The Talking Dog

December 31, 2008, Not just another New Year's Eve

While the main arc of civilization goes on as it has for millenia (i.e. the powerful White men may do what they like with complete impugnity, but God help anyone else if they dare engage in similar conduct... or hell, if they do anything at all), one must still look back on 2008 and acknowledge just what an amazing year it has been.

Obviously, the fact is, in 220 years of our Constitutional system, no man who was (1) a graduate of Columbia College or (2) not born in the lower 48 or (3) not White had ever been elected President before, and no sitting senator had been elected since JFK. Barack Hussein Obama has shattered all of those barriers at the same time, running a near-perfect campaign to overcome heavy favorite Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries and to overcome a late charge by Sen. John McCain in the general election (albeit aided by some rather dismal economic news... the other remarkable part of 2008).

I'm well aware that Hillary kept saying "hope is not a policy" and all that... but regardless of the job Barack does as President (as both a college classmate and someone who worked as a poll-watcher on Election Day, I feel I can call him Barack... in just twenty days (can you believe it?), the conceit of this blog will have him magically transformed into "The President"... but until then, at least, he's still Barack)... just getting this far represents a historic, monumental achievement, both for him and for the nation, and regardless of the challenges he, and we, will face in coming years, somehow, we have all overcome something just to get to this point.

I'll leave you this year with a few quotes about what I see as "the word"... the one word for which pinning down was so elusive in the cornerstone text of the cornerstone course of my college education (and that of our next President). While I have devoted my career to the law, I would like to think that I primarily serve the interests of justice... and, among all the other things that our government under our next President can do, to elevate that interest...justice... in every sense of the word... the right thing, an overall sense of fairness, an adherence to the law not because it is convenient but because it is essential... then, the particulars of the price of gasoline or how effective he has been at providing health care or other social benefits... or whether we are bogged down in foreign wars... will actually take care of themselves.

A few others had a bit to say on the subject of justice, so I'll just give you their words:

Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong. --Theodore Roosevelt (1858 - 1919) "If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time; but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." --Lilla Watson

If you tremble indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine.
--Che Guevara (1928 - 1967)

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly.
--Epicurus (c. 341 - c. 270 BC)

Retarded and infantile societies fear loss of possessions, status and cling to material advantage; whereas cultivated and advanced peoples fear loss of freedom, justice and peace.

I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I'm a human being first and foremost, and as such I'm for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.
--Malcolm X (1925 - 1965)

God has a plan to help bring justice to the world -- and his plan is us.
--Gary Haugen

"I am leaving this legacy to all of you ... to bring peace, justice, equality, love and a fulfillment of what our lives should be. Without vision, the people will perish, and without courage and inspiration, dreams will die-- the dream of freedom and peace.
--Rosa Parks

Justice will only exist where those not affected by injustice are filled with the same amount of indignation as those offended.
--Plato (c.427 - 347 BC)

When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love. Where evil men would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men must seek to bring into being a real order of justice.
--Martin Luther King Jr (1929 - 1968)

If you want peace, work for justice
--Pope Paul VI

One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.
--Martin Luther King Jr (1929 - 1968)

On this special New Year's Eve, let me ask, once and for all, that musical question... What's so funny about peace, love and understanding? A most happy and healthy new year, best wishes for all... God bless you, and God willing, see you all next year.

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December 30, 2008, Hero worship - part II

Andy continues his interview with Stephen Abraham, here.

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December 30, 2008, All sado-monetarism is local?

In the staid op-ed section of the Grey Lady, Krugman laments the counter-stimulative tendencies coming from what he terms "50 Herbert Hoovers," to wit, state governors (more specifically, state governments) that, amidst collapsing revenues in the current financial crisis, will respond at the precise moment that more state and local spending is needed by instead cutting such spending, thereby exacerbating downward pressure on the economy.

He's right, of course, but the issue becomes two-fold: what immediate steps can be taken to ease the current financial crisis, and what reforms can be imposed to ensure a better system. For the latter, also from the Grey Lady, this Matt Miller piece suggesting that, in education, [our last liberal President] Nixon is the President with the answer. Specifically, Nixon's commission on school finance suggested increasing the federal outlay on American education to around 1/3 [currently, such spending is a paltry 9%] with incentives for state and local school funders to reduce dependence on property tax for school funding that perpetuate the wild disparities in education between rich and well-funded, usually suburban school districts, and their poorer urban and rural counterparts, and thereby ensure that we truly are an "opportunity society".

