Saturday, September 08, 2007

Legitimizing the illegitimate

By Creature

NYT: Troop Buildup, Yielding Slight Gains, Fails to Meet U.S. Goals

What amazes me about this "has the surge been successful" discussion is that it takes place as if the surge isn't anything but a stalling tactic. It was not about breathing room. It was not about security. It was about stalling for a Friedman, only to stall for another Friedman. To discuss the surge as actual policy, or strategy, is to legitimize the Bush parlor game.

[I do not mean to demean the NYT article above. There is some solid reporting there and is a must read for those interested in finding out what a mess Iraq really is.]

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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"And now we come to the sanity clause..."

By J. Thomas Duffy

Now, The Garlic has long known the Bush Grindhouse's affinity to the Marx Brothers as the inspiration for their breath-taking polices, but this is really, really stretching it...

We've heard -- for months, on end -- the expected manna from heaven that would fall in Washington this September... The great warrior, General David Petraeus, would speak his words, sprinkling the ground with golden wisdom... So hushed would the nation's capital become, it could be mistaken for the shooting of a remake of 'The Day The Earth Stood Still'.

But then, a ripple in this militarized Norman Rockwell moment...

Petraeus wouldn't be writing the report, the Bush Grindhouse will pen the way forward...

And we've endured now, the whizzing of reports, flying overhead like a food fight in a middle school cafeteria... The GAO... The NIE, pundits on the right, pundits on the left... A Former Secretary of State... Embassy Reports...

And today -- drumroll, please....

Think Progress: New Twist In Saga Over ‘Petraeus Report’: There Will Be No Report

Joe Gandelman: Shifting Goalposts Dept: Now Petraeus Report Won’t Be Written Report

John Cole: Report? What Report?

As Keith Olbermann said the other evening, of The Commander Guy; "You have no remaining credibility about Iraq".

Now, if we can get a Congressional Democrat, or two, to morph into Klaatu, and his gigantic robot, Gort, and toss around a few "Klaatu barada niktos", maybe something can get done to end this madness.

Bonus Links

Juan Cole: A surge of phony spin on Iraq; Bush's backers are peddling a sunny view of the president's strategy -- despite Iraq's political chaos and soaring death counts

Nir Rosen, in conversation with Amy Goodman: Iraq No Longer Exists

Sidney Blumenthal: Bush knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction

A Night at the Opera (1935) - The Contract

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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". . . like an ubiquitous spook"

By Carol Gee

Today's word, boys and girls, is:

"Ubiquitous" -- According to it means:

adj. Being or seeming to be everywhere at the same time; omnipresent: “plodded through the shadows fruitlessly like an ubiquitous spook” (Joseph Heller).

"U.S. to Expand Domestic Use Of Spy Satellites" -- This story was first broken in the Wall Street Journal in the middle of August. I missed Robert Block's story. And I am sorry because it now feels like a blockbuster to me, given how much I have followed the domestic surveillance issue, and given how ubiquitous these hidden eyes in the sky would be. NPR soon had the story on 8/15/07 on All Things Considered. Here's a quote:

Officials say the change is intended primarily to help them monitor the borders and coastal areas. But it is also raising some serious privacy concerns.

For more than 30 years, domestic agencies have had access to images gathered by U.S. spy satellites. But for the
most part, the information has been used for scientific research or to monitor things such as hurricanes and volcanic activity.

"We have it; why not use it?" Just because the technology exists does not mean it should be used in this manner. In 2006 a so-called Blue Ribbon Commission recommended that the use of spy satellites be formalized, expanded to include the United States, and put under the Homeland Security Department. In the past the Defense Department's spy satellite imagery had been used domestically by the Department of the Interior, or on an ad hoc basis only (NYC on 9/11/01, widespread forest fires or Hurricane Katrina, as examples). In the spring of 2007 Director of National Intelligence, General Michael McConnell gave Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff authority over the program. Civil liberties officers at Homeland Security Security were brought in very late and Congress was only very minimally involved.

Congress and the Fourth Amendment: blindsided and minimized -- It must have felt this way to House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson and California Member Jane Harman and others when they also learned of the program via the newspaper. And their objections are not really connected to turf or to politics. This Committee is the authorizing committee for Homeland Security activities with very large constitutional Fourth Amendment implications. The program had been briefed to certain Intelligence and Appropriations committee members only. This came out in their first committee hearing on the proposed domestic spying program on 9/7/07, broadcast on C-SPAN:

House Homeland Security Cmte. Hearing on Domestic Spy Satellite Use. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MD) chairs a Homeland Security Cmte. hearing titled "Turning Spy Satellites on the Homeland: the Privacy and Civil Liberties Implications of the National Applications Office." Beginning in October 2007 the Department of Homeland Security will open a new office called the National Applications Office (NAO) charged with civil/domestic intelligence gathering. 9/6/2007: WASHINGTON, DC: 2 hr. 25 min.

Representative Thompson and other members of the Committee were furious that they were never notified of the proposed program. Rep. Jane Harman spoke with great passion about the risks to American civil liberties posed by this change. As a member of the Group of Eight briefed on all Intelligence matters, she knows how powerful the satellites' capacities are, as well as the potential conflicts with the Posse Comitatus Act. (One civil liberties advocate witness, Lisa Graves of the Center for National Securities Studies, testified to the visual power of the images, "on a resolution scale of inches)." To quote Harman:

"You let this thing go, it may be another blank check to the executive. It may morph into things that will terrify you if you really understand the capabilities of satellites," said Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), former ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee.

A benign fait accompli? Government witnesses had characterized the views as comparable to that from a hovering helicopter. Another issue is the lack of supporting documentation provided to the committee, particularly the legal structure within which the program will stand. The DHS administrator who will be in charge of the program gave a perfunctory apology and then insisted that the program will be rolled out on October 1 anyway. None of the government's witnesses gave satisfactory answers to Members' Posse Comitatus concerns about sharing imagery with state and local law enforcement, given that these satellites belong to the Defense Department. To quote Wikipedia:

It generally prohibits Federal military personnel and units of the United States National Guard under Federal authority from acting in a law enforcement capacity within the United States, except where expressly authorized by the Constitution or Congress. The Posse Comitatus Act and the Insurrection Act substantially limit the powers of the Federal government to use the military for law enforcement.

