Saturday, April 28, 2007

George Washington: Nation's father or illiterate bonehead?

Yesterday, I hailed our good King George the third, and today I'd like to draw a parallel to our good king and the first George, the glorious conqueror of Princeton. What people tend to forget in the heat of the political fray of the day is that, as in all things, there is nothing new under the sun. Back in the immediate post revolutionary days, there were factions bent on creating a God of George Washington -- the forbearer's of today's Republicans -- and those trying to cut him down to size -- the Democrat's great-grand daddies -- roughly speaking.

I don't have to time to go into all the ins and outs of the political landscape of the 1790's, but when you look at what's going on today with W.'s steadfast adherence to his disaster in Iraq and Washington's serial blunders during the Revolutionary War, you start to see that George the first and third have a lot in common. What got me thinking about this was an article in the NYT yesterday about a letter of Washington's found in a little girl's scrapbook.

According to the NYT: "His correspondence was wide and frequent, but discoveries of his letters, especially those in which he says something notable, are somewhat rare, scholars and archivists say." There's probably a reason that finding letters in which he writes anything notable are so rare. From what I've read about him, he was pretty much the intellectual equal of our present-day boy-king.

The letter in question was addressed to General Horatio Gates, the victor of Saratoga, a rival to Washington during the war, who many in the Continental Congress wanted to replace Washington with. The letter itself isn't particularly interesting, except that, according to Theodor J. Crackel, the editor in chief of the papers of George Washington, the part about the Constitutional Convention "Is Washington at his best." [ Some are still trying to create a deity out of him.]

The point I'm trying to make here is that, except for the raid on a small number of hung-over Hessians in Princeton, Washington pretty much lost every other battle he ever fought. His stay at Valley Forge was seen at the time not as a heroic struggle to survive the winter, it was seen, in fact, as a retreat. The governments of New Jersey and Pennsylvania were particularly adamant that Washington not leave their states to the tender mercies of the British, which is what he wound up doing. (Remember, not only did Washington lose New York, he also lost Philadelphia.)

On Friday, Dec. 19 1777, Congress wrote to Washington in Valley Forge:

"Congress resumed the consideration of . . . the remonstrance from the executive council and assembly of Pennsylvania; Whereupon, Resolved, That a copy of the remonstrance be transmitted by express to General Washington, and that he be desired from Congress to inform Congress . . . what measures are agreed upon for the protection of . . . Pennsylvania.
That General Washington be further informed that, in the opinion of Congress, the state of New Jersey demands . . . the protection of the armies of the United States . . ."

And, Pennsylvania's executive council and assembly resolves:

"1st. That by the army's removal . . . [a] great part of this state . . . must be left in the Power of the Enemy, subject to their Ravages. . .

2nd. . . [T]oo many of our people are so disaffected already . . . [T] hose who have taken the most active support of our cause will be discouraged & give up all as lost. "

3rd. The removal of our Army, it will be impossible to recruit . . .

4th. The Army removing . . . must give a final Stab to the Credit of the Continental Currency . . . [it] is very difficult to purchase from many of our most able Farmers the necessary Provisions of our Army, owing to the fear of the money . . ."

That last part was especially important.

As Good ol' Tom Paine wrote in his 36 page Letter to George Washington (July 30 1796):

"[Had] it not been for the aid received from France in men, money and ships, your cold and unmilitary conduct . . . [you] would in all probability have lost America; at least she would not have been the independent nation she now is. You slept away your time in a filed till the finances were completely exhausted, and you have little share in the glory of the final event. It is time, sir, to speak the undisguised language of historical truth."

The Constitutional Congress urged Washington to supply himself from the land around, but instead of doing what his fellow Virginian Robert E. Lee did 90 years later to such great effect, he just sat and wrote letters blaming Congress for all his problems.

Dec. 23 1777:

"[U]less some great and capital change suddenly takes place in that line, this Army must inevitably be reduced to one or other of these three things. Starve, dissolve, or disperse in order to obtain subsistence. . . [W]ith truth, then, I can declare no Man in my opinion ever had measures more impeded than I have by every department of the Army."

In other words, it's all Congress' fault, kind of like what's going on now. 'You must fund the troops!. It's not the complete incompetence of the "war president", it's stupid politicians trying to micromanage the war.'

On Jan. 12, 1778 Benjamin Rush wrote to Patrick Henry:

"[Our] army, what is it? A Major-General belonging to it called it a few days ago, in my hearing, a mob. Discipline unknown or wholly neglected . . The northern army has shown us what Americans are capable of doing with a General at their head. The spirit of the southern army is in no way inferior to the spirit of the northern. A Gates, a Lee, or a Conway would in a few weeks render them an irresistible body of men."

Nathaniel Green and Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox," in the south had no such supply problems or Gates in upper New York at Saratoga. They just went out and fought, they didn't sit in a warm cabin and winge about their problems.

