Tag Archives: Dick Cheney

Conduit

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Now that we’ve reached another major milestone with the 09/11 attacks – 15 years – with more moments of silence, replays of news footage from that awful day and myriad personal stories, I have to express my growing cynicism about those events.  Short of joining the cadre of unrepentant hawks who believe it was all a well-orchestrated conspiracy, I’m at least settled in the belief that those in charge of national security – from the White House occupants to the guardians of airline safety – failed in every sense to anticipate something like this.  You mean to tell me that no one, absolutely no one, in any role above a street cop didn’t think for a moment that someone could hijack a large jet liner and slam it into a building?  Did no one overseeing the nation’s immigration system not postulate that people overstaying their work or tourist visas could pose a legitimately fatal threat to a large segment of the populace?  In retrospect, I guess not.

We’re the country that developed both the first fully-functioning automobile and airplane and were the first to reach the Earth’s moon.  We were instrumental in developing radio, television, air conditioning, computers and cell phones.  We rose up from the depths of the worst economic downturn in our brief history to help defeat some of the most brutal dictators the world has ever seen.  Did no one – not even a secretary – sitting in an FBI office think, ‘Hm…you know, box cutters could be pretty nasty.’

The U.S. has failed before on such grand levels.  In the fall of 1979, we were still so concerned about the threat of nuclear annihilation from the Soviet Union that we didn’t think a handful of really pissed off university students could overwhelm our embassy in Tehran, Iran and hold people hostage for fourteen months.  Less than four years later we had military personnel in Beirut, Lebanon when a dynamite-laden box truck plowed into a compound and took 299 lives.  Again, it seemed no one thought these events were possible.

On the other hand, someone did think of crashing a plane into the White House.  In February of 1974, Samuel Byck, a failed Philadelphia businessman, planned to hijack a plane and nose dive it into the White House.  Upset, in part, because the Small Business Administration didn’t grant him a loan to start his own company, Byck had actually come to the attention of the U.S. Secret Service more than once before his enacting fateful ploy.  But, in the days when people could literally walk onto an airplane carrying more than just a bottle of water, Byck stormed aboard a Delta Airlines flight; killing first a policeman and – after firing through the cockpit door – the co-pilot with a stolen .22 revolver.  After forcing a flight attendant to close the cabin door, he announced that he wanted the plane flown to Washington, D.C.  He had even nicknamed his plot: Operation Pandora’s Box.  The bomb he claimed was housed in his briefcase was actually two Valvoline containers filled with petrol, but it had no ignition device.  Out on the tarmac police tried to disable the jet liner by blasting away at its tires.  Finally another police officer fired directly through the cabin door, subsequently and fatally wounding Byck.  Officials learned much about Byck’s plan from the audio tapes he left behind.  However, both the media and the nation were enthralled with the brewing Watergate scandal, so Byck’s failed hijacking warranted little attention.  Still, did no one with some degree of authority at the FBI – beyond that nosy secretary – not view this event with ominous potential?

In the aftermath of the 09/11 attacks, the country – already heavily divided over the previous year’s presidential elections – united in a way not seen in years.  It’s a shame how people don’t often see the value of humanity or realize the fragility of their existence until someone dies.  When death occurs on such a massive scale, though, it’s akin to a natural disaster: we lowly bidepals suddenly get it that we’re just a speck in that hourglass of time.  But, no sooner had we come together in one of those Kumbaya / We-Are-the-World kind of ways than politics crept up from its sewer of a home and started ruthlessly dissecting the national conscious (as it’s wont to do).  Among the first notable reactions was our descent into Afghanistan.  Once a beacon of literature and mathematics, Afghanistan – by the start of the 21st century – had toppled into the madness of religious fervor and extremist conservatism.  The Taliban had taken over a decade earlier and – as the U.S. became drunk on a newfound economic boon – Afghan war lords never forgot the promises our nation made for helping them defeat the Soviets: promises of new infrastructure, health care and all that comes with nation rebuilding.  They didn’t forget.  The U.S. did.  Any average person knows one of the worst friendship betrayals is to forget a heartfelt promise.  Hell – some people get pissed off if you forget their birthday!  But forget about building a new hospital?!  The one holding that bloody promissory note damn sure doesn’t!  Hence, 09/11.  So the U.S. invaded – and still hasn’t left.

Next came the Patriot Act.  This Hallmark-style gem blossomed from the hearts of the U.S. body politic as a concerted effort to prevent any future terrorist attacks.  It snagged tools already in place to fight drug trafficking and organized crime and reconfigured them into a tool to infiltrate terrorist organizations.  In that case, I wonder why they haven’t gone after the IRS.  But it quickly metamorphosed into a pathetic dogma allowing social conservatives to dictate what they felt was un-American.  Any suspected anarchist – you know…gays, lesbians, atheists, abortion doctors, Negroes, Hispanics, Native Americans, feminists, Muslims, Roman Catholics, environmentalists, vegans – fell under the proverbial microscope of questionable behavior.  So, what’s new in America?