MSM blogger writes -- ABC News Brian Ross at The Blotter (9/6/07) details the expected criticism of House Members during the hearing. To quote:

DHS Chief Intelligence Officer Charles E. Allen has insisted that all of the "relevant committees" in Congress were briefed on the plan to create a permanent office for sharing satellite data with federal, state and local officials operating within the United States.

. . . Thompson and the committee will hear from a skeptic as well. Lisa Graves, a former Justice Department official, will testify to her serious concerns about the proposed office.

The special commission whose 2005 study recommended the office had some provocative ideas that deserve closer scrutiny, according to Graves, now an expert with the nonpartisan Center for National Security Studies.

Because I have yet to get all of this off my chest, and because the momentum in favor of this questionable program is so intense, it will be continued in "'Like an ubiquotous spook' -- Part II."

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Fear and loathing at breakfast

By Capt. Fogg

"This is the horror of American politics today -- not that Richard Nixon and his fixers have been crippled, convicted, indicted, disgraced and even jailed -- but that the only alternatives are not much better; the same dim collection of burned-out hacks who have been fouling our lives with their gibberish for the last twenty years."

I often wish
Hunter S. Thompson were still around. Anything I've tried to write about what has happened to the country we both mourned has owed something to him. I've recently begun to read and re-read his voluminous work and Fear and loathing in the Bunker, which appeared in the New York Times on New Year's day 1974 was this morning's breakfast.

Our feelings about Nixon's villainy, his dishonesty, his ambition to rule can easily be transferred to George W. Bush, whose coven includes many of the accessories to Nixon's crimes and in a way, looking at what we're enduring now with only small traces of the reaction that forced Tricky Dick out of office, produces more of those signature emotions than all the fear and loathing of the early 1970s.

On that New Year's day, Thompson was taking some pleasure at the discomfiture of " the main villain of my political consciousness for as long as I can remember." He correctly predicted the coming resignation, but speculated on what tactics President Nixon might chose to remain in power, including:

"A long-term treaty with Russia, arranged by Henry Kissinger, securing Moscow's support of an American invasion, seizure and terminal occupation of all oil-producing countries in the Middle East. . . and give the Federal Government unlimited Emergency powers."

Of course, we don't worry too much about Russia any more and don't need their support for the other part of the plan which was a nuclear strike on China. Yes, we have some different pawns on the chessboard. China is more threatening for making plastic toys now, but we have Iran and its "terrorists."

Nixon did of course resign, but Nixon's entourage re-entered the mainstream and Pat Robertson and Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and all the Neo-cons and ex-cons and Nixonians who populate the Republican Party are carrying on the legacy aided by a much more scientific and powerful ability to manipulate opinion and create false scenarios.

Pat Buchanan compared the Nixon debacle to the tale of Sisyphus: "We rolled the rock all the way up the mountain... and it rolled right back down on us." Pat has certainly found other rocks to roll and Bush has rolled that same rock nearly all the way up a new hill and rolled it over us in the process. The fear that he will succeed where Nixon failed and the loathing I feel thinking about how we have done nothing to prevent it and much to promote it must be emotions I shared with the late Mr. Thompson who of course finally succumbed in that second year of Bush's War on Democracy and ended his life.

"Despite all the savage excesses committed by the people he chose to run the country, no real opposition or realistic alternative to Richard nixon's cheap and mean-hearted view of the American Dream has ever developed."

Yet there was optimism in 1974:

" It has been a failure of such monumental proportions that political apathy is no longer considered fashionable, or even safe, among millions of people who only two years ago thought that anybody who disagreed openly with "the Government" was either paranoid or subversive."

It didn't last:

" Political candidates, in 1974 at least, are going to have to deal with angry, disillusioned electorate that is not likely to settle for flag-waving and pompous bullshit."

Perhaps he underestimated the memory of our born-yesterday, dumbed down, entertainment oriented and gullible fellow Americans and the power of our eternal enemy.

I don't think I'm the suicide type, but I understand the Sisyphean horror, the frustration, the hopelessness that comes from loving the country this should have been; that we hoped it was; that we thought we could make it.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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The sound of xenophobia

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There's an excellent article on Switzerland at The Independent. Make sure to read it all, but here's the summary:

Switzerland is known as a haven of peace and neutrality. But today it is home to a new extremism that has alarmed the United Nations. Proposals for draconian new laws that target the country's immigrants have been condemned as unjust and racist. A poster campaign, the work of its leading political party, is decried as xenophobic. Has Switzerland become Europe's heart of darkness?

According to the U.N., the poster in question is "the sinister symbol of the rise of a new racism and xenophobia in the heart of one of the world's oldest independent democracies". Immigration and xenophobia will no doubt be key issues leading up to the general election next month.


In related news, it is being reported that Mitt Romney is planning a two-day fact-finding mission to Berne next week, a break from the campaign trail in Iowa and New Hampshire. Rudy Giuliani, who has been showing a softer, un-Republican side, at least on the issue of illegal immigration, has been denied entry into Switzerland, according to a high-ranking government source, but Tom Tancredo and a delegation of Republican congressmen will accompany Romney. Tancredo himself has called Switzerland "Europe's ideal," and there have been rumours that, while there, he will apply for residency in exchange for advising the Swiss People's Party (Schweizerische Volkspartei) during the upcoming campaign.


In related related news, Zurich and Denver are planning to become twin cities, with cultural and political exchanges coming as early as next summer, just in time for the 2008 elections.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

I say APEC, you say OPEC -- I say Australia, you say Austria

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yes, yes, I know -- anyone can mess up and say the wrong thing, such are the demands of public speaking. It's just that it's especially funny when Bush messes up and says the wrong thing, and, of course, he messes up and says the wrong thing a lot. Why is it funny? Well, because it's George W. Bush, because it reinforces the image of Bush as something of a fool, an ignoramus, a buffoon to whom both the English language and the wider world around him are foreign lands. Just as he seems to know so little about the wider world, so does he mangle the English language and stick his foot in his mouth, repeatedly.

