Tag Archives: George W. Bush

I Sight

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Over the past few months the dreaded “I” word has been floating across the nation: impeachment.  As in the impeachment of President Donald Trump – which sounds pretty good – because his words and actions have put the U.S. in a precarious global position – because he really wasn’t elected to the office – because he’s an obnoxious bastard.  Okay, that last one is more of a personal opinion.  And, of course, we all have a right to that!

But talk of impeaching the president of the United States is like warning Americans about visiting North Korea: don’t go there.  Forcibly removing the president from office was a rare topic of discussion – even among politicians – until the 1970s.  But, after the Watergate left a bitterly angry taste in the mouths of the American populace, impeachment has been tossed around as often as limes at a Mexican barbecue.

Since Watergate, only one sitting U.S. president has faced a concerted attempt at impeachment: Bill Clinton.  And that was only because he engaged in an eel-hunting adventure with a perky, overweight intern, which culminated in a blue dress wardrobe malfunction before anyone invented the term.

Yet, as much as I despise Trump and as little as I thought of George W. Bush, I would look at anyone who talks of impeachment with concern.  Do you realize how serious that is?  Do you understand exactly what it takes to oust such a person from the White House?  It’s almost like a military coup; the kind that occurs in third-world nations.  Think Cuba or the Philippines.  Yes, that kind.  It’s nowhere near as bloody and violent; we use pens and roll-call votes here, instead of guns and machetes.  But it remains a complex and arduous task.

Keep in mind that, aside from Clinton, only 2 other U.S. presidents have faced impeachment: Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon.  The key term here is faced impeachment.  To date, no sitting president has actually been removed from office by impeachment.  The House of Representatives has the sole power of impeaching the president, while the U.S. Senate has the sole power of trying impeachments.  This all occurs under rules of law established in the Constitution; therefore, no single branch of government possesses omniscient power to remove a sitting president.

The first step, obviously, is to identify what acts performed by the president qualify as “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”  The House votes on articles of impeachment.  If there is just one article, it requires a two-thirds majority of House members.  But, if there are two or more articles of impeachment, only one of them needs to garner a majority to induce impeachment.  Nixon came very close to actually being removed from office.  But he resigned after the House voted in August of 1974.

Second, the proceedings move to the Senate where an actual trial is held.  The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court oversees the case, as they would any other legal matter.  Here, a team of lawmakers from the House serves in a prosecutorial role, while the Senate is technically the jury.  The president has his or her own lawyers.  Once all sides have presented their arguments, the matter is handed to the Senate.  If at least two-thirds of Senators vote in favor of the articles, then the president is removed from office, and the vice-president assumes the presidency.

This isn’t punishment for being tardy.  The U.S. likes to present itself as a beacon of democracy for the world; a master of political dignity and fairness.  If we are compelled to remove our own national leader from office, what does that say about our voting system?  What does it say about the concept of democracy altogether?  Is the presidential vetting process so pathetic that we can’t identify someone with a criminal mindset beforehand?

Elizabeth Holtzman is a former U.S. congresswoman from New York.  In 1974, she was on the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach Nixon.  In a 2006 essay entitled “The Impeachment of George W. Bush,” she not only describes the arduous process of removing a sitting president from office, but also the emotional toll it took on everyone in both houses of congress at the time.

“I can still remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach during those proceedings,” she wrote, “when it became clear that the President had so systematically abused the powers of the presidency and so threatened the rule of law that he had to be removed from office.  As a Democrat who opposed many of President Nixon’s policies, I still found voting for his impeachment to be one of the most sobering and unpleasant tasks I ever had to undertake.  None of the members of the committee took pleasure in voting for impeachment; after all, Democrat or Republican, Nixon was still our President.”

Curiously, she goes on to state, “At the time, I hoped that our committee’s work would send a strong signal to future Presidents that they had to obey the rule of law.  I was wrong.”

In this regard, she was discussing the possible impeachment of George W. Bush.  I can think of no other Chief Executive in modern times who exhibited such incompetence and corruptness as our 43rd president.  That he got into office under dubious circumstances in the first place is enough to question the integrity of our electoral process.  That he managed to remain there, despite mounting evidence of war crimes, is anathema to the grander concept of democracy.  I’ve always said that, if the Democrats had at least made a concerted attempt to remove Bush from office, they wouldn’t just appear heroic in the eyes of their constituents; they also would have upheld the rule of law governing all institutions.

