The Talking Dog

August 31, 2010, Mission AccomplishedCombat mission over


The President used the conclusion of slow news month August for the purpose of announcing that major combat operations are complete the combat mission is over, and the 50,000 heavily armed American troops (to be complemented by a cohort of highly paid Blackwater mercenaries and civilian government and contractor personnel) who will remain in Iraq will be in a "non-combat" role. I am told that the total remaining American contingent of around 126,000 personnel to do whatever is they are supposed to do with respect to Iraq's 25 million people... is around the same size as the British contingent of personnel who administered the Indian Raj, when the Raj's population was just over 100 million or so. So go figure.

Lest we not be clear, the President's choice of "optics"-- the very same desk that his predecessor used to announce the damned war in the first place ("feels good")... is a not so subtle hint at the Obama Administration's intent to have "continuity"... everything from retaining Dubya's Defense Secretary to retaining Dubya's timetable for removal of "combat troops" (pay no attention to the heavily armed American soldiers, Iraqis... they are non-combat troops... yeah, that's the ticket)... to retaining Dubya's incoherence at explaining why we were in Iraq or why we are staying there (and make no mistake... 50,000 troops and over 70,000 permanent personnel will be staying there)... and of course, retaining Dubya's overall bloodthirstiness, in this case, with the bulk of American inflicted homicides now shifting a bit Eastward, from Iraq to Afghanistan (where a fair number of the "combat troops" departing Iraq will also be heading).

And pay no attention to the Republicans who will try to tell us irrelevances, such as that Senator Barack Obama opposed our Holy Crusade and war against Islam and all Muslims "the Surge[TM]" back when His Holiness Gen. David Petraeus told us we would be having it... the Republicans in Congress and the President are on the same page on all important issues, such as expansion of the American total security state and retention and expansion of the Imperium... which is why both are looking forward to the Republicans taking control of the House (sorry, Nancy), thus making the President's ability to govern as a Republican far less troublesome.

All in all, fascisti everywhere should consider this a pretty good week in Washington, what with both the Mission AccomplishedCombat mission over speech by the President, and the "I have a dream" speech by Glenn Beck... although with respect to the latter, I kind of preferred it in the original German.


August 22, 2010, Reality check


I defer to a piece from Who is IOZ? (in reaction to another in a continuing series of vapid "generational observation pieces" in various media, this one from Slate) to explain the situation in which young people entering (or relatively new to) the current American work force are up against:

What they conspicuously fail to do is to cast their eyes toward yonder economy, except to make a vaguely Friedmanian observation that iPads mean you have to go to college or else you will never get hired. Hey, maybe decades of downward pressure on real wages, the destruction of even the tissue of socially guaranteed retirement, and the artificial extension of the duration of the working life in response to these pressures has created a paucity of demand for new labor that has made economic independence economically unobtainable for young people. I'm just, you know, throwin' it out there. Maybe the near-total absence of even subsistence-level wages for people without an at-minimum four-year program of educational debt-indenturage is driving the upticking of the age of marriage and the formation of independent households just as much as "social acceptance of premarital sex." I'm just, you know, sayin'. Maybe the general trend of our society at all but the highest levels of class and income, which are principally inherited anyway, is toward debt-and-wage-peonage that is gradually reducing the viability of the independent household to exist at all.

Not much I can add. Anyway... look carefully. Orders (social and otherwise) tend to form themselves out of existing reality, whether they are the "official" narrative or not... whether it be young people in an era of artificial scarcity caused by insanely unequal and unfair income and wealth and power distributions moving in with Mom and Dad, or the fact that Mom and Dad, fearful of a world where my college classmate has decided that a good book deal, speaking engagements and post-presidency gigs from people like Pete Peterson and his buddies are all more important than allowing stupid working people their dignified retirements (let alone "security"... of any kind). Naturally, the people "on the ground" fortunate enough to have jobs will be extending their own working lives, possibly indefinitely, thereby effectively crowding out the opportunities available for twenty-somethings... well, people just manage to adjust to reality is all I'm saying... good, bad, or otherwise.

And times, they are a changin'.


August 20, 2010, Military discipline


The President has every reason to be pleased with how the military is handling kangaroo courts show trials military commissions under his watch, as exemplified by the "interesting" holdings of military judge Army Colonel Patrick Parrish, who concluded that torture isn't torture when the American military does it, and fifteen is old enough when it's Omar Khadr "who was old enough" for whatever torture humane treatment the American military feels like inflicting on its juvenile captives.