And so it was at the APEC summit in Australia, where Bush messed up and said the wrong thing by referring to OPEC and to Austria. Easy enough mistakes, perhaps, but typical, for Bush.

Consider these headlines (with links):

And the Australians are having fun with it, too. Here's a headline (with link) at The Sydney Morning Herald:

Now, Bush's defenders -- and there are still a few of them around -- will argue that Bush is being unfairly picked on. But this is George W. Bush, the most powerful man in the world, a man who has waged wars, is waging them still, a man of confident self-righteousness, a man at the top of the world without the intellectual capacity to back it up. If anyone deserves a bit of picking on, it's Bush.

And so, for your amusement, I present you this short clip (The Raw Story has a longer one) of Bush's OPEC/APEC gaffe (check out the headline at the bottom: "United States President George W Bush Says Iraq Operation Is 'The Calling Of Our Time'" -- actually, it would have been far more accurate for him to have said that getting out of Iraq is the calling of our time):

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Token withdrawal

By Creature

Every time a member of this administration hints at withdrawal it must be made clear that they are lying. Their intention is to stay, and stay indefinitely. Token withdrawals are not an option. Bull must be called.

And, yes, Democrats, I'm talking to you.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Br'er bin Laden

By Libby Spencer

ABC has released a transcript of the new bin Laden tape. You'll read a lot of spin on this one but I can sum it up in one sentence. Bin Laden to America: Oh please, please, please, don't throw me in that briar patch. For those who don't get the reference, it's from the old story of Br'er Rabbit, whose only hope of survival is to trick Br'er Fox into throwing him into the briar patch.

Pretend for a moment you're bin Laden. Before 9/11 you were a two-bit terrorist who nobody paid much attention to. You commanded a small band of loyalists and you had to work really hard to get noticed. Then you pull a stunt that succeeds beyond your wildest dreams. The president of the USeffinA has declared you international public enemy number one. You're a super-star. All you have to do to get noticed is release a 30 minute videotape.

Your enemy has kindly turned your country into a no-man's land where it's easy to hide and destroyed your rival's country and turned it into a training ground for your men and a great source of funding. Your foe is spending 3 billion dollars a week to fight you. You can keep him there indefinitely with a couple of hundred three dollar IEDs and another couple of thousand bucks worth of car bombs a month. You don't even have to recruit anymore. They're lining up to join and you've inspired freelancers to emulate you. No way do you want to lose all that. You need to keep this occupation going.

But Americans are tired of playing the game and it looks like the occupation might be in serious danger of ending. The Democrats might really do something about it. So what do you do? How do you thwart the Dems? By insisting that they end the war of course.

Bin Laden is insane but he's not stupid. What better way to rile up the pro-war crowd and put the anti-occupation proponents in the awkward position of "agreeing" with the enemy? Just as Br'er Rabbit begged not to get the one thing he really wanted, bin Laden demands the one thing he doesn't really want.

How many times are we going to let him get away with that trick?

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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The internal power struggle in Iran

By AviShalom

Iran’s Assembly of Experts has elected ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as its head.

Rafsanjani, whom Ahmedinejad defeated in a runoff for the presidency in 2005 (after leading narrowly in the first round), now adds to his power base chairmanship of the body that “supervises” the Supreme Leader. Rafsanjani already held the title of head of the Expediency Council, a body which arbitrates disputes between the various bodies in Iran’s maze of institutions.

Already, the new chairman of the "Experts" has clashed with the president, offering more evidence of Iran’s nuclear program being a weapon--a weapon in the country’s internal political power struggle, that is.

Rafsanjani today made a plea for talks with the West, directly countering a defiant speech just a few days ago by Ahmadinejad. Rafsanjani asserted that Iran does not seek a nuclear weapon, whereas Ahmadinejad blustered about Iran’s supposed great progress towards developing its nuclear program.

So what is the Assembly of Experts and what might we infer from its being headed by a rival to the president?

The Assembly of Experts is an elected body, though as with all elected positions in Iran, candidates are first vetted by the the Guardian Council, which is made up of senior clerics (six appointed by the Supreme Leader and six elected by the parliament). (I said it was a "maze" of institutions!)

The most recent elections to the Assembly were in December, 2006. The current Assembly, which Rafsanjani was just chosen to head, will select the replacement to current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, although most likely not till he dies. The Assembly has formal authority to remove a sitting Supreme Leader, though whether it would ever actually do so is impossible to say in a regime that is still this young and hardly fully institutionalized. (As I noted back in December at Fruits & Votes, there is some evidence that Ahmadinejad was hoping to get supporters elected to the Assembly and use it as a base to challenge Khamanei’s tenure.)

The distant runner-up for chairmanship of the Assembly of Experts, Ayatollah Ahmed Jannati, currently heads the Guardian Council. The candidate who came in third was Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, often considered a mentor to Ahmedinejad and a possible successor as Supreme Leader.

Mesbah-Yazdi’s chances of becoming Supreme Leader continue to look dim; his student’s presidency has not exactly helped his cause.

There is clearly an ongoing power struggle within Iran, and the institutions are by no means the only place it is being carried out. But it is being carried out in those institutions--possibly more so than in the past. At Fruits & Votes, I have previously discussed in some detail what it might mean--and whether it might be objectively "good" for the West--whether and to what extent the Iranian regime institutionalizes further, that is, the extent to which its insiders play by the written "rules of the game."

(Revision/combination of various posts at Fruits & Votes.)


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Spinning the dead

By Creature

Seven more soldiers reported dead today. Eight soldiers were reported dead on Wednesday. Add in a few more and you have eighteen dead soldiers for the month. A month only seven days old. But it's OK, all these dead people, because we're "kicking ass" and will be kicking said ass for the next 20 years.

Bring 'em on.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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"An ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Finally, finally, finally:

A federal judge struck down controversial portions of the USA Patriot Act in a ruling that declared them unconstitutional yesterday, ordering the FBI to stop its wide use of a warrantless tactic for obtaining e-mail and telephone data from private companies for counterterrorism investigations.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in New York said the FBI's use of secret "national security letters" to demand such data violates the First Amendment and constitutional provisions on the separation of powers, because the FBI can impose indefinite gag orders on the companies and the courts have little opportunity to review the letters.

