Saturday, May 29, 2010

Our own worst enemy

By Don Klein

I was hoping with the January 20, 2009 turnover of the government to the Democrats I would never again have to mention the name of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney. No such luck.

For eight years while these two erstwhile war leaders had all Americans concentrating on the acts and threats of a bunch arrogant, suicidal extremists from the center of the Muslim world, Bush and Cheney sold us out to a more effective and deadly enemy. The oil industry.

No bearded, turbaned, wild eyed, Islamic radical bunch, no matter how numerous, will every defeat the United States. But Bush-Cheney’s oil friends, in $900 suits with trophy wives on their arms, are already destroying America. They are the real enemies of this country and need to be treated as the twenty-first century’s version of John Dillinger.

As we watch the wetlands of Louisiana and other Gulf coast states being rapidly swallowed up by unremitting tides of oily goo that is poured into the Gulf of Mexico from a British Petroleum downed offshore oil rig, there is a true sense of doom in the air. BP is unable to cap the break in their mile-deep pipe which blew apart because of alleged mismanagement on the oil company’s part. Now they don’t seem to know a way to stop the eruption it started before the entire coastline is polluted and dead.

The plume from this break could spread over to Florida, around the tip of the state and up the east coast soon. And the sad thing is it could have been prevented if Bush-Cheney did their jobs, if the Mineral Management Services did their job and if the Congress had acted like they cared about the health of the nation over the health of their wallets.

On top of that, the guy who succeeded Bush in the White House a year and a half ago, doesn’t seem to have a clue as to what he should do. Barack Obama’s apparent inaction is a great disappointment. What we need now is a Roosevelt, Theodore or Franklin, or a Harry Truman with guts and stamina to get things done.

Obama’s dismal lackadaisical approach to this disaster brings to mind the Democratic presidential primary campaign of two years back when Hillary Clinton claimed she would be a better president in making urgent 3 am decisions when necessary. It looks like she was right after all.

The gulf waters may lap alongside just a handful of states – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida -- but the waters are America’s. The spoiled wetlands are in the five states but they belong to America, the fiscal disaster will be most felt in these states, but a good bit of America dies with it. As the attack on the World Trade Center hurt New York directly, it still affected every American. Same is true of the BP oil spill.

The men who were in charge when the drill platform crews were ordered to cut back on safety rules to enhance the profits for BP are responsible. They are criminals and should be locked up. The street thug may harm a person or two before being caught and tried. Tony Hayward, the BP top man, in contrast had injured millions. He should be brought to court in handcuffs and shackles like the master criminal he is.

What should be the charges? Destroying the livelihood of thousands of local workers, putting endless numbers of small businesses out of business, damaging the seafood industry of the entire nation, bribing government inspectors, not to mention the murder of 11 workers who lost their lives on the rig when it blew up because of his firm’s policy. That adds up to criminal negligence in most people’s books.

Hayward and his greedy accomplices in crime are worse than Osama bin Laden and have done greater damage to this country that one hundred al Qaeda agents, can or ever will, do. The sad fact is they will never be brought to justice. That won’t happen because BP money will buy-off anyone in government who tries to exact justice in this case.

In the meantime we will still be distracted into concentrating on watching for the elusive jihadist entering this country and setting off a bomb in a crowded venue when we should be watching our so-called money-hungry "friends" from Britain who run BP and other oil magnates. The irony is that we will be paying more for gasoline eventually to help BP defray the costs of this disaster.

Government inspectors at the MMS were bribed to look the other way while BP violated the law thanks to a cozy relationship established during Bush’s years. The oil company staff wrote safety reports which the inspectors just accepted as fact. They conspired – BP and MMS – to defraud the government and the American people with tragic circumstances.

Most people are nauseous just watching greedy bankers steal money from the people one year, then avaricious oil executives acting dangerously with impunity the next, while the rest of us suffer economically and lose jobs because of their errors. And worst of all, with a deprave former administration relaxing safety rules, and now a stumbling White House and corrupt Congress running the show, none of the wrongdoers will ever get to pay for their crimes.