Part of the right-wing mythology that has taken hold for the last three decades or so is that "government is bad" (except, of course, for the ultimate government programs, the military and the police [as in "police state"]), but somehow, state and local governments are better than the federal government, and therefore, more burdens, particularly unfunded ones imposed from on high, are better left to them, while the big klunky federal government, despite its vast ability to raise money (if necessary, by printing it) should have its responsibilities curbed.

And everyone has to believe in the tax cut fairy: that somehow, government services will be put under our pillows in our sleep, but heavens... we can't be forced to pay for them.

I was just thinking about my daughter lamenting the fact that her public school will, thanks to such inevitable budget cuts, probably have to forego its annual fifth grade drama production next year... for which she had been dutifully waiting to audition since kindergarten. Such is the nature of tying essential public funding decisions to the vagaries of our boom and bust economic cycle; call such things a luxury if you wish, but why do some public school children fortunate enough to hit the right year get these luxuries, and others do not? Does this really make any sense at all? And forget just "extras" like drama, or school sports... throw in class size, text books, early childhood prgorams... you get the picture. And as Krugman notes, throw in other infrastructure programs, housing and health care assistance, even food assistance... and you see where we're going. [I was picturing a t.v. commercial of children discussing the virtues of taxes and government spending: taxes paying for schooling, for health care, for food and housing relief, for roads and bridges, to fight crime, to ensure a fair outcome to disputes, to protect the purity of our food, water and medicine, even to send people into outer space... I'm sure in a relatively short time, if such a campaign were launched, an angry mob might head for Grover Norquist's house... a dog can dream...]

We've spent the last few relatively prosperous years doing nothing to reform some pretty basic structural flaws... indeed, under Bush, we have spent a good many of them exacerbating some of these flaws, but to be fair to the Bush Administration (for a change!), most of these problems were in place long before he took office and made them worse.

Anyway, solving these issues-- such as education funding, or hell, much of the funding and other disparities in program delivery caused by our dumping so many obligations on state and local governments-- can best be reformed in the coming months-- not years, but months-- in the name of fiscal stimulus, if long-term reforms are put in place as part of the package. Here's hoping [my college classmate] President-elect Obama is up for the job. And Barack, you can ask me any specific questions on this in comments, or by e-mailing Thanks Man, and Peace, Bro.

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December 26, 2008, Peace on Earth? Hell in a handbasket?

Is there any way to reconcile the various strands of (miserable) news out there?

A maniac divorced a grand total of one week decides to go on a murder suicide rampage in Southern California, dressed as Santa Claus.

American officials are urging both sides to behave calmly, as evidently, both nuclear armed South Asian powers, India and Pakistan, appear to be engaging in troop movements toward each other. And this... only a year after Benazir "Pinky" Bhutto was killed .

Amidst other miserable economic news, after soft holiday sales, retailers expect even softer post-holiday sales.

We won't even discuss the simultaneous losses of Eartha Kitt and Harold Pinter.

Man. We could use a laugh at a time like this... and Blago's exploits aren't really what I was talking about.

Well, at this time of year, when we're supposed to celebrate... what are we supposed to celebrate, anyway? It seems at a time like this that the wheels are coming off... having been told "consume, consume" as the answer to everything... some wonder if it is the answer to anything. For those capable of living a balanced, or meaningful existence, they can figure out (one hopes) what is important... it is my fervent hope that you'all are in that category... and in my own way, perhaps I can help you unbefuddle your lives, just a little bit, by at least showing you what I think is important... Hopefully, you can cut through the noise that is deliberately being foist upon you, and go right to the direct meaning of everything, which, if you can turn off the noise... isn't so complicated, or hard, after all. Or so I hope, anyway.

Here's hoping you have a meaningful holiday season-- satisfying to you at a level that you know is important whether or not at the material.

Update: (12-27-08) And as bad as things are, I seem to have left out the carnage now going on in Gaza, amidst a massive Israeli air-strike, possibly to be followed up with ground troops. As Mrs. TD reminds me, her parents... and mine... were discussing things of a similar nature (Middle East unrest) going back decades... while the rest of the world goes on, it seems, some things are, sadly, all too consistent...

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December 23, 2008, Spirit of the Season

Jerry Stiller as Frank Costanza

And we'll belay the customary Festivus airing of grievances to say... "I'm Rick WARREN, bitches."

And to all, a good Festivus.

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December 22, 2008, Hero worship

Andy hits it out of the park (I suppose, in cricket terms, "a six")with his interview with Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham of the Army Reserve, the indispensable man vis a vis justice for Guantanamo detainees. Col. Abraham, who sat on one "combatant status review tribunal," or CSRT, submitted a critical affidavit in the Boumediene case that so incensed the Supreme Court that it granted reargument to permit review after first declining review for the first time in over half a century.