The heretofore classified opinion has been released during an interregnum in the Khadr trial, the first commission trial in the Obama era... because Khadr's military defense attorney collapsed in court of apparent complications from surgery, resulting in a 30 day continuance. And merely "Orwellian" doesn't do it justice. Some highlights from Carol Rosenberg's Miami Herald piece:

``While the accused was 15 years old at the time he was captured, he was not immature for his age,'' Parrish wrote in a nine-page ruling dated Tuesday.

****

Defense attorneys argued that Khadr's first interrogation, coupled with the rape scenario, so soon after U.S. medical forces saved him from chest wounds and eye injuries led the young Canadian to tell his captors whatever they wanted to hear.

But Parrish wrote that ``he had sufficient training, education and experience to understand the circumstances in which he found himself.''

****

Former Sgt. Joshua Claus, a former Army interrogator subsequently court martialed for detainee abuse, testified at a May pretrial hearing that he tried to soften Khadr up with a fictional tale of an Afghan captive who was sent to an American prison and raped by ``four big black guys.''

But the judge found ``there is no evidence that the story caused the accused to make any incriminating statements then or in the future.''

In making the document public on Friday, the Pentagon censored the names of a number of pretrial witnesses whose identities were made public at the summertime hearings.

They included a retired Army Reserves colonel, ophthalmologist Marjorie Mosier, who testified by name that she saved the Canadian's sight in a surgery at a military hospital in Afghanistan as well as another court-martialed former Army interrogator, Damien Corsetti.

Corsetti, known to Bagram detainees as ``Monster,'' testified by name that he felt sorry for the captive teenager who found himself ``probably in one of the worst places on Earth'' after his capture.

The decision to make Khadr, a Canadian juvenile who was tortured in American custody who engaged in ordinary combat, which ain't a freaking war crime as the Obama Administration's poster child for military commission trial... reflects a cynicism that makes Bush and Cheney look really good in comparison: they, after all, always supported military commissions. The President, by contrast, campaigned against military commissions because of the purported "constitutional values" arrived at by virtue of his time as a constitutional law professor senior lecturer,

Prior military commission judges tended to be very skeptical of evidence that bore the taint of torture; nice to see that those days are gone, and now that Barack Hussein Obama is President (hey, Mr., President, 19% of the country thinks you're a Muslim... so way to go, trying to make them happy by advancing the total security state)... it seems we have genuine military discipline... to wit, officers who do as they're told. The President wants a conviction here... and the fact that (1) the suspect was a juvenile, (2) who was unconscious at the time of the alleged "crime", (3) who confessed after being untreated for potentially mortal wounds with treatment tied to his "cooperation," (4) with an interrogator later court-martialed for abusing others who threatened him with gang-rape (5) FOR ENGAGING IN COMBAT AGAINST THE AMERICAN MILITARY WHICH HAD INVADED HIS COUNTRY, to wit, not "a crime" let alone "a war crime"... just isn't going to get in the way.

Assuming this country ever comes out of whatever zombie trance it's in now, in which most of its populace continues to crap in its pants not merely at the word "terrrrrorism," but now of course, at Muzz-lemms in general... and especially mosques (which, let's face it, sound an awful lot like our long-time other enemy, Moscow...) some day we'll look back at not just Guantanamo in general, but at the Khadr case in particular, and let out one huge throbbing "WTF?" We're a long way from there, of course, and I've kind of given up in believing that "the truth will set us free" or any other such claptrap, given that we have a medicated, obese, and not very bright population that is content to accept the lot that their betters dispense to them... and go all militant at even the prospect of progressive taxation, lest our betters "suffer" in any way. Did I say that out loud?

This has been... "military discipline."


August 14, 2010, Triangulating towards Mecca... and then away from it

I'm with Greenwald on his take, both in his take that the President deserved effusive praise for his apparent willingness to buck public sentiment in support of an actual (rather than corporate) "American value" in the President's apparent backing of the now infamous vicinity of the World Trade Center mosque and Islamic cultural center, and then the prompt withdrawal of that effusive praise when the inevitable political sh*t-storm followed, and the President did what I would have expected him to do, and "qualified" his remarks, as Greenwald notes, replacing an act of political courage with a non-sequitur about "the right" to build a particular religious building... while refusing to support the project itself.