One of the most curious – and most comical – of responses was the passage of a bill by the U.S. Congress declaring that French fries in the commissary would be renamed “freedom fries”.  This was strictly due to the fact that France refused to let itself get hoodwinked into believing the Bush Administration’s claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and should therefore be invaded.  Freedom fries?!  Yeah!  Showed those Frenchies a thing or two about pissing off Americans!

Here’s the crux of my argument: the single greatest response to the 09/11 attacks is the equally catastrophic reaction of the Bush White House’s decision to invade Iraq because they maybe-kind-of-sort-of-in-a-way had something to do with killing nearly 2,900 people on that gorgeous Tuesday afternoon.  The invasion of Iraq, along with passage of the Patriot Act and overall mismanagement of the Afghanistan War, annihilated our collective response of unity and hope rising from the ashes of the 09/11 carnage.

I’m old enough to recall Watergate and the destructive impacts it had on the collective American psyche.  It brought down the notion of the imperial U.S. presidency, when we learned that Richard Nixon was a bigoted, foul-mouthed jerk.  Americans shouldn’t have been shocked, though.  Presidents are people, too.  But then again, that level of authority imbues a certain degree of responsibility the average person can’t fathom.  Or it should.  There’s an exception to everything, and Bush certainly was exception to the concept of personal responsibility and high-caliber ethics.

George W. Bush had a prime opportunity to seal his future as one of the greatest Chief Executives ever to occupy the highest office in the land.  Instead he screwed it up royally because of his own incompetence and narrowmindedness.  That’s, in part, because he was nothing more than a puppet of right-wing extremists who targeted the White House and the U.S. Congress long before the 09/11 terrorists started plotting.  Some large oil and energy corporations here in the U.S. set their sights on Iraq in the 1990s, strictly because of its vast reserves of natural resources.  I’ve consistently pointed to one critical, almost overlooked fact: in 1998, Kenneth Derr, then CEO of Chevron declared, “Iraq possesses huge reserves of oil and gas-reserves I’d love Chevron to have access to.”  Derr later became CEO of Halliburton – the same company Vice-President Dick Cheney lead until May of 2000, when he abruptly resigned and moved from Texas back to his native Wyoming.  In 2000, Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell dumped millions into the Bush presidential campaign; more than any other presidential race.  Their efforts seem to have paid off.  Less than two weeks after Bush took office, Cheney chaired the newly-formed National Energy Policy Development Group whose entire purpose was to lay out the course for America’s energy future.  In March 2001, the group outlined Iraq’s oil production capacity.  In 2004, Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, said, “Already by February (2001), the talk was mostly about logistics.  Not the why (to invade Iraq), but the how and how quickly.”

In November of 2002, the Bush Administration RELUCTANTLY established the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, known affectionately as the “9/11 Commission.”  The bipartisan group pulled as many high-ranking political and national security officials beneath the magnifying glass glare of its hearings.  Watching bits of the hearings again recently, I noticed a few phrases kept popping up: ‘I’ll have to get back to you on that.’  ‘I can’t say right now.’  Here were some of the most critical figures in U.S. national security and they didn’t know that, for example, many of the 09/11 hijackers had expired visas?  Or that “Bin Laden determined to strike US” could translate into: bombs on planes or even planes used as bombs?  Seriously!

I have one question: what the fuck were you doing in that job anyway?

If, for any reason, I had ever told a supervisor questioning me on something in a past job, “Let me get back to you on that,” there’s a good chance I’d get fired.  I’ve actually seen it happen to people.  Long before 09/11!

When you reach that level of authority in government (or business, for that matter), you are held to a greater degree of accountability than, say, someone mopping the floors at Wal-Mart.  It’s why the police aren’t really granted the benefit of an “honest mistake” when they reach for their guns and pull the trigger.  But then, we’re talking about the Bush White House.  Its people weren’t held to a higher standard than the rest of us.  They got away with it, too.

In September of 2009, political activist and author Van Jones resigned his new-found position as “green jobs czar” in the Obama Administration due to his affiliation with self-proclaimed 9/11 conspiracy “truthers.” The group claims the Bush White House was complicit in the September 11, 2001 terrorist onslaughts.  Within their own ranks they generally fall into two camps: those who say the Bush Administration (and, to some extent, the Clinton White House) dismissed a growing body of intelligence beginning in the late 1990s that the attacks were imminent; and those who declare the Bush gang actually planned and carried out the events with the express intent of invading either Afghanistan or Iraq and accessing their natural resources.  Or invading both countries.  Either theory is plausible.

