Posts tagged ‘George W. Bush’

He’s the Best Government Employee We’ve Got


What is it that Republicans hate so much about the mailman? It isn’t that he’s a drain on the taxpayers’ money: since 1971 he hasn’t taken a nickel of it. The government no longer pays postal salaries. The mailmen pay them themselves, with the money they get by selling the stamps that you put on your Christmas cards to send anywhere you want them to go, from New York to Nigeria. Most Americans think the mailman is a good guy, too. That’s why, for six straight years, it has been named the most trusted aspect of government.

Yet the Republican Party once again is clamoring to cut it back, shut it down, or at least privatize it. Why would any sane person be doing that when in the last four years of nation-wide recession and physical losses the Postal Service hasn’t lost money but instead has shown an operational profit of $700 million? True, their budgets don’t display that as profit. Instead they show a $13 billion loss That’s because the budgets lie.

Starting as far back as1971, when Richard Nixon’s Postal Reorganization Act became law, and going right through 2006, when George W. Bush’s Postal Accountability and Enforcement Act redefined “accountability” in a way never seen on land or sea before, Republican administrations have piled unmeetable obligations on the Postal Service.

Obligations like what?

Well, like requiring the Postal Service to pre-pay all the health care benefits their employees would be entitled to when they finally retired. In other words, the postal service was ordered to pay out of current income every dollar it would ever have to pay for every employee it would ever have. Just to make clear how preposterous any such provision is, that would include paying the retirement benefits for future employees who haven’t even been born yet.

That isn’t fiscal prudence. That’s cold-blooded assassination.

Draw your own conclusions, but I guess you know what I think. That is that there’s really only one good way to prevent this and other cold-blooded outrages, and that’s to throw the rascals out and elect a Democratic President and House of Representatives, and a larger Democratic majority in the Senate to take away the Republican sledgehammer of the filibuster. Don’t tell me that some Democrats are as bad as the Republicans. If you’re talking morality, that’s true. But the Democrats vote their own way while the GOP — that’s “Greedy Old Party” now — has reshaped itself into a battering ram that has only one central purpose: making sure that Barack Obama can’t accomplish anything.

So, this one time, hold your nose and vote the solid Democratic ticket.

Pres. George W. Bush on vacation in a scene from Lions Gate Films Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004).

Pres. George W. Bush on vacation in a scene from Lions Gate Films' Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004).

Don’t the right-wing politicians ever run out of just plain lies? Like the other day Donald Trump babbled that President Obama “takes more vacations than any human being I’ve ever seen,” specifically including former President George W. Bush. But the fact is that at the same point in their presidencies Obama has taken all or parts of 38 vacation days, while Bush had taken 102 days, while days spent at Camp David for Obama were 32, and for Bush 123.

You might think a responsible human being would at least apologize for the fibs. Well, probably a responsible human being would.

The Last Theorem


When I was writing The Last Theorem with Sir Arthur Clarke, I found it necessary in the story, for plot purposes, to have the hero, Ranjit Subramanian, spend a prolonged period in a jail, in solitary confinement.

The obvious way to get that to happen was to have Ranjit get tangled up in the Sri Lankan civil war between the governing Sinhalese, who had been in the habit of keeping all the positions of power for themselves, and the rebellious Tamil Tigers, who wanted to share in the governance. (Both Sinhalese and Tamils were uninvited immigrants from India. The Sinhalese, however, had arrived earlier.)

The war was ongoing and bloody,and it dovetailed nicely with my general plans for the novel, so I happily wrote some ten or twenty thousand words embodying that material. I got quite a few pages further along in the story, sending twenty- or thirty-page chunks on to Arthur as I finished them for his comments, suggestions and approval.

By then Arthur was beginning to be ill. He still read everything and gave me feedback, but it took him longer. I was running fifty to seventy-five pages ahead of his reading, but I didn’t worry; since I knew that what I was writing was pretty good stuff.

It was, however, the wrong pretty good stuff.

Arthur’s next letter was longer than usual and much more alarmed. Had I forgotten (he asked) that he was a guest in the country of Sri Lanka, and his permanent-residency permission could be revoked at any moment when the government came to think of him as an embarrassment?