WTF? There was a time in this country when the majority of its people favored slavery (one wonders just how many around might favor it-- as long as it involved, you know, them, even now... just saying...). Supposedly, we have a constitution and a representative government and courts and checks and balances so that the excesses of public opinion and the desire for small "m" mob rule (as opposed to the actual large "M" mob as in corporate mafia who actually runs our country) prevent trampling on the fundamental rights of minorities, particularly unpopular ones.

And it looked, for a shining day, while he seemingly supported "the mosque," like the President had found his voice, and was in his finest hour, on the side of the angels. Instead, as usual... we see that he's on the side of the angles.

Not, of course, as Steve of No More Mister Nice Blog observes, is there any chance that the President's calming, sensible words (for the few hours that applied) would quell the rage of a huge part of our body politic... but the usual suspects will still attribute the worst motives to the President no matter what. So, the thing is, while there was arguably no "political" gain in making the "risky" seemingly pro- mosque statement, similarly, once it was made, there was no particular gain to be made in taking it back either! And yet... he did.

If (and I don't discount this) "the plan" is to follow up on Charlie Rangel's petulance and general ickiness by forcing marginal members of Congress to have to campaign in the shadow of this "no-win" wedge issue and do what their Democratic (i.e. "chicken sh*t") instincts tell them to do (that would be to dissemble and cower), the White House may just get its wish and manage to lose one (or preferably both) houses of Congress yet... then that plan seems to be working beautifully.

Of course, not that any of this makes any difference... unless you think about it, of course (so few people do that... about anything.) Religious tolerance was one of those things that actually made this country special. It seems... that's just too much to ask for many of its people these days. And our "leader" is more interested in covering his tush than in... you know... "leading." Ever thus, I suppose. But still... one can feel a certain discomfort.


August 10, 2010, The end


My country is trying Omar Khadr, a man who was 15 at the time of an alleged war crime, to wit, killing a soldier in combat, although, of course, at the time, Khadr was almost certainly unconscious and full of American shrapnel, which interrogators refused to treat him for while he was interrogated, and later, he was threatened with rape if he didn't confess, and this is... President Obama's first military commission trial. A shining example of American, ahem... justice. Trying a juvenile for what isn't even a crime, and using his tortured confession as "the evidence." We can't even do kangaroo court trials right.

Moving right along, I'm actually sorry to read about the death of former Senator Ted Stevens in a plane crash in Alaska. Stevens was 86, and was the longest serving Republican senator ever. Say what you will about Stevens (who, ironically, survived a plane crash in the 1970's in which his first wife was killed), If a senator's job is to bring the bacon home to his state, Stevens may well have been the best there was. His career ended after losing to Mark Begich (in yet further irony, whose own father Nick Begich, then Alaska's Congressman, was himself killed in the same plane crash that took out then House Majority Leader Haley Boggs), but that loss was on the heals of a corruption conviction in Washington-- conviction later vacated on appeal. Again, say what you will about Stevens... a plane crash is not the way I'd like to go. Rest in peace, Senator Stevens.

And while I've already said in no uncertain terms that I have little or no further use for the Obama Administration, which, of course, I believe has sold out virtually every value I hold dear and I confess it was reliance on the promise of Obama at least trying to achieve those values that was the basis on which I originally supported my college classmate the President (Greenwald has a very nice outline of the specifics)... well... the White House just wants me to know that it has no use for me either... and not just no use for irritating amateurs like me, but no use for the dirty hippy losers of "the professional left." (Madow... you watch your ass)." That should get our support, not to mention our enthusiasm.

Of course...after Gibbs' "we're going to lose the House" gambit of a few weeks ago, it is quite clear that the plan is to lose one, and preferably both houses of Congress this November, and then "triangulate" into reelection in 2012, hoping that someone as articulate and hateful as Newt Gingrich emerges as a useful foil (and perhaps some White House official perhaps rumored to have some nebulous ties to the First Lady can be found dead in a park in Virginia), we can party like its 1996, maybe get another internet bubble, and yada yada yada... it's Bubba all over again, with $100 million in hedge fund, book and speech money, bitches.

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm not going to worry about these people. I'm going to worry about my life... my house, my vegetable garden, my pets, my family's health and welfare... that sort of thing. I urge you all to do the same. Because other than that... what's left?


