Even if Woodward Has it Right He Has it Wrong: Bush WMD

bob-woodward-obama-white-house-2-620x464Bob Woodward is back in the news, apparently feeling the need to be relevant again.  After all, forty years is a long time.

I don’t know much about Bob Woodward other than his penchant to seemingly know a lot about a lot of private stuff and then talk a lot about it.  He strikes me as a sort of sober Truman Capote or a balanced William F. Buckley, Jr., a journalistic remnant from a more interesting era.

However even being in the know, so to speak, doesn’t mean you get it right.

In recent days Mr. Woodward has told us that George W. Bush didn’t lie to get us into the Iraqi War.  For many that settles the issue.  Bob Woodward — a lefty, perhaps! — says it is so and that’s the end of it.  In truth, if anyone of any reputation had said as much it would be settled for those on the right desperate for an escape from the blame.

But what has Bob Woodward really told us?  He says that Bush, rather than push the WMD angle, actually warned CIA Director George Tenet, “Don’t let anyone stretch the case on WMD.”  But as luck would have it, war plans were well underway and the entire project had “momentum.”  As Woodward tells us, “That war plan kept getting better and easier, and finally at the end people were saying, ‘Hey, look, it’ll only take a week or two.'”

gwb-anc111102-002Right.  Don’t want to spoil the big event with anything like common sense or decency getting in the way.  And how, exactly, is this different from not lying?  Can we say that Bush therefore was telling the truth?  Hardly.  One should ask how we got to the point where war became fait accompli just for the sake of its own momentum.

It is all fine and good for Bush to have allegedly have tried to remove fuel from the fire, but why didn’t he douse the whole thing if it became apparent that the purported justification for the war was not proving to be true?  Precisely because we proceeded with war — under the leadership of George W. Bush and his advisers — despite these questions does indeed show a president making decisions dishonestly when his propaganda machine is telling the nation otherwise.  You cannot excuse George W. Bush because of what was at best half-hearted attempts to be cautious.

Ultimately the question is this:  Was George W. Bush Commander-in-Chief during the build up to war and ultimately when the United States did invade Iraq?  The answer is yes.  How was that war justified?  It was Bush’s responsibility to choose based on facts and not resign our country to war because — oh well — it is looking like things are getting along pretty well for a quick and easy invasion.

In the end, one could twist and turn and agree with Bob Woodward.  George Bush didn’t lie to get us into a war with Iraq, but only if you believe that WMDs was the reason.  Apparently WMD was secondary.  Woodward’s “revelation” makes Bush et al appear worse, in my opinion.  Bush lead us into war just because it seemed it would happen anyway, emerging from a process he started in the first place, and he had a chance to tell the TRUTH and stop it.  But he didn’t.  How honest and noble is that?

Good People and Guns?

(c) Houston Chronicle I want to avoid drawing conclusions based on hunches and stereotypes.  I don’t want to generalize too broadly either.  And I most certainly don’t want to say conservatives are not good people.  Heck no, right?  (Insert your favorite emoticon.)

But jeepers…there does seem to be perhaps a subtle trend toward conservatives when it comes to bad political behavior and certainly bad ideas.  I would be willing to bet, for example, that the hateful attacks against our president when recently he opened a Twitter account likely didn’t come from many liberals.  And please don’t try to say that “both sides do it” because they don’t.

(c) Houston ChronicleBy and large, conservatives are the people who foam at the mouth when anyone suggests any sort of responsible control on guns in this country.  Many non-conservatives respectfully wish to keep guns, too, by the way.  I have a rifle and a shotgun and I hope you have no problem with that.  As long as I am safe and responsible, I see no reason why anyone, including the government, should be concerned.

But now let’s take a look what’s going on in Texas.  The Texas legislature moved closer yesterday to passing an open-carry handgun law.  Apparently gun owners can carry rifles and shotguns in Texas, even assault weapons it seems, so…I don’t know…handguns seem reasonable.  What the hell, right?  And I’m not going to debate the issue here anyway.  Instead I want comment on one of the arguments promoted by pro-gun folks.

(c) Houston ChronicleGood people and guns are a good thing, that’s the argument.  Guns, after all, don’t kill people, people kill people.  And who are those people killing people with guns?  Bad people.  In fact, good people with guns can be a deterrent to crime, they argue.  Again, we’re not here to debate this.  Let’s say they’re right…how do we test for this?  How do you know who is a good person?

At a pro-gun rally in Houston last summer, a group called Come and Take It Houston held a rally to promote its views on gun rights.  Some members attended the rally armed with assault rifles and carried signs which superimposed the group’s name and a picture of an assault rifle on the state’s flag.

