The Talking Dog

October 31, 2009, I got nothin'

I don't want to talk about health care, Palin, grocery baggers teabaggers, Bloomberg, Corzine, Deeds, Karzai, Abdullah, Iraq, Guantanamo, torture, the current jobless job-loss recovery... or, quite frankly, much else. Heck, I don't even want to talk about tomorrow's ING NYC Marathon (your talking dog's ninth in a row), where, to prepare for the upcoming JFK-50, I'll probably add a jog (plus ferry ride) to the start. No, no, no... like our kittens, I'm going to try to live "in the moment."

One of the highlights of our civilization is the creation of a really good holiday for children. (Say what you will, but IMHO, Halloween is more kick-ass than Christmas. Just saying.) Anyway, boys and girls... LET'S BE CAREFUL OUT THERE.

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October 26, 2009, Yet more self-absorption

Regular readers know that on this blog... it's always about me. And hence, you get to hear about Mrs. TD taking me out to dinner for my birthday (joining other 10-26'ers as Hillary Clinton, Pat Sajak, Jaclyn Smith, and on some calendars... Leon Trotsky)... at not merely the same restaurant, but we are told at least, the very same table as my more famous and more powerful college classmate and his wife on their "date night.".

And speaking of him... the Grey Lady has issues with the seeming embrace of teh national security state... and as always, Glenn Greenwald has even more on the subject. To channel Chris Rock in another context... I understand what the President is doing with respect to continuing expansion of the national security state... I don't like it, I don't approve of it, I don't condone it, I don't appreciate it... but I understand it.

October 23, 2009, Priorities

An occasional theme here is the sheer wondrousness of the military-industrial-Congressional-entertainment complex, the vast organic conspiracy between big money and our Government to make sure that Government operates to make sure that it operates in the interests of big money (and not in the interests of, well... anyone else).

A case in point is what ls likely to happen to "the Franken Amendment," a popular (it passed the Senate 68-30, with lots of support in the House as well) measure offered by Minnesota's new junior senator Al Franken that would limit the ability of federal military contractors to shield themselves for liability for rapes and assaults committed by (and upon) those that work for them by requiring such contractors to remove onerous arbitration provisions removing the ability to bring such suits as a condition of contracting. The seemingly innocuous bill was the result of a real incident, and 30 Republican senators who opposed it have been excoriated at least rhetorically.

The Franken Amendment seems reasonable enough, unless, of course, you happen to be a military contractor, in which case, it seems, you're extremely unhappy, and you are pressuring the crap out of Hawaii's senior senator (and Senate Approproations Committee Chairman) Daniel Inouye to remove Franken's offending provision from the final bill that would be voted on... pressure that Inouye, who, like most members of our legislature, has received lots of campaign contributions and other goodies (though, if one is a senator from Hawaii, trips to Hawaii might not be such a big deal, though I'm sure there are other goodies available...) his received from his friends (not ours) in the military-industrial complex.

It seems that military contracting just isn't profitable enough if contractors actually have to bear the same responsibility for the actions of their employees as everyone else. Worse, by opposing this bill, the contractors seem to beindicating that they (and by contractors, I mean "Halliburton and Blackwater") seem to want to tout retribution-free rape in combat zones as some sort of employee benefit, and feel that they will be competitively disadvantaged if they can't do that.

In the end, maybe the sheer one-sidedness of just how bad stripping (or otherwise watering down tot the point of gutting) the Franken Amendment will be, both as a moral or even as a popular measure, will lead to its remaining in the final bill. Given that on the other side of this equation is Washington's single most entrenched big money lobby, however, that is absolutely not how one would bet. "Profits versus people" is just not a fair fight in the hearts and minds of American legislators.

October 20, 2009, The Ballgame. Again.

No, I'm not talking about baseball. I'm talking about the Supreme Court of the United States taking its fourth major Guantanamo detainee related case, Kiyemba, a case that stands for nothing short of whether when the Supreme Court makes a ruling of Constitutional magnitude that a feckless Congress and a faithless President (two faithless Presidents in this case) simply don't like... that ruluing can be made meaningful. Simply put, Ricardo Urbina, a federal district judge in Washington, following the Supreme Court's ruling in Boumediene, held that a group of (then 17, now... less than that!) Uighur detainees from China, who cannot be returned to China lest they be tortured or killed, must be relocated within the United States, because there is nowhere else they can go (largely thanks to Chinese diplomatic and economic might scaring off most other countries).