Remember that congressional Republicans tried to remove Bill Clinton for lying about his sexual dalliances.  It was an incredibly one-sided, vindictive assault on democracy – all because the man didn’t want the world to know he’d screwed around on his wife and because right-wing extremists didn’t like him, no matter what he happened.  You’re going to impeach him for THAT?!  Then-House leader Newt Gingrich – who was married to his third wife with whom he’d cheated on his second wife – had led the cavalcade of self-righteous Republicans.  He and his constituents paid for their hypocrisy when they lost their super-majorities in both Houses of Congress in the 1998 elections.

Watching the Trump presidency collapse around the real estate magnate-turned-reality-TV-star is almost laughable.  But it’s not that funny.  His behavioral quirks and fetish for name-calling are hallmarks of social ineptitude and, perhaps, mental instability.  As with George W. Bush, that Trump actually made it into the White House is an insult to the core of the institution of democracy.  Growing evidence shows that Russia interfered with the 2016 U.S. elections.  Exactly how they did it has yet to be discovered – or revealed.  But I honestly believe the Trump presidency is a fluke.

In his novel, “Shibumi,” author Trevanian (Rodney William Whitaker) relays the incredible tale of 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.  But he’s coaxed back into the netherworld of international espionage by a 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 keep thinking we’re already dealing with that type of set-up; that Bush, Jr., was placed into office, so we could go to war in Iraq and gain access to their oil reserves, and that Trump was planted in the White House for whatever machinations the Russian government has underway.

But I still want everyone to be careful with the “I” word.  It really is just a small step from undergoing the lengthy route of impeaching a president to rigging his limousine with explosives – like they do in those unstable third-world societies.  Democracy is a difficult political state to establish.  It’s even more difficult to maintain.  It doesn’t function on its own; it simply can’t.

This mess we’re in may provide great material for standup comics.  But it also presents us with an ethical dilemma.  Again, I ask, do we truly understand how serious this talk of impeachment is?

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Thank You, President Obama

President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012.  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“Before I leave my note for our 45th president, I wanted to say one final thank you for the honor of serving as your 44th.  Because all that I’ve learned in my time in office, I’ve learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.”

President Barack Obama, January 19, 2017

President Obama, today you officially leave the White House and reenter life as a (somewhat) private citizen.  After an incredible, yet curious, eight years, you leave a unique legacy to a nation that challenged you both professionally and personally.  From my vantage point as an average citizen, I feel you did as best you could do.

First, you took on the most difficult job anyone could have: proverbial leader of the “Free World.”  It’s a position riddled with dichotomies: intensely powerful and emotionally draining; prestigious and notorious; riveting and excruciating; honorific and horrifying.  With a glaring tone of schizophrenia, it’s not so much a job as it is a role.  Chief Executive of the United States of America stretches across the horizon of humanity.  No wonder you leave office looking decades older than when you first arrived!

Second – and perhaps most important – you took on this task at the start of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; when we straddled two wars that left us enraged and tired; when the richest, most powerful nation on Earth suddenly had to question its future in relation to its past.  And you did it with members of the opposition who awoke each day more determined to destroy you than to ensure the nation’s success.

Your life story is fascinating.  Here you are – born of a Black immigrant father who abandoned you almost from the start and a White teenage mother who nurtured you as best as her young age would allow, but who would never see your rise to fame – one individual beginning life under such duress.  You attended Columbia College where you majored in political science and English literature.  You moved on to Harvard University, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education and one of the most difficult to access.  You were then president of the Harvard Law Review.  Before that, though, you were a student at Occidental College in Los Angeles where a hint to your political ambition became apparent in a speech calling for the college to sever its investments in South Africa.  None of these are small achievements.

As president, you helped to salve the damage of the Great Recession with investments in an economy that created 11 million new jobs; the longest such streak on record.  Unemployment is now down to pre-recession levels.  With exports up by 28% and a deficit cut by $800 billion, the stock markets have nearly tripled, the auto industry is flourishing again, and our reliance on foreign oil stands at a 40-year low.  High school graduation rates increased substantially, and Pell Grants doubled.  Your administration instituted new federal student loan payment plans; established a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; put in place a new mortgage refinance program; passed a Patient’s Bill of Rights; extended protection for land and water resources; and placed limits on carbon pollution.