Consider – among other things – that 511 executives at 186 large corporations, such as Halliburton and Exxon-Mobil, hoarded stock options towards the end of September 2001 at a rate never seen in corporate America before.  Or that one company, Teradyne, laid off a slew of employees just hours before the 09/11 events, and its chairman gathered 602,589 stock options just two weeks later.  Or that KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary, received $39.5 billion in no-bid contracts to rebuild Iraq – the most of any company.  Remember, Dick Cheney had been CEO of Halliburton before assuming the vice presidency.

There are a few figures who have become lost in questions over 09/11.  One is William Rodriguez.  Rodriguez was one of the last people who made it out of World Trade Center Tower 1 before it collapsed.  A maintenance worker with 20 years on the job, Rodriguez is considered a hero because he unlocked doors for arriving firemen.  In testimony before the 09/11 Commission, he claimed he heard an explosion in the basement of that building as he arrived for work; which was just before the plane hit.  Kenneth Johannemann, a part-time janitor in WTC1, stated he also heard the explosion.  And a maintenance worker in Tower 2 reported a similar explosion just before the plane struck that building.  Barry Jennings, a former New York Housing Authority Emergency Coordinator, had been in World Trade Center Tower 7 (the Deutsche Bank Building) and claimed he and another man, Michael Hess, had been “blown back” by an explosion in the structure hours before it and WTC Towers 1 and 2 collapsed.  They also claimed to have stepped over dead bodies in WTC7 as they fled.  WTC7 had not been struck by an airplane, but it caught fire and crumbled within hours after Towers 1 and 2 fell.  Other occupants claimed they’d heard explosives go off in the building some time before its downfall.  But the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which investigated the collapse of the three edifices solely from a structural standpoint, highlighted the amount of debris (including flaming refuse) that fell onto WTC7 from Towers 1 and 2.  Still, conspiratorialists point to the fact that Jennings died under suspicious circumstances on August 19, 2008.  Twelve days later Johannemann also died; in this case, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

There are other mysterious deaths of people with direct and indirect ties to 09/11.

Beverly Eckert, whose husband died on 09/11, co-founded Voices for September 11th, an advocacy group for 09/11 survivors and their families.  Eckert had also pushed for the U.S. to allow legal action against the government of Saudi Arabia, pointing out that 15 of the 19 09/11 hijackers hailed from the oil-rich kingdom.  She and others claimed that, like the U.S., the Saudi government helped to facilitate the attacks.  Eckert died in a commuter plane crash on February 12, 2009.

Christopher Landis was Operations Manager for Safety Service Patrol for the Virginia Department of Transportation in 2001.  He had an unobstructed view of the Pentagon, which was struck by American Airlines Flight 77.  Landis had taken photos of the area in the days immediately preceding 09/11; many show light poles that were down near the Pentagon.  Afterwards Landis turned over the photos to authorities.  But he also kept copies and handed the same batch over to “The Pentacon,” an organization dedicated to investigating military injustices.  Jason Ingersoll, who worked for the U.S. Navy, took pictures of the same area in the moments after Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon.  In some of the photos, the same light poles as in the Landis shots are knocked down.  In November 2006, Landis committed suicide.

Bertha Champagne was a babysitter for the family of Marvin P. Bush, a younger brother of President George W. Bush.  Often dubbed the “neglected Bush,” he had served on the board of directors for Securacom/Stratesec, a Kuwaiti/Saudi-backed company, from 1993 June 2000.  Securacom/Stratesec provided electronic security for the World Trade Center Complex and Dulles International Airport from where American Airlines Flight 77 originated.  By September of 2001, Marvin sat on the board of HCC Insurance Holdings (now Tokio Marine HCC), which insured parts of the WTCC.  On September 29, 2003, Bertha Champagne was crushed to death by her own vehicle on the grounds of Marvin’s family home in Fairfax County, Virginia.  The car inexplicably rolled forward and subsequently trapped Champagne against a small building beside the driveway.  There were no witnesses, and nothing was stolen from either Champagne or the Bush home.  Champagne’s death appears to have been purely accidental, but it wasn’t reported in the media until October 5.

It’s all circumstantial evidence that can point to a deliberately wicked machination.  Or not.  There’s nothing like a good conspiracy, though.  Even the pragmatic, ever-cynical Chief Writing Wolf loves one.  Yet, amidst any great national tragedy, people will always make tangential connections between seemingly unrelated events and individuals.  Marife Torres Nichols, the Filipino-born second wife of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, had lived briefly in a New York City building where a man named Ramzi Ahmed Yousef also occasionally resided.  A Kuwaiti national, Yousef helped to plan and bomb World Trade Center Tower 1 in February 1993.  He and another man drove an explosives-laden truck into the building’s garage.  The resultant explosion killed 6 and injured more than a thousand.