Well, actually I had forgotten, and not because I hadn’t been told. As far back as the 1950s when we were touring Japan together — maybe even earlier — Arthur had let me see how precarious he thought his residency was. There was never a suggestion that the Sri Lankan government had made any threats or issued any warnings. If anything like that had ever happened, Arthur didn’t mention it to me. As far as I could see, the problem was that Arthur loved Sri Lanka, had made it his permanent homeland and was worriedly aware that a couple of bureaucrats in Colombo could kick him out of the land he loved at any moment, for any reason or for no reason at all.

If I didn’t give that the importance Arthur did — if I let myself forget about it in writing that draft of the novel — it wasn’t that I had truly forgotten. It was simply that I couldn’t believe that the Sri Lankan government would ever consider antagonizing the man who, through his books, was the finest press agent and ambassador that any struggling Third World country could ever imagine having.

On the other hand, I could readily believe that governments as a class are all too likely to shoot themselves in the foot, doing stupid, self-harming things. Arguing from principles of reason and common sense didn’t pay when you were talking about governments. And anyway it was Arthur whose ox would be gored, and thus his decision to make, not mine.

So, not without a few tears, I threw away some twenty thousand words of perfectly good copy about the Sri Lankan civil war and replaced it with (as I now believe) some actually rather better words about 21st-century high-seas piracy and the American custom (especially during the disastrous reign of America’s worst president, ever, George W. Bush) of farming people you wanted to make disappear into the penal systems of democracy-challenged countries.

That’s how collaboration works, my children. You get to have the literary skills and talents of your collaborator working for you, which is a useful thing. But sometimes you get unexpectedly ambushed by his (or her) hang-ups as well. That can be a serious pain in places where you don’t want a pain. But sometimes it can all work out for the best.

(And the Poor Get Children)
Sheet music, “Ain't We Got Fun?” 1921, music by Richard A. Whiting, lyrics by Raymond B. Egan and Gus Kahn

There's nothing sure but
The rich get rich
And the poor get children
In the mean time,
In between time,
Ain't we got fun?

—“Ain't We Got Fun?” 1921, music by Richard A. Whiting, lyrics by Raymond B. Egan and Gus Kahn.

Remember that old song? Of course it was just meant as a joke, wasn’t it?

Well, let’s check it out. What the Republican Party* has been telling us for some years is that when anybody’s income goes up, most likely everyone else’s does at the same time. As they put it, “a rising tide raises all boats.”

By gosh, when you look at the numbers, you have to admit they’re right. Well, sort of right. According to the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, who have been looking up the statistics, the average American income — that’s for all of us, from paupers to super-rich — did go up a little in the years from 2002 to 2007. (Let’s not talk about what happened after that just now.)

However, the tide didn’t exactly come in to the same depth for all of. For most of us, the 99 percent of all incomes that includes you and me and the president of the United States and quite a few people who are driving $91,000 Mercedeses, our real income rose just 1.3 percent per year.

That other 1 percent of us, though, they collectively did quite a lot better than that. About seven times better, as a matter of fact. The income of that 1 per cent of the population who are the richest of all went up not a skinny 1.3 percent but a hefty 10 percent per year every year over the same period.

That’s not bad for the super-rich, right? It is especially profitable when you add in the fact that that same Republican Party, or at least those members of it who have been elected to Congress, has been steamrollering hard bargains in return for every concession they make to the rest of us. For example, in return for extending the term of unemployment insurance, as President Obama wanted for the millions of out-of-work men and women whose existing insurance was running out, the Republican negotiators extracted a commitment to leave intact the George W. Bush open-handed gift to the super-rich of most of a trillion dollars in tax forgiveness.

So why are the richest among us so avaricious about getting super-richer and super-richer still? The only fair term for it is overweening naked greed, that’s all. And they’ve got our country’s congressional legislators, the ones that are supposed to be working for us all, busily helping them get richer and richer, as fast as they can.

* (Disclaimer. The remarks that appear here are not only political, they are partisan. In this case, I’ve specifically named the Republican Party as the guiltier ones here, but I don’t want anyone to think I am not aware that there are Democrats — in particular, let’s say, the Senate’s Oil Democrats who systematically whittled down the regulations that might have prevented the Gulf oil catastrophe and their Coal Democrat pals who have systematically destroyed a large part of Appalachian riverways and scenic beauty. — who are just as reprehensible. But those sins aren’t the ones I’m talking about right now.

