Thursday, August 16, 2007

Vice President Cheney aka Tricky Dick

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on August 16th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Last week I pointed to the extremely influential role Vice President Cheney has played in President Bush’s administration’s misguided and dangerous policies. Make no mistake, Cheney’s dangerous influence over the president’s policies have not been limited to the defence and foreign policy arenas.
Cheney has spent a long career shuttling between the public and private spheres and using both his intelligence and political influence to enrich himself and his allies at the expense of the average US citizen. His stints in public (government) service were always followed by financially lucrative years in a private sector which was very grateful for his service to their interests, while he was supposed to be serving the interests of the citizens of Wyoming and the United States. Unfortunately there are many other politicians in both the Democratic and Republican Parties who also make use of this same revolving door to enhance their personal wealth.
It should come as no surprise then that Cheney would also make sure that he had like minded people appointed by President Bush to positions throughout the federal government, not just in the defence and energy sectors Bush had already given him direct control over. In so doing Cheney was able to extend and exert his influence on behalf of the business special interests he was beholden to for the personal fortune he had amassed. He knew that only individuals who were as selfish and self centred as he was would be sufficiently motivated to ignore their obligations to the American people and serve the equally selfish business interests they were supposed to regulate.
Some of these individuals have since been identified by the news media and their transgressions in government service exposed for the entire world to see. But few of them have suffered any financial or judicial consequences for their actions. Most of them simply resigned their government positions and retuned to work for the same business interests they had favoured in their appointed government jobs, while supposedly serving the interests of American citizens.
Some of the worst offenders I have previously discussed in prior columns include Julie MacDonald who broke numerous federal rules, bullied and harassed government scientists and leaked confidential government information to industry lawyers and business interests in a concerted effort to help them circumvent or lobby against regulations designed to protect endangered species, during her 5 years as a special and deputy assistant in the US Fish and Wildlife Service. She is now making more money than she did as a Presidential government appointee as an employee of one of those special interests she aided while supposedly serving the American public.
Another example was Philip Cooney, who was an oil industry lobbyist before he became White House Chief of Staff for the Council on Environmental Quality. He was exposed by the news media and later admitted changing government reports to eliminate or downplay links between greenhouse gases caused by the burning of oil and global warming before he resigned to go to work for Exxon-Mobil in 2005. Needless to say, he is making a lot more money in his position at Exxon-Mobil than he previously made while supposedly serving the interests of the American people.
Not only have these individuals and others like them gotten away with such malfeasance without suffering any financial or judicial consequences, they are now reaping financial rewards for their trip through the revolving door of government and private sector employment. Unfortunately, there are hundreds more like them still working in federal agencies, who have not been exposed or whose actions the Bush administration chooses to ignore. Whoever said crime doesn’t pay? Indeed it appears that it does if one is able to obtain a Presidential appointment to a position of power and influence within the US federal government.
However if you are a political appointee of the current administration, who doesn’t perform your job in a politically partisan or ideologically acceptable manner, you are fired, just as a number of Republican US attorney’s found out in the past year. The fact that they were doing their jobs well and in accordance with federal guidelines for making prosecutorial decisions based on the law instead of partisan politics, means little or nothing to President Bush or Vice President Cheney. It should also be noted that the head of the Department of Justice (DOJ) these attorneys worked for, remains in his position as Attorney General despite calls by both Republicans and Democrats for him to resign or be fired for his role in politicizing the DOJ.
Finally, what better example of avoiding the consequences of ones actions exists than the case of Cheney’s former Chief of Staff Scooter Libby? Libby was prosecuted by an independent Republican US attorney and subsequently convicted by a jury of average American citizens for lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice. Libby committed these crimes in an unsuccessful attempt to cover-up the Vice President’s role in disclosing the identity of a covert CIA operative as part of a campaign to discredit one of Bush and Cheney’s Iraq war critics. Once Libby’s appeals of his convictions were denied and he was about to go to prison, President Bush commuted his prison sentence at the behest of Vice President Cheney. Do you think Bush will also wipe Libby’s conviction off the books with a Presidential pardon just before he leaves office in January of 2009? I do.
One has to wonder how Libby was able to afford to pay his high priced attorneys millions of dollars in fees and still have enough money left over to cut the Court a check for $250,000 to pay his fine and court costs, on his salary as a federal government employee. Was Libby simply a genius at both managing his money and then saving or investing it? I don’t think so.
Lest you think I am blaming President Bush and VP Cheney for everything, next week I will explore the role that the Republican led Congress played in this mess.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