Of course, pieces of sh*t members of Congress got the vapors (Harry Reid, I do mean you, and I do mean to contribute to your opponent, no matter whom, no matter what party) about admitting terrrrrrorists into the US of A, notwithstanding that a United States federal court has found these men not to be terrorists (after the Bush Administration conceded the point). And the Bush Administration promptly appealed to the Neo-Con All Star Team Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which reversed the district court's ruling allowing the detainees admission into the US of A, and from which the High Court has now taken an appeal, presumably so Justice Kennedy can once again express his outrage. Or so I hope.

And that would be the ultimate answer: if habeas corpus means anything at all, it is to give the court the power to remedy the excesses of the other branches of government whether they, or Fox News, like it or not.

Curioser and curioser. Just another day at the office. If the office is Guantanamo Bay.

October 18, 2009, WTF?

I don't know what to say, other than my heart goes out to the families of those involved in the three deaths at this year's Detroit Free Press/Flagstar Marathon. Last week, the death of a 23 year old man at the Baltimore Marathon at the 25th mile (around 2 hours or so before I reached that point) marked at least the fourth time in which I have been involved in a race with at least one fatality (last year's ING New York Marathon had two).

One of the Detroit deaths-- a man in his 60's who evidently fell on his head-- could happen anywhere. The others, the deaths of seemingly well-conditioned men in their 20's or 30's, on track to run finishing times that I, now pushing 47, have long since given up dreaming of, presents something much more curious.

Certainly, congenital heart defects, or hyponatremia (low blood sodium caused by over- hydrating) could be what's going on... But I'm wondering to what extent we're talking about flu... particularly, given some of the vagaries of this particular flu season which make it seem... unusually worrisome. Perfectly healthy, indeed, extraordinarily well-conditioned, young men just succumbing...

Certainly, we could be seeing men "going for a time" that they are just not sufficiently well-conditioned to achieve... or it could be something else. Don't know. We can all hope that these are some tragic, freak occurrence that, unfortunately, is just happening close together in time. Certainly, the weather in Detroit, low 40's and overcast, and in Baltimore last week, mid-60's and light rain, is usually considered good marathoning weather (and as someone who often confronts sunny days in the mid to high 80's, let me say... it is).

So... while we can all hope that the tragic loss of these young men is not some kind of "canary in a coal mine" moment... Let's just say... I wonder...

October 16, 2009, The stopped clock...

Is right twice a day. And while not right quite that often, when no less a troubling figure than former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan "I know all about the financial precipice and debacle we are in because I CAUSED it" Greenspan tells us that big banks should be broken up, it's kind of like if the CEO of ExxonMobil complained about the difficulties of oil drilling under all that extra water that for some reason got so deep lately ... in other words, it's doubtless something we have to listen to, albeit, way, way too late, regardless of the speaker's contribution to the problem itself.

Greenspan rightly notes that tweaking capital requirements and other technical fixes won't do when the government has intervened and created financial behemoths who can simply have lower borrowing costs than their competitors and other competitive advantages simply by virtue of their size. Greenspan notes that it undermines his (Randian) philosophical underpinnings-- but as with Standard Oil a century ago...too big to fail is...just plain too big. And so, the behemoth banks... have to be broken up to sustain systemic health. But will they be?

Well, re: Greenspan's sudden lucidity... better late than never, I guess. But, instead of screwing around over comparative trivia like one bank executive's compensation package, this sort of sound systemic thinking... from Greenspan of all people... should be heeded by the Government... and quickly. Will it? Not how you bet, I'm afraid.

October 15, 2009, Consistency

Another day, another case alleging prisoners tortured and abused at the hands of the United States Government, and another assertion by the Obama Administration that the Bush Administration and its officials be shielded from such a suit. In this case, the lawsuit was brought by the families of two detainees who were found dead in their cells in 2006.