If I have any grievances regarding your record, they are few, but noteworthy.  I personally don’t care for the Affordable Care Act, as it presently stands.  You and your fellow Democrats seemed to spend too much time designing and implementing this law, instead of focusing even more time and energy on the economy.  Americans certainly don’t need another tax, when they’re having trouble finding stable employment!  I was also disappointed in your response to threats by your Republican colleagues to withhold benefits for the long-term unemployed at the end of 2010, if you didn’t agree to maintain the Bush-era tax cuts; the very items that shoved the nation into economic jeopardy shortly before you took office.  I believe you had the executive power to force the dreaded tax cuts to expire as originally scheduled and further ensure benefits for those hapless citizens – people you rightfully deemed “hostages” – remained in place.  There were other down moments: “Operation Fast and Furious” and the Benghazi tragedy, in particular.  These episodes may haunt you, but they don’t define you.

You withstood the worst personal attacks on any public official I’ve ever seen.  From vicious protests by a band of (all-White) conservative students at Texas A & M University to a South Carolina congressman shouting “You lie!” in the midst of your first State of the Union address (something that had never happened before); the Arizona governor jutting her crooked finger into your face and later claiming you intimidated her; and finally to the asinine “birther” movement propagated by the incoming president, you’ve endured extreme social and political animosity.  As someone who began following U.S. politics with the Watergate scandal, I can say with 100% certainty that I’ve never witnessed such levels of verbal barbarity and recalcitrance as what your Republican counterparts slung at you.

It’s obvious you tried to restrain your frustration; fighting through the muck of political swamp water.  But I still wish you had simply gotten ugly with these clowns.  With each personal assault, I kept wishing you’d strip away your professional comportment momentarily and bring forth the worst parts of your personality (the kind that exists in all of us); the nigger and / or redneck sides of you – all in a concerted effort to try to communicate with your adversaries.  They didn’t like you anyway.  Nothing you did or said could possibly satisfy their pathetically myopic attitudes.  If you tried to negotiate and compromise, they dubbed you weak and ineffective.  If you dared to raise your voice and talk back to them, they declared you uppity.  You couldn’t win no matter what you did.  So, why remain polite and dignified all the time?  Yes, I realize that’s not your nature.  But, in dealing with arrogance and outright stupidity, you occasionally have to jump into the gutter with those fools, merely so they can understand you.  I’ve had to do just that in my own professional life and I always hated it.  I despised dumbing down my intellectual capacity just to get my point across.  It’s nasty and painful to we intellects who understand the value and necessity of good dialogue.  But, like cleaning a dirty toilet in your bathroom, sometimes you just have to behave in such a manner to get things done.

And, despite the blatant, unapologetically crude and juvenile behavior your opponents exhibited, you tightened your lips, held your head high and kept your back straight.  You let your emotions show on only a handful of occasions; mainly when yet another deranged gunman rained terror on unsuspecting innocents.  In other words, you allowed the true nature of your humanity gush forward when it really mattered.

Your poise and demeanor are unmatched among modern-day public servants.  You and your beautiful family are emblematic of grace and class.  Mrs. Obama, in particular, displayed personal charm and studious refinement; more so than all four of her predecessors combined.

In 2012, I published an essay on this blog entitled “Barack Obama – The Unintentional Martyr”; where I highlighted that your professional troubles were a predictable, almost unavoidable evil; a grueling necessity to compel America to hold up to its promise of dignity and equality for all citizens.  You paved the way for future candidates who won’t fit into the pre-ordained mold of what an American president should look and sound like.  I suspect if your father had been born in Europe, Canada or even Australia, no one would have questioned your citizenship or your legitimacy.  But he was from Africa – the “Dark Continent” – that massive region of Earth that is the birthplace of humanity and whose indigenous peoples had the audacity to expel a cavalcade of brutal European colonists and – gasp! – demand they be treated with the proper deference naturally due to them as human beings.

I understand the hate that a mixed ethnic background incurs from the cerebrally- challenged.  I’m White (mostly Spanish, but also one-quarter German) and Mexican Indian.  I tell some people I’m justified in criticizing middle-aged White guys because…well, I’m one of them; while I told others who didn’t care for you to just vote for the “White Obama.”  My ancestry in the state of Texas extends back to a time before the Mayflower pilgrims had even begun making travel plans.  I celebrate my complex heritage because it ultimately spells A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N.