Oh... the one panel that Col. Abraham sat on ("Panel 23") just happened to be the one sitting on Candace's client, al-Ghizzawi. Alas, al-Ghizzawi is still, despite Col. Abraham's concluding there was not basis to hold him, still being held at GTMO. Col. Abraham's short answer is that whether by wilful perfidy or sheer incompetence, the set-up of the military apparatus intended to run the CSRTs was doomed to fail... and did. Miserably. Except in the one thing it was supposed to do: get outside lawyers off the Pentagon's back for a while... which it did, pretty much, until this year, when, finally, prisoners (albeit a pathetic three) have finally been released pursuant to court order, and others at least were ordered released.

In a world all too devoid of heroes, two of mine (Andy and Col. Abraham) have gotten together. Go forth... and as a certain other blogger might say... "read the whole thing."

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December 22, 2008, Blast from the past

It seems almost inevitable that as the perceived economic benefits of free trade collapse, more countries have started slapping up protectionisht measures, such as tariffs. As WaPo's piece notes, increased tariff activity (such as the United States's Smoot-Hawley tariffs) are widely blamed for exacerbating the Great Depression... and so... here we go again.

In some sense, we have no one to blame but ourselves for not pushing harder to get the "Doha Round" of international free trade talks through, largely by not making it worthwhile enough for developing countries (and because of our, and Europe's, insistence on coddling our already over-coddled agricultural sectors... cough, cough... Iowa.)

Anyway, here we go again. At the moment, it is developing countries such as Indonesia, Brazil and Russia that are slapping on tariffs; if, in fact, the titans of world trade (that would be the EU, the USA, Japan and China) join the protectionist party... economic activity will slump some more...

The good news is that if there is a world figure in a position to call for world cooperation, that figure is Barack Obama. Just one more thing to add to his ever-growing list of priorities. (Barack, surely we just wanted you to know, we're counting on you. And don't call me Shirley.)

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December 20, 2008, Future shock

Glenn Greenwald hits a walk-off grand-slam with this piece, critical of Beltway NEO-CONventional wisdom that "oh, we'll all have the vapors should law-breaking by those in the highest circles of power actually be punished." The specific target of Glenn's baseball bat is Ruth Marcus of WaPo, and her justification of Ronald Reagan's pardon of Watergate's then still unknown "Deep Throat," Deputy FBI Director Mark Felt, for illegal wiretapping and surveillance of dirty hippies and others on Nixon's enemies' list.

Marcus's case is that there is some kind of a delicate balance between national security and upholding the law, and that those who knowingly and intentionally break the law, if doing so under the guise of "protecting us" should, well, get away with it out of some "higher principle"... that "the effort should be made to deterring future law-breaking, rather than punishing past law-breaking. Glenn sounds the proper "WTF?" We deter law breaking of any kind by punishing it; it is, in fact, these much-abused pardons... that encourage official law breaking in the first place.

These areguments sound awfully familiar, do they not? Up to and including the recent series of homilies to torture by our very own Vice President for Torture, Dick Cheney.

Well, no, actually, Ms. Marcus. The point of having laws is that they apply to everyone. There are absurd misapplications and inequities in it (such as, because he is a rich White man, the perpetrator of the largest theft in human history is under house arrest, rather than in the slammer, as any dark skinned urban teenager would be for a two-bit mugging). But ultimately, the law at least is supposed to apply to everyone. Unfortunately, abuses of the pardon power seem to mean that when the criminals have official titles in the executive branch, it's o.k. for them to break the law.

I fear the "pragmatism" of the Obama Administration will block it from pursuing the appropriate accountability (and that means some high officials should do time)... assuming that Bush doesn't preempt it all with pardons that Dick Cheney places under his nose around 3 or 4 weeks from now. I hope I'm wrong (on both counts, of course). But I don't think I am.

Just saying.

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December 17, 2008, Justice delayed is justice denied

Our post title, widely attributable to William Gladstone (though some say to William Penn) takes on a special resonance today, as in the Guantanamo litigation, which, after some men have been in what has been determined to be unlawful American detention for nearly seven years, the very, very first GTMO detainees released pursuant to court order (a pathetic total of three men) reached their home country of Bosnia. To be honest, I write this post more in sorrow than in anger.

As the Bush Administration comes to an end, only the most hardened dead enders have anything to say in its defense; among those hardened dead enders include one very loathsome man, whose Wall Street Journal choses to offend our sensibilities by lamenting that lawyers defending Guantanamo detainees are "the latest in radical chic" and decrying that, for some reason, top legal talent just hasn't sided with those poor, overmatched rubes at the dear old Dept. of Justice.

