Wednesday, December 28, 2005

It's Just Business

If you'll permit me one more "Godfather" reference, as we slouch toward the end of this turbulent year I am reminded of the scene where the Meyer Lansky/Hyman Roth character tells Michael Corleone in corrupted 1950s Cuba that (I will paraphrase), "We're only one step away from finding someone to be the President of the United States who understands how to do business."

I would never compare our country's successful corporations with the Mafia. Oh hell, why not? These business criminals who pay no taxes to our treasury; this CEO corporate culture of mega-salaries and unlimited benefits that outsources both jobs and corporate bank accounts; this Executive Mafia that rewards the boardroom and punishes the worker even as corrupt bookkeeping practices strip away the pensions and retirement funds that once seemingly secured the retirement of a loyal employee; these cynical profiteers who's only concern is the bottom line have finally found their man in George W. Bush, someone who "understands" how to do business.

In this tumultuous year we have seen natural disasters of cataclysmic proportion. The year began with the largest magnitude earthquake ever measured in the Pacific Ocean that resulted in a tsunami that put half of South Asia under water. Then the crippling earthquake in Pakistan stretched our resources and will to assist because we had just experienced the worst hurricane season ever in the United States and lost a major American city. Already, this winter has caused early ice storms in the warmer Atlantic states and unseasonably warm temperatures where there should be snow, accompanied by a government caveat that winter gas bills could reach an all time high. People and families in Mississippi and the Gulf Coast are living in tents because of ineptitude in high governmental positions and they are the lucky ones. At least some are able to camp out on their own land and hope for the future, while poorer people in Texas and Louisiana may be gone for good and the diaspora from New Orleans continues unabated.

No one can blame the Bush administration for the climate changes that are undeniably taking place. But you can blame them for ignoring the problem. This is why international treaties like Kyoto are important and should be embraced rather that scuttled by our leaders. International cooperation is necessary to study and take measures to prevent the man-made contributors to climate change. This government is so busy stripping regulations from industry under the guise of benevolent sounding programs like The Clear Skies Initiative which allows more pollutants, that they are actively making matters worse instead of better. Their complete indifference to environmental matters is not only a national disgrace but a clear and present danger to the public health and to the well being of the Earth. But it's just business for the Bush cabal and their corporate friends.

The energy policy meetings chaired by Mr. Cheney have yet to be investigated because they were held behind closed doors. But we do know that executives and lobbyists from energy companies wrote our national policy to benefit the industry, and former CEO Cheney's company, Halliburton, has made out like a bandit during this regime's watch. A handful of favored corporate sectors like Big Energy, Big Pharmaceutical, and Big Insurance are doing well while the "Electronic Horde" that Thomas Friedman once described as the excitement and job creation surrounding the technological revolution has moved on to China and India. The brain drain in Science and Medicine continues because of a lack of governmental grants for new research and the major medical breakthroughs are now occurring in Israel and France. While this country argues about what to teach in biology class, the conservative right attempts to shout down dissent and drown their opposition in a sea of self righteousness.

The single year-end optimistic note came with the Iraqi election. Despite our government's arrogant mishandling, there is still a chance for a good result to come from our Iraqi incursion if the Defense Department realizes that this war can no longer be won militarily. Our President's calls for nothing but "total victory" can not be accomplished at the point of a gun. We must do everything to assist the Iraqis in winning their current political wars, so that we may remove the bulls-eyes from our own soldiers' backs. And someone in government must realize the need for Islamic Peacekeepers from the region to restore order in Iraqi cities and give their fledgling democracy a chance to flourish. The Iraqis' chances for parliamentary democracy will be better with our military removed from their streets and re-positioned in secured locations along the borders. Only then will we have the chance to be seen as something other than occupiers.

The lessons in Democracy, however, are better learned from someone other than President Bush and his co-conspirators. The current revelations concerning domestic spying and surveillance of American citizens are only the top layer in this particular pit of blatant illegalities and are much wider than the President has admitted. The President claims that he is "absolutely" within the law to order wiretaps and data collections involving scores of U.S. citizens, without the approval or supervision of the courts. But just because Bush says it's so, doesn't make it so. This man-made disaster, like so many of this governments' other pratfalls, is just now unfolding. In this coming election year, how many of the President's loyalists will rethink their positions when considering facing their constituents for reelection? And George W. Bush, proudly serving his corporate masters, is oblivious to the fact that although he once envisioned himself as the incarnation of Ronald Reagan, he will end up as the historical successor to Richard Nixon. We all deserve better in the New Year. A couple of Congressional investigations into the secret inner dealings of how the Bush administration conducts "business" would be a good start.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Mea Culpa

The President's newly found candor regarding his administration's missteps might have been refreshing two years ago when he stood mute in response to a reporter's question trying to think of any mistakes he had made in his first term. Now it is abundantly clear that Bush will say whatever he needs to say to gloss over the grotesqueries committed by his government and pacify the electorate. Now, every response he gives can be contradicted by a speech he made previously. He insists his illegal wiretapping is a mandate from Congress, then a speech is discovered where he vows to get a court order before such measures are taken. Bush is the undisputed king of the flip-flop. And he is a born again prevaricator.