While there is certainly legal "flux" in just how responsible the government might be legally in tense situations such as GTMO (or even stateside prison settings) where mental health starts to deteriorate and conditions go untreated, the Obama Administration makes it nice and simple, asserting simply that the Fifth and Eighth Amendments (that's the requirement on due process of law and the ban on cruel and unusual punishment) don't apply to actions of the U.S. government when it doesn't want them to and application of that darned Constitution would (shucks) just be so, you know, embarrassing to the U.S. of A.

I'll just say... I don't think so. Even the "torture memos" didn't claim the Constitution "didn't apply"... it simply made up new definitions of what constituted "cruel and unusual punishment." In some sense, the current position is at least more honest than the Bush/Addington/Cheney/Yoo, et al. crew (kind of the difference between Roberts/Alito and Scalia/Thomas... the former pretend that they are not intent on radically altering jurisprudence, the latter happy to tell you of their intent)... but it still seems a radical departure from what was once thought to be the law.

But its not a radical departure from positions taken in the Bush Administration. In fact, its indistinguishable... the consistency, in fact, is maddening.

October 12, 2009, Really old school

As last year's winner Professor Paul Krugman tells us, with its choice of two social scientists, Indiana University's Elinor Ostrum (first female Nobel economics laureate) and U.C. Berkeley's Oliver Williamson for the Nobel economics medal, the Nobel committee was recognizing the preeminence of economic thought that dominated the field prior to World War II (and the Great Depression), to wit, a view that how institutions are formed, legal structures, incentives and so forth... matter, and that it's not a bunch of mathematical econometric models (most of which don't work anyway).

In short, it seems, that with the world's currently being on an economic precipice has convinced the Nobel economics committee to be creative (not exactly in the same way as the peace prize committee) and recognize that, in fact, contrary to how economic science tells it, business and economic activity don't... wait for it... they don't operate in a vacuum.

This is all peculiarly fascinating to me, as a nostalgia thing if nothing else, as the one class in college in which I remember Barack as a fellow student... was political theory (or perhaps "modern political thought" or some such course title). The entire grade (and, naturally, whether true or not, I distinctly remember that I got the only "A"!) was based on a 25-page paper, and I did mine comparing and contrasting (and there was more comparing and less contrasting than one might have first thought) between the work of modern lefty socio-political-economic oberver Karl Polanyi and his masterwork "The Great Transformation," and Adam Smith's work on moral philosophy, particularly The Theory of Moral Sentiments. The point being that... well... economic institutions and actors...wait for it... don't operate in a vacuum. The legal, cultural, political, etc. structural frameworks matter, and they matter a lot. Unbridled "free market" capitalism, assuming it ever existed, if disengaged from its legal, cultural, political and moral underpinnings... looks like a rather perverse beast. Which kind of takes us to the present, does it not?

For example, if we set up crazy-ass profit motivation incentive structures in the wrong places, we will get perverse results (such as... 18% of our GDP and growing in the "health care" sector). Just studying economic activity as if engaged in by robots-- the sort of thing for which Nobel economics prizes are usually given-- misses the all-important big picture, a big picture that, at least this year, the Nobel committee (at least for economics) no longer wants to ignore... social structures, legal structures, "moral" incentives as well as brute economic ones... all matter. How about that?

As many (including myself) question some Nobel choices this year, the economics award was, in addition to awarding genius, itself, an act of genius. Congratulations to Professors Ostrum and Williamson, and hopefully, to the idea of reengaging knowledge in general and realizing that our industrial era mania for compartmentalization and hyper-specialization might not be serving us as well as we would like to believe.

Just saying.

October 11, 2009, Old school

The Grey Lady treats us to this profile of a man who just won't go away: Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Omar's reputation as incorruptible, and a fierce fighter (who, after an eye was wounded during a battle against the Soviets, removed that eye and kept fighting, according to the story anyway)... who has shown a remarkable military sophistication despite being only semi-literate... are all legendary. Omar is either a military genius in his own right, or he has been made one care of friends in the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

The result is the same: a once wildly unpopular Taliban that is now operating as rag-tag guerrillas, both on their own and in conjunction with other local warlords, has confounded the Mightiest Military in the History of the World (TM), and our NATO allies, who, alas, have, in the interest of "nationbuilding on the cheap," thrown our lot in with a fundamentally corrupt Karzai government that leaves much to be desired. Among its many failures is that it has not been able to provide basic security or any other government services to most of Afghanistan-a gaping vacuum which the Taliban has filled (despite its insane unpopularity).