(c) Houston ChronicleDoesn’t that imply a threat?  In my opinion, it isn’t even subtle.  In the little man rhetoric of the pro-gun movement is this “from my cold dead hands” rhetoric that indeed does imply that these people will fight their government to the death if need be.  Again, I understand the tyranny worries and blah, blah, blah…but in an era when school lunches and health care equate with government tyranny and the end of freedom, well…

So, who are these so-called “good people” seemingly willing to promote their political agenda quite literally at the point of a gun?  Come and Take It Houston organizer, Kenneth Lindbloom, wants “people to realize that in the hands of good people, guns are not dangerous and they don’t kill people.”  There’s something ironic about this, isn’t there?  If the state goes the other direction and restricts gun use — gun ownership — will these good people turn their guns on the state?  Probably not.  I get that.  But it points out a very basic flaw in the “Good People” argument.  People are good only until they are not.

By the way, I see that “Come and Take It” is a patriotic slogan with connections to both the American Revolution and the Texas Revolution.  (You can learn something writing these things.)  Interestingly — and ironically — one might argue that the slogan refers not to individual gun rights, but to the arming of an organized militia, something which the Second Amendment does seem to endorse.  (c) Houston Chronicle


Fear and Loathing in Ham Lake

Ham Lake, MinnesotaOh boy…Don’t tell the mayor and city council of Ham Lake what to do because they’ve got rights, damn it!  Property rights!  And, besides, they’re all big and grown up and smart and don’t need no stinking Big Government lurking around their backyard…

Seriously, as a joke, someone might walk into Maxx Bar and ponder aloud:  “I wonder if Barack Obama is planning any military action around here.”  The huckleberries would fly out the door to protect hearth and home from their Bud Lite-soaked dystopian fantasies…

All right, I will stop.  I have lost any hope of winning over much thoughtful consideration from the good people of Ham Lake, but I really doubt there would be much hope to begin with.  It would go against what they call “culture” up there.

So let’s start again.

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How Wrong are Republicans? Let’s Look at the F.E.C.

A quick comment on a story in Sunday’s New York Times, “Paralyzed F.E.C. Can’t Do Its Job, Chairwoman Says“.  Read it.  It’s frustrating and frightening.

It is frustrating because of how absolutely dysfunctional the bi-partisan committee has become.  Three Democrats and three Republicans and they agree on nothing.  (But there is a villain here.  It is the GOP.)

That brings us to frightening.  The story quotes Republican commissioner Lee E. Goodman who says “Congress set this place up to gridlock…This agency is functioning as Congress intended.  Democracy isn’t collapsing around us.”

I beg to differ.

This is a fine position to take if democracy indeed is serving the people, but it is hard to make the case that democracy is served when there speech is so strongly enabled by money and power or so strongly inhibited by the lack of money and power.  If the status quo does not equally serve the interests of all citizens, we should be concerned.  To say, “Oh well, it is what it is and we can’t do anything because gridlock is what Congress intended” really misses the point.  The Constitution still protects the rights of all Americans, right?  And isn’t it still the responsibility of Congress to represent the people and protect those rights?  Congress should not intend gridlock as a barrier to rights equality.

Let’s put a little common sense on the issue of money and (ironically named) free speech.  If large sums of money did not matter, would people who have the millions — if not billions — to spend on speech spend that money in the first place?  If there were not political and economic benefit from spending $889 million dollars — as David and Charles Koch will openly pledge to spend — why would they do it?  If the value of free speech were not tied to free spending, why would people with enormous sums of money to invest in political speech fight so hard to protect the laws that permit their spending?

The frightening outcome of this development is the way that inequality is touted as a First Amendment issue.  Toward the end of the story, former Republican commissioner Bradley A. Smith is described as someone with whom Democrats could work.  Smith left the F.E.C. in 2005.  Today he jokingly challenges Democrat commissioner Ellen Weintraub to a fight, “Let’s go right now, you speech-hating enemy of the First Amendment!”

A joke, right?  But think about it.  Republicans have turned the power and privilege of money into a First Amendment issue; they cloak it in the veil of Constitutional rights.  To question it is to be a “speech-hating” enemy of free speech.  That’s frightening.

So what is democracy in relation to the First Amendment.  Are the rights defined by the Constitution rights for all Americans or are they rights for those who have somehow gained an advantage?  If we accept Commissioner Goodman’s assessment that gridlock which prevents change is a good thing, it seems that Republicans — as a matter of policy — support rights weighted to serve  the interests of the advantaged over the rest.  That’s hardly a working democracy.

Read the story and see what you think.  It is bedtime for me.

Repealing Wage Protection Laws Does Not Protect Tax Payers

 (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Indiana Legislature

Indiana is set to repeal laws that have been in place for nearly 80 years that set pay standards for people working on state projects.  Indiana’s House speaker, Republican Brian C. Basma, explains that the change reflects a new era when “There’s more concern about efficiency and taxpayer protection than there was 20 years ago.”

This, of course, is typical of the conservative mind set and its inability to grasp complex and sophisticated issues.  It also raises the question, which “tax payers” does legislation like this protect?