All The President's Men

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on August 9th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In last week’s column I attributed much of President Bush’s personal motivations for refusing to acknowledge his administration’s many mistakes to what I believe is the disease of “untreated” alcoholism. The rest of it is linked to the political philosophy of Karl Rove such that political leaders should never show any sign of weakness lest their opponents seize upon this and go on the offensive.
But it isn’t Rove’s fault that his political philosophy meshes well with the mental state of an untreated or active alcoholic. In fact I must confess a grudging admiration for Karl Rove’s skills as a political election (or re-election) strategist and his ability to define the issues for the target audience he is seeking the support of. Karl is a very savvy political operator, not some evil genius manipulating government officials behind the scenes as some would have you believe.
Democrats who are after Rove’s scalp for misdeeds and wrong doing in the Bush administration are doing so in the misguided belief that he bears responsibility for them. He doesn’t! Rove was and is simply doing the job he is paid to do. He defines the issues for his boss in ways that he feels will gain the support of that portion of the electorate or Congress he believes should be targeted with the Bush administration’s message. He does his job behind the scenes and over time he has proven himself to be quite good at doing this.
In a similar vein, the President’s Press Secretary, Tony Snow is the public political spokesperson Bush pays to spin the message to the press and US citizens in ways that make his boss look good and Bush’s opponents look bad. Sometimes I get irked at what Tony Snow says when he is defending the President’s actions or those of his subordinates like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. But that is only because I occasionally forget that Snow’s job is “snow” jobs!
While I truly believe President Bush is a sick man who is suffering from the disease of untreated (or possibly active) alcoholism, that is still no excuse for his behaviour and many of the outrageous decisions and claims that he has made since he took office. He is just as responsible for his actions and those of the men and women he chose to for positions of authority in the US federal government, as my father was for his abusive treatment of members of my family both while he was drinking and while he was “dry”. But the difference between the actions of these flawed individuals is that President Bush’s decisions have often resulted in the loss of lives and vast amounts of pain and suffering for Americans and foreign citizens.
I was concerned from the outset with Bush’s choice of Dick Cheney as his Vice Presidential running mate in 2000, because I did not see Cheney as someone who could help Bush win votes outside the Republican Party’s electoral base in the southern and western United States. I wished he had chosen John McCain because McCain appealed to Independent voters throughout the country because of his conservative but non-partisan record as a Senator who was also wary of the power and influence of business special interests and their lobbyists. I thought McCain or a respected Senator from the Midwest like Senator Richard Lugar, or from the Northeast like Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, would have appealed to more voters and resulted in the Republican Party’s ticket carrying more states.
I thought Cheney had a very narrow appeal to only the most conservative or pro-business Republican voters and wouldn’t help the Republican ticket win a plurality in the 2000 election and as it turned out, I was correct. Bush lost the US national popular vote by more than a million votes and only won election because of the 3rd party candidacy of environmental activist Ralph Nader. Nader drew enough votes away from Democrat Al Gore, to thus allow Bush to win a majority of US Electoral College vote by narrowly winning a majority of votes in swing states like Florida. Bush also benefited by having a Republican Secretary of State in Florida who certified the disputed vote counts in heavily Democratic voting precincts in that state.
I was appalled however, when Bush then announced that he was also going to give Vice President Cheney unprecedented powers as a Vice President, by putting him in charge of America’s military and civilian defence, intelligence and security agencies. The subsequent appointments of Cheney favourites Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz et al were both a testament to the power of the new VP and a prelude to the armed military interventions the new Republican Presidential administration would soon be undertaking. I sensed immediately that the realist foreign policy influence of Colin Powell as Secretary of State would be no match for this powerful gang of neo-conservative ideologues and unfortunately, as it now turns out, I was right again.
Dick Cheney was and still is the most powerful and dangerous Vic President the United States has ever known. I shudder to think what additional harm he may yet cause our nation or others around the world during the time he still has left in office. Fortunately for all of us, most of his neo-conservative allies have been driven out of government and their replacements like Defence Secretary Gates appear to have enough influence to prevent any further damage. But Cheney is still a force to be reckoned with and would like nothing better than to see the US take military action against Iran and destroy its nuclear weapons program before he and Bush leave office.
Cheney has taken his well known penchant for secrecy, unaccountability and vindictiveness to new heights during his time in office. Voters in the US and the rest of the world should heed the lessons we’re learning from him and carefully assess future political candidates’ choices for running mates accordingly. Be afraid of politicians like Cheney. Be very afraid.