The Grey Lady can't bring itself to utter the words "Pashtun Honor Code" as to why Omar won't give up bin Laden or A.Q.... but that's why. Omar has extended his hospitality to OBL, and having done so, pledges to protect his guests if necessary with his own life and the lives of his family, tribesmen, et al. and... well, that's that. Getting the Taliban to hand over their guests will, in short, be somewhere between "not easy" and "not going to happen."

At the end of the day, the quagmire fatigue that has already taken over the Iraq mission (which goes on largely because casualties from there tend not to be reported so much) will eventually subsume the Afghan mission as well (particularly if Gen. McChrystal's "surge" requests are heeded and 40 or 60 thousand more American targets are brought to the theater on a "mission" that doesn't bring us any closer to a resolution there). And Mullah Omar will still be there. And so will the Taliban. And so will their A.Q. guests. Something to keep in mind as we consider "negotiating" with the Taliban, which, said quagmire fatigue will eventually force us to do.

Well, Smartypants College Classmate of The Guy With the Nobel Peace Prize ... what's your "solution," TD?

That's wildly over my pay grade. But unfortunately, there is an answer, but it is rather boring, and unsatisfying to an American populace that measures progress in terms of sh*t blowing up on CNN. We need to provide basic "on the ground" security, stability and infrastructure so that the Afghans can have a sustainable economy, growing things like raisins rather than opium. Our troops, and we will indeed need more of them, will have to have a defensive posture, not in barracks, but in villages and hamlets, protecting the locals from rampaging warlords (and, of course, the Taliban) and otherwise providing "order"... because the Taliban gain ground because they can provide "order," as even their brutality is at least "order". It won't be exciting, it will be time-consuming and expensive...but unless we help the Afghans gain enough stability on their own... we will never "win." We will just have to put away our video-game mentality, and play this the patient, time-consuming way that Mullah and Omar and our enemies are playing it: old school. Will we do it? Not how you bet... but there is no other way.

October 10, 2009, Self-absorption

The flip-side of the failure of "change we can believe in" to actually close Guantanamo Bay on time is that those brave souls who have volunteered to represent GTMO detainees on their own dimes have to put up with not only right-wing abuse, but probable spying on them by our government. Wilner v. NSA is one such case, and quite frankly, as I have communicated with the majority of plaintiffs at some point, maybe I should be a party too (for all I know, the government is spying on me for no other reason... and perhaps you for no other reason than reading this blog... ) The point is... who knows? The government will not confirm or deny that it is brazenly violating our Constitution by eavesdropping on attorney-client communications... or otherwise committing crimes... because that "might jeopardize national security." I attended the argument before New York's Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and both sides argued eloquently, though I do wish that the plaintiffs' counsel had, in response to a question from the Court to the effect of "You're not suggesting that the Obama Administration is trying to use "national security" to cover up the crimes of the Bush Administration..." the answer I hoped for was "Your Honor, the answer isn't yes... it's HELL YES!" But... we'll wait and see... I have no particular hope we will see much "transparency," whether court-ordered or not.

And, since on this blog, it's always about me, I finished the Baltimore Marathon today in my not unexpected traditional finishing range (the 20 minute window between 5:20 and 5:40), notwithstanding a difficult fall preparation season thus far. Well, marathon 24 and state 13... check. New York in three weeks, and the JFK 50-miler three weeks after that... Lucy, we got some trainin' to do...!

Still not sure what I think of the President's Nobel Peace Prize; I mean, I like Barack, and I fully expect to do what I can to help him get reelected... but giving him the peace prize for "not being Bush"... seems... excessive.

October 9, 2009, It's all who you know

I suppose his efforts at commencing the rather long-term prospect for eventual nuclear disarmament are laudable. Then again, his prolongation of not merely two wars, but also his insistence on preserving the unchecked "martial powers" of his predecessor... would seemingly make President Obama a very odd choice to win the Nobel Peace Prize. But he did anyway.