The secrecy provisions are "the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values," Marrero wrote. His strongly worded 103-page opinion amounted to a rebuke of both the administration and Congress...

Credit Judge Marrero, as well as the ACLU -- very good and noble work, if not often enough rewarded.

Freedom is indeed on the march, much to Bush's chagrin, and though the government will likely appeal, "the decision could eliminate or sharply curtail the FBI's issuance of tens of thousands of national security letters (NSLs) each year to telephone companies, Internet providers and other communications firms".

A victory for civil liberties over government abuse is no small thing.

But the fight must continue -- because the abuse certainly will.

(See also Firedoglake, The Democratic Daily, and Shakesville.)

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

What the rest of the world wants

By Michael J.W. Stickings

According to a new BBC poll, most people around the world want the U.S. to pull out of Iraq "within a year... Some 39% of people in 22 countries said troops should leave now, and 28% backed a gradual pull-out. Just 23% wanted them to stay until Iraq was safe."

Of course, one imagines that most people around the world also want new episodes of Baywatch. Still, what this poll shows is the vast unpopularity of the Iraq War. Given that unpopularity, America's ongoing presence in Iraq only serves to weaken her reputation around the world, a reputation that was hardly solid to begin with -- solid in a negative way, perhaps, for many and perhaps most people around the world had serious and largely justifiable reservations about America -- her culture, her foreign policy, her imperial nature -- long before the Iraq War sucked America into the quagmire it rapidly became. Those reservations have only intensified on Bush's watch, that is, directly as a result of Bush's policies.

There are many good reasons for America to pull out of Iraq now or at least soon, within a year -- the war as initially waged has already been lost, casualties continue to mount among both U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians, America finds herself now in the middle of a civil war, the Iraqi government is corrupt and ineffectual, America's very presence as an occupying force is undermining any chance of success in terms of security and political stability, and so on. World opinion against the war may not be as good a reason as those others, but it does point to one of the consequences of this disastrous war: the collapse of America's image, the positive image that there may have been, around the world, and hence the weakening of one key aspect of America's soft power -- moral authority as a force for good.

America's reputation around the world was pretty bad before the Iraq War. Like the war itself, it's a disaster now. And it will take a good long time for it to recover from the abuse it has taken at Bush's hands.

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Next stop, PBA!

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Last month, in response to the publication of testosterone-fueled photos of Vladimir Putin fishing in Siberia, I suggested that the Russian autocrat could be the next Bond, or perhaps an older Jason Bourne in a future entry in that series (and let's hope there are more entries, given how good the first three have been). Well, now I'm not so sure. Here he is bowling at the Russian Pacific Fleet submarine base at Vilyuchinsk, a closed town in Kamchatka Krai, way out east

Hardly impressive -- and certainly worthy enough to be our Amusing Photo of the Day.

Then again, maybe he's bowling a perfect game. Or maybe, given his autocracy, all his games are perfect. Surely his minions can see to it that the right pins fall over at the right time, all the time.

(Photo from the Globe.)

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Freedom's just another word

By Capt. Fogg

It's to the point where every time I see another picture of those damned smoking towers I know somebody's going to lie to me and last night was no exception.

"They attacked us!"

says the legless man in camouflage; the ad, run during NBC Nightly News, showed that same old video as though he wasn't talking about two disparate and essentially unrelated "theys". A shadowy organization calling itself Freedom's Watch is shamelessly promoting the Big Lie that Saddam Hussein attacked New York and with the smug, condescending attitude of a second grade school teacher talking to small children about keeping order in the lunchroom.

If we pull out now, the sacrifice will have been in vain, says the pathetic victim of the Bush family vendetta. Well here's the only point on which I agree since it was all in vain from the start. If I don't keep trying to turn lead into gold, I will never turn lead into gold. That's logically true, of course, but a misleading tautology. I won't turn lead into gold no matter what I do.

So what the hell is he really selling with the crude sophistry and fatuous fallacies? Nobody goes to the trouble of creating false equivalences and forging them into truth by relentless hammering on the anvil of American ear drums unless there's something to be gained by it.
Freedom's Watch doesn't hide their mission, although they keep their identity and funding out of sight. Their web site is festooned with flags and eagles and tawdry tokens of cheap souvenir patriotism and its mission statement is as gaudy and cliché as one would expect from any carnival barker:

Our mission is to ensure a strong national defense and a powerful fight against terror, especially in Iraq.

National defense being deceitfully defined, of course, as committing all your assets in an attack on and occupation of a non-threatening nation. National defense is using those troops as hostages in an imperial endeavor. But terror is fear, not a country and sorry to say, I'm not afraid much less terrified, so for my part the question is moot.

Our group will give a voice to those who believe that victory is America's only choice.

Which begs the question the answer to which has been accepted by most rational people including the Generals. The question is "what is victory for us in someone else's civil war" and the answer is that military victory is not a concept that applies here. Dealing with the fact that hating America to death is growing like an epidemic that grows faster every time we kill someone in a country that did not threaten us or attack us does not include the prolonged military occupation of Iraq. Those who believe, in this case, are most likely to be those who profit.

Those who want to quit while victory is possible have dominated the public debate about terror and Iraq since the 2004 election.

But that's not too surprising because Victory is undefinable, occupation unsustainable and what seems to be the largest possible majority in America wants out of it -- and they want out because they believe "victory" is not possible. There is in fact no debate about Iraq and terrorism. Iraq was never a supporter of international terrorism. Those countries who supported al Qaeda are being called allies.

For those who believe in peace through strength, the cavalry is coming.

Yes, this is a John Wayne movie and will end nicely as the credits roll on the silver screen. Don't worry about it. Strength means constant war, doesn't it? Strong people are always picking fights.

Our goal, as we await General Petraeus' report, is to make sure our elected leaders do not abandon our nation's mission in Iraq and that they do not cave in to the demands of those who want to cut and run.

After all, it's not their job to execute the will of their constituents, is it? It's what the nameless and wealthy warmongers and plutocrat profiteers want that should matter to them. It's also rather suspicious that they seem to know what General Petraeus' report contains, but of course we know the source of all this, don't we?