The truth is, if it hadn't been for the Count De Grasse's fleet showing up at Yorktown in 1781, Washington would have moved on with his plans to re-take New York and would have probably lost the Revolution.

Of course, by 1788 he was already re-writing history. On July 31 1788 he wrote in response to a letter by Noah Webster in American Magazine that. "It never was in contemplation to attack New York." He had always planned on going to Yorktown. [Yeah, right.]

John Adams wrote:

"Colonel [T]imothy Pickering made me a visit [on one occasion], and, finding me alone, spent a long evening with me. We had a multitude of conversion. I had then purchased [a book] . . . and there was a letter in it that was extremely unhappy to see there, I asked what that letter is that? . Col. Pickering answered, 'It is a letter from General Washington [of July 31, 1788]' . . .

Colonel Pickering said he was extremely sorry to see that letter in print. I asked him why? What do you see amiss in it? What harm will it do? Col. Pickering said, 'It will injure General Washington's character.' How will it injure him? Stratagems are lawful in war. Colonel Pickering answered me, "It will hurt his moral character. He has been generally thought to be honest . . . [T]hat letter is false. and I know it to be so. I knew him to be vain and weak and ignorant, but I thought he was well-meaning; but that letter is a lie, and I know it to be so.' I objected and queried."


" . . . He had seriously meditated on an attack upon New York for near twelve months and had made preparations at an immense expense for that purpose. Washington never had a thought of marching to the southward, til Count De Grasse's fleet appeared upon the coast, consequently, that letter is a disgrace.'"

This next part is where the whole the-wonders-of Washington's-letter thing comes in:

"[He] dwelt . . . on Washington's ignorance, weakness, and vanity. He was so ignorant that he had never read anything, not even on military affairs; he could not write a sentence of grammar, not spell his words &c., &c. To this I objected. I had been in Congress with Washington in 1774 and in May and part of June 1775 and read all his letters to Congress in 1775, 1776, 1777 and had formed a quite different opinion of his literary talent. His letters were well written and well spelled.

Pickering replied, 'He did not write them, he only copied them.' Who did write them? 'His secretaries and aides . . . '"

Hmm, sounds like someone else we know, doesn't it?

[Excerpted from the excellent American Aurora, by Richard N. Rosenfeld.]

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Terrorism, like democracy, is in the eys of the beholder

You know, sometimes as you go about your life in the great OneState you get a glance of the world outside the green wall and it suddenly dawns on you that you're living in a fascist dictatorship.

While we're busying ourselves with chit chat about whether Obama wears the same outfits as Mamoud Ahmadinejad or whether Rosey O'Donnel got the heave-ho from the View because she dared to question the official 9/11 story , the Canadians are actually practicing real, honest to God democracy.

You see, in the Great White North when your government sends people they've detained to third parties for torture, people notice and politicians are held accountable. Imagine that!

The Globe and Mail reports:

"Canada's opposition parties were demanding changes to the Afghanistan detainee transfer agreement and calling for the Defence Minister's resignation following accounts of gruesome torture of prisoners in Kandahar. Monday's Question Period exploded with a barrage of complaints and repeated calls for Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor's ouster from the portfolio. . . .Deputy Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said Mr. O'Conner was 'incompetent' and should be replaced by a minister 'who can ensure the Geneva convention will be respected' by both Canada and its allies."

When we have incompetent cabinet officials being accused of gross human rights violations or war crimes, we give them medals. In Canada, they hold them accountable.

Michael Byers, a human rights expert, is quoted in the artiocle saying, "We're not simply speaking about the criminal responsibility of individual Canadian soldiers. We're speaking also of command responsibility, of criminal responsibility that continues up the chain of command [Mine], to any superior officer who knew of the risk of torture and who ordered or allowed our soldiers to transfer detainees nevertheless."

"Up the chanin of command?" What is this 'chain of command?' Here in the beacon of the free world, when tortoure happens or wars are started it's always a few bad apples at the bottom of the barrel. Surely, they don't mean to say that the people who give the orders should be held accountable for the actions of those under their command?

Here in the US, we had a similar story recently of the pentagon sending 7 Russians who had been held at Gitmo back to Russian where they were -- you guessed it -- tortured. A Human Rights Watch report says, "Although they complained of mistreatment by the Americans, all of the detainees repeatedly asked authorities at Guantanamo not to be returned to Russia because they expected to be treated worse there."

"Under the Convention against Torture, the United States is prohibited from returning people to countries where they are at risk of torture. The U.S. government claims that it seeks 'diplomatic assurances' of humane treatment from receiving states before a detainee at risk of abuse is transferred out of Guantánamo Bay. Diplomatic assurances from states where torture is a serious problem or in which specific groups are targeted for torture, including Russia, are inherently unreliable and do not provide an effective safeguard against torture and ill-treatment."

Did I see something in there about a covention against torture? Is that some sort of treaty we signed or something? Isn't a treaty ratified by the Senate the law of the land? When someone high up the chain of command like, say Condi Rice or Robert Gates, signs off on sending people in their custody to a country to be tortured, areb't they breaking the law? I feel aa medal pinning ceromony coming on.

