's still relevant. Unfortunately, his "relevance" can't be totally discounted for the rather long 7 months 10 days to go of this painfully long Presidency. Until then, it seems, we continue to have "the Government we deserve" (even if, as usual, I simply have no recollection of knife-raping a nun.)

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June 10, 2008, When in the course of human events...

At some point, we begin to go back to that (literally) revolutionary document attributed to Philadelphia, 4 July 1776, and ask ourselves... wtf?

In part, the reason that the goings-on at that little slice of America at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba are so important, is because of just how at odds those goings-on are with the winning side of the American Revolution (though quite consistent with the then behavior of the monarchy on the losing side). And this is an area where, notwithstanding the Supreme Court about to issue a third major opinion in four years, the courts by and large have given great deference to the executive branch to conduct affairs as it sees fit. And it sees fit to behave in a way that many totalitarian states would find comfortable... though one would hope Americans would not.

And so, we consider that GTMO interrogators were told-- in a manual-- to destroy their notes of interrogation (lest they be "accountable" in some way); digby notes the strange events that include KSM being permitted to confer with other detainees for the purpose of sacking their own counsel and asking to be "martyred".

Candace, as usual, has been diligently following all the events down GTMO way, including the sacking of a judge that the Bush Administration deemed might be too fair, or career retaliation against the former GTMO prosecutor who objected to the use of evidence obtained by torture (which led to the exclusion of a general in charge of prosecutions from at least one of the commissions).

While I tend to believe there will be too much systemic "pushback" to permit the kangaroo kourts down GTMO way to conclude that men who clearly appear to have been tortured for over six years by our government (and then, the evidence of that torture has been destroyed per a deliberate policy) can credibly or competently waive counsel so that they may enter guilty pleas to charges carrying the death penalty... I'm sure very few Soviet judges would have any problem with it.

I'm reasonably sure that many American judges will have a problem with it, and, I'm afraid, those executions may not come in time to help out Sen. McCain and his "I'm tough enough to be commander in chief" pitch for November. Some of us feel we owe it to the victims of 9-11 that we bring the perpetrators of their murder to justice, and not merely to some expedient political revenge scenario that leaves us squirming uncomfortably. I'm betting that enough of them are in a position of authority in our military and in our courts.

I do realize that, on some things, I'm an optimist.

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June 7, 2008, The Free (falling) Market

In our ever more interconnected world, something always has to give when some fundamental is fundamentally out of whack. And sometimes, that something is everything, all at once. Which takes us to yesterday, when the Dow Industrial Average fell nearly 400 points amidst a simultaneous spike in oil prices (of over $11 to nearly $139/bbl) and unemployment (of around half a percent to 5.5%).

All of which is to say, if, say, Alan Greenspan were publicly flayed and then burned at the stake, would it solve any of this? No, of course not... but it might be helpful nonetheless, as an appropriate reminder to Ayn-Rand-worshiping-egomaniacal- Fed-chairmen-of-the-future who might start to believe rumors of their own divinity, who go on to pump up price bubbles "because they feel good." And lest we forget, it was ultimately Greenspan's imprimatur that let a feckless Democratic "opposition" get out of the way and allow the insanely destructive "Bush tax cuts" (which, along with the Iraq war, have become the Scylla and Charybdis of the economy-- the world economy, btw, not just ours) to begin their deficit causing wonder.

WTF, TD? Ah, the politics of insane government deficits are such that a big part of the economy follows from them: the deficits must be paid for with borrowed money, on which an interest rate must be paid. Ordinarily, as competing needs for the funds arise (i.e. when private uses for the money go unfunded in a process we call "crowding out") interest rates rise. Ah, but politically, interest rates rising at current deficit levels would increase those deficits even higher, and then the call for tax increases from our creditors (the ones in Beijing and Tokyo) would become inexorable, and hence, the Fed has to-- HAS to-- keep interest rates here artificially low, because tax cuts for the rich are not negotiable.

While seemingly good for our economy (think home mortgages, car loans, business loans, credit cards, etc.), see above re:"something has to give". That would be our currency the once-mighty-yankee-dollar, which declines in value, as the rest of the world realizes that our insanely low interest rates mean that they will not get a good return in their own currency terms on the dollar... unless the dollars falls... some more... which, of course, it must. Which means, of course, that real purchasing power for real things-- the most important of those real things being oil and food-- collapses all around us.