If you think the U.S. federal government doesn’t engage in such unseemly practices, I have a couple of vials of Jesus Christ’s blood in a Tupperware container beneath my bed I’d like to sell you for $25,000 a pop.

 

Regardless of whether the tragic events of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 were a carefully-conceived Mephistophelean drama or the end result of people in government who just should have known better, it all served as a conduit for poor behavior at the highest levels of authority; gateway, if you will, for a small cadre of government and corporate elitists to twist reality into a new and more affluent life for themselves.

The rest of us were forced or tricked into submission via personal shaming or voter intimidation.  Just when we progressive futurists felt two centuries worth of human rights advances had finally produced a casteless society, we got shot down like…well, like a bird out of the sky.  Many of us saw this coming.  The hijacking of four airplanes was preceded by the blatant hijacking of the 2000 presidential elections.  Once again, the message was clear: White male privilege is not to be questioned.  (And, in case anyone forgot, the Chief is mostly of the Caucasian persuasion.)

Like microwaved French fries (yes, that’s what they really are), it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  And in my soul.

Let political and business titans tap-dance on the graves of those who perished – were murdered – on 09/11, if it makes them feel empowered.  They can’t take that feeling with them when they meet their own fate.

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Iraq Again! Oh, Hell No!

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“It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive!”

Colin Clive in “Frankenstein

 

As the United States slowly recuperates from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans are suddenly beset with a very real horror show: the rise of militants in Iraq, as well as the collapse of the Iraqi government. Most of us keep smacking ourselves across the face; trying to wake up from what can only be deemed a nightmare. No – a night terror. This can’t be happening. There must be some kind of misunderstanding. The media has it all wrong.

No, they don’t. It is happening. And, we’re all wide awake.

I wish that the brewing fiasco is – at best – a really cruel, heartless joke. But, it’s simply not. The blatant reality is that radical Iraqi insurgents have risen from the crypt of hate and anger to launch an assault on that nation’s fragile government and hapless military. They’ve already taken over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. It’s surely only a matter of time before they attack Baghdad.

President Obama, who campaigned in 2008 partly on the promise to end the war in Iraq, says another round of military intervention is not likely. But, almost in the same breath, he added, “We have enormous interests there.”

What happened to the good old days, when a president would say stupid crap, but still really believe it with all his heart? Many of us disagreed with George W. Bush, but at least we knew where he stood on an issue. Along with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, Bush hoodwinked much of the nation into believing Iraq had a role in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and was secretly building a nuclear arsenal. In the twisted logic that only a draft-dodging right-wing lunatic could manufacture, Bush forced the U.S. to switch its attention abruptly from Afghanistan to Iraq. Most of us level-headed folks saw the ruse clearly and still didn’t mind being labeled terrorists. We knew it was a lie. But, Bush was a puppet president for corporate oil interests (in much the same way Warren G. Harding was), so I don’t blame him completely.

But, with nearly 4,500 U.S. dead in Iraq alone – not to forget those who died from their injuries or suicide once back home – we’re faced with a bizarre quandary: sending troops back into Iraq to thwart what observers have ominously deemed the “threshold of civil war.”

Trick question: what’s the difference between the threshold of civil war in Iraq and a total conflict?

Answer: nothing!

The difference is in terminology only. Hearing military and political “experts” trying to define the two concepts is like saying there’s a difference between azure and blue. I knew a guy in college who got upset when people said he was Italian. He preferred the term “Sicilian.” Oh, of course! Silly me! And, just so you’ll know, I’m not Latino. I’m Hispanic! ¿Entiendes?

The U.S. put itself into a quixotic situation with Iraq more than three decades ago when it began funding its war with Iran. That came to an abrupt end in 1988, when Saddam Hussein launched a genocidal chemical attack on Kurdistan. The U.S. also placed itself in a quagmire with Afghanistan when it supported mujahideen rebels in their valiant fight against the former Soviet Union – and then forgot about the Afghan people. One nation doesn’t make a promise of that magnitude to another nation without owning up to it.

If, by some wretched chance, we do send our military back into Iraq, here’s what I’d like to see happen:

  • Initiate a military draft. Every 18-25 able bodied person (including women, Jews, Mormons, conservative Republicans and rich kids) will have to serve in some kind of capacity. No exceptions!
  • Raise taxes on the wealthiest 5% of American citizens. Since many of them are the ones who propagated the war in Iraq and subsequently benefited from it, we need half of their income to go into Pentagon coffers.
  • Cease all foreign aid. This includes Israel. Unquestionable financial and political support for Israel by the U.S. is another reason for the 09/11 attacks.