The implication is that somehow this is all some kind of sporting event, and notwithstanding Rupert's long-running applause when Monica Goodling and company packed the DOJ with Christianist soldier-bots long on right-wing ideology and short on legal talent and thereby lowered the overall quality of the team... that somehow, the merits of the actual litigations are of no moment. Regular readers well know from reading this blog (because here we cut through the bullshit and talk to the people who have been there, lawyers, soldiers, human rights workers, journalists and former detainees) that no matter what crap is spun by the Bush Administration, almost none of the men still held were (1) members of al Qaeda, (2) members of the Taliban, (3) in any way connected to terrorism or hostilities against the United States, or (4) captured on the battlefield. Most (not all... but almost all) of the GTMO detainees were basically poor schmucks handed over for bounties, and mostly not even in Afghanistan. And we have had nothing but ersatz "legal process" for the sole purpose of playing legalistic games to justify holding them. And many, if not most, have been seriously abused, if not tortured (and holding them in solitary, as most have been, for this long, is itself torture.)

All the lawyers-- and the civilians have by and large been working pro bono on this-- have been working out of the highest principle of the legal profession. The fact is, those who are the most reviled and accused of the most heinous acts are those most in desperate need of representation to insure that they are treated fairly by the system. And fair treatment-- not coddling or leniency-- but due process, justice... BASIC FAIRNESS-- a legitimate court hearing-- is all that has ever been sought. And even this seems to much for the Bush Administration, Rupert or the WSJ.

I began my career in the very same Department of Justice that is supposedly so overmatched; let me just say that government lawyers take a certain pride in what they do. In my day, the pride was because it wasn't a game: we were acting to uphold the law, to do things not because they advanced the agenda of a party or a politician, but because they were right, even if we did not ultimately "win".

In my limited direct exposure to these matters in the course of rendering the little assistance I can to my friend Candace, I have seen little evidence of this. I have seen lots of double-talk and game playing... but little "justice" coming from the department of that name.

In any event, at the end of the day, all lawyers do is advocate a position. In the end, while we like to think our skills matter... the actual legal positions matter too. The Government has now lost three major Supreme Court cases in this area because its position is wrong, and anathema to our Constitution. The Government has finally started losing at the District Court level in these habeas cases (after years of playing every game imaginable to avoid getting there) because these men have been held illegally. Brilliant corporate lawyers writing briefs supporting the government won't change this. Rupert and his minions won't change this. Finally, our courts are working, actually following our law and our Constitution. Despite their best efforts, again, it seems that Rupert and his minions can't change this either (for which we can all be grateful).

Maybe this darkest period in our history-- when our nation's very soul has been compromised by men whose own souls were at best compromised-- is beginning to lighten up. Or so we can hope. It's far, far too late, of course. But it's not nothing. And for this, again... we can be grateful. Godspeed to the men who have finally made it home after years of the hell our nation has put them through. Godspeed to the rest, who may yet get their day in court soon. Far too long in coming... but a day they richly deserve, once and for all.

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December 17, 2008, Nothing from nothing leaves nothing

The Federal Reserve cut a key interest rate to its lowest level ever, in turn prompting a one day stock market rally. Specifically:

The central bank cut its target for the federal funds rate, at which banks lend to each other, from 1 percent to a target range of 0 percent to 0.25 percent, the lowest rate on record. Although the Fed has no more room to reduce the interest rate -- it has been cut 10 times in 15 months -- the bank's leaders said in a statement that they would use "all available tools" to bolster the economy.

I'm not saying that policymakers don't see these as desperate times... but surely this is extraordinary: a belief that virtually free money is required to be injected into the financial system. Insofar as the big banks have taken the recent bailout money injected in them and, like many people did with their stimulus checks, stuck it in their pockets, rather than used it to stimulate the economy. This, of couse, is because the individual incentives of individual bankers is to try to increase their own company's bottom line in the hope of increasing their own bonuses and other compensation; they could not care a jot about the economy writ large... which is, of course, the collective thinking of everyone which got us where we are today.

Traditionally, it is the government that thinks systemically; even in classic libertarian theory, the government at least acts to stem force and fraud to ensure private activity is smooth and efficient. Ah, but recent Republican doctrine is that the purpose of government is to suck money to the connected, and to facilitate force and fraud. (See Bush Administration, The).

Well, I certainly hope that, contrary to the actual evidence, the policymakers now know what they are doing, and these desperate measures will start to turn things around. In the meantime... less than 5 weeks until Jesus SupermanBarack Obama assumes the Presidency, and FIXES THIS! (Just a joke there... Barack will have few options... cut him some slack, people, especially before he is even in office.)