Unfortunately, future history-making presidents will have to face the same barrage of disquieting irreverence: the first female, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan, atheist, or gay / lesbian Chief Executive.  All of them will have their character questioned and their birthright authenticity shredded by those who think America’s sacred promise of opportunity and equality actually applies only to them and their ilk.  These prospective White House occupants will be forced to prove their place in this great American society is not defined by other peoples’ ideals.

Sadly, you leave office – and the fate of the nation – in the lap of a maniacal, temperamental, foul-mouthed, proudly bigoted oaf; a cretin who holds no qualms in lambasting anyone who is the least bit different from or disagrees with him, yet seethes about the most diminutive of sleights.  He has single-handedly reduced the prominence of the U.S. presidency to 140 character rants.

I’m trying to imagine you entering the White House with a much-younger third wife for whom you left your second wife.  My brain cramps as I try to envision you standing before a crowd of thousands demanding they pummel a dissenter into the ground.  I can only wonder the reaction you’d get telling a mass of financially-struggling Appalachian Whites, “What do you have to lose?”

I will miss you, Mr. Obama, along with your eloquent words and unimposing determination to make the United States live up to its full potential as a nation for all people.  You can rest now, my good man; start building your library; await the days you become a father-in-law and a grandfather; and – above all – get some sleep!

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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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God Damned Texas

texas

Well, hell!  God must have, considering the gallery of lunatics the Lone Star State has put into public office in recent years!  I can honestly say I’ve never been more embarrassed to be a Texan (or an American, if you look at the current presidential race) than I am now.  I opined two years ago that I hope Ted Cruz runs for president and gets his ass slaughtered in the process.  So far, he’s one of only three survivors in the Republican field.  I eagerly await the political bloodbath at the GOP convention in Cleveland this summer.  I have a perverted fascination with seeing arrogance publicly butchered.  Cruz has made a number of incendiary comments, including that the United States will collapse into the fires of Satan’s lair because gay marriage is now legal – as opposed to the centuries of European-induced Indian genocide and Negro slavery where nothing so calamitous occurred.  There are too many idiocies that came from his mouth to highlight here.  I mean, I wouldn’t know where to begin!  But one recent revelation is that he tried to uphold a state law banning the sale of sex toys, which he said safeguards “public morals”; adding that “police-power interests” are a tool (pun intended) in “discouraging prurient interests in sexual gratification, combating the commercial sale of sex, and protecting minors.”  That’s right.  Cruz believes police have the power to invade your home and yank a dildo out of your ass or vagina!  All in the name of protecting children, of course.  Like so many right-wingers here in Texas, Cruz is willing to move heaven and Earth to protect children from wayward sexuality, while ignoring the fact most of those children are uninsured.  Priorities, people!  Priorities!

Canadian-born, Cuban-Italian Cruz certainly isn’t the first Texas official to spout out such twisted logic.  This state has a long history of generating some colorful characters.  During the 1990 governor’s race, Republican oilman Clayton Williams said, among other gaffes, that bad weather was like rape; it’s inevitable, so you might as well lay back and enjoy it.  As you might expect, the old bastard also insulted Blacks and Hispanics.  But here’s the sad part: he garnered nearly 40% of the votes.  Fortunately State Treasurer Ann Richards won.  Unfortunately, she lost four years later to the grandest of all Texas political goofballs: George W. Bush.  It’s around that time when Texas politics began sliding into the surreal – enough to make Salvador Dalí jealous.

But the past decade alone has seen the dramatic rise of Texas’ quirkiest politics stars.  I now present the following three jewels of cluelessness.