I have said it many time before and I say it again. Pogo was right. "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pants on fire

By Don Klein

"Liar, liar, pants on fire." That is what a knowing secretary would whisper to me whenever the bosses at the Maryland Department of Transportation would promise us lowly workers something we all knew they couldn’t deliver. We would chuckle and then go about our daily routines.

It was funny to us, but what is happening these days with our prominent
politicians in no joke. We are witnessing an imposing list of prevaricating notables. The number swells with congressmen, governors, mayors and even presidents – and to my chagrin, journalists – on the list. Ah for the good old days when you could depend on a man’s word.

Even idolized sports figures like Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palermo, O.J. Simpson and, God forgive us, the man-child of a drooling golf crowd, his worshipful Tiger Woods, can no longer be trusted.

Now comes Richard Blumenthal, the golden boy of New England politics. He tops them all. Forget Eliot Spitzer for attacking corruption in public while toying with a prostitute in private. No need to remember Hillary Clinton’s fairy tale about dogging bullets that never where fired upon her arrival in Bosnia years ago. We can even forget about John Edward for denying out-of-wedlock intimacies and an illegitimate paternity.

Ex-Governor Rod Blagoyevich’s exploits in denying he tried to sell a senatorial nomination while chief executive of Illinois, pales in comparison. Blumenthal, the attorney general of Connecticut, an odds on favorite as the successor to retiring Sen. Christopher Dodd, had the effrontery not only to lie about his military service in Vietnam, but almost as bad, he said he was once captain of the Harvard swim team, a team of which he never was even a member.

A phoney war hero and fake Harvard letter man. A man of double duplicity. How could anyone in public office who is about to ascend to an even higher level of public service expect to get away with that?

"I misspoke," he explained when caught in this fraud by The New York Times. That excuse would not be believed even if he hadn’t sought draft deferments five times during the war. Misspoke? That’s almost as bad as blaming the dog for eating your homework.

When he eventually decided to do "his duty" he took the cowardly George W. Bush route. He joined the reserves and worked on the dangerous domestic mission known as "toys for tots."

Nevertheless endless newspaper references to his background mentioned his combat duty in Vietnam and how badly he was treated as a war veteran. People even spat on him upon his return to the States, he told tearing gullible followers from time to time. He never picked up a phone to correct stories about his falsely-reported combat duty which actually amounted to pristine service as a Marine Corps Reservist.

Can you imagine what he would have done if some news stories had referred to him as a bronco-busting Texas rodeo star in his younger days. Or worse, as having served 18 months in prison for beating his grandmother. In either case the phone would instantly be in his hand demanding an immediate correction. Not so when he was being described as a war hero.

Blumenthal was considered a certainty in the upcoming general election. I doubt if that is any longer the case. As Don Meredith, the former Monday night sportscaster and football wit used to say, "Stick a fork in him, he’s done."

There is nothing more disgusting that a liar and nothing more unpardonable than being lied to. Blumenthal can make all the speeches he wants about his misspoken remarks and he can publicly embrace as many veterans he chooses to make amends, but he will never be believed again. He should never hold public office.

He has joined the ever-expanding pantheon of the mendacious along with such well know public figures – past and present -- as Mark Sanford, Kwame Kilpatrick, Newt Gingrich, Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney, Larry Craig, Donald Rumsfeld, Jesse Jackson, Oliver North, Carl Rowan, Richard Packwood, Henry Cisneros, Duke Cunningham and Mark Foley.

All are members of the national Hall of Shame.

To some there might be a comparison between the lying Blumenthal and former president, Bill Clinton. But there is really no similarity. Clinton’s misstatement was the natural act of a man caught in an embarrassing extra-marital situation and telling what amounted to a big fib to cover-up his philandering. It is not unusual for a man to lie about his sex exploits, especially if he is notable and wedded.

Clinton’s lