Saturday, July 7, 2007

A Little History Goes a Long Way

I'm coming to this story a bit late, the result of being stranded in the news vacuum that defines my parent's home, but it seems to me that the Chimperor's remarks made on Independence Day were the worst sort of canned American hash; a nauseating mixture of scraps, corn, and fat that 26% of the country is still willing to eat. As usual, the history lesson offered is terribly skewed.

Our first Independence Day celebration took place in a midst of a war -- a bloody and difficult struggle that would not end for six more years before America finally secured her freedom. More than two decades [sic] later, it is hard to imagine the Revolutionary War coming out any other way -- but at the time, America's victory was far from certain. In other words, when we celebrated the first 4th of July celebration, our struggle for independence was far from certain. Citizens had to struggle for six more years to finally determine the outcome of the Revolutionary War.

We were a small band of freedom-loving patriots taking on the most powerful empire in the world. And one of those patriots was the founder of Martinsburg, West Virginia -- Major General Adam Stephen. Of course, it wasn't West Virginia then, but it was Martinsburg. (Laughter.) He crossed the Delaware with Washington. He helped secure America's victory at the Battle of Trenton -- and he later went -- and later, when our liberty was won, delivered stirring remarks in the Virginia House of Delegates that helped secure ratification of our Constitution.

On Independence Day we give thanks, we give thanks for our Founders, we give thanks for all the brave citizen-soldiers of our Continental Army who dropped pitchforks and took up muskets to fight for our freedom and liberty and independence.

You're the successors of those brave men. Those who wear the uniform are the successors of those who dropped their pitchforks and picked up their muskets to fight for liberty. Like those early patriots, you're fighting a new and unprecedented war -- pledging your lives and honor to defend our freedom and way of life. In this war, the weapons have changed, and so have our enemies, but one thing remains the same: The men and women of the Guard stand ready to put on the uniform and fight for America.

Well, if you prefer your history written on the back of a box of Corn Flakes, there is it. A more instructive perspective on the comparisons between the American Revolution and the disaster in Iraq can be found in Michael Rose's excellent piece in the New York Times.

Of course, George III’s strategic assessment on the outcome of the defeat at Yorktown — like everything else that he had been responsible for during the War of Independence — was entirely wrong. It was by finally accepting defeat in what at that time was a relatively unimportant part of the world that Britain was able to focus on what really mattered — continuing to build its influence and empire across the globe.

If the Whig opposition, led by Lord Rockingham, had not had the moral courage and vision to accept defeat by the American colonists, and had not been able to persuade the king and his ministers to do likewise, Britain would likely have lost its position in the world, and today the people of the largest democracy in the world, India, would be speaking either French or Portuguese. By ending the unnecessary war in North America, Britain was able rapidly to rebuild its army and navy, eventually take on and defeat Napoleon, and become the unquestioned pre-eminent global power.

Few saw this in 1781. During the cruel years of the war, George III had followed a hopelessly flawed strategy and had failed to commit adequate resources to the mission. He had never understood the character or nature of the American people and he had greatly underestimated their determination to throw off the yoke of British rule. The War of Independence had never just been about “taxation without representation.” It had been about the freedom for Americans to develop their own society in the way that they wished.


George III was oblivious to the changed mindset in the colonies, and through a combination of hubris and a conviction that as the leader of the world’s premier military power he could bear no challenge to his authority, he had determined in 1775 to teach a sharp lesson to the radicals in North America: “Blows must decide.”

Unfortunately for Britain, he attempted to fight a conventional war against insurgents, and sent far too few troops across the Atlantic to accomplish the mission. Although they initially took New York and Philadelphia, the British subsequently failed to adjust to a counterinsurgency strategy against the “war of the posts” that George Washington adopted after his defeat at Germantown, Pa., in October 1777.

Instead of trying to isolate the rebels and gain the support of the loyalist and uncommitted colonials, the British spent much of their time defending their bases and maintaining their supply lines, only occasionally venturing out on punitive expeditions. They never succeeded in cutting off the heartland of rebel resistance in New England by taking control of the Hudson River Valley. Nor was the British Army — the finest in the world — ever able to establish sufficient security in the countryside or counter rebel propaganda. It soon came to be regarded as foreign occupation force.

Indeed, sometimes it is necessary to state the obvious. When the proponents of this war were drawing up the plans, most likely in the secret energy task force meetings held in the office of the Vice-President, they believed they could fabricate a flawless strategy of easy gain with little loss, conveniently ignoring the possibility that the population of Iraq might not be so willing to remain passive bystanders while corporate greed trumped the bogus claims of fostering a young democracy. Now Sunni clerics in Iraq have issued a fatwa against the proposed oil bill, which would provide massive profits to foreign oil companies, reflecting public consciousness there as to the true motivations behind the invasion. As occupations go, historical parallels are in no short supply. But the most useful ones cannot be contained on a 3 by 5 index card.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Fucking Outrageous

I'm not at all surprised that the Idiot King commuted Scooter's sentence

“I respect the jury’s verdict,” Mr. Bush said. “But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend 30 months in prison.”

He's been wrong about everything else during his fucking term. Why would anyone believe he would be right about this?

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Romney Campaign Responds

Ann Romney sprinkles sugar on her man and his "emotion-free crisis management" style.

Mitt and I love our dogs. Seamus was our first--an Irish setter. When I wasn't at home, Mitt let him sleep on the bed. And usually when he was riding in the car, his head was out the window. Seamus lived to a ripe old age, basking in the affection of a large family.

Surprise, surprise, the media didn't get the dog story right. Our dog Seamus rode in an ENCLOSED kennel, not in the open air. And he loved it. Every time he saw it, he jumped up on the tailgate, walked in, and lay down. It was just like the kennel he curled up in at home.

We are a dog family. Casey was our Bichon, McKenzie our Golden, and Marley our Weimaraner. Marley had 8 puppies, which Mitt delivered all night for her one summer.

When she died last year, she was in Mitt and our arms, and we all cried. Yes, we love our dogs.

Now horses, that's my love too. Mitt rides them--I love them. But that's another blog.

Well, that's all very touching, but let's cut to the chase.

To begin with, Ann Romney never denies that the kennel, enclosed or not, was strapped to the top of the car. Secondly, the media does actually mention that Seamus was in a dog carrier. Third, the practice is illegal in Massachusetts. And finally, if you're going to steal a tactic from Elizabeth Edwards's confrontation with Ann Coulter, please remember that it's only effective when one is sincere and the facts are on your side; not when you're trying to make excuses for cruel and reckless behavior.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Here's a Good Way to Fight Terrorism

Police work.

London was gripped by a terrorist threat on Friday when the police found two Mercedes sedans packed with gasoline, nails and gas canisters that had been parked near Piccadilly Circus in the bustling West End entertainment district.

The police defused both bombs, but had they exploded “there could have been significant injury or loss of life,” Peter Clarke, Britain’s senior counterterrorism police official, told reporters.

Hours later, Mr. Clarke told another news conference at New Scotland Yard that the second car, illegally parked in Cockspur Street a few hundred yards from the first in the Haymarket, had been rigged like the first, adding, “The vehicles are clearly linked.”

Security experts said that neither the bomb materials nor the cellphone triggering device was particularly sophisticated. Nor, said Sajjan M. Gohel, a counterterrorism expert with the Asia-Pacific Foundation, did the attack “seem to be very well planned.”

But the idea of a multiple attack using car bombs — a departure from the backpack suicide attacks of the London bombings of July 2005 — raised concerns among security experts that jihadist groups linked to Al Qaeda may have imported tactics more familiar in Iraq.

That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, since we opened the gates of hell there when we invaded, thus creating a training ground for terrorists.

As usual, Dan Froomkin says it best.

Bush and Vice President Cheney's optimistic predictions about the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular have proved to be almost completely and consistently wrong for years now. ("Last throes," anyone?)

Before the 2006 election, White House political guru Karl Rove was supremely self-assured in his public predictions of Republican victory.

White House spokesman Tony Snow recently assured the press corps that Bush had enough votes in the Senate on the immigration bill. "I'll see you at the bill signing," Bush himself told a skeptical journalist on June 11.

Bush and his staff's credibility regarding statements of "fact" is a frequent subject of debate. But their track record on predictions is something else entirely. The evidence is pretty overwhelming that those predictions are unreliable.

I mention this because Bush's core argument against a troop drawdown in Iraq -- something supported by a large majority of Americans -- is basically a prediction. As he put it again yesterday: "If we withdraw before the Iraqi government can defend itself, we would yield the future of Iraq to terrorists like al Qaeda -- and we would give a green light to extremists all throughout a troubled region. The consequences for America and the Middle East would be disastrous."

And so it appears that the consequences are in fact disasterous even with the surge, which has now contributed to the three deadliest months for the troops since the war began.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

It's Not Just Bees

One of my heroes, Edward O. Wilson, is warning that environmental stress threatens the survival of many invertebrate species, and without them we are truly fucked.

At 78, he remains a lithe figure, crowned with a mop of steel-gray hair and disco-age translucent brown glasses, as if hewn from amber but missing the frozen prehistoric mosquito. At Wednesday's talk at the Kaiser Family Foundation, Wilson was focused on putting self-absorbed Homo sapiens in some ecological context. If humans were to disappear -- he doesn't advocate this, for the record -- the effects on the insect world would be minimal. "It's unlikely a single insect species would go extinct except three forms of body and head lice," he said. Close relatives of the parasites could still live on gorillas. The primal, complex web of life would continue "minus all the species we have pushed into extinction." Ouch.

But reverse the tables, remove the insects, and what would happen? Wilson paints a Mad Max scenario, in which not only do the bees, flies, beetles, moths and butterflies disappear, but all the plants that rely on them to set fruit, nuts and seed vanish as well. No worries, you say, because two-thirds of the crops we eat are wind-pollinated. But insects, not earthworms, are the principal tillers of the soil, and without them this secret microbial universe in the soil would decline, too. Dwindling food sources and plunging human populations would bring out the beast in people, who would do what humans always do -- kill each other. Wilson speaks of "an ecological dark age" where "the survivors would offer prayers for the return of weeds and bugs."

I'll refer here to Ellroon who has blogged extensively on Colony Collapse Disorder within honeybee colonies. CCD has been the foremost warning of what Wilson is referring to. As he so astutely puts it, pollinators are "the heart of the biosphere".