Just recall the hoopla accompanying his call for a Constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. Since his reelection, has anyone heard another word about it? Then there was the scene with Bush sitting with his cabinet promising to ferret out and fire anyone who leaked information outing a CIA agent. We all know who leaked, but no one has been fired. After Hurricane Katrina, Bush made quite a show of promising to personally lead the investigation about what went wrong. He should be on the golf course in Florida with OJ looking for the real killer. No such personal investigation was ever commenced, despite his eerie "blue light special" speech in Jackson Square promising New Orleans the moon. He has not been back since and I am regularly informed that four months after the storm, much of New Orleans resembles Baghdad. In poorer residential areas, heavy equipment hasn't even been moved in to begin to clear the rubble while victims of the storms still suffer the results of Bush's raw cronyism at FEMA and the Small Business Administration. The president of the Red Cross resigned under fire last week because of the mismanagement of that once stellar organization.

And the Bush cabinet was supposed to be so tough, all of Congress was cowed into submission. That is until one former marine Vietnam vet called for the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq and suddenly talk of a troop drawdown begins. Secretary Rice had to deflect criticism of the government's torture policy all over the world until Bush called in Senator McCain, adopted his policy regarding torture, and claimed it as his own. Now we see that when you push back, there are no dire consequences in spite of the bellicose posturing of the Bush team. Instead, they cave in. That's what happened with the Social Security privatization plan, the establishment of a cabinet level Homeland Security Department, and the 9/11 Commision which Bush resisted until it became an inevitability. In recent days, the Alaska/Ted Stevens/Halliburton drilling project was drop-kicked along with permanent reinstatement of the Patriot Act. Bush's defense of his unsupervised surveillance of Americans took care of that.

In his speeches about Iraq, it was either "victory or defeat." Exactly like "you're either with us or you're with the terrorists." And no one in the press seemed to make much of a fuss about the one horrendous revelation Bush let fly in his new statement of contrition; 30,000 Iraqi civilian casualties. If Bush gives that as the number, you can safely double it and be closer to accurate. Is there any wonder the insurgency is so vicious? Would anyone not take up arms against an invader that murders 30,000 innocent people and occupies a nation in the name of preventing the use of weapons of mass destruction? Our government is the weapon of mass destruction in this world.

And all of this; the war, 9/11, Intelligent design, the pandering to the religious right, is a smokescreen to divert attention away from the fact that this government is systematically stripping away regulations from commerce and industry in order to reward their friends and punish their enemies. Rather than decrease their pet tax cuts, this government cuts social programs to the poor while bragging of a robust economy. No government has ever cut taxes in a time of war and they will not acknowledge the looming financial crisis facing this country. With the Bush team, it's "stay the course," while the President flounders, the Vice President hides on Army bases making speeches to pre-screened audiences, and the "Architect" of it all, Karl Rove, who never received a single vote from anyone, stares into the abyss.

When the book "Bush's Brain" by Wayne Slater and James Moore was released, it was an eye opener. It tells of the Machiavellian schemes Karl Rove concocts to achieve his political goals. The amendment about gay marriage was such a scheme. On this Christmas Eve, while Bush was taking the offensive about his Iraqi policy and his public approval ratings were at an all time low, a mysterious "War Against Christmas" broke out on Fox News, lead by Bill O'Reilly and highly placed members of the Christian right, including James Dobson, Tim Wildmon of Tupelo, and Jerry Falwell. The dispute wasn't about the commercialization of Christmas, but about boycotting retailers who said "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" in their advertising. Sure enough, it was a wedge issue that caused much discussion and division in this country, and Bush's ratings went up four points. This disgusting operation has all the earmarks of a Karl Rove operation, only no one has said so.

But with the coming indictments of the grand jury investigating the CIA leak, the Jack Abramoff and Tom Delay scandals, the surly ineptitude of Bill Frist, and the pending trial of Enron's Ken Lay, there is not much more the government can do to distract us. Instead, they have caused us to begin paying close attention to their crimes. And a mid-term election that returns one of the Houses of Congress to the Democrats will create the ability to begin investigations into the Bush clan and their operatives that will make Watergate look like a misdemeanor. Ironically, it was former Nixon council John Dean who said earlier this week that this President was the first to admit to impeachable offenses in advance. This government's future looks as bleak as "Kenny Boy's." They should start getting used to seeing daylight filtered through iron bars.