There's no fallacy or misstatement there that hasn't been beaten to death, but human nature being what it is, repetition wipes away refutation and lies become history. Click on the
about us link at Freedoms Watch and you won't find anything about them other than an assertion that they are legal and are asking for money, as though the people who fund it haven't made so much money from this war that they don't need your contributions. What they really want is your freedom, and your future and the blood of your children.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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Some truth about the state of Iraq; or, yet more evidence of how the Iraq War has been lost

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Stating the obvious, but in an official way:

Iraq's Interior Ministry is "dysfunctional," filled with sectarianism and corruption, according to an independent assessment of the Iraqi security forces to be published [today]. The report said that Iraq's national police force, controlled by that ministry, is "operationally ineffective" and should be disbanded and reorganized.

The report, by a congressionally-named commission of retired senior military officers, cites progress in the operation and training of the Iraqi army. But it estimates that "they will not be ready to independently fulfill their security role within the next 12 to 18 months" without a substantial U.S. military presence. Logistical self-sufficiency, which it describes as key to independent Iraqi operations, is at least two years away, the report says.

Iraqi security forces "have the potential to help reduce sectarian violence," the report says. But the report, which emphasizes the failure of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government to achieve key political benchmarks, says that violence will not end without political reconciliation. In addition to the failings of the Interior Ministry and police, it says that Maliki is perceived as bypassing the Ministry of Defense and the chain of command to create "a second, and politically motivated" command structure in the army.

The Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, headed by retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, is the latest of a series of progress reports of the political and military situation in Iraq in advance of the Bush administration's own scorecard to be delivered next week. A report by the Government Accountability Office, released yesterday, said that Iraq had met only three of 18 congressional benchmarks for progress.

I wrote about this, linking to a post by David Corn at The Nation, last week. Allow me to repeat myself: Remember all that happy talk from the warmongers about democratic self-governance, about all the great and wonderful things that were going to happen once Saddam's regime was toppled and the Iraqi people were put in charge of their national destiny?

Yes, remember all that talk about how the Iraqis were going to rise up and take back their country from the ashes of the Saddam regime, how it was all going to be so democratic, so liberal, so encouraging of widespread change throughout the region, throughout the Middle East, throughout Dar al-Islam?

Freedom was on the march, or something like that. Problem is, it may just have been marching in place, and now it seems to be marching in reverse. Either way, religious sectarianism seems to be marching faster. So, too, corruption.

Blame Maliki and the current powers-that-be in Baghdad all you want. We know Bush and the warmongers will. The failure of the Iraqis to meet the benchmarks, to take control of their own country, will be their excuse, their justification for pulling out, if it comes to that, and it will, eventually. It's always someone else's fault, in Bush World.

The real responsibility lies not with Maliki, however incompetent and corrupt he may be, but with Bush, also incompetent and certainly the one who truly deserves the blame for the wreck that Iraq has become on his watch and because of his war. If the war had been waged effectively -- or not at all, of course -- we wouldn't have these reports detailing what has gone so horribly wrong.

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Dying to lay a foundation for another war

By Creature

I'm not sure which makes me madder, the tragic first part of this MSNBC headline, or the neocon-serving stenography of the second?

Bang that drum.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Headline of the Day (Crazy Craig edition)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

This one's awesome:

With this, Craig himself qualifies as our Craziest Republican of the Day. How so? If you're trying to resurrect your image, and overcome a guilty plea, and recant on your resignation, and convince everyone (including your wife, family, and constituents) that you weren't looking for "lewd conduct" in a public restroom (even though you played by the rules of the tearoom/cottage and seemingly knew what you were doing, tap-tapping away) -- well, if you're trying to do all that, and more, I'm not sure hiring Michael Vick's lawyer is the best move you can make.

Not that I'd equate cruising for cock in a public restroom with abusing and killing dogs, but, well, you think a U.S. senator, even one in the firm grip of self-denial, would have a bit more sense, no?


Larry Craig = Bathroom Sex Senator.

I love that.


Can we find out, please, if Craig is a top or a bottom? Someone must know. I'm guessing... bottom.

Michael Rogers must know, surely -- or perhaps the Idaho Statesman?


Speaking of the Statesman, Craig's nemesis, here's our Lede of the Day: "To the dismay of fellow Republicans, Sen. Larry Craig launched a determined drive to save his seat today, vowing to stay in office if his guilty plea in a men’s room sex sting can soon be overturned."

Craig wants to clear his name, as he put it, and, according to The New York Times, he "delivered a letter to the Senate ethics committee today asking the committee to reject a complaint relating to his guilty plea in an airport sex sting operation," a move that "opens a potentially ugly battle between Mr. Craig and the Republican leadership, as Mr. Craig reconsiders his plans to resign from the Senate". The Statesman reported late today that "the ethics committee refused to set aside a complaint lodged against him".

And what is the Republican leadership saying? As Greg Sargent is reporting at TPM Election Central, Senator Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, said this today: "If [Craig] is able to get he case favorably disposed of in Minneapolis [before Sept. 20] it would be his intention to come back to the Senate, to deal with the ethics committee case that he knows he will have, and to try to finish his term."

Craig may have told McConnell he was not planning to run for re-election, however, and that could have softened the latter's position. After all, it was not so long ago that the Republican leadership was forcing Craig out of his committee assignments and many Republicans were calling for his resignation.

Hypocrisy and political expediency are everywhere, it seems.

If Craig can get off, so to speak, Republicans will act like nothing happened, nothing at all, for such is the Republican way, the way of their bigoted hypocrites: deny, deny, deny.

And pretend, to the point of utter delusion, that all is hunky-dory behind the facade of righteousness.

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Cowboy diplomacy creates crowd Down Under

By Libby Spencer

Building on Fogg's post, our Braggart in Chief didn't swagger into the SE Asia conference alone to boast his prowess. Like any bully worth his salt, he brought his posse with him. All 700 of them, which included 250 Secret Service agents and 350 beltway bureaucrats. What do you want to bet the manifest also included a hairdresser? Heck, he probably brings a maid and a butler too.