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December 14, 2008, Meta-truth

Our friends at Media Matters for America nail it with their take on the sudden media feeding frenzy of baseless attempts to tie Pres.-elect Obama to some wrongdoing in the current Gov. Blagojevich scandal. In short, after eight years of pretty much ignoring official malfeasance and private corruption at a level so obscene that it has brought our nation's financial and moral standing to their breaking points, the (as always subservient to their corporate masters) media has reverted to its beloved story-line of "the Democrats must have done something wrong... because, well they must have".

We'll overlook the seemingly obvious of what actually happened here, to wit, new White House Chief of Staff designate Rahm Emmanuel was in direct contact with Gov. Blagojevich, and presented him with a list of the Pres.-elect's preferred choices for the newly vacant Senate seat. Rather than say the usual and expected, "thank you, I will give them my strongest consideration," its clear that Blago said something like "hey, what's in it for me?" which drew the response, "the President-elect's sincere appreciation"... as if to trigger the thought in Rahmbo's mind: "I knew this guy was a turkey, but that this turkey is willing to do this on a phone he knows is bugged" meant that Blago was simply too reckless to continue, politically. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The problem with this analysis... is that it doesn't demonstrate that Obama did anything wrong, because of course, he didn't. Unlike Blago, Rahmbo was plenty smart enough not to say on a bugged phone: "Look Moron, the President-elect isn't asking you to take someone from this list, he's telling you." Absent some specific threat, this kind of political hardball is certainly a perfectly legitimate way in which the game is played... as Blago himself told us in his epithet laden transcripts (albeit, in an illegitimate version of the same game). Team Obama is simply being competently Macchiavellian... as this is contrary to the running story that Corporate America wants: Democrats are the party of small-time, petty corruption, while Republicans are the party that protects us, be it from terrorists, Russkies, taxes or the evils of trial lawyers and regulations... any deviation, and the petty-bureaucrats that now form our nation's main corps of establishment journalists will watch their heads explode, kind of like this guy.

So... buckle your seat belts, it will be a bumpy ride. As the Obama Administration brings home the bacon on everything from providing universal health care to shoring up our economy, look for the media to focus not on these successes,but instead on trying to tie any petty crap imaginable as a scandal of Earth-shaking proportions, because... well, see the story line above. But we know what's happening. And we're going to make sure everyone else does.

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December 12, 2008, Chump Change

The (domestic) auto industry has clearly been investing in stupid things over the years, such as lobbyists to insist on not raising the auto fleet mileage averages (so-called "CAFE" standards) which would have, over the course of time, resulted in our nation being virtually free of the need to import foreign oil by now... instead, electing to go the opposite way so they could sell more SUVs. They could have instead used their once considerable clout to lobby for socialized medicine national single-payer health care and improved pensions, to relieve them of those crushing obligations. They could have made vehicles with better service records than the Yugo. But nooooooo.... They did none of those things.

And bizarrely, if you can believe it, having f***ed up virtually every aspect of bid'ness over the years... here they are now, having to go to Congress to beg for money. And at this point, after watching over $100 billion of taxpayer money be pumped into AIG alone. largely to preserve its 200,000 or so white collar jobs, the pathetic auto industry, which, certainly with its suppliers, probably accounts for at least ten times as many jobs, can't even get a lousy $14 billion package out, as an auto-industry rescue bill died in the Senate at the hands of members from states with foreign car plants that pay a lot less.

Priorities folks: after tax cuts for the rich (which are decreed from God), the most important thing on Republicans' agenda is union-busting. And they've always hated the UAW in particular. And that's what this was about: the UAW refusing "parity" to lower its own members already compromised wages to the same levels as their counterparts working in US plants making Toyotas, Hondas, etc.

In a country that actually produces less and less, it's domestic auto industry was one of the last large industries that employed a lot of skilled industrial workers and paid them well; naturally, that's too much for Republicans, who are almost saying "from hell's heart we stab at thee," as, come around three weeks from now, there will be a whole lot less of them in the Senate and House.

Most people have their heads up their ass and haven't figured out that we already have what the Chinese would call "socialism with American characteristics"... having intervened in the financial sector at least fifty-fold what the auto-makers were asking, trotting out crap about "moral hazard" is way, way too little, too late. Yes, the auto-makers are badly managed, but a $14 billion bridge loan beats the hell out of the social costs of having these enterprises fail and having their workers go on relief.

Just saying.

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December 11, 2008, Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?