Meanwhile, oil itself is not standing still: the world supply remains in a perilous state, as one of the biggest reserves (in Iraq) remains under-exploited as the war there goes on, while supplies in Iran are seemingly vulnerable by pronouncements by Israel of imminent attacks should Iran proceed with its nuclear program, God knows what is happening in Nigeria, and even though the market ($4/gallon gasoline) stateside is reducing demand here, China is stockpiling diesel in the aftermath of the Szichuan earthquake and ahead of the Beijing Olympic games... none of which, absent the fundamentals described earlier, would, by themselves, but together would, take oil further to the stratosphere. Higher oil prices, of course, effect everything, as goods and services have to move, oil is used in fertilizers and industrial inputs of virtually all kinds, food is diverted to bio-fuels programs, and well, you get the rest in a big "etc.".

And that, boys and girls, is, albeit a bit abbreviated and simplified, where we are today, in an economic sense. And it ain't pretty. And even though John McCain himself is likely too decent a man to run the kind of outright race-baiting campaign that we would expect against Barack Obama, he will nonetheless continue to run on the kind of failed economic policies (and that includes the Iraq war, btw) engendered by Republican ideology that have brought us to where we are now (that's the brink of economic meltdown for those not paying attention)... and despite the clear and obvious failure of those policies and Obama's commitment to change them, McCain may win anyway, solely because of good old American racism.

Will reality win out at the end of the day? Maybe... maybe not. This has been... the Free (falling) Market.

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June 6, 2008, Yesterday's news... today!

Now that Sen. Clinton has, or will have by tomorrow, evidently, acknowledged the reality that Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee, we can get back to our regularly scheduled favorite topic... the geniuses who have been running our country for the last seven plus years!

We'll start with this McLatchy report about Senate Intel Committee finding that Pentagon officials were "duped" by Iran-Contra figures (and presumably Iranian governmental operatives) into doing Iran's bidding vis a vis removing both Bush family and Iranian mutual bogey-man Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. When Iranian and Bush family interests align... watch out! As with the Iran-Contra scandal, a key figure was shady arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, the Iranian middleman in U.S. arms-for-hostage shipments to Iran in the mid-1980s. Another is uber-neocon Michael Ledeen.

From the McLatchy report:

Defense Department counterintelligence investigators suspected that Iranian exiles who provided dubious intelligence on Iraq and Iran to a small group of Pentagon officials might have "been used as agents of a foreign intelligence service ... to reach into and influence the highest levels of the U.S. government," a Senate Intelligence Committee report said Thursday.

A top aide to then-secretary of defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, however, shut down the 2003 investigation into the Pentagon officials' activities after only a month, and the Defense Department's top brass never followed up on the investigators' recommendation for a more thorough investigation, the Senate report said.

The revelation raises questions about whether Iran may have used a small cabal of officials in the Pentagon and in Vice President Dick Cheney's office to feed bogus intelligence on Iraq and Iran to senior policymakers in the Bush administration who were eager to oust the Iraqi dictator.


The aborted counterintelligence investigation probed some Pentagon officials' contacts with Iranian exile Manucher Ghorbanifar, whom the CIA had labeled a "fabricator" in 1984. Those contacts were brokered by an American civilian, Michael Ledeen, a former Pentagon and National Security Council consultant and a leading advocate of invading Iraq and overthrowing Iran's Islamic regime.

According to the Senate report, the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activity unit concluded in 2003 that Ledeen "was likely unwitting of any counterintelligence issues related to his relationship with Mr. Ghorbanifar."

It just goes on from there, with a note that the State Dept. quickly debunked anything that Ledeen touched as a load of garbage, and hence, Rumsfeld's and Cheney's people, eager for any excuse to attack Iraq, ate it up. Among the brilliant plans discussed included bringing down the Iranian regime with massive traffic jams in Teheran. You can't make this up.

The Iranian/Pentagon contacts were first reported by Newsday nearly five years ago, in an article co-written by our friend, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Knut Royce (interviewed here, on the subject of other pre-Iraq war evidence fabrication).