Is President Bush suffering from untreated alcoholism?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published in Metro Eireann on August 2nd 2007 By Charles Laffiteau

In last weeks column I neglected to mention one other political motivation for President Bush’s refusal to yield or seek a compromise with opponents of his domestic and or foreign policies (including the Iraq war). That is because this political motive is also closely linked to what I believe his personal motives are.
Bush’s long-time chief political adviser, Karl Rove, is a firm believer in the notion that a politician should never show any signs of weakness. That means politicians should take strong action, never appear to be indecisive and if they have to change their positions on an issue, they should do so gradually and on their own timetable.
In other words, if you don’t know what to do in a given matter, take the action which appears to show you are both powerful and in complete control of the situation. Never admit you were wrong or made a poor decision, because there will always be others around who can be blamed if things don’t work out the way you want them to, and use “Spin Doctors” to portray any and all changes in political policy positions as being absolutely consistent with your long held moral, political and religious beliefs.
This particular school of thought is also quite popular with other national politicians around the globe and has proven to be a remarkably successful political philosophy for many of its adherents. But it also fits nicely with what I believe underlies President Bush’s personal political motivations. This is based in part on my own personal observations and experiences, because I grew up with a father who suffered from untreated alcoholism and I believe that George Bush suffers from the same disease.
The parallels between the President’s public (and what is known about his private) behaviour and that of my own father are remarkable. Both my father and the President have always appeared to be unflappable in public and rarely if ever displayed their tempers or anything other than a fairly agreeable disposition in public. But in private this was another matter entirely.
My father’s temper was legendary among those of us who had to live with him at home and so is President Bush’s within the walls of the White House. My mother and siblings would warn each other when Dad was not in a very good mood, which was usually a sign that he wasn’t drinking but wanted to. It is a well known fact that White House staffers regularly issue “weather reports” regarding the President’s bad temper and erratic mood swings so other staffers will know when it is or isn’t an appropriate time to bring issues to his attention.
The President reportedly stopped drinking after waking up with a bad hangover following his 40th birthday party in 1986. The fact that he recognized that he wasn’t able to drink moderately explains why he stopped drinking completely. My father also stopped drinking for periods of days, weeks, months or years, during which time his anger and mood swings became progressively worse. What I learned from this is that abstinence may arrest the physical addiction to alcohol, but does nothing to treat the other mental aspects of the disease.
Alcoholics who are abstinent but not involved in a recovery program exhibit many of the same mental attitudes and behaviours that I witnessed in my home and have also seen exhibited by President Bush. Like my father, President Bush sees the world as “black and white”, “good versus evil”, “kill or be killed” and makes all of his decisions based on this internal perspective. An untreated alcoholic must adopt such rigid perspectives because it is the only way they can maintain control over their external environment.
Like my rigidly Catholic father, President Bush truly believes that God has chosen him and that everything he does is strictly in accordance with God’s will. Any admission of mistakes or flawed judgements might lead to the collapse of the wall that they have built around their thinking to protect themselves and their view of the world. Untreated alcoholics like my father and President Bush, are actually the opposite of the powerful, self assured and decisive images that they project. Alcoholics are basically good people who have extremely low self esteem and suffer from extremes of fear and self doubt. Without a recovery program they are unable to deal with their many fears and self doubts, which is why they must build a cocoon around their reality or else they fear they will have nothing.
There are also symptoms of alcoholism that I have seen before with my father and now in the President, which lead me to believe that he may be secretly drinking again. Like my dad, Bush has “fainted” while watching TV and fallen off the couch while sleeping. He has shown up in public with bruises on his face consistent with falling down while under the influence. White House staffers report that the President’s mood swings have become more pronounced, his internal meetings have been cancelled more frequently and staffers are increasingly afraid to risk his wrath by telling him things they know he will not want to hear.
There is nothing anyone can do if the President is suffering from active or untreated alcoholism. An alcoholics’ sense of denial is so strong that they will deny that they have the disease no matter how many doctors tell them they have it. They can recover from the mental aspects of the disease, not by remaining abstinent, but by first admitting to themselves that they are alcoholics and by becoming willing to follow the advice of those who have recovered from this disease. My father finally admitted he had the disease, but was unwilling to follow the suggestions of other recovering alcoholics. Despite my many disagreements with President Bush’s policies and decisions, I hope that he will one day find the recovery from this disease, which eluded my father. After all, like my dad, President Bush isn’t a bad person; he is simply a sick man.