Are we talking about Henry II "musing" out loud directly resulting the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Beckett... ? Or are we talking about former SecDef Rumsfeld (interviewed here (!)]... who is now the subject of a "better late than never" (no, actually, IMHO, better never than late... because this sort of thing allows members of Congress the pretense of misrepresenting that they are anything other than a bunch of self-serving corporate-teat-sucking whores with less courage than the average coward)...

Where was I... oh yes... the Senate Armed Services Committee issued a report blaming detainee abuses on Rumsfeld. Holy crap! YOU THINK?

For Christ's sake, the fother-mucker has been out of office for nearly two years (singlehandedly taking the fall for the GOP losses in the 2006 mid-term elections)... now... with barely 5 1/2 weeks left in the Bush Administration, the courageous members of the Armed Services Committee, who dare not say a word if it might mean they would be accused of being "soft on terrorism" or "not supporting the troops"... Anyway, now that there is a new sheriff in town, they have decided to suck up to the new boss.

You see, regular readers here have known about the pattern of American detainee abuses, and that this pattern was deliberately ordered BY THE PRESIDENT HIMSELF, at the insistence of the Vice President (via his chief enforcer and consigliori David Addington). Rumsfeld, though a good pal of Cheney and nominally in charge of the Defense Department that carried out many of the more prominent atrocities (that Rumsfeld and company had no problem blaming on "a few bad apple" NCO's), certainly has his share of responsibility, such as his direct personal interest in the torture of a detainee named Al Qahtani, for example.

But the idea, here, is that by focusing on one guy (an unpopular guy at that), that somehow, members of Congress can overlook their own roles as enablers of executive overreach and torture. The fact is, Congress, in concert with the corporate-whore media, is pretty much jointly responsible with the Bush Administration for the outrages of the last eight years. And I mean "bi-partisan" responsible, though one party, of course, was in the majority longer... they know who they are.

Still, I'm kind of disgusted that a Committee that includes such outrageous enablers of torture as McCain and Graham, who have added years of pointless detention and torture for hundreds of completely innocent men through their unConstitutional atrocities, like "the Detainee Treatment Act" and "the Military Commissions Act," have the audacity to blame anyone else for anything. But hey, that's just me.

Did I say that out loud?

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December 10, 2008, Moralizing Creep Fitzgerald Rushes to Judgment... Again

How many times are we going to have to see that overbearing show-boating prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald bear down on a probably innocent person for some technicality? He did it with Martha Stewart while in New York's United States Attorney's office. He did it with that nice Scooter Libby (the President had to correct his overbearingness and commute Scooter's sentence, and probably pardon Scooter outright in a few weeks) and now, he does it with that nice Governor Rod Blagojevich (Crook-IL).

Near as I can tell, Blagojevich's "crime" was the excessive use of salty language. But I'm sorry: if you can't say "fuck" then you can't say "fuck the police," as St. Lenny would say. Further, if you can't conspire to commit bribery in the sanctified comfort of your own campaign headquarters, than where can you do it?

The main problem here seems to be that the State of Illinois doesn't pay its civil servants nearly enough, which is why so many of them have to seek outside sources of income just to make ends meet. (Barack "Goody-Too-Shoes" Obama already had his book advances, and he had that job as a profeessor lecturer at the University of Chicago, for example). Poor Governor Blagojevech, after six years of penury in service to the state, had a major cash need. So, it seems, he did the enterprising thing, and was looking out for his family.

And along comes this prurient, prying prick Fitzgerald and bugs the poor man's office, not to mention his telephones. For all we know, he had people like Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. Candidate 5 speak to him wearing wires. And so, it seems, just doing what any good businessman does-- trying to appraise the value of the asset you are holding-- is now twisted by Fitzgerald into some kind of a federal case. Jeez.

Regular readers are well aware of how much of a police state we have already become. And now, not even our humble governors are above the suspicion of runaway prosecutors. Just what is this country coming to?

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December 9, 2008, What do we burn besides witches? MORE WITCHES!

And so the Soviet show trials Guantanamo military commissions proceed, with their buttoned-down motto being "expect the unexpected"... after the Pentagon went through the trouble of lotterying off seats for families of 9-11 victims at the show trial commission hearing of KSM and a total of 5 of the alleged masterminds of the 9-11 attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammad and the other defendants offered to plead guilty.

KSM and the others are isolated from all the other prisoners, but despite being so bad that he and some others were admittedly waterboarded (the only actual acknowledged torture committed by the United States), it appears that they alone were permitted to (1) confer with each other, and (2) fire their counsel, and (3) speak themselves in open court, in this case, to purportedly offer their plea. A guilty finding on all charges carries (mass murder in this case) carry the death penalty. As you know from our interview with Buz Eisenberg, ordinary prisoners can't meet with their lawyers more than one at a time, and must be shackled to the floor doing so.