It took three jumbo jets and two "gargantuan C17 Globemaster III air transports" to carry the passengers and all the acroutements, including Marine One and a Black Hawk surveillance helicopter for backup, two backup Air Force One jumbo jets just for him and a fleet of cars.

How crazy is that? Royalty doesn't arrive with such an ostentatious display, nor do any other world leaders to my knowledge. I mean does anybody need 250 personal security guards to walk the streets of Australia? They're even bringing their own bullets. It's insulting in a way to the host. It implies he doesn't trust their security. Not to mention that he changed his plans at the last minute to arrive late and is leaving the conference early. And why bring all the advisors? It's not like he's going to listen to any of them.

This is the way he treats our allies. Small wonder we have so few real friends left. On the bright side, it occurs to me that if we survive to the end of his regime, the next president will have it easier on the diplomacy side with our allies at least. We could elect Attila the Hun and it couldn't fail to feel like an improvement.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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German authorities nab suspected terrorist ring; "massive attacks" planned

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It is being reported that, to quote The New York Times, "German police have arrested three Islamic militants suspected of planning large-scale terrorist attacks against several sites frequented by Americans, including discos, bars, airports, and military installations."

The arrested ("[a]t least five lesser figures were still being pursued"), who are suspected of having "close ties" to al Qaeda (according to Jörg Ziercke, head of the German Federal Crime Office), "were in advanced stages of plotting bomb attacks that could have been deadlier than the terrorist strikes that killed dozens in London and Madrid". "'They were planning massive attacks,' the German federal prosecutor, Monika Harms, said at a news conference Wednesday, outlining an intense six-month investigation. She said the suspects had amassed large amounts of hydrogen peroxide, the main chemical used to manufacture the explosives used in the suicide bombings in London in July 2005."

Needless to say, this is good news -- although, as usual, it is not exactly clear just how advanced the planning was, how imminent the attacks were, how massive the attacks would have been, and how close the relations with al Qaeda were.

But let's acknowledge, for now, that this was indeed a serious terrorist ring with the capacity to launch serious attacks against American targets. Given that acknowledgment, I cannot disagree with Andrew Sullivan's sober assessment of the situation:

Congrats to the Germans. Some obvious points: these men are educated, two of three are German nationals, all seem to have been trained not in Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan, but in Pakistan, a putative ally. It is hard to see how the Iraq war - whether a failure or a success - would have any impact on this tiny cell's attempt at mass murder in the name of God. This is simply the religious violence we have to contend with for the indefinite future. All we can do is what the Germans did: keep up surveillance (with protections against abuse), and run as many to ground as we can.

Yes, this appears to have been "a major success story," to quote Steve Benen.

Still, it is worth reminding ourselves, as Steve does (and always does in response to such successes), that this was a police action, not a military one. On this key point -- i.e., that the so-called war on terrorism is better waged by the police than by the military, that terrorism is more effectively combatted through civilian law enforcement activity -- John Kerry was right in 2004 and Bush was wrong. In fact, on this key point, Bush has been consistently wrong all along, which means that his so-called war on terrorism has been wrong all along, and fundamentally so.


The right has had a lot to say about this -- screaming bloody murder, as usual -- but, for more sober reflections along the lines of Andrew's and Steve's, see Taylor Marsh, Barbara O'Brien, Kevin Hayden, Matt Yglesias, John Cole, and our own Libby Spencer.

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Congress in the dark

By Carol Gee

Did Senators and House members learn anything while they were gone from Washington? What did the members hear while they were out on recess? We can assume they got an earful of criticism, given what they did and did not accomplish. The Polling reports on current Congress - Job Rating figures. They show approvals percentages mostly in the low 20s, with Gallup at 18.

How could this group be so clueless? Perhaps it is due to the fog of war. Do those who represent us need night vision goggles to see what the public sees? Democrats and Republicans, who compromised away our constitutional Fourth Amendment civil liberty protections in a late night rush to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and leave town, may have thought they were exercising bipartisanship. But it was complete surrender to the Bush administration's dark designs on unrestrained Executive power. The weapons used against legislators was raising fears of being accused of being unpatriotic and weak on fighting terrorism. Glenn Greenwald reminds us of how dangerous this is:

The severe dangers from allowing the government to engage in surveillance of Americans' communications with no oversight ought to be self-evident. That government leaders will abuse unchecked powers is the most basic premise of our country since its founding, and independently, the dangers are obvious.

But reasoning of that sort is not even required to appreciate and convey to Americans why oversight-less spying powers of the type the Congress just vested in the Bush administration are so pernicious.

In the light of day Congress must act to rectify its mistakes. The repairs should include a number of fixes that will remedy legislating in the dark. They need to see to it that more Senators and Members (particularly the Judiciary Committees, who are responsible for Constitutional protections) receive the administration's intelligence briefings. Though all Members and Senators already have security clearances, they should get security clearances for more of their key staff members. And they must prepare themselves with knowledge. For example Firedoglake's "looseheadprop" posted this on 9/3/07: "Every member of Congress should read this book." To quote:

So, why am I writing about it anyway? Because this book, called National Security Investigations and Prosecutions, by David Kris and Douglas Wilson appears to be the most up to date, comprehensive treatise on this area of law yet available.

When the lights come back on in the Capitol today, the House and Senate will be in a position to do the jobs for which they were elected. The Constitution gives them the power of the purse, which they should begin to exercise over the administration, when it uses bullying tactics. The normal checks and balances between branches of government need to be restored. As Mickey Edwards said simply on C-SPAN in a recent forum at the Center for American Progress, "do this and the department handling the job will get its money. Otherwise you won't." This great C-SPAN discussion is worth watching again:

Center for American Progress Discussion on FISA Amendments - PM Session
. . . examines recent amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Panelists on the "Restoring Checks and Balances" discussion included: Mary DeRosa, Chief Counsel for National Security, Senate Judiciary Committee ; Former Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-OK); and others.