Well, well. The McClatchy report inaccurately uses the term "duped," as if to imply that the Pentagon officials gave a crap as to whether the excuses they were being provided to attack Saddam held up as a matter of fact; we now know that "the facts were fixed around the policy." Hence, any fabricator with the cojones to sell it [on the subject of any "threat" presented by Saddam]... found ready buyers willing to go with it in the Bush Administration, particularly buyers who answered to Feith or Cheney. Rather than "were duped," I would suggest Pentagon officials "played along" with the Iranian operatives. Not necessarily knowing that they were doing Iran's bidding, but in reckless disgregard as to whether they were or not.

And as to the Iranians... well, does it get any better for them, when their second-archest enemy decides to invest a humongous amount of blood and treasure to take out its first archest-enemy? I mean, does it ever get more win/win than that?

The thing is, Ledeen is still out there, and while many of the players are no longer in government, there seems little doubt that one of these days, the next time there is a Republican Administration, particular if someone named "Bush" is involved in it, this Iranian connection will be revivified for the benefit of GOP insiders and Iranian insiders and the detriment of American interests. Note how cooperative Rumsfeld, Feith, Cambone, etc. were in allowing all of this to go on [then again, they needed the intel... any intel... to justify the Excellent Iraq Adventure(TM)]. And Mr. Ledeen, who, if these allegations are accurate, should probably be investigated for treason (as if!) will instead continue to be a "trusted intermediary," friend of the Bush family, and still be spouting dangerous fantasies about taking out the Iranian regime even while he himself is working with its agents against this nation's interests! Again! Deep sighs all around.

Oh my. This has been... yesterday's news... today.

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June 5, 2008, Sportsmanship

Maha's Barb says about all that can be said re: the just-about-inconceivable (except for a Clinton-- any Clinton) lack of class shown by Sen. Hillary Clinton in stubbornly refusing to concede to, let alone endorse, her party's nominee for President.

Many have been suggesting that she must be "given time?" For what? Tell me, boys and girls, when have you ever seen this much deference paid to a loser... of anything? Yes, this was hard fought. Yes, it was close. No, Obama never did manage to put that proverbial stake through her heart (even as Hillary suggested not so subtly that someone put a bullet in Obama's head). Yes, she got a lot of votes. And a lot of delegates. And won a lot of states. And so did Obama. More, in fact, which is why he is the nominee, and the unwritten rules (and the written rules, btw) say that therefore he gets to run as the party's nominee in November, and Sen. Clinton does not.

And so we move on (even if Sen. Clinton and quite a few of her supporters-- but evidently not a huge number of her super-delegates who seem to have threatened to publicly bolt on her if she didn't beg off-- refuse to do so, and have now extended the tedious, never-ending, as-if-directed-by-Michael-Cimino-as-an-outtake-from-a-Heaven's-Gate-death-scene denouement and non-concession concession to Saturday, nearly a week after it was mathematically over.)

In simple, terms, the HillBilly McBeths are now angling to destroy Obama's campaign from as inside a position as can be: the vice-president spot (you don't really think she wants to be the veep, do you?) Bruce the Veep sends us this WSJ snippet as to why it won't happen (hint: it's those bribes Bill has been taking for the last seven plus years that he won't publicly release details about, stupid).

The Unseen Editor, never much of a Clinton fan he, suggests:

The reasons that Hillary (hopefully) won’t get the VP nod are that: 1) Obama hates her; 2) Obama hates Bill; 3) Obama’s supporters hate Hillary and Bill both; 4) Obama needs to look decisive and picking her will make him look like a [wimp].

It's that last point that's so important. Core Obama supporters can overcome their personal hatred of the Clintons in the greater interest of winning. The last point, however, perceived weakness-- the reason that Al Gore chose Lieberman
(to overcome extraordinary negatives thrust upon him by Bill Clinton and his God damned philandering and dissembling) or the reason John Kerry picked John Edwards (to overcome his wishy-washiness on everything, he went with the expedient and "popular" choice)-- is the rub.