I write this with the full knowledge that what I say is monitored by the National Security Agency. I am used to it. I lived through the Vietnam era of CIA excess. So, hello fellows. Hope you all have a "Happy Holidays." See you on the flip flop.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Clinton's Sin

I have a friend, a State Senator, who told me of meeting Bill Clinton midway through his first term as President. He said he told Clinton that he should get a medal for all the hits he had taken on behalf of our generation and I agreed with him. Every societal excess of the 60s was pinned on Clinton from draft dodging to drug abuse. And his progressive stances on gay civil rights and privacy rights in abortion matters made him an instant target for the conservatives who believed that the long-haired protesters of the 60s were the demon's seed. This was before the sex scandal that caused the President's impeachment and near removal from office. With this breach of personal morality, all the hits taken by Clinton for his generation were refocused back on the rest of us, and the cultural conservatives set upon Clinton like Father Damien in The Exorcist.

David Maraniss' fair handed biography of Bill Clinton, "First In His Class," does not refer to Clinton's rank at Oxford, but the fact that he was the first person of the Baby Boom generation to be elected president. My politically involved friends and I rejoiced the night Clinton won the White House from Bush, Sr. Not only because political power was being passed to the post war generation, but because Clinton was one of us. He was raised in the segregated South with a resentment toward racial bigotry and emerged a new kind of Southerner with the abilities to ease the old conflicts. He was a typical college student of the 60s. He grew his hair long, experimented with marijuana, resisted the draft and protested against the Vietnam War. What was not typical was his obvious brilliance and mastery of details within the larger picture. Coupled with his great ambition to live a political life and to make a difference, he was a man capable of understanding every nuance of a policy decision and a born problem solver. More importantly, he was capable of enunciating a vision for a fairer and more inclusive society in the United States. Considering ability alone, he might have been one of our greatest presidents.

The Lewinsky episode changed all that. At first merely shocked, when I learned that the woman involved was a 20 year old intern, I thought certainly Clinton must resign. Clinton's strong public denial caused his supporters to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially when his greatest defender was his wife. Even when the facts were laid bare, many attempted to justify the lie by believing that Clinton was merely speaking in Lawyerese, and in the strict definition of the judge in the Paula Jones case, "sexual relations" meant intercourse. So technically, the argument could be made that Clinton did not exactly lie, but he was actively misleading. I wanted to grab him in a Fredo Corleone embrace and say, "I know it was you. You broke my heart."

Everyone knows a Bill Clinton. Someone who cannot, or will not, manage his impulses and cheats on his wife. No one celebrates such behavior and most consider it a character flaw. But nearly everyone agrees that it is a private matter. The venomous way his opponents attacked him like torch bearing villagers out to kill Frankenstein's monster made his supporters rally to his side. The entrapment, threats, circus testimonials to the grand jury, and the minute sexual detail revealed by the partisan special prosecutor's office were as unseemly as Clinton's behavior. Yes, Clinton lied about sex. So did FDR, Ike, JFK, LBJ, and Reagan. Recent Secret Service testimony has revealed that Nixon beat his wife, but he didn't cheat on her. But these men were not asked about it under oath. And why should any person, much less the President, have to testify under oath about his personal sexual behavior when the prosecutor was appointed to investigate a real estate transaction? Clinton's opponents insist it was about perjury, but it was always about sex, and fellatio out of wedlock is not an impeachable offense.

So Bill Clinton survived but Al Gore didn't. Had Clinton resigned when the scandal was revealed, he would have left Gore with a three year incumbency and retained power within the Democratic Party. I don't blame Al Gore from running away from Clinton. With an eight year record of peace and prosperity, an historic treasury surplus, and the first balanced budget in half a century, Gore should have been able to waltz into the office against any Republican opponent. Gore's experience as honor student, seminarian, soldier, journalist, Senator, and Vice President made him one of the most qualified candidates of the last century to run for the presidency. His belief in, and defense of, his President cost Al Gore dearly, but he should never have lost an election because he was perceived by an image obsessed populace as less amiable or ingratiating as Clinton.

So after waiting until past middle age to see someone of my generation assume power, just as we had discussed all those miserable war years ago, G.W. Bush was elected and promptly turned the reigns of power back to his father's administration. Their Cold War thinking has stalled the progress of American ideas in the world for the foreseeable future. For all of Clinton's talents and administrative accomplishments, his reckless behavior was not merely a betrayal of his wife and family, it was a betrayal of all who trusted in him.

But Clinton's greatest sin was not regarding sex. I still believe that his indiscretion was a personal matter between Clinton, his wife, and his conscience, and that none but his creator have the right to judge him. No, Clinton's greatest sin was in roiling the electorate and creating a backlash against his behavior that allowed the election of George W. Bush. And although I am a believer in redemption, with the current state of chaos in the world, this is a sin I am having a difficult time forgiving.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dubya's Travels

Watching Bush's foreign travels to escape his woes is so reminiscent of Nixon's South American adventure in 1958 when he was Vice President. It was there that many of us saw an official of the U.S. government spat at and jeered for the first time. Hearing Bush proclaim "We don't torture," while in Argentina was eerily like hearing Nixon say "I am not a crook." We do, in fact, torture, and Nixon was a crook.

