Tag Archives: Iraq War

Gang of Imbeciles

Woodall Rodgers Freeway, heading into downtown Dallas, sat nearly empty at 7:26 am on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 – the first morning after Dallas County’s “shelter in place”. This stretch of highway is normally packed with vehicles during morning rush hour. Photo by Lynda M. Gonzalez, Dallas Morning News).

“Greatness in the last analysis is largely bravery – courage in escaping from old ideas and old standards and respectable ways of doing things.”

James Robinson

Crises can make or break a leader.  The 1979-81 Iran Hostage fiasco decimated Jimmy Carter’s final year in office and assuredly caused him to lose his 1980 reelection bid.  The 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing helped secure Bill Clinton’s image as a stalwart president.  The Hurricane Katrina debacle, on the other hand, proved George W. Bush was incompetent and ineffective as Commander-in-Chief.

The current COVID-19 scourge is Donald Trump’s national crisis.  It could be the savior of his presidency; the one element that ensures his place in the pantheon of great world leaders.  Or it could be his death knell; the catastrophic event which will equate him with failure, except his most devoted followers.  As things appear now, it’s turning into the latter.

Yesterday, March 26, Trump signed a roughly USD 2.2 trillion stimulus package unanimously passed by the U.S. Congress.  Because the COVID-19 mess has created a new set of “social distancing” protocols aimed at subverting the virus’ spread, a large number of Americans have suddenly found themselves jobless.  Restaurants, nightclubs, gyms, and tattoo parlors have been forced to shut down.  History will determine if that achieved its intended goals.  But, as of March 26, the number of jobless claims set a record at 3.3 million.  Who would’ve thought an invisible microbe could wreak such havoc?

Amidst this cataclysm, our dear leader, Donald Trump, has openly considered easing restrictions to the practices of social distancing.  Earlier this week, he suggested the U.S. could return to normal by Easter.  “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” he said.  That’s akin to the captain of the Titanic shouting, “Pool party!”

It’s almost painful to watch Trump and his band of clueless minions pretend this crisis will obey a presidential command.  Many conservatives tried to explain George W. Bush’s pathetic handling of the Hurricane Katrina fiasco by claiming his adversaries wanted him to stop the storm from terrorizing the Gulf Coast.  I heard a few actually say that aloud!  And I had the pleasure of telling them, ‘No.  The issue was RESPONDING to the hurricane!’  Bush and the Republican Party were quick to declare war on Iraq in 2003.  But, when a REAL threat emerges, they failed miserably.

If anything, the start of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. some forty years ago proved how dangerous social conservatism can be to a health crisis.  Admittedly, thousands of people didn’t come down with HIV in a matter of days, as with the COVID-19 virus.  But the reality is that national policy should never be based on individual predilections or religious ideology.  Every time people make health-based decisions on their own personal religious beliefs, people die.  Every single time!

But the AIDS epidemic showed that a slow federal response to a health concern can be lethal.  I’m watching the COVID-19 pandemic unfold here in the U.S. in stark realism.  As of March 27, the U.S. has achieved the dubious distinction of the most number of COVID-19 cases in the world.  Meaning we’ve now surpassed China and Italy.  Trump always declared America is #1 – and what do you know?!  The old bastard has finally been proven right!

I really don’t want to see Donald Trump fail in this entire imbroglio.  It’s not good to wish your national leader stumble and falter as a national crisis of any kind grips the nation.  But, thus far, Trump has shown no real leadership, with the exception of the aforementioned stimulus package.

It doesn’t need to be this way for him – or for anyone.  This could be his golden moment to prove he’s an authentic leader, not the failed businessman / tax cheat others claim he really is.  Every country’s leader is forced to confront a national emergency of some kind or another.  It just comes with the territory.  The U.S. presidency, in this case, is not school a crossing guard-type of position.  It requires more fortitude and clarity than most jobs, when in fact, the presidency is not a standard job.  It’s more of a calling – kind of like human rights work, or teaching.

As I view it in this moment of national surrealism, Donald Trump is not listening to the tragic sounds of that call.

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I Don’t Care About…

A few nights ago, amidst extensive coverage of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, a national news network abruptly mentioned that Tom Brady recently signed a contract to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  I guess it was supposed to be a bright spot in yet another tension-filled day in the U.S. and the world.  And who wouldn’t want to take a break from this madness?  But it startled me, as it came even before news about a massive storm system that had swept in from the Pacific and was approaching the middle of the country; bringing heavy rain and strong winds – some possibly tornadic – upon tens of millions of people.  I’m well aware Americans love their football and that sports usually brings people together – excluding stupidly angry parents at kids’ softball games.

In the midst of this pandemic, I could care less about Tom Brady or any other professional athlete – especially the overpaid, over-celebrated types.  Like Tom Brady.  The COVID-19 death toll is rising rapidly in the U.S.; gradually becoming more real and more frightening.  Just as a mudslide creeps down a rain-slogged hill, picking up rocks and vegetation, the virus has been gathering unsuspecting victims – slow, but unstoppable.  Here in my native northeast Texas, the Dallas / Fort Worth metropolitan area’s nearly 8 million residents have found themselves in an unexpected lockdown capsule.  Not much scares Texans, native or transplant.  But COVID-19 is more terrifying than the thought of the federal government snatching up our firearms, or bars and restaurants running out of beer and tequila.