In short, if Obama gives in to Hillary and Bill's current round of political blackmail, it will then be a gimme for McCain to win, by repeating the mantra: "THIS is they guy you want defending America's interests in a world of OBL and Iranian mullahs and a potentially hostile Russia, China and who knows who else?" As we say in my beloved home borough: fuggeddaboutit. A Jedi-master like Obama will not throw it all away at this point. He will be deliberate, and he will pick someone who will help him, not saddle him hopelessly with baggage like Bill and Hillary's God damned Iraq war vote (sorry Edwards; that takes you out too). Retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni would be a great choice. Not good, great. Sen. Jim Webb (VA) would be good. Govs. Richardson (NM), Sebelius (KS), Napolitano (AZ), or Henry (OK) might be good too; all bring something to the table (unlike Sen. Clinton). And there are lots of excellent non-Clinton choices out there (what's Al Gore doing these days?)

Now that that's out of the way...

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June 3, 2008, YES WE CAN!

The words I've been waiting to type for the last several months can now be typed. We will now have a candidate I can enthusiastically say I will be voting for, rather than simply against his opponent. That moment is now: Sen. Barack Obama has clinched the Democratic nomination tonight.

As expected, the speech I am hearing on the radio is every bit as worthy as his 2004 Convention speech, or his "race speech," or others he has given.
"This is our moment. This is our time." Maybe just words from just another politician.

Or maybe this is something special. "This was the moment when we will restore our image as the last, best, hope on Earth. So that this nation may reflect our highest ideals."

Yes. We. Can.

Whatever it is, this man, who sat on the same plaza outside Columbia University's Low Library as did I on a sunny May afternoon 25 years receiving our undergraduate degrees, is now on the cusp of the Presidency. Wow. And he has done so by overcoming the personality cult political machine that has dominated the Democratic Party for the last 15 years.

Wow. WOW. Wow.

Yes. We. Can. And if I'm right about the maturity and spiritual (if not necessarily financial) health of this country... Yes we WILL.

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June 1, 2008, Locked and loaded

First, happy birthday to TD-Mother-in-Law.

And then... let's talk about our Democratic nominee-designate, Sen. Barack Obama (he wasn't at the class reunion dinner last night-- surprise, surprise-- though he was mentioned numerous times during speeches, particularly by one Prof. Emeritus Karl-Ludwig Selig). Today, Obama has taken two major leaps forward yesterday toward securing the Presidency.

As to thing the first, the Rules & By-Laws Committee's deliberations are now behind us, the Committee having decided to "go half-sies" on FL and MI, giving Sen. Clinton a net pick-up of 24 delegates in contests she once agreed didn't count, and naturally, since this fails to mask the sad reality (to her) that Sen. Clinton was actually eliminated several weeks ago after failing to close any ground in North Carolina and Indiana, it is her side that purports to be pissed about it! The decision seems to have already paid dividends for Obama, as Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings (one time impeached and removed from the federal judiciary for taking bribes) has announced his intention to boycott the Convention. Needless to say, it's Black politicians like Alcee Hastings from whom Obama desperately needs to distance himself, and so if it takes this theatrical pique to do it... good. (And good riddance to Hastings; if only he'll boycott the party altogether.)

And on to thing the second... and speaking of things from which Obama needs to distance himself, to take a future horse-s*** "Stephanopolous/Gibson/Russert, et al." issue off the table, Obama formally withdrew from membership at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ (former home of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's pulpit). Given that his membership in said church not only failed to quell the Hillary-sponsored vicious rumors that Obama is a Muslim, but it allowed Rev. Wright to be played as if he were, like Simon what's-his-name-from-Idol, or Jack Bauer or, you know, someone important, best that Obama cut bait and get that sort of thing in the past. To his credit, Obama had previously tried to handle the Wright thing intellectually, like a grown-up. He has now learned what that will accomplish in today's poisoned media and political environment, and so he has finally done the smart thing: go Macchiavellian and just cut the freaking ties (God knows, it's what Hillary would do).

And so... it's on to Puerto Rico, which Al Giordano predicts Hillary will win, and then Obama will win SD and MT on Tuesday, and close out pledged delegate season needing just over two-dozen super-delegates to officially close out clinching the nomination (which he actually clinched some time ago).

And so... it'll be on to Denver... locked and loaded!

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