Meanwhile, the Miami Herald reports:

"The Pentagon on Tuesday formally charged a Canadian captive at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, with murder in the death of a U.S. Army medic during fighting in Afghanistan, setting the stage for his trial by a military commission. Omar Khadr, now 20, was 15 on July 27, 2002, when he allegedly threw a grenade at U.S. Special Forces who had assaulted a suspected al Qaeda compound near Khost, Afghanistan. The explosion killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, of Albuquerque, N.M., and partially blinded Khadr and another American soldier."

Now, what are we doing going around capturing and indefinatly holding 15 year-olds? If he was engaged in combat with US troops how can he be charged with murder? I don't get it, if he's a "enemy combatant" he can't be charged with murder, can he? How does that work? When our GIs kill insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan, that's legal. If the insurgents shoot back, they get a free vacation in Guantanamo for the rest of they're lives?

We're all over the war on terror. We'll lock up children if we think they're a threat. We'll pull passengers off plane on the thinist evidence and secretly send them to Syria to be tortured, but when it comes to Cuban terrorists who worked for Daddy -- we set them free.

Yes, as expected, the US has released Luis Pasada Carriles and sent him home. Instead of charging him with blowing 73 young people out of the sky in 1976, he gets a pass. Long live King George III.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Note from the author:

I apologies for not posting as much as usual. There is a lot of stuff going on, I know -- it's like a blogger's wet dream what's going on -- but work is encroaching on my time and having to navigate the wonderful word of public library computers is wearing on me. From what I hear my neighborhood has finally been hooked up to the new municiple internet thingie, so maybe soon I'll be able to do this at home. Having to search for links and quotes with a thirty minute time limit isn't as easy as it sounds.

Message ends.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cho Seung-Hui: You can take this gun from my cold, dead hands!

Is there anything any of us can do to get NPR to stop the 'round the clock coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings? Please, someone start a letter-writing campaign or something. If I hear one more update about the mood on the campus at Blacksburg, I'm going to go out of my mind. I've been trying my best to avoid both Mourning Edition (which is what I'm calling it now) and ATC but when I do accidently turn either of them on, it's all Hoakies all the time.

Has NPR dained to notice that there have been 3 murder/suicides in Houston in the last four days or that we've had 9 shooting deaths in the past 24-hours in Philly, which makes 125 dead this year alone? How about the deaths of 9 US soldiers from the 82nd Airborne in Iraq yesterday or the 85 dead altogether for month-two of the "Surge?"

You know, there were 406 murders in Philly last year and this year it looks like we're well on the way to exceeding that. Why no breathless reports on the massacre that's going on daily in the streets on Philadelphia? It couldn't be a socio-economic thing could it? I guess, they just expect poor urban blacks to kill each other. Rich, young white kids dying on their college campus is another thing altogether.

Lies and more lies. You're doing a heckuva job, W.

The WaPo reports that if anything W. is even more inclined to support his good buddy Al Gonzales despite his lousy performance in the Senate last week and calls from both sides of the aisle to fire him. W. said: "The attorney general went up and gave a very candid assessment and answered every question he could possibly answer, in a way that increased my confidence in his ability to do the job. Some senators didn't like his explanation, but he answered as honestly as he could.'"

Yeah, that's the same hearing I saw. He "answered as honestly as he could?" What? Gonzales didn't actually answer any questions, did he? He used the phrase "I don't recall" 70 times. He doesn't remember talking to W. about the prosecutors, he doesn't remember a November meeting in which he signed off on the firings, he doesn't even remember what he had for breakfast that morning.

This is another one of these 'You're doing a heckuva job' moments for W., isn't it? No matter what the facts of the matter are, he's convinced everything is OK. Sort of like the war in Iraq; Rummy's great work to create Abu Ghraib; and the great job "Brownie" did during Katrina. W. has not only presided over the destruction of a great American city, but he's also managed to destroy an entire country, so don't tell him his mob lawyer is an grade-B moron who isn't qualified to be a dog walker.

Somehow the hearings in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform today over the cover-up of the friendly fire killing of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan and this pigheaded obstinance of W.'s is all coming together for me. Despite what Morning Edition said this morning, Tillman's brother Kevin has spoken out about his brother's death and the war in Iraq. What he said applies to W.'s latest departure from reality regarding his disgraced AG, AG. He wrote in last October:

"Somehow, the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country. Somehow, this is tolerated. Somehow, nobody is accountable for this. . . Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated. . . Somehow lying is tolerated."

It's all too sadly true. What has this country come to when we tolerate a president to blatantly disregard the our laws, our consitutional protections, and common sense? Once we were the most technically advanced country in world, now we have a president who questions the very foundations of science and avoids empiricism at every turn.

W.'s tenure is a prime example of the falacy of two term presidencies. This country can't afford another 8 years like this. One six year term is as much as we can take.
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