It’s only fair all of the above should occur, as the U.S. roars back into Iraq like a repo man going after a late-model BMW for the third time. But, I also think it’s only fair I should be rich and famous without working too hard for it. After all, I’m attractive (in the right black light) and intelligent. Why should I struggle so hard?

Will the U.S. boomerang its troops back into Iraq? I can only hope not. But, you know how that goes.

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Shut Up and Draw

George W. Bush delivers remarks at the opening of his library in Dallas on April 25, 2013.

George W. Bush delivers remarks at the opening of his library in Dallas on April 25, 2013.

“I no longer feel that great sense of responsibility that I had when I was in the Oval Office.  And frankly, it’s a liberating feeling.” – President George W.Bush, to a high school graduating class in Roswell, New México, May 2009.

Countless numbers of Americans, especially several military families, wish we could liberate ourselves from the dismal legacy of the Bush Administration.  Unfortunately, we’re stuck with it.  But, survivors of military personnel killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars bear relentless pain and anguish.  Anyone who enters the military has to accept the fact that they could be called to war and therefore, prepares as best they can for it.  Their parents, spouses, children and other relatives try to prepare themselves, too.  But, it’s still not easy losing a loved one to a foreign conflict.

Recently, Bush launched an initiative to help our military veterans transition back into civilian life as smoothly as possible.  My own conversations with past veterans made me realize how difficult this can be.  Through his Bush Institute, the 43rd president is imploring companies to recruit and retain military veterans, believing their tendency towards self-discipline and teamwork makes them among the best employees.

“We’ve got a problem, too many vets are unemployed,” said Bush.  “There’s what we call a military-civilian divide.”

He just figured this out?  It’s a noble cause, though.  The unemployment rate for military veterans remains around 10% as of 2013, compared to 7% for the general population.  A few times in recent years military veterans working for staffing agencies have contacted me about various technical writing positions.  The moment I hear them say they were in the military, I stop the conversation and tell them how much I appreciate their service.  It usually catches them off-guard.  But, in turn, they appreciate just hearing someone tell them that.

However, Bush has gone further and also issued a challenge to the medical community to drop the word “disorder” from the term “post-traumatic stress disorder.”  PTSD is a relatively recent term in the lexicon of psychological afflictions.  It used to be called “shell shock” or “battle fatigue.”  Many thought it was just a phase; almost an imaginary disorder.  But, it’s real and it’s painful for its sufferers and the people closest to them.

Bush, nonetheless, believes the “disorder” word stigmatizes the affected individual and makes them sound defective, or unable to be rehabilitated; therefore, he states, they may have trouble finding work in an already-fragile job market from employers who are weary of difficult people.

Gosh, how thoughtful.  It’s also hypocritical.  Like his Vice-President, Dick Cheney, Bush used just about every excuse to avoid military service when his country called upon him more than four decades ago.  An average high school student and occasional troublemaker, Bush managed to enter Yale University in 1964 and graduate four years later with a business degree.  Upon his graduation, his draft deferment ended.  The nation was mired in the depths of the Vietnam War, with public sentiment against the conflict (and the men who served there) becoming more vehement.  Still, Bush managed to secure a relatively cushy spot in the Texas Air National Guard.  Large numbers of young men were trying to do the same, and – according to some records – all of the spots in the Guard were taken.  I guess it didn’t hurt that his father was a U.S. congressman at the time.  Bush reenlisted in 1972 and was honorably discharged from the Guard two years later.  Questions remain about his level of attendance and whether or not he even completed his service.  His military records mysteriously vanished, and the Pentagon later claimed they were inadvertently destroyed.

I’ve always found that to be a rather convenient explanation.  A friend who served in the U.S. Air Force for twenty years, including several tours of duty in Vietnam, still has his military records.  All military personnel, he told me and several others more than a decade ago, are legally allowed to keep copies of them.

Dick Cheney, on the other hand, never did even that much.  He garnered five military draft deferments around the same time: four educational and one because he was a new father.  “I had other priorities in the 60s than military service,” Cheney said in 1989.

Words and actions always come back to haunt people.  I understand that no one wants to go into battle.  War is ugly and dirty; it is one of the most vile of human interactions.  But, hearing Bush trying to make nice with the people he sent to war is revolting.

The Iraq War is the crux of my anger.  It’s a conflict based solely on lies and innuendoes.  Abusing the international support brought on by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Bush Administration created a tenuous link between Al-Qaeda and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.  I believe the sole purpose was to gain access to the vast reserves of oil beneath Iraqi soil.  Proof comes in the fact that Halliburton (the energy conglomerate that Cheney headed before resigning in 2000) received a slew of no-bid government contracts.  For example, almost as soon as the U.S. invaded Iraq in March of 2003, the Army awarded Halliburton a no-bid contract to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure.  Boots had just hit the sand and blood was still dripping while gilded corporate executives were salivating over big payouts.  While not necessarily illegal, no-bid contracts are certainly unethical and, in this case, highly suspicious.