Ken Paxton – The state Attorney General has been in legal trouble almost from the moment he was sworn into office.  In July 2015, Paxton was indicted on felony charges for repeatedly breaking state securities laws during his tenure as a state lawmaker.  Then a new charge that he deliberately misled investors in a technology company arose.  Amid raising thousands of dollars from the investors, Paxton supposedly also received commissions – something he didn’t reveal and something that’s, you know, kind of illegal.  His attorneys tried to get all the charges dropped, but the judge handling the matter refused and ordered Paxton to be arrested in Collin County, just north of Dallas.  Paxton had to undergo the usual rigmarole of fingerprints and mug shots.  Whenever people in Collin County, Texas are arrested, officials wrap a white towel around their necks before taking the requisite glory shot.  But, because Paxton is a high-ranking state figure, he got the anticipated special treatment and was photographed sans towel.  (Trying to be discreet, Paxton had met with William Mapp, one of the energy company’s co-founders at a Dairy Queen in McKinney, which is in Collin County, in the summer of 2011.  According to most Texans, Dairy Queen is a step above Burger King.)  While Paxton is currently trying to stop a group called Exxotica from staging a sexually-oriented exposition in Dallas this summer, news reports now reveal that Paxton is still paying top aides who left the attorney general’s office more than a month ago.  The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating the investment deal, and Exxotica is threatening to sue the city of Dallas, if it violates their contract to proceed with the exposition.  I truly hope the SEC wins, and then, I’ll join them at the Exxotica convention.

Louie GohmertThe East Texas congressman takes outlandishness to a new level.  As with most right-wing political figures, Gohmert doesn’t want anyone telling him what to do with their guns, but he feels the urge to tell people what to do in their own bedrooms.  Aside from his staunch opposition to abortion (a given trait among conservatives), he’s compared limiting the size of ammunition magazines to bestiality and opposes gays from serving in the military because they’d spend more time giving each other massages on the front lines than fighting.  (What the hell’s wrong with massages?!)  In light of President Obama’s election wins, Gohmert has co-sponsored a “birther” bill that would require presidential candidates to submit their birth certificates as proof of eligibility to run for the White House.  Recently he opposed a bill that would have directed education funding to recruiter more women in the sciences by claiming it’s gender-biased and that even Martin Luther King would have opposed it.  Not knowing when to shut the hell up, Gohmert went on to add that such a bill would have distracted Marie Curie’s research and put “millions and millions of lives” in jeopardy.

Sid Miller – Like most politicians, the state’s Agriculture Commissioner has a penchant for travel.  And, like most politicians, he claims it’s all done in the name of state business, and therefore, he’s justified in charging taxpayers for his expenses.  But the $2,000 he spent on a 2015 trip to Mississippi to compete in a rodeo for prize money probably doesn’t fall into the business category.  He engaged in calf-roping events and won $880.  He tried to explain the trip’s importance by claiming he had set up a “work meeting” with Mississippi’s agriculture commissioner and other business people.  But wait!  It gets weirder.  Miller also may have charged Texas taxpayers the $1,000 it cost to fly to Oklahoma to visit an old friend, Michael Lonergan, a discredited Ohio doctor, for a “Jesus shot.”  Yes, Miller – who apparently suffers from chronic back pain – needed the spirit of the Lord pumped into his tired body via a concoction of unknown ingredients that’s injected into the upper arm.  Lonergan served prison time in Ohio for tax evasion and mail fraud, before relocating to Edmond, Oklahoma.  Miller is reimbursing the state of Texas for the trip “out of an abundance of caution,” according to his spokeswoman.  But the Texas Rangers, a state police agency, is still investigating.  My idea of a “Jesus shot” is a heavy duty screwdriver made with Smirnoff citron vodka and a bottle of baby oil; then shouting, “Jesus!” as I wipe my face.  I have videos in exchange for contributions to a charity of my choice – mainly my freelance writing fund.

Miller spent $55,000 decorating his office.

Miller spent $55,000 decorating his office.

Mary Lou Bruner – The 69-year-old retired teacher is seeking to be the next president of the Texas State School Board, the entity that has made all of Texas the literal laughingstock of the nation.  Bruner subscribes to the usual right-wing ideology: the Earth is only about 6,000 years old; there was a man named Noah who built a massive ark and that dinosaurs were among its passengers; climate change science is leftist bullshit; and 20th century liberals rewrote the history of the Civil War only to make it look like slavery was the root cause.

But, among her myriad Facebook rants is this lovely tidbit: “Obama has a soft spot for homosexuals because of the years he spent as a male prostitute in his twenties. That is how he paid for his drugs. He has admitted he was addicted to drugs when he was young, and he is sympathetic to homosexuals; but he hasn’t come out of the closet about his own homosexual / bisexual background. He hasn’t quite evolved that much! Since he supports gay marriage, he should be proud of his background as a homosexual/bisexual. He is against everything else Christians stand for, he might as well be for infidelity.”