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Minnesota GOP Transportation Plan

35W Bridge Collapse, Minneapolis, MNMinnesota’s Republican legislators propose funding overdue transportation infrastructure work without raising taxes.  That sounds good.  It is like getting something for nothing.  Of course their budget comes up a couple billion dollars short of what we probably need, but if we can get what they want without taxes…well getting something for nothing is better than getting nothing at all, right?

A sizable part of the funding Republicans propose finding comes from existing sales taxes.  They would dedicated sales taxes from the purchase of auto parts, car rentals, and car sales to their transportation budget.  Again, it sounds good.  It is that simple-minded common sense shared among neighbors that even feels good.

(And we wonder why the tax laws in this country are so cumbersome.)

However the problem here should be plain.  If you take a dollar from existing revenues to pay for something else without replacing that dollar, whatever is funded by that existing revenue is going to be underfunded.  Former governor Tim Pawlenty seemed to think that moving money around was a magical way to recreate funds, but it didn’t work then and it won’t work now.  It took Democrats and Democratic Governor Mark Dayton to clean up Pawlenty’s mess.

000003So now we seem to be lulled into repeating the past GOP sins.  People are buying into the idea.  And they are not paying attention.

Minnesota Republicans are numb to progress.  They want to lay off still more public workers, eliminate MinnesotaCare, and cut aid to Minneapolis and St. Paul, the state’s largest and most significant social and economic centers.  They also want to add more tax cuts, cuts that might give a typical family of four savings of only $500 over two years.  That’s less than $5 a week.

The trade off is consequential.  Public safety and private commerce depend on quality transportation infrastructure.  The daily needs of all Minnesotans to some degree are met directly or indirectly by the means of transportation.  Furthermore, Minnesota is on the mend economically, and a strong job-creating public sector investment in transportation deserves public investment.  It would build on Minnesota’s economic momentum.

Democrats propose raising the state’s gas tax to raise new funds to cover the new investments.  That is both reasonable and smart.  The arguments against gas tax — cars are more fuel efficient, electric cars don’t pay, bus riders don’t pay — are bogus.  Let me put it this way:  Who cares?  (And why?)  Get it done.

Holiday Traffic (c) MPR NewsIt is true — most definitely — that a gas tax is regressive.  In an era when poorer and middle class Americans carry an unfavorable economic burden compared with those most fortunate, this is a clear disadvantage.  However, the benefits — and the needs — leave few other options.  Certainly Republicans would not consider other taxes.  Americans don’t pay the real cost of driving anyway.  The Democrat plan closes the gap between the costs and what is paid to some degree.

If Minnesota is serious about addressing its infrastructure issues, the plans proposed by the Democrats is the best solution.  What the state’s Republicans propose relies on unwise and unnecessary cuts to state government and the services the state provides.

Unchallenged Poverty: A new normal

Elvis Summers and SmokieA video making the rounds on social media shows a man building a simple “house” — a box with a window and door, really — for a 60 year-old woman he saw “sleeping in the dirt outside his house.”  The video is cheery and positive, one of those heartwarming things you see so often shared among friends online.

The video plays on altruistic messages.  The video tells us people ask him what he’s going to charge for rent, for example.  The reply is indignant.  Rent?  A sixty-year-old mother is sleeping outside and people are worried about rent?  No rent.  This is just the thing good people do for good people.  All shown with Bruno Mars “You Can Count on Me” as a feel good soundtrack.

Eventually we see the woman opening the door of her new house and the words “It Can Only Be Paid For with Love” scroll on the screen.


The message is kind and thoughtful and I don’t want to take that away.  However there are many things about this video that bother me.  Most obviously, one might think, is a certain naivety.  What is this house going to do overall and in the long run?  How realistic is it as a solution to poverty and homelessness?

The more important concern is more nuanced.  If you see this video on Facebook, you will see a lot of happy high-fiving.  People compliment the builder.  The video is “great” and “awesome” and so on.  And, again, I don’t want to take away from that.

But where is the outrage over the poverty in the first place?

A little more than 50 years ago in this country it was accepted as a given that poverty — for some — would always be with us.  No way around it.  It just is what it is.

Remember the war on poverty?  The Great Society?  It worked.  At the very least, we started to change that narrative and poverty showed signs of decline.   Even at a global level, the number of people living in extreme poverty declined.

But now that trend is shifting.  It is shifting in an era of unprecedented wealth.  At the same time, support for the poor has been cut.  An old American aphorism — The rich get richer and the poor get poorer — has never been more true.  Never before have people fallen into poverty at the rates we see today.  So we celebrate the occasional good deed and call it awesome.

That doesn’t work.

By the way, in my Facebook feed when I saw this video an advertisement for $400 Ferragamo sandals appeared right below this video.  A stark juxtaposition indeed.  And sadly one that I think reflects a world in which we accept extremes of wealth and poverty as a new normal.