What are President Bush's personal and political motives?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published in Metro Eireann on July 26th 2007 By Charles Laffiteau

Since arriving here in Ireland last September, one of the questions I have been asked most frequently is “Why President Bush continues to insist that the US must remain fighting in Iraq, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the situation there is not improving and that the US public wants its soldiers out of Iraq?”
Having pondered this question for several years, I will now attempt to tackle this issue. While I am not a mind reader or psychoanalyst, I will try to answer this question; by addressing it from the perspectives of what I believe President Bush’s political and personal motivations are for “staying the course” in Iraq. This breakdown will not be pretty although I have tried to divorce my personal feelings about the President’s actions from my analysis of them. I will leave it to others to decide if I have actually been able to do so.
Let me begin by telling you that I was a supporter of President Bush in 2000, both in the Republican primaries and during the Presidential campaign. While I personally admired Senator John McCain for his ethics and willingness to take a stand on principles, I thought Bush would be a more pragmatic Chief Executive and thus more likely to get things done as our nation’s leader. I think President Bush was at his Presidential finest during the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks when he cautioned US citizens not to react against Muslims and Arabs living in the US.
I also supported the President’s decision to send US Special Forces into Afghanistan to destabilize and overthrow the Taliban regime and to hunt down the members of Al Qaeda using that country as both a sanctuary and base for training and conducting terrorist attacks against the US and its allies. On the domestic side I was also a supporter of the tax cuts that the President pushed through early in his term as well as his “No child left behind” legislation for public education reform. More recently I have also been supportive of both his trade policies and his attempts to address the illegal immigration issue.
I was a member of the “minority“of voters who voted for Bush when he was elected President in 2000 and in the “minority” again when I voted against President Bush (as opposed to voting for Democrat John Kerry) when he was re-elected in 2004. I take full responsibility for the part I have played in the current political mess the US finds itself in, both at home and abroad. I could have and should have been a more vocal public critic of both Bush’s domestic and foreign policies as soon as I realised they were heading in the wrong direction. Instead, I ignored my concerns and remained largely silent because my Republican Party was finally in control of both the Congress and the Presidency for the first time in decades. I didn’t want to be perceived as being a disloyal Republican now that my party was finally in control of the federal government.
I was wrong and I apologize for my inaction. I cannot change the past, but hopefully I have learned something from this experience and will not repeat these same mistakes again in the future. It is my responsibility as a US citizen to stand up and be counted whenever I believe my country and its leaders have taken the wrong course of action, regardless of what it may cost me in terms of my personal prestige.
Having said that, let’s examine what I believe were and are the President’s political motivations for both initiating and continuing to prosecute the ‘war on terror’ in Iraq. Historians, psychologists and political leaders (be they authoritarian or democratically elected) have long been aware that a fearful public is much easier to manipulate and thus inclined to support and or vote for political leaders who appear to be ‘tough’ on terrorism and offer hard-nosed solutions that also quench the public’s thirst for revenge. A ‘war on terror’ is also a fairly simple concept which is both easier for political leaders to explain and for frightened citizens to understand.
The reasons why Bush characterizes the US as being in a war on terror should be considered within the context of US domestic policy making. Only in his capacity as the Commander in Chief of US military forces does the president have the ability to act freely to defend the US without the consent of Congress. While Congress must agree to authorize military appropriations to fund a war, it plays only a consultative role when it comes to actual decisions on how the war is prosecuted.
Thus by making counter-terrorism part of a war, President Bush was able to free himself from the Congressional constraints of US domestic policy making. By doing so he also won the support of fearful and or revenge seeking US voters for both re-election and the measures he saw fit to use in his ‘war on terror’. Today Bush knows that Democrats (even with a majority in Congress and strong public support) are powerless to stop him unless they can also persuade almost half of the Republicans in Congress to turn against the President and vote with them to override his vetoes of their legislation to stop funding this war and force a withdrawal.
The Bush administration’s three pretexts for invading Iraq as part of its war on terror were; that Saddam was hiding weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), that there was a connection between al Qaeda terrorists and the Iraq government and that toppling Saddam’s regime would make the world safer from terrorism. While it is abundantly clear that President Bush was wrong on all three counts, the reasons why he continues to pursue the war in Iraq has much to do with what I believe were and still are his personal motivations. I will discuss these in next week’s column