Facebook forcibly deleted that post, and even some of Obama’s most ardent critics here and across the country thought that went too far.  Of all the disrespectful crap lodged at our first biracial president, that’s the most slanderous.  As far as I can tell, though, she’s never apologized for it.  A spokeswoman for the Cherokee County, Texas Republican Party dismissed the response to Bruner as excessive; describing her as “a nice older lady who doesn’t understand social media and the impact that it can have.”

No one has to “understand social media” to realize calling somebody a prostitute and a drug addict is offensive and just plain stupid.  Do you need a PhD in astronomy to understand that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west?  What’s worst, however, is that – given Texas’ dismal voting record – Bruner stands a good chance of actually winning that coveted seat on the school board.

There’s also a good chance Paxton and Miller will both remain in office.  In the U.S., a true double standard exists when it comes to elected officials facing criminal charges.  People are routinely thrown in jail for possessing a pinch of marijuana or talking back to a police officer.  Sandra Bland, anyone?  But use your official power to skirt the system?  Well… that’s up for discussion.  I have no hope for the future, but will keep writing to avoid a visit from the FBI.

Although Texas gave the nation – and the world – Dick Cheney and Enron, it also produced the U.S. space program, Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin, ZZ Top, Beyoncé, Eva Longoria, frozen margaritas, Shiner Bock, Whole Foods Market, silicone breast implants and, of course, Chief Writing Wolf.  So, things aren’t that bad down here!

On a side note, I really do plan to patronize Exxotica and display my version of the “Jesus shot”: a bathtub filled with Mike’s HARD Lemonade; a liter of Red Bull; a sounding rod; heated Vaseline and a high-definition video camera.  I’ll email copies to Bruner and Cruz to show what they’re missing while campaigning.  After all, politics is bad for both body and soul.  Yee-hah!

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The Worst Legacy

broken_promise_by_don_paolo

This past April marked twenty years since the death of President Richard M. Nixon, which came nearly two decades after he became the first Chief Executive in U.S. history to resign from office. That ignominious fortieth anniversary is coming up next month. It’s not something to be celebrated. The Watergate affair that brought him down has left an indelible stain on both American politics and the soul of the American people. Those of us in the 50 and under crowd have pretty much grown up in a world suspicious and even hostile towards all levels of government. The over 50 crowd helped build and fuel that distrust after a brutal sense of betrayal for a nation that set itself up more than two centuries ago as a beacon of democracy and freedom.

I’ve always said Watergate burned whatever bridges of faith and trust the American public had in their elected officials. But, the wicked uncertainty actually began the moment President John F. Kennedy had his head blown apart by an assassin’s bullets and Jacqueline Kennedy clambered onto the trunk of the presidential limousine in Dallas on November 22, 1963. The ensuing Warren Commission Report hoped to quell doubts that the murder was anything but the act of one deranged ex-Marine with delusions of grandeur. Yet, people saw it for what it really was: a rush to judgment. Americans weren’t so gullible anymore. The quagmire in Vietnam; the various energy crises of the 1970s; and the absolute failures of the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter Administrations (the latter burdened by the ineptness of the Iran hostage ordeal) only sealed the fate of Americans’ general distrust of their government.

Ronald Reagan fed off that fear like a lion gorging on a sick zebra and metamorphosed it into two successful political campaigns. One of his most popular statements, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help’,” resonated strongly with the frustrated masses. Indeed, he had a point. But, Reagan’s own professional disconnect and ineffectiveness – Iran-contra, covert U.S. involvement in Central American conflicts, ignoring the AIDS epidemic, a pathetic war on pornography – placed him in the same pantheon of “Them.”

Almost from the moment Bill Clinton announced his candidacy for president, Republicans took retribution against their Democratic counterparts over Watergate by targeting Clinton every chance they could. They dissected the Whitewater deal and found – nothing. So, they turned to First Lady Hillary Clinton and manufactured something called “Travelgate.” When that didn’t work, they pounced on the events surrounding the suicide of Vince Foster; dragging the memory of a man who may have had severe emotional problems into their cesspool of arrogance and striving fruitlessly to twist it into an evil political plot. Alas, in 1998, they zeroed in on something totally unrelated to politics: the Monica Lewinsky affair and tried to impeach Clinton over a tawdry sexual indiscretion. The final report by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr read like a soft-core porn novel. I remember looking at that mess and thinking, “They want to impeach a U.S. president over that?! A blowjob?!”