War is fought by the grunts on the ground, but it’s waged by well-dressed power brokers in far-away skyscraper office suites whose idea of pain and agony is a paper cut.  It’s pretty much been that way for the past century.

As part of his retirement from public life, Bush has taken to painting.  He took up the hobby almost as soon as he departed the White House.  While his works may not earn him a spot in “International Artist” magazine, they’re being prominently displayed – (where else?) – in his presidential library.

In the spring of 2005, my-then supervisor at an engineering company, a coworker and I lived and worked in northeastern Oklahoma on a special project for the government agency where our firm had a contract.  We’d fly into Tulsa, rent a car and drive to the hotel in the far northeastern quadrant of the “Sooner State.”  One morning, as we prepared to board a flight in Dallas, I noticed a large group of people in military fatigues gathered nearby.  After a few moments of observing them, I approached the group and personally thanked each of them for their service.  They all seemed genuinely surprised that I – a total stranger – would do something like that.  But, it meant a lot to me that they were making such personal sacrifices.  In retrospect, I wonder how many returned alive, or at least undamaged.  I guess I’ll never know.

I’ll keep thinking about them, though, and I hope Bush just keeps painting.  He and the other clowns in his administration have done enough damage.

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Marionette Presidency

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In his 1979 novel, Shibumi, author Trevanian (Rodney William Whitaker) told the tale of the fictitious Nicholai Hel, a Shanghai-born spy of Russian – German heritage who is the world’s most accomplished assassin.  After surviving the carnage of the Hiroshima bombing, Hel retreats to a lavish and isolated mountain citadel with his beautiful Eurasian mistress.  Everything is grand and everyone is gorgeous in this story!  But, Hel is coaxed back into the netherworld of international espionage by an attractive young woman.  Hel soon learns, however, that he’s being tracked by a mysterious and omnipotent global entity known simply as the “Mother Company.”  The “Company” is a composite of corporate giants that installs leaders in key nations – even those in the developed world – manipulates the markets for such necessities as food and oil and incites wars whenever it deems appropriate.  The conflict between Hel and the “Mother Company” becomes something akin to a board game, where millions of lives are used as toys for the benefit of a few powerful elitists.  I first read Shibumi about a year after its publication and still find it one of the most fascinating works of fiction I’ve ever encountered.  I’m surprised – and disappointed – that it hasn’t been made into a film yet.

The recent opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas made me think about the novel.  No, I don’t believe Bush is an American version of Nicholai Hel.  Hel is a polyglot and a skilled chess player.  Bush can barely pronounce such complicated words as ‘nuclear’ and looks more comfortable holding a chain saw.  It’s the notion of a “Mother Company” – a massive and ruthless international organization – that captures my attention.  It’s easy to criticize Bush, or any president, for his domestic and foreign policies.  But, in a true democracy, that one person isn’t completely in charge of the nation’s affairs.  He simply represents the totality of the country’s population, as well as the nation’s successes and failures.  And in the face of that reality, I don’t feel George W. Bush really wanted to be in that position.

I honestly believe Bush would have been content to serve two, perhaps three, terms as Texas governor and be done with public life.  But, after gaining control of both houses of the U.S. Congress in 1994, the Republican National Party was determined to take back the Oval Office, too.  They didn’t seem to have many viable candidates, so they zeroed in on Bush and – in my analytical opinion – virtually forced him into running.  He formally announced his candidacy in June of 1999, well after all of the others.  But, I surmise it was Dick Cheney – who had served as Chief of Staff for Gerald R. Ford and as Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush – who wanted to be president, or more importantly, wanted to have the kind of power that comes with it.  Yet, with a personality less fluid than a chessboard, Cheney wouldn’t have stood a chance.

The fiasco that was the 2000 presidential elections certainly caught the nation off guard.  But, its roots go back a mere three years; when Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld (Secretary of Defense under Bush, Jr.), Paul Wolfowitz (Deputy Secretary of Defense, 2001 – 2005, and President of the World Bank, 2005 – 2007) and several others formed the Project for the New American Century.  PNAC had a simple mission: the United States needed to reassert itself as a global superpower, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

In its “Statement of Principles,” PNAC declared:

“As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s most preeminent power.  Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievement of past decades?  Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

“[What we require is] a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.”