The judge, Col. Steven Henley, who was courageous enough to have previously kicked off head prosecutor Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann from prosecutions because of his biased and inappropriate conduct, ordered further hearings with respect to the confessions, specifically, to ascertain just how "voluntary" these pleas are. Frankly, my answer is "it's already over, geniuses." Anything these guys say from here on in is tainted by the fact that Bush and Cheney and Tenet and Rumsfeld and the other war criminals running our country for the last eight years couldn't keep their pants on and simply question prisoners the way American law requires prisoners to be questioned: within the laws of the United States, and of civilized conduct. Oh no: we had to "take the gloves off" and "go to the dark side if you will" (with thanks to the late Tim Russert for not following that one up.)

And so, what we have is a freaking mess: it may look like we have ideologically extreme men who want to seek their final martyrdom on George W. Bush's watch. God knows, everyone would like justice done to the perps of 9-11. But... is taking confessions based on torture... justice? Not in any civilized place or context. KSM famously confessed his actions to Yosri Fouda an Al-Jazeera journalist well before his capture. He could well be tried, and found guilty, on this alone. The difference? He talked to Fouda before being tortured by the United States government. Does that make any difference? WTF do you think?

Judge Henley, newly assigned to this case, has, in other cases thus far, been deliberate, careful, and above all, fair. In the end, he may well accept that it is possible that despite years of torture, the "high value" alleged terrorists before him could still make free and voluntary confessions and/or guilty pleas, and accept their pleas. Or he might find that it is not possible. I don't envy him the task.

The problem is, and has always been, that we owed the 9-11 victims something more than a botched war in Afghanistan that allowed OBL and Zawahiri to escape, a botched war in Iraq that has taken our military to the breaking point, the dismemberment of our moral standing in the world with GTMO, extraordinary renditions, waterboarding, Abu Ghraib, etc., and now this. We owed these people our best efforts to bring their murders to justice.

Somehow... this all just doesn't seem to be that.

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December 7, 2008, What's black and white and in the red all over?

That would be the Sam Zell owned (via leveraged buy-out) Tribune Company, owner of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, which amidst the rapid decline in advertising revenue caused by the current Depression economic recession along with the high debt payments resulting from the leveraged buy-out, has hired legal and investment banking advisors to consider a possible bankruptcy filing. Query when the Trib Co. will send its executives to Washington in their corporate jets to ask Congress for a bailout of its own... ?

The dead-tree newspaper business has been under assault for years now from the internet; many newspapers may well have broader circulation on their web-sites than they do for their newspapers, newspaper readers tend to be fewer and older than before (kind of like Republican voters), and of course, advertising revenue has been under attack from internet competition.

But the current recession and its vicious effects, for example, on such large newspaper advertisers as the Big Three automakers (and even their foreign competitors, not to mention their dealers) and financial institutions... and in due course, everyone else, does not bode well for the long term survival of the papers. Of late, freeby giveaway compilation papers like Metro here in New York compete yet further for the limited ad revenues.

We won't even talk about the pressure on actual newsrooms and their reporters who, rather than being seen as the principal asset of their organizations and the marquee selling point for the advertising and the readership is instead just seen as yet another cost, these days, a cost to be cut (after years of having already been cut). Is it any wonder that there is ever less hard-hitting investigative reporting, and ever more fluff and celebrity worship and plain old ersatz "balance" (the "story" being the Republican spokesperson denying the story's fact or at least its significance as much as whatever actually happened).

Just another cautionary tale as companies that have been around since time immemorial... may fail even faster than other enterprises... depriving the public of yet another trusted source of information. While blogs would like to believe we can fill this gap, with few exceptions, most blogs do little more than play off of what the legacy media (often led by newspapers) provides. In short, this is, like much of what is now going on in this economy... not a good thing.

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December 5, 2008, Lemon law?

Many states have laws providing remedies for customers who purchase chronically bad vehicles, known colloquially as "lemons". What can one say to the American taxpayer, after nervous lawmakers got together to give away $15 billion more of China's American taxpayer's money in an apparent auto-maker bailout deal... buying not merely clunker cars, but clunker car companies?

I've got your auto bailout right here, America. Fuggedabout the $25 billion asked for; the federal government will pay twice that-- $50 billion-- immediately secured by the outstanding shares of all three automobile makers; in return, the auto makers will obtain long term contracts for the provision of all fleet vehicles to the federal government (and to state and municipal governments under issuance in lieu of various block grants). Each vehicle produced under this arrangement shall be at the current "most fuel efficient" level technologically available, and, by contract, this efficiency shall improve by at least 5% per year for the duration of the contract (and greenhouse emissions, by contract, will decline by at least 5% per year).