With my elderly mother’s fragile health in even more jeopardy and my gym forced to shut down, I wonder if I’m fatally mistaking my usual spring allergy symptoms for that wicked Wuhan menace.  And, as matters intensify, there are some aspects of American society I don’t care about right now.  I don’t care …

If another wedding or funeral in either Afghanistan or Iraq is interrupted by an ISIS bomb.  U.S. troops have been embedded in Afghanistan for nearly two decades, and we still haven’t been able to tame the bearded and burqa-covered savages who occupy the nation’s rocky environs.  I’ve long championed the complete removal of American troops from Afghanistan; whether or not the energy titans who have insisted they remain like it or not.

If Israel and its venomous neighbors let yet another peace pact collapse.  There never has been peace in the Middle East and – at the current rate – there never will be.  For one thing the U.S. has been kissing Israel’s kosher ass for as long as I can remember.  We’ve bequeathed literally billions of American dollars in aid to Israel, and they’ve reciprocated with little more than self-righteous angst.

To hear more about the British royal family.  As I’ve noted previously, the American media harbors a fascination with the Windsors that the majority of American citizens do not.  To put it in more common vernacular, we mostly don’t a shit what the British royals do.  That Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, won’t adhere to some ancient, traditional Buckingham duties is about as important to the American populace as a grasshopper binging on a blade of Augustine grass.

About the plight of illegal immigrants lined up along the Mexican border.  Yes, I know many of them are desperate for a new life; free of poverty and crime.  But, right now, we can’t help them.  I’m genuinely more concerned about the health of my mother (who was born in México in 1932) and myself than some illiterate wetback who’s either too stupid or too lazy to follow established rules and laws to enter the U.S. legally.  If they can afford to pay several thousand American dollars to a coyote, or smuggler, to help them cross the Rio Grande, they can use that money to acquire the proper documentation.

About the anxiety of the transgendered.  Personally, I’m almost sick of hearing gender-confused folks clamor for equal treatment, then publicly lament that no one understands their “struggles”.  No, I don’t comprehend that you have trouble figuring out whether you should have indoor or outdoor genital plumbing and I don’t want to take the time and energy to do so.  For years the TG community demanded to be included within the overall queer community; now they want to piggyback on the rest of us and still have their own revolving closet.

About Confederate monuments.  Throughout the southeastern U.S., generations of redneck assholes have been fighting the American Civil War and – goddammit – they STILL haven’t won!  They keep hollering that the conflict that took some 800,000 lives was about states’ rights, when in fact, it was about the right of said states to keep millions of Negroes enslaved like wild animals.  The conservative morons who approve school text books have tried to dance around the issue by making such asinine claims that African slaves were “immigrant workers” or that slavery was actually “work for food and shelter.”  If anything, these are the people I’d love to see infected with COVID-19 and die.  When education and information fail to enlighten people, I view death as the only viable alternative.

About the Kardashian clan.  As with the British royal family, I’m about as concerned with the Kardashian gang as I am with a bug’s ass.  In fact, like with professional athletes, I don’t give a shit for the antics of overpaid, over-hyped celebrities; people who live in gilded mansions and consider limited bandwidth a problem.

Whether or not Oprah Winfrey can eat bread.  For more than thirty years I’ve heard the former talk show host bemoan her struggles with weight and body imagery.  Here’s some body imagery for you: I have an uncircumcised penis and hair covering my butt and my chest.  Does anyone genuinely care?  No!  And I don’t give a flying fuck if Oprah can eat an entire loaf of unleavened bread in one sitting without feeling guilty.  Her wagon loads of chicken fat (emblematic of her butt cheeks) failed to impress me; instead, just making me laugh.  I recall, during her 2009 visit to the Dallas area, Oprah waddled onto a stage at the Texas State Fair clad in jeans and a cowboy hat (trying to look so…you know, Texan).  My mother glared at the TV screen and uttered, “God, I didn’t realize how fat she is until now…seeing her in those jeans.  You know, fat gals have no business wearing jeans.”  Thus remember, despite her self-aggrandizing proclamations, Oprah doesn’t really care if you like bread, or if you can distinguish real mashed potatoes from processed cauliflower.  She just cares if you buy her magazines.  Which might not be a bad idea right now.  Toilet paper has been in short supply lately.

Now, dear readers, please tell us what you care about most (or least) in these critical times.  I fully believe in the power of the pen and the keyboard, and as bloggers and writers, we are obliged to keep the unbridled truth – and the hand sanitizer – in motion.

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Best Quote of the Week – February 7, 2020

“I left the [State of the Union address] after Trump – a draft dodger who has mocked Sen. John McCain, Gold Star families, and soldiers with traumatic brain injury – started talking about the good he has done for our military.”

Seth Moulton, Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts.

A former Marine, Moulton led one of the first infantry platoons into Baghdad at the start of the Iraq War in 2003 – a conflict initiated by another well-known draft dodger and indiscriminate liar: George W. Bush.  He left Trump’s Congressional address this past Tuesday when Trump began talking about his “record-breaking” investments and support of the U.S. military.

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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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The Worst Legacy

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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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