It’s obvious PNAC wanted the world to look and behave like the United States.  The U.S. is often viewed as the beacon of democracy, and its president labeled “Leader of the Free World.”  But, in this case, that noble brand of leadership was twisted to conform to a narrow viewpoint.  For me, proof comes in the Iraq War and the oil gleaned from the bloody aftermath.

In February 1998, Kenneth Derr, then CEO of Chevron, said, “Iraq possesses huge reserves of oil and gas-reserves I’d love Chevron to have access to.”  In May of 2000, Dick Cheney abruptly resigned his position as CEO of Halliburton and moved from Dallas with his wife back to his native Wyoming.  There, the couple registered to vote, and just a few months later, Bush selected Dick Cheney as his running mate.  Federal law prohibits presidential and vice-presidential candidates from having residencies in the same state.  In 2001, Derr became CEO of Halliburton.  Halliburton was among a handful of companies that were awarded no-bid contracts to assist with rebuilding Iraq.  The U.S. Army awarded the first no-bid contract to Halliburton in March of 2003 (the same month the U.S. invaded Iraq) to rebuild Iraq’s oil infrastructure.  The move generated enough outrage that the Pentagon cancelled that particular contract and opened up bidding to other companies.  But, Halliburton was never shoved out of the loop and eventually earned $39.5 billion from the Iraq War.

Everyone has moments of self-doubt in their chosen profession; those sad times when the pressure of doing the job right makes you question everything.  But, Bush always looked like he didn’t want to be there.  Some say his facial expressions bestowed his arrogance, while others claim it was merely self-confidence.  I think it was just frustration and – to some extent – cluelessness.  Liberals and even some moderates joked that Cheney was the real power in the Oval Office and that Bush was just a figurehead – a puppet.  But, there’s nothing mirthful about it – especially when you consider misinformation about the Iraq War was fed to the media and the American public.  The results are 4,488 U.S. military personnel casualties and 1.5 million Iraqi dead.

After leaving Washington in January 2009, Bush moved to Dallas and has pretty much stayed out of the limelight; an unusual reaction upon vacating the highest office in the land.  In contrast, Jimmy Carter made up for his dismal tenure in the Oval Office by working with Habitat for Humanity and overseeing elections in countries striving for the same brand of democracy Americans enjoy.  Bill Clinton stayed front and center of the public eye.  The Clinton Foundation works to improve global welfare through education and individual health.  Clinton even joined with his predecessor, George H.W. Bush, to provide aid to nations affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunamiRonald Reagan probably would have done more after his presidency, had he not become hobbled by Alzheimer’s.

But, Bush, Jr.?  He’s virtually been incognito.  Even after publishing his memoir, Decision Points, it’s like he slipped into the Witness Protection Program.  In a May 2009 speech to students graduating from a high school in Roswell, New México, Bush said, “I no longer feel that great sense of responsibility that I had when I was in the Oval Office.  And frankly, it’s a liberating feeling.”

I don’t fault him for that!  There’s no job like President of the United States.  As with any national leadership role, the individual is president every hour of every day during his time in office.  His movements and his words are tightly controlled and meticulously documented.  He doesn’t really get weekends off, and vacations aren’t real vacations where he could get away and relax without a care in the world.  It’s just the nature of the job; it’s impossible for the President of the United States to rest completely while in office.  It is, without a doubt, one of the most prestigious roles in the world, but also one of the most dangerous.  Presidents have to be self-confident – even a little arrogant – for sure, but it comes at great personal costs.  I recall Jimmy Carter saying several years ago that he wouldn’t take the presidency again if it was given to him.

I’m not a conspiracy addict.  I don’t see evil machinations lurking around every street corner.  I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot President John F. Kennedy and I don’t think Elvis Presley is living on a remote South Pacific island next door to Jim Morrison.  But, I do believe the integrity of the 2000 presidential elections was subverted and George W. Bush was placed (forced) into office at the hands of a few corrupt, but very powerful individuals and corporations.

Usually the brightest and most ambitious of individuals lead nations and form policies that impact the global population.  That’s just the way it is; the way it has to be.  Those things can’t be left to chance.  They don’t happen by coincidence.

But, if there is a “Mother Company” running this nation – or this planet – what is it?  The aforementioned World Bank?  The United Nations?  The International Monetary Fund?  All of them?  Or, something else.  Former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura has speculated it’s the Bilderberg Group, a Dutch-based organization formed in 1954 to encourage collaboration between the world’s great democracies.  People have debated this matter for years.

History is often written by the victors.  But, the history of George W. Bush’s presidency isn’t carved into stone.

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In Memoriam – The Iraq War

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Today marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  It’s tough to believe an entire decade has actually passed.  Any war is a sad, catastrophic affair.  But, this conflict is made even worst when we realize it was not only completely unnecessary; it was based on a pack of lies.