This government seems to be morphing into the Nixon administration a little more every day. What with their secret plans to end the war while indictments loom like thunder clouds over major cabinet officials. When this is all over, the only one left standing may well be Bush and that is only because Rove, Cheney, and Rumsfeld kept him out of the loop for plausible deniability's sake. When John Dean wrote a book called "Worse Than Watergate," many of us thought it to be merely hyperbole and not understatement.

At least in the darkest days of Watergate, Nixon could escape to China and Russia because he made significant foreign policy breakthroughs in those nations. Bush has no such foreign policy successes, and so if the crowd is not hand picked or screened, he cannot go anywhere in the world without violent demonstrations following him. Even the old Nixon trick of saying criticism of the war is hurting our troops was dusted off by the actual president, "Dirty" Dick Cheney. But there was no silent majority to arouse this time and he was speaking to the ever dwindling choir.

It was considerate of Bush to go to China to visit our money but it was a bad idea to insult them before he went. China is the country holding the note on our bloated budget deficits and is a rising superpower that we will be struggling with in the coming years, not only over commerce, but for the diminished supply of oil left in the Earth. It was a quarrel over iron and steel that fueled our dispute with the Japanese in the 30s. If this government will invade a sovereign country in the middle east for cheap gas, is there any doubt that we will use similar force against any nation that would keep us from it now? Bush did everything wrong in China except throw up in the Premier's lap. He has lost the moral authority to lecture other nations about religion and human rights while he is attempting to make theology into law at home and threatening his first presidential veto against a bill that would prohibit torture by the U.S., at home and abroad, that was drawn by Senator McCain.

What I have not yet discovered is, if Bush achieved the main objective of his Asian vacation. Three weeks before the President's Asian trip, Secretary Rumsfeld visited Mongolia and was given the gift of a pure bred Mongolian horse. What other reason would Bush have for going there other than to pick up his horsie? This administration is all about the perks of power. Why risk looking like a moron standing there trying to open locked doors if there wasn't a little something in it for your trouble? Forget the cover-up over the CIA leak case; I want to know if the President got his pony.

Of course, upon return from his arduous journeys in the East it was vacation time once again, war protesters be damned. In case we need a reminder, New Orleans drowned because the Bush administration was on vacation. While Bush was away, there was a little dust-up in the House of Representatives with a distinguished war veteran calling for the return of American troops from Iraq and a dim bulb congresswoman only Nixon could love inferring that he was a "coward" for a suggestion so seditious.

It was the attempt at image manipulation, false propaganda, and dirty trickery that finally did in the Nixon administration and it appears that the same tactics will do in the Bush regime. In this case the "Boy Genius" Rove's cleverness didn't transfer well into adulthood. He was President of the Young College Republicans in 1972 and was one of the indoctrinees wearing a straw boater and lustily cheering for "four more years" at the Nixon convention of that same year. Rove was around to watch Donald Segretti go to jail for his dirty tricks and he was both a peer and disciple of Lee Atwater, the creator of the Willie Horton ad campaign for the Senior Bush. Nixon did not last a year into his second term and the Atwater ads are a benchmark in divisive politics. Rove's flaw was believing he was invincible and would never be caught with his fingerprints on any illegal activity.

We will all wait and see what transpires. Meanwhile, that iceberg in the distance is coming closer with the words "Special Prosecutor" on it and Karl Rove and Dick Cheney are steering the ship of state right into it. Then all the indictments, resignations, and Senate Investigations that go along with such a disaster will transpire. Perhaps then we may get some answers from the most secretive government since Nixon's. John Dean is right. This will make Watergate look like a curious antiquity of another age. Nixon resigned before facing trial in the Senate. This time, nearly the entire cabinet and their advisors are culpable in the fabrications concocted to mislead and falsely persuade the American public. The people will not be continually lied to about the condition of their society, and sooner or later they will rise in indignation and hold the liars accountable. Too bad the indignation did not come in time to prevent Bush from winning a second term. But like Nixon, he may have used his last trick to get re-elected. And like Nixon, he may face an early exit from office. That is why I encourage all informed citizens to appeal to Congress to IMPEACH CHENEY FIRST. We have enough liars and war profiteers this time around to fill Bush's remaining three years with plea bargains and sentencing recommendations.

With all the professional pundits and former loyalists from his own party turning against the President, it is almost unsporting for a lay journalist to take a whack at him. But never forget that it was G.W. Bush that said, "Bring 'em on!"