And the auto-makers will be provided to produce a certain number of electric and alternate fuel vehicles, and shall be obliged as part of the contract to install the appropriate infrastructure for serviving them. Further, the companies shall engage in necessary structural reforms, including a one-time opportunity to permit their retirees and workers to buy in to the federal employees' health care and retirement systems, for discounted benefits (but far better than what they would be should their former employers tank).

In short: help private sector companies by actually buying their products, and using market forces and government buying power to improve their performance, rather than simply giving money to our auto-makers a la the Soviet Lada or the Yugoslavian Yugo.

Free market capitalism... we got what you need right here, America.

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December 5, 2008, Early Christmas for the Constitution

The Supreme Court granted certiorari review in the case of Ali al-Marri, after Padilla, the second most important case of our lives.

Why? Mr. al-Marri, you will recall from our interview with his attorney Jonathan Hafetz, was a legal resident studying at Bradley University in Peoria, IL, when, just like Padilla, was already in the criminal justice system when he was magically declared "an enemy combatant" and held in camera in a military brig in South Carolina, denied any semblance of legal or human rights, and, under every known legal definition of the word, tortured, whether or not a rack or thumbscrews were used.

As I noted in my interview with Mr. Hafetz, years after the Supreme Court rendered our nation a de facto dictatorship by finding a technicality in Padilla to avoid shoving its unlawful detention of a citizen in the face of the Bush Administration, because 2004 was an election year and the Supreme Court did not want to embarrass a Bush Administration that it is widely credited with installing in the first place by giving it "an accountability moment" and so it ducked the matter entirely... finding that improper venue was the highest constitutional value.

Well, better late than never (though one fears too much damage has already been done). Now, at least, the Supreme Court has a chance to weigh in once and for all and close down the 747-sized loophole it left after Padilla... to wit, that Article II of the Constitution allows an executive override of the entire Bill of Rights and the remainder of the Constitution just because the President invokes the magical incantation of "national security". The Bush Administration, btw, is unabashed in continuing to assert that it can pick up anyone, illegal alien, legal resident, tourist, transiter, citizen alike... and deny them charge, trial or even counsel, torture them in endless solitary confinement, and not be legally accountable to anyone, ever, as long as the right magic words are recited.

We can now hope that the Supreme Court will address this, and close this loophole once and for all. Of course, the irony is that the Obama Administration may, once again, prevent the Supreme Court from hearing this critical open question (which is now the law of the 4th Circuit... in VA, MD, and the Carolinas, the USA is a dictatorship... as a matter of law) by doing the right thing and charging al-Marri in court, or releasing him.

Stick around...

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December 3, 2008, It's never too early

With only 47 months to go until the November 2012 election, Barack Obama is kicking ass in the polls. Having not elected to waste his precious bodily fluids political capital to help Jim Martin in his quixotic quest to defeat the all powerful Saxby Chambliss in the Georgia Senate race, he instead is scouring an old rolodex he found while touring the White House recently to find members of the Clinton Administration that he hasn't already appointed.

Let me make this clear, folks: Barack is a conventional politician who happens to have had a Black father (a rather kickass Black father with a Harvard Ph.D. who was a high government official in Kenya; though the campaign of course focused on his White family-- just as in the horrors of Mumbai, recently, the press here focused on the five Americans and handful of other Western victims which of course is the main reason why terrorists target Americans and Westerners in these horrors-- but I digress). Barack is demonstrating, as he did with his choice of Biden for veep-- that he makes safe, conventional choices of experienced, competent people. Indeed, so competent, that with the exception of All-Drama Hillary Clinton, they are boring. Similarly, he has backed off at least two tax proposals, previously, increasing the income tax on earners over a quarter million dollars, and now, the "windfall profits tax" on oil companies amidst the oil price collapse. Why? Conventional politician.

In short, like FDR (our last president with a Columbia-Harvard educational pedigree) Obama is facing an economic debacle of his predecessor's making.
But like FDR, what we have to realize is that Obama is a conventional, small-c conservative, meaning cautious and "prudent" politician. He will do the amazing progressive things we demand of him only if, like our ancestors, made FDR, we make him. Al Giordano reminds us that it is up to us to organize, using Obama's very model of community organization, to demand that change be more than a catchy and successful electoral slogan, but that it actually stand for meaningful progressive reform that the country so desperately needs-- and, if we're right, desperately wants.

It's never too early... and it's never too late.

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