The nexus of the invasion was that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction,” or yellow-cake uranium from Nigeria, or something that could wreak havoc on our world.  I knew almost from the moment that President George W. Bush stood before the United Nations in September 2002 that he was lying about Hussein’s nuclear weapons capabilities.

It’s equally sad that the U.S. media followed suit with the Bush Administration’s lies, and – to make matters worse – so did much of the American public.

The Iraq War did have one clear winner: the American oil conglomerate.  Before the invasion, Iraqi oil reserves were closed to Western oil companies.  Now, it is largely privatized and almost completely dominated by foreign entities.

“Of course it’s about oil; we can’t really deny that,” said Gen. John Abizaid, former head of U.S. Central Command and Military Operations in Iraq, in 2007.

Then Senator and now Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel pretty much agreed, when he said also in 2007, “People say we’re not fighting for oil.  Of course we are.”

The Iraq War was a long time in the making.  You only have to look back to 1998, when Kenneth Derr, then CEO of Chevron said, “Iraq possesses huge reserves of oil and gas-reserves I’d love Chevron to have access to.”  Derr later became CEO of Halliburton – the same company Vice-President Dick Cheney lead until May of 2000, when he abruptly resigned and moved from Texas back to his native Wyoming.

In 2000, Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell dumped millions into the Bush presidential campaign; more than any other presidential race.  Their efforts seem to have paid off.  Less than two weeks after Bush took office, Cheney chaired the newly-formed National Energy Policy Development Group whose entire purpose was to lay out the course for America’s energy future.  In March 2001, the group outlined Iraq’s oil production capacity and produced a final report two months later.

In 2004, Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, said, “Already by February (2001), the talk was mostly about logistics.  Not the why (to invade Iraq), but the how and how quickly.”

They found a way: the September 11, 2011 attacks on New York and Washington.  Dancing on the graves of the nearly 3,000 people killed in those attacks, the Bush Administration shifted attention to Iraq; accusing it of complicity in the calamity.  But, even before our troops landed in Baghdad, Cheney’s group was already making plans for Iraq’s postwar oil and energy industries.  Now, Chevron, Halliburton and several others have full access to Iraqi oil.  They must be happy – and proud.

It’s easy for draft dodgers like Bush and Cheney to wrap themselves in the American flag and cry freedom, before sending others into battle.  Like most wars, this one was commandeered by old men lounging safely ensconced in their leather chairs and fought by young people who often had no other opportunities in life, except to join the military.

Here’s what we have to show for the Iraq War:

Social conservatives always seem to find money for war – but never enough for education or health care.  Aside from the tangible costs, there are the emotional and psychological effects endured by military personnel and their families.  Nothing can replace the loss of a loved one – even if that person willingly joined the military, knowing they may never return alive.  The level of arrogance in the Bush Administration extended to the display of flag-draped coffins returning to the U.S.  In an effort to hide the true impact of war, photos of these coffins were banned from publication by the White House; a move you’d expect from the military dictatorships of Myanmar or Uganda.

Making matters worse, President Bush’s own mother, Barbara Bush, appeared on “Good Morning America” just a day before the Iraq invasion and said, “But why should we hear about body bags and deaths, and how many, what day it’s gonna happen, and how many this or that or what do you suppose?  Or, I mean, it’s not relevant.  So, why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that, and watch him (her husband, former president George H. W. Bush) suffer?”

God forbid if Barbara Bush’s quaint little tea parties should be disrupted by the sight of body bags on television!  I mean, that would be wrong, wouldn’t it?  I remember Bush, Jr., saying that he still listened to his mother.  Now, we know why he’s such an arrogant bastard.

A few years ago my local ABC News affiliate showed a young man returning to his home in a small East Texas town on Mother’s Day weekend and surprising his mother who worked at a Dairy Queen.  Only his father knew he was coming back, but kept it a secret, so the kid could surprise his mother.  I thought, ‘That’s who’s fighting this war: kids from small towns whose mothers work at Dairy Queen.’  Not Ivy League lawyers and Harvard graduates; not the sons and daughters of hedge fund CEOs – kids with few options in life.  Many of them are dead now; their promising futures squashed so cowards like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney can look good in the eyes of their blind supporters and large oil companies can earn extraordinary profits.

I know that the Great Creator will damn the likes of Bush, Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice for fabricating this mess and trying to sugar-coat it with layers of patriotic fervor.  Until then, I pray for the welfare of those who actually did the dirty work of fighting this war.

A family tries to leave the besieged Iraqi city of Basra March 31, 2003 in the back of a truck near a British manned bridge that had become a demarcation line. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

A family tries to leave the besieged Iraqi city of Basra March 31, 2003 in the back of a truck near a British manned bridge that had become a demarcation line. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

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Cartoon of the Day

 

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