(The sorrowful truth is that there are very few persons sitting in either the Senate or the House of Representatives — to say nothing of all the lesser state and local voting bodies in the country — who do not take money from lobbyists, in sums small and great, and do favors, again little favors or big, for those same lobbyists. We’ll have more to say about lobbyists in the near future.)

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton

When we started this register of the offensively clownish behavior of so many of our most powerful legislators, the only claim to fame we knew of for the Texan Republican Joe Barton was that he was generally considered the most successful member of Senate or House of Representatives at collecting money from the oil companies. But then, on June 17th, the CEO of British Petroleum, Tony Hayward, was called to account for the BP disaster in the Gulf by high-ranking American Congressmen. Hayward explained that, although he was BP’s top executive, he really didn’t know anything about what his corporation had been doing in the Gulf. This drew scorn from most of the legislators, but when it came Barton’s turn he took a completely different tack.

His first words to Hayward were, “I apologize.” He went on to clarify his remarks by saying, “I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong is subject to some sort of political pressure that is — again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown. So I apologize.”

Not everyone could successfully untangle Barton’s syntax, but no one failed to understand that an American official was offering an apology to the man in charge of the company that had delivered the most damaging blow to American interests since the destruction of the World Trade Center. Suddenly Barton had no friends left. Even the leaders of his own party were demanding he retract his remarks, so the next day he apologized to the world for his apology to British Petroleum.

By the way, although Barton was the chief beneficiary of BP’s scattering cash, he was by no means the only one. It has been said that there is hardly a judge or a legislator in the states around the Gulf of Mexico that hasn’t taken money from Big Oil — which perhaps explains something about how the oil companies got away with watering down government regulations and even, in the George W. Bush days, letting the oil companies rewrite them.

The Ground Truth: The Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11 by John Farmer, Riverhead Books, New York

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, McSweeney’s Books, San Francisco

On 9/11, otherwise known as 11 September 2001, Americans were shaken out of any delusions of security they had possessed when 19 al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four air liners on the East Coast. Two of the aircraft were operated by United Airlines, the others by American, and each of the hijacking parties was assigned a specific target to attack. UA 175 was to strike the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York, AA 11 the South Tower. American 77 was to take out the Pentagon and United 93 the White House. The two that hit the towers were Boeing 767s; the other two Boeing 757s.

Over a period of about ninety minutes that morning the first three sets of hijackers accomplished their missions, crashing into their assigned targets and killing more than three thousand men, women and children in the attacked structures (and, of course, also killing themselves and the passengers and crew of the destroyed planes.) The fourth team of hijackers, however, was defeated by the passengers and surviving crew of United 93, who attacked their hijackers en masse. They were successfully overpowering the terrorists when the one at the plane’s controls, apparently convinced they were defeated, cried, “Allah is the greatest!” and put the plane into a near-vertical dive, crashing, with the deaths of everyone aboard, near the little community of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

This was fortunate for the White House in more than one way. At that point UA93 was only about 20 minutes flying time from the White House that was its target, and — the “ground truth” being the opposite of what the participants claimed — the President’s team did not have the situation well in hand. The F-16s pursuing it were not even given the order to shoot it down until well after it had already crashed. It isn’t even clear that the order could ever have been issued in time. The authorities seemed less interested in UA93 than in another plane that had been suspected of being a hijack, Delta 1989, but wasn’t. Actually, at the time of the discussion, Delta 1989 was proving that by obediently landing a thousand miles away in the Midwest.

From Farmer’s text in his book, The Ground Truth:

“History should record that whether through unprecedented administrative incompetence or orchestrated mendacity, the American people were misled about the nation’s response to the 9/11attacks. The story they were told gave a false assurance that by the time the last hijacked plane was heading for Washington, some ninety minutes after the attacks began, the military, from the commander in chief on down, had reasserted control over American airspace and was prepared to respond to the final attack…. (T)hat wasn’t true.”

The trouble with attempting to review this book is that, in it, Farmer documents all of his charges. Having read the book, it is clear that what he just said is true: generals, department heads and even cabinet officers had to be either outright conspiratorial lying (orchestrated mendacity) or unforgivably ignorant of the actual conditions they were describing and pretending to control (administrative incompetence).