August 8, 2010, Sunday Sunday


It's August, the proverbial home of slow news days and famous for being the month
"you don't launch new products in."

And so... item the first... the swearing in of the nation's 112th Supreme Court justice, fourth woman, and I believe, youngest person, Elena Kagan I've stated my feelings on the subject.. The confirmation hearings have not changed my view... and as an added bonus, there is a strong possibility that Justice Kagan will have to recuse herself on any "national security" cases, effectively reversing Justice Stevens without having to go on record. No point in getting all "partisany;" my college classmate the President has 59 senators, and for Supreme Court nominees, the benefit of the gentlewomen from Maine (though the gentleman from Massachusetts made the reverse calculation)... meaning, the President could have chosen a genuine progressive, or a genuine intellectual giant, or both... and instead, like everything else he does, he went as conventional as it gets. There is this delusion that somehow "if only the Republicans get out of the President's way, he'll give us all this hope and change he promised." The reality is that the President IS getting what he wants: a nation safe for the military industrial complex, irresponsible oil drilling (and business practice in general), a health care plan more beneficial to insurers than to the public, and a conventional Supreme Court justice likely to be pro-business, and especially pro-Imperium. Elect an inexperienced highly conventional politician with an unnatural predilection toward other office holders.,. and you get what you get.

On to item the second: WaPo has found a Muslim survivor of a parent killed at the WTC on 9-11, who suggests "Greater Ground Zero" be "a religion free zone.". While others have said it as well, I'll defer to Jesse Taylor's smackdown. Short answer: there are lots of religious institutions around the WTC site, notably some Catholic churches... shall we bulldoze them too... or is freedom of religion really a core American value?

And on to item the third, this suggestion from Edmund Phelps, one of my alma mater's many Nobel laureates, that what we need is a more sensible industrial policy (actually, my words, not Prof. Phelps'; I suspect the idea that our government actually acknowledge its role in interfering in our economy is some kind of taboo subject for public intellectuals to express). Phelps suggests encouraging investment in all sectors, particularly lower wage as well as high-tech, high-skill jobs.

The "value added" the few dozen of you still with me have come to expect here at TTD is... the synthesis of these three divergent strands. Thing is: a country so parochial and so afraid of its ass that something as great a symbol of tolerance and pluralism as a cool, progressive Muslim mosque a few hundred yards from a construction site (and when finished, an office complex) is something we're afraid of... or a country whose political leaders think that a woman with impeccable academic career who has managed to excel as athe ultimate conventional toady, be it of Larry Summers or of Barack Obama, is somehow "a bold choice"... is probably not the kind of country that has what it takes anymore to be a world leader in... anything.

And there you have it: courage first... everything else follows. I fear that without that key ingredient, and our corporate overlords and their captive media, in the interest of stamping out any kind of human dignity, let alone "class-consciousness" or any other threat to it,.. may have stamped out the genuine courage that this nation once had (the real kind... not merely the kind associated with bringing mass murder to foreigners). Most people have become "small c" conservative-- just trying to hold on to their ever-shrinking piece of the pie, and not seeing the big picture-- or even that the big picture is corrupt and should be reformed, if not smashed. And until we have the kind of "courage" to believe that freedom really means "nothing left to lose," (don't ask me how we'll get it), we can expect the economic and existential malaise to continue until the final implosion,

Pretty? No. But that's how it is. This has been... Sunday Sunday.



August 4, 2010, Religious intolerance meets geographic ignorance


Unsurprisingly (given how strongly Mayor Bloomberg supports real estate development religious freedom, New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission approved plans for a large Islamic Center (and mosque) on the site of a former Burlington Coat Factory store in lower Manhattan, over two city blocks from the World Trade Center site, In his inimitable style, Brother Roy explains it all for you; Roy Edroso is so thorough, so on, there's little I can add. So I will add... a little. .

When I first heard this story pitched, I, like everyone else, assumed that plans were for a Mosque in Ground Zero, meaning, within the 13 acre "footprint" of the former World Trade Center buildings. I had (and would have) no particular objection to that, because I (apparently foolishly, as Likudniks and the Anti-Defamation League and Sarah Palin and some loud-mouthed multi-millionaires "9-11 families" and so forth would insist) think that the United States has "freedom of religion." Further, although an Islamic Center might be something of a security risk in its own right (mosques have been targeted all over Iraq and Pakistan for example, usually by members of rival sects), apparently, anything on the World Trade Center site, which was the subject of terrorist attack not merely on (hushed reverence) NINE ELEVEN, but in 1993, is going to present such a risk. All that said, it's a nice symbol of New York;s and America's tolerance and pluralism to slap a mosque up there... and if not on the site itself... near it.