And then there is the fog of the War in Iraq, made foggier by the President's recent "photo-op" visit to the civil-war torn country. Many members themselves visited during the recess. Now they must deal with what they know or should know about the upcoming course of the war. This story summarizes it well: On 8/29/2007, U.S. News & World Report headlined, "Congress Braces for a Bruising September, A contentious debate on the future of Iraq is in the offing" by Danielle Knight, August 28, 2007. To quote:

. . . expect fireworks when Congress returns in September. Lawmakers are preparing for a lineup of passionate debates, hearings, and votes on the Iraq war when they return after Labor Day. In addition to debate over the president's proposed $145 billion war spending bill, the House will hold hearings next week on two new key reports on the military and political situations in Iraq. And both chambers will be anxiously awaiting the midmonth testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Members of the legislative branch are respected even less than our current president. How could they go any lower by acting in a courageous and well-informed manner to actually protect the country?

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

An American mall in Dora

By Creature

If the surge has taught us anything it's that General Petraeus will make a fantastic mall builder and promoter when he finally gives up his PR gig in Iraq.

For more substance, see Libby below.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Calling Miss Manners

By Creature

Fine, Mr. Bush, you want ruin the country, go ahead. You want to destabilize the Middle East, have at it. But could you at least do it without talking with your mouth full. Com' on.

Bush, as always, bridled at the request to navel-gaze. "You're the observer," he said as he worked the cheese in his mouth. [...]

"The job of the president," he continued, through an ample wad of bread and sausage, "is to think strategically so that you can accomplish big objectives. As opposed to playing mini-ball. You can't play mini-ball with the influence we have and expect there to be peace. You've gotta think, think BIG. The Iranian issue," he said as bread crumbs tumbled out of his mouth and onto his chin. [...]

Seriously, manners equals respect, this douche of a president has neither.

Maha will take you through the policy parts of Bush's new bio, and she'll do it with her mouth closed.

Update: And let's not forget this manner-less moment:

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The surge has failed - Dora Marketplace is a hoax

By Libby Spencer

Building on a post that I just put up at Newshoggers on how the surge has failed because, as we all agreed back in March, military gains are meaningless, let's look at this piece in the WaPo that expands on how illusionary even the military progress Petreaus and the White House PR team are touting really is, by analyzing the much ballyhooed resurgence of the market in Dora.

Even U.S. soldiers assigned to protect Petraeus's showcase remain skeptical. "Personally, I think it's a false representation," Campbell said, referring to the portrayal of the Dora market as an emblem of the surge's success. "But what can I say? I'm just doing my job and don't ask questions."

On the surface it might appear it's a small success. They met their goal of 300 shops reopened only a month later than the target date and by last count there are 349. Still shy of the goal of 500, and far short of the 850 shops that were there pre-invasion. But nonetheless, it's progress. Or is it?

Still, the Dora market is a Potemkin village of sorts. The U.S. military hands out $2,500 grants to shop owners to open or improve their businesses. The military has fixed windows and doors and even helped rebuild shops that had burned down, soldiers and others said.

Some shopkeepers said they would not do business in the market without U.S. support. "The Americans are giving money, so they're opening up stores," said Falah Hassan Fadhil, 27, who sells cosmetics.

1st Lt. Jose Molina, who is in charge of monitoring and disbursing the grant money, said the U.S. military includes barely operating stores in its tally. "Although they sell dust, they are open for business," said Molina, 35, from Dallas. "They intend to sell goods or they may just have a handful of goods. But they are still counted."

Okay, so we're building and financing the shops ourselves. In fact, "in the past month alone the military had approved 35 grants totaling more than $87,000." But the place is secure for the residents now that we established security, right? Right?

Security measures in the market are rigorous. Vehicles are not allowed inside for fear of car bombs. Customers are body-searched at checkpoints. Humvees constantly patrol the area, which is the sole focus of the 50 or so soldiers of Combat Outpost Gator.

...Before the invasion, many of its stores stayed open past midnight. Today, they are open for just a few hours, and by noon the market is mostly deserted. The shopkeepers, who are mostly Sunni, said they rarely see customers from outside Dora because it is too dangerous to travel here.

Okay so they still need help with security, but the other prong of the Petraeus surge strategy was training the Iraqis to take over. Surely they've met that metric.

"If the Americans were not here, we would close earlier, maybe one or two hours," said shopkeeper Alaa Hussein Mahmoud, 32. "I'm always scared about the militias."

Two days earlier, a squad of Iraqi police entered the market. Shoppers left and shopkeepers scurried to shutter their businesses. The police are widely said to be infiltrated by Shiite militias. "We were scared of them. Everybody ran away," said Hussein Ali, 37, another shop owner.

Okay, so they're not quite ready yet but it's a hard job and the local security forces are really trying to get up to speed. Right?

Minutes before the delegation arrived, Bartran instructed 1st Lt. Ali Husham Salih, 27, the commander of the Iraqi army's 4th company, 1st Brigade, to have his soldiers put on their uniforms and combat gear.

Salih said later that his men could protect the market on their own but that they depended on the Americans for support and weapons. "If the American soldiers leave, you'll find the Iraqi army destroyed in one month," he said. "We still want and need the Americans to stay for a long time until we are strong."

Okay then. Americans are welcome as long as they're handing out cash and weapons and doing the Iraqis' job for them. But perhaps nothing describes the success story of the Dora market so well as this.

The head of the Chamber of Commerce for Rashid, the district where the Dora market is located, Mr. Shamary was invited by US military brass to visit the market.

Shamary agreed on the condition that the U.S. military escort him. The previous director of the chamber had been murdered. Shamary was not about to enter the Dora market alone.

Imagine for a moment that Baghdad was New York. The success of the Dora market would be the equivalent of erecting a concrete barrier around 14th Street and making it a zone where you could only enter on foot and are subject to rigorous body searches both on entering and while shopping. Unless you lived within, let's be generous and say 20 blocks in any direction, you wouldn't be able to shop there because it's too dangerous to get there. The mayor won't go there himself without an armed guard. Brooklyn might as well be in a foreign country.

There's no trash service so stinking piles of garbage line your route. There's no running water so there's no public bathrooms. People piss in alleys. You're limited by what you can carry because there's no electricity, thus no streetlights and the traffic is a mess. Forget about finding parking. Besides you can't afford the gas and you're afraid you might get killed at a vehicle checkpoint along the way.