Hey, we seem to have "grade inflation" everywhere else... why not this? Assuming unemployment or the federal deficit ever come down, maybe next year he'll get a Nobel for economic science. Or if he ever fully quits smoking... maybe medicine. Or, perhaps, he can write "Dreams of My Father II" and win for literature. (Or perhaps, share that one with Bill Ayers.)

I find all of this... troubling. And, no matter what your impressions from things I might write here (such as the ongoing f***ing we're all taking on the Constitution)... I actually really like my college classmate The President. But this seems too much.

October 6, 2009, The difference between rape and seduction

Salesmanship? Marcy Wheeler tells us its "National Use Zazi to Gain New Surveillance Powers Day." The recent celebrated terrorism case against Najibullah Zazi who might (or might not) be an extremely dangerous threat is being rolled out for various things-- as a demonstration of "the success of Obama's new terrorist busting program,"or of the new Administration's humility (it held a press conference to announce that it wasn't holding a press conference)... or perhaps, just bread and circuses for the rubes to show that it takes terrrrrorism seriously, perhaps as a cover for a sensible path to actually closing Guantanamo... or perhaps, more ominously, to cover its eventual failure to keep the President's promise of "closing GTMO within a year."

I don't know. I'll go way further than Marcy and say that I'm actually skeptical of the whole Zazi case; I think he's smaller potatoes than we've been led to believe. Admittedly, I concede the possibility I could be completely wrong, and it's as if we grabbed Mohammad Atta at the border. Maybe. I realize that I'm supposed to be scared s***less of a former coffee and donut vendor and airport shuttle driver who bought a lot of peroxide intending presumably to target my city and its transit system (and indeed, I do use that transit system to travel to my place of work, located conveniently between the New York Stock Exchange and the former World Trade Center site)... and yet, I have nothing but questions about this case. Among them, of course, is whether (as I strongly suspect to be the case, btw) law enforcement officials were so eager to have a successful publicity stunt that they just moved in too quickly-- failing to let the plot develop enough either to ensnare more (and possibly actual seriously dangerous) terror plotters, or to develop to the point where it can be established that there really was a serious plot at all. [Sorry, but White supremacists strike me as what we should really be worried about, particularly as the economy goes to hell... with a Black President in the White House no less... but I digress...] I guess I'm a skeptic; I'll wait and see if actual "evidence" of a real plot emerges...

Of course, Marcy makes the relevant point: is our nation's Salesman in Chief, who can't seem to close the sale on that health care reform package, trying to instead sell us all a bill of goods on extension of controversial provisions of the Stasi Enabling Act USAPatriot Act... by showing us the purported value of "enhanced" surveillance and investigation powers (which, btw, were apparently not used in the Zazi case, which was just plain old boring "law enforcement")? Well, is he?

I don't know, of course, but we're eight years into our permanent war footing; the nation simply can't afford it. We can't afford the perma-paranoia. Our attitudes toward foreigners-- whether abusing them at our borders and consulates, or in our detention facilities-- will continue to cost us economically as tourists, businessmen and innovative immigrants just don't want to come here, not to mention the cost of maintaining endless legions of security personnel and equipment, or keeping hundreds of thousands of troops in the field. And we can't afford any of it. All at the same time when our financial system (and economy as a whole) is melting down, what's left of our declining GDP is diverted to inefficient (if not outright unnecessary) "health care" expenditures (now 18% of our GDP... it seems to me like it was "only" 14% just 5 or 6 years ago)... and of course, our national thirst for imported oil is bankrupting us that way as well, and evidently dramatically altering the inhabitable part of our planet.

Maybe I'm being excessively sanguine about this particular terror threat. But I'm sorry... in this era of "the permanent campaign"... that's how you bet.

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October 3, 2009, When Obama smiles at IOC we go to Rio

While the decision of the voting members of the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen to award the 2016 summer games to Rio de Janeiro will have many making this about Obama and his decision to foolishly listen to that Valerie Jarrett, who has caused him nothing but trouble take very little time out of his schedule and briefly, albeit unsuccessfully, make a personal pitch to the committee members, Grey Lady sports denizen George Vecsey tells us why there were other very good reasons to award the games to Rio anyway.