Which takes us to what I find most intriguing about all this, which is the insistence that this is "the GROUND ZERO mosque." Um, no. IT isn't. It's TWO full city blocks North (and a few buildings over) from the nearest WTC entry point. The north boundary of the WTC site is Vesey Street. Between Church and West Broadway from that boundary north to Barclay Street lies a U.S. Post Office building. From Barclay between Church and West Broadway north to Park Place is 100 Church Street, a 20 or so story office building in which I happened to work for over five years, up to and including the morning of September 11th itself. The former Burlington Coat Factory site, located at 45 Park Place, is on the north side of the next block, between Park Place and Murray Street. In short: it's over two blocks away from Holy and Sacred Ground Zero[TM], I suppose, the boundaries of "Ground Zero" are rhetorical, and of course, magical, and can expand as needed to incorporate any of, you know, those people, as bigotry and ideology dictate.

But then, I don't know how many Americans could find New York on a map, let alone any particular point in it. And yet, we live in an era where "everyone is entitled to their [right-wing] opinion, no matter how stupid." I detest living in such an era. Whatever happened to "better to hold one's tongue and be thought a fool than to speak up (preferably on Fox News) and remove all doubt?" I don't know. I just don't know.

And speaking of mosques and Ground Zero... happy 49th birthday to my college classmate and the President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama. This has been, "Religious intolerance meets geographic ignorance." ,


August 1, 2010, A thousand words or so...


Yes. yes, a picture is worth... well, you know. So we'll start with this Financial Times piece that's pretty verbose in its own right, in which, through the examples of a family in Minnesota and a family in Virginia that are offered as paradigmatic of larger trends in the United States that, in the Cliffnotes version of the piece, amount to a middle class whose present existence is progressively more squeezed causing trepidation particularly viz concerns for retirement and their children's futures, with a somewhat uniquely for Americans sense of foreboding for the future in general. And thus, we find ourselves on the road to Latin America... possibly making the millions of immigrants, legal and illegal alike, from that part of the world... more at home, as both their home countries and adopted countries veer toward playgrounds for a privileged elite and ever more miserable for everyone else... but at least (for the moment)... we eat?

And I'd like to juxtapose that piece of at least 1000 words with this piece that gives us a picture, from the ever-astute IOZ of the fundamental immorality of the structure of our world, in this case, the Australian government (other governments of the West do much the same thing) destroying millions of perfectly good pairs of shoes which could go on people's feet destroyed out of copyright infringement... the sort of intrinsic waste of perfectly good stuff be it food, clothing or other material goods or resources not to mention human lives that are routinely ground up and thrown away in the interests of... the system. "Private property" means that, well, someone in a position to make money has to make money and... well...

You know. Thing is, this is not an "ever thus"... human rapaciousness, venality, corruption... sure. But to allow them to play out in such a way that everything, including the future itself, is consumed in the interest of the system... ? Maybe the desire was always there, but the ability is finally there, anyway... Anyway... there you are. Is there a solution? I would suggest that the only approach is "micro-" rather than "macro-". Don't waste time even thinking that the "Democrats" or "the Tea Party" or the Romulans or whomever serves in Congress or whatnot are going to "make it better"... they are in it for themselves... The Chuck Schumers (yes, it always come back to him) are concerned with their own reelection, and if policy helps that, good, and if not... well, too bad. Things "got done" in the early 20th century, in the 30's and in the 60's quite literally because angry mobs in the streets made whomever the prevailing Chuck Schumers of the time scared enough for their own tushes to do something.

Well... a medicated, but largely at-least still-eating populace (to the point of insane levels of obesity)... with worries about losing their jobs and their homes and what's left of their children's futures and alls... doesn't seem to have the juice to do what it takes to take to the streets... It truly has come down to "if it's going to be, it's up to me." So by all means, keep the faith and fight the power... but do it discretely, and be in a position to go on, if not comfortably, at least at all then when the lights go out, the supermarket shelves are empty, the banks fail beyond-any-ability-to-bail-them-out and so forth. And keep your sense of humor .. A horse walks into a bar... OUCH!!!