But to prove them in this review needs a lot of words — -probably about as many as are in his book. And in many cases what those responsible actually did might not have looked particularly important to the testifiers. For example, the scrambling of the F-16s from the Langley Air Force Base was due to a report of a hijacked plane heading out of New York and toward Washington, with its terrifying wealth of potential targets, whereupon the fighters were scrambled. What was lied about was the identity of that hijacked plane. Someone on the radio — it was never established who — said it was AA 11, and it is true that that was in fact the “plane” the fighters were scrambled to intercept. Of course, that was impossible. AA 11 had already ceased to exist as an actual airplane and was by then just part of the components of the South Tower inferno. But the error persisted.

Then when American 77 turned up — a real hijacked aircraft, actually heading for Washington and it was untruthfully said to be what inspired the order to launch the F-16s — one may suppose that the mendacious ones thought all they were doing was simplifying an over-complex situation.

But the little emendations all moved in the same direction, which was to eliminate reporting of all the blunders that had been made by the higher-ups and strengthen the illusion that they were actually in charge. All those little “corrections” to actual history did have two quite serious consequences. The first was the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004, since his allegedly strong and wise dealing with 9/11 and its consequences was his principal claim to competence. The second was the ungodly, even lethal mess that followed Hurricane Katrina’s onslaught on New Orleans in 2005.

(I should state that the claim of the influence of the 9/11 cover-up on the results of the 2004 election is not explicitly made by Farmer in his book, although I think it inevitably follows from the evidence he presents. As to the Katrina event, see below.)

The good thing about Katrina is that planners had always known that it was likely to happen some day, and that led many thoughtful people to believe that the nation had better prepare to deal with it.

Accordingly, in July of 2004, several hundred emergency workers participated in an exercise in which representatives of all the assorted agencies who would play a role in a real disaster were involved. Over a three-day period they worked through what to do about the incursion of a (non-existent) Hurricane Pam on the vulnerable city..

All agreed that the exercise was a great success that had revealed serious faults in the existing plans. New plans were quickly drawn up Some of the things they called for were improved relations between parties and agencies involved; for pre-positioning stores of water, food, ice and other necessities at least 72 hours before they were expected to be needed; and for revised traffic laws, including one that would permit the Louisiana State Police to limit the use of local highways to “contraflow” one-way driving, limiting all lanes for use only by people leaving the city.

In the event, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco did alter the highway plans accordingly. In the opinion of experts, this saved thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of lives that would have been lost otherwise.

Unfortunately, no other step was taken.

In the event, those involved did not work closely together at any point. Some, including the New Orleans Police Department, hardly worked at all; only a few police stayed on the job, most walked away to go home and care for their families, a large fraction not only didn’t quell the looting that broke out but actually joined in it..

The higher up the individuals involved were, the less their actions were relevant to the needs of the situation. Governor Blanco and President Bush’s staff squabbled over whether troops providing aid should be federalized or not; Bush’s team wanted to do it, the governor said that was an attempt to gain credit. The President convened regular meetings to expedite aid. They had no contact with those aid forces actually doing so.. The prepositioning of needed stores of water, ice, food, etc., 72 hours before need didn’t happen. At about 12 (not 72) hours before Katrina struck, the President got on TV to assure the people of New Orleans that vast stores of all needed supplies had been sent on their way. Perhaps they were. What he did not say was that it would be several weeks before all of them would arrive.

It was a great plus that the legal steps to contraflow the highways were indeed taken by Governor Blanco, but how much better it would have been if the relief organizations had carried out all of the other excellent plans they themselves made — and then ignored.

We know what the “ground truth” of New Orleans was in the time of Katrina, thousands dead, tens of thousands of homes destroyed, tens of thousands stranded in the neighborhoods of a city that had lost power, food, water and the rule of law. But to know what it was like to be in the city when the violence of Katrina struck — and when the storm moved on and the human violence of the lawless city replaced it — we need to look to the story of the Syrian-born Abdulrahman Zeitoun, who stayed through the worst of it because he thought he could help — and who was rewarded by being arrested as a looter — in his own home — and jailed incommunicado.