Look: the USA has already hosted four summer games (1904, 1932, 1984 and 1996) and four winter games (1932, 1960, 1980 and 2002); the other eliminated cities all had similar issues (Madrid was hampered by Barcelona having hosted recently in 1992 and Tokyo had itself hosted in 1964, with Japan also hosting the winter games in 1972 and 1998)... South America and Africa (which will likely get the games one of these days, and will be hosting the more-important-to-actual-sports-fans Soccer World Cup next year) have never hosted the games, and Rio made a credible bid. Throw in the fact that the United States has made abuse of foreign visitors at visa desks, and then at airports and other points of entry (in the name of combating terrorism, of course) a national fetish, a problem that could be expected to repeated tens of thousands of times should this nation be awarded an Olympics, and one can see a number of "structural" issues that made awarding the games to this country... less likely. (We won't even talk about the sterling international reputation we have engendered with invading Iraq, torturing prisoners, refusing to sign the Kyoto protocols, and other similar legacy items.) A few minutes of sweet talking from our National Rock Star (accompanied by Michele Obama and Oprah for God's sake) just weren't going to change all this.

One would hope the message would sink in: one sees affirmative cheering by the President's opponents at his "failure" to secure the Olympics. And cheering at a loss of national prestige, from the very same people who turned "you're with us or you're against us" faux-patriotism into a sporting event (and who, of course, accused those of us who dared question the prior President's law breaking and other ill-advised policies of, quite naturally, treason)...

At what point will the President wake the f*** up and realize that such people are not to be "compromised" with; they are to be ignored, and outvoted, preferably with ever larger majorities engendered by taking bold, decisive necessary action, and not worrying about crap and stupidity like "bipartisanship" from an opposition whose members have decided that they are the President's sworn enemies as well as political adversaries.

Well, since it's not really going to happen, let's not worry about it too much.

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October 1, 2009, Stupidity and bigotry, proudly bipartisan

A.P. reports that 87 House Democrats joined their brethren cavemen on the Republican side of the aisle for a resounding 258-163 non-binding resolution win against transferring Guantanamo-based detainees to the American mainland, even in maximum security prison conditions. Unsurprisingly, the Republican quoted refers to those still held at GTMO as terrrrrrorists. But David Obey, a Democrat from Wisconsin believes our prisons are tough enough for "these thugs."

Thing is, even under convoluted rules where any evidence at all and the government wins, GTMO detainees have won 30 out of 38 habeas cases that have gotten that far, with some of the more egregious cases of government abuse (that would be no evidence whatsoever of a lawful basis to hold the man, and even Obama's executive review team concluded that the government "got nothin'"...) such as presumably the 75 more cases where the government has thrown in the towel and "cleared" the detainees "for release," which, counting the 30 so determined by courts (which might or might not overlap) means that the Government apparently either already concedes, or courts already have determined, that between 1/3 and 1/2 of the men held there... shouldn't be there, with as many as 150 habeas corpus cases still pending, which, if present detainee win rates persist, would likely result in determinations that the vast majority of those remaining just shouldn't be there, and yet, will continue to be held until politics (that would largely be our Neanderthal domestic politics) creates an opening.

But, lo these 8 plus years after 9-11 and as we approach the eighth anniversary of Guantanamo's use as a convenient gulag, the rhetoric is the same. Good old American values like "innocent until proven guilty..." or "innocent after being determined innocent"... don't mean so much anymore. As usual, the rest of the world, whose cooperation we will need in our never-ending "war on terror..." (or whatever it's called now) is watching, and the continued injustices (such as even one of the few originally charged by the vaunted commissions being found by a federal judge to have "confessed" because of torture) will continue to bother them more than they seem to bother us (or certainly bother our elected representatives).

And at least 87 Democrats in the House care not a jot that "the winner" when, thanks to their actions, President Obama suffers a big political loss because they won't let him close GTMO in the one-year time frame he promised, will be the GOP... and not AQ.

But then... what else is new?