We see that stubbornness now with the likes of House Speaker John Boehner and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. They complain that President Obama has no viable plans to help the U.S. economy, for example, but stand in their buckets of ideological cement and won’t budge. Thus, Obama (slowly growing some semblance of a backbone) has been forced to invoke executive privileges to get the work done. Now, Boehner is threatening to sue him because of it! I remember Boehner repeatedly asking, “Where are the jobs?” But, when Obama wanted the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans to expire at the end of 2010, Republicans balked and threatened to block extension of unemployment benefits, which were also set to expire at the end of that year; thus holding struggling Americans hostage. Obama relented, and the wealthiest citizens continued to see their after-tax incomes grow, while average Americans continued to lose their jobs and their homes.

The administration of George W. Bush solidified, in my mind, the corruptness and intransigence of the U.S. government. The 09/11 horror compelled many Americans to question what our government officials know and what they’re doing about it. That the Bush Administration then tied the 09/11 affair to Iraq’s alleged development of nuclear and / or chemical weapons convinced so many of us that our government is willing to go to extreme lengths to obfuscate and mislead just to embolden its own agenda. They tap-danced on the dead bodies of the innocent people who hurtled themselves from the World Trade Center’s burning Twin Towers and merely wiped the blood of soldiers from the millions of dollars they earned from oil revenue.

Bush was a puppet president; a doll adorned in designer business suits and propped up with ersatz ‘Mission Accomplished’ bravado. I almost feel sorry for him. Even he said, after leaving the White House, that he felt “liberated.”

Obama hasn’t done much better. At least he’s more verbally adept than Bush. But, I wish he’d make the time to rummage through his wife’s cache of designer handbags for his gonads before telling John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, “Fuck you. I’m president of the United States. I run this shit here – not you guys.”

It bothers me, for example, that we’re still entrenched in Afghanistan. I feel we should have bombed the crap out of them twelve years ago – damn their civilians, including the children and women, because they didn’t care about ours – and then leave. Maybe airdrop a few high-protein biscuits and bottled water into the mountainside, just to show we’re not complete assholes and go about our own business.

But, it bothers me even more that Obama hasn’t empowered Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the causes of the near-total economic collapse in 2008. The worst financial downturn since the 1930s didn’t happen because someone on the Dow Jones trading floor accidentally unplugged a computer before the end of the business day because they needed to do a software upgrade. It resulted from a multitude of events; such as hefty tax cuts for that “job-creating” 1%; extreme deregulation of the housing and banking industries; and the billions of dollars on the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Except for a handful of notable exceptions – Bernie Madoff, Mark Dreier – no one has been held accountable for the “Great Recession.” But, if I walk into a local convenience store with a toy gun and rob the Pakistani clerk of fifty bucks, I could spend thirty years in prison. I believe there were other more diabolical machinations in play, beginning in 2001, that caused the economic downturn. Yes, economies endure cycles of bull and bear markets. But, this fiasco wasn’t just cyclical, like rainfall. Somebody did something, and it wasn’t by accident.

In February 2012, Maine Senator Olympia Snowe stunned her constituents by announcing that she wouldn’t seek reelection that year. She didn’t hesitate to explain why: the level of hostility and unwillingness to compromise in the U.S. Congress had become unbearable. To her, I guess, it wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. It was a shame. Snowe was one of the most level-headed politicians in Washington, regardless of party affiliation. She was willing to listen to and work with all of her colleagues. But, many of them just didn’t seem to share the same ethic.

I still say it all goes back to Watergate. Nixon and his band of henchmen were determined to keep the president in power, as the 1972 elections neared. Nixon had a modest tenure as Vice-President under Dwight Eisenhower, but suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the upstart Kennedy in 1960. When he lost the California governor’s race in 1962, he vowed to exit public life altogether, loudly proclaiming, “You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore.” But, he just couldn’t stay away. He loved the political game and desperately wanted the presidency. His dogged ambition put him in the White House six years after the California debacle – and forced him back out six years later.

Things have never been the same since. And, we still can’t bring ourselves to trust anyone in government.

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Iraq Again! Oh, Hell No!

Zombie hand

“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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