Taken in that context, it's difficult to see how any reasonable observer can call even this small gain in Dora any sort of real success. I have to reiterate my disappointment here in all those moderates who promised me back in March, that they would join us in opposition to the occupation if it didn't meet metrics we all agreed upon at the time. Those that are now pretending that temporary military success was the only original goalpost all along, are quickly losing my respect and my trust in their judgment.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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What's important about freedom?

By Carol Gee

[links below to: Financial Times of London-FT, China Daily News-CD, International Herald Tribune-IHT]

Bill of Rights --

FISA - The recent dust-up (IHT) over Congress amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act raises fundamental questions of American citizens' freedom. What is our current standing with our government? How does the foreign press cover the story? [Note - the links (with abbreviations) in this post are to related stories in the foreign press only].

The administration's rhetoric claims (IHT) that our government is doing everything it can to protect us. So why do I - a "Liberal, a Progressive" - feel so unprotected right now? I do not believe it is about my politics. I believe it goes far beyond that.

How does the rhetoric match the behavior of those who govern us? Is there a disconnect that accounts for my discomfort? Do we effectively stand lower in priority than before the terrorists attacked the U.S. on 9/11/01? It would seem so. If one looks at the constitutional issues raised since that course-changing day, it would seem that it does not offer us the kind of protections of privacy (CD)to which we were originally entitled.

Entitled? Yes, I do have a sense of entitlement. It says I am entitled, right there on the parchment, long housed under glass for all of us to read. To what Bill of Rights protection/freedoms (IHT) am I entitled when the U.S government goes to war in my name? Where is the law that mandates that I give up so many rights just because we are at war? My perception of vulnerability must be because too many of our trusted Senators and Representatives voted with OCP (our current president) rather than the Constitution. They swore an oath to the Constitution, not George W. Bush.

Unreasonable? Is my individual need for certain freedoms unreasonable? No, it is not unreasonable, because it is written in the promises of the Constitution and the rulings of the courts, up to this point. It is not written in any signing statement of OCP.

Meanings? What does freedom or protection mean to me? It means I should be protected (IHT) from having the government spying on me without a court order (IHT) saying that they have probable cause to think I am breaking the law. It means that a free press has the right to keep me informed of what the government is doing. It means that my vote is protected from interference or fraud. It means I am free to read or write (CD) what I want as long at it is lawful.

Liberty? Why do I need liberty? I am over 21. I have my own bank account. I own property. I have a birth certificate and a driver's license. I crave liberty because I was born and raised in a Western state where country people were pretty much independent, though very cognizant about, and interested in current events at a state, national and international level. And my parents kept most of their promises to us.

Why am I a civil-libertarian? Promises are being broken, left and right. And those broken promises were important for me, for our family, my nieghbors, my fellow citizens, and for our neighbors in other countries (FT). We live in a civil society where lots of people fought and died for my liberties, my freedom, and my protection.

And so I am free to gripe. The Constitution entitles me to lament my losses.

(Cross-posted on 8/12/07 at South by Southwest.)

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Franz Marc: Forms in Combat (1914)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

With the war ongoing in Iraq, with a U.S. war with Iran looming on the horizon, and with so many other wars, large and small, civil and not, raging around the world, this seemed like an appropriate image to post this Labo(u)r Day.

The great Expressionist Franz Marc, a key member of the Blaue Reiter group (a co-founder with Kandinsky, Macke, Jawlensky, and others), was perhaps best-known for his colourful and, in later years, proto-cubist studies of animals in nature, such as The Yellow Cow (1911), Cat on a Yellow Pillow (1912), and The Fate of the Animals (1913), as well as for magnificent studies of the natural world, such as Tyrol (1914). His early naturalism had already given way by 1913-14 to more complex compositions -- see his entry at Wikipedia Commons for more -- and by 1914 his style had become fully abstract, his work non-representational and anti-naturalist.

The image below is Forms in Combat, a powerful work from 1914 that anticipated the Great War that was then looming on the horizon and that would, later that year, engulf Europe. Marc himself was, at first, an enthusiast, like so many others, including some of Britain's more famous war poets: "This is the only way of cleaning out the Augean stable of Europe," Marc wrote in a letter to Kandinsky, "or is there a single person who does not wish this war might happen?"

Marc, a German, volunteered for the army. He was killed on March 4, 1916, at the age of 36.

Forms in Combat (or Fighting Forms) is in the collection of the Pinakothek der Moderne (museum of modern art) in Munich, the city of Marc's birth.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Profiles in dis-courage

By Libby Spencer

It's the holiday so everybody is running profile pieces today. You have your odd couple Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. It doesn't say much other than Democrats generically are viewed much more favorably than our so-called leaders. They finally get to the point in the last sentence:

"The biggest thing is the public's frustration with Iraq," said pollster Andrew Kohut. "People expected them to achieve things, they expected them to achieve a way out of Iraq."

Exactly. Instead we got a lot of political posturing and shadow boxing when they should be throwing knockout punches at the White House.

Newsweek has a really long profile on lazy Fred Thompson. It doesn't offer much new either, other than officially noting that Jeri seems much more into the competition than Fred is and once again the punch line comes in the very last sentence:

Thompson, who has already been president three times in the movies, is about to find out how much harder it is to play commander in chief when you don't have a script.

I've been saying that right along. I've seen him deliver off the cuff remarks and he's really a terrible public speaker.

And the WaPo does a followup on the new Draper book about Bush. This is one is interesting in that it gives some details on the infighting in the inner circle. Not much about the preznit himself though, outside of this:

Draper offers some intriguing details about Bush's personal habits, such as his intense love of biking. He reports that White House advance teams and the Secret Service "devoted inordinate energy to satisfying Bush's need for biking trails," descending on a town a couple of days before the president's arrival to find secluded hotels and trails the boss would find challenging.

The last sentence is kind of cute, too:

Noting that he ran into former president Bill Clinton at the United Nations last year, Bush added, "Six years from now, you're not going to see me hanging out in the lobby of the U.N."

Right. If, there's any justice in the world, six years from now we'll find Bush hanging out in the lobby of the Hague waiting for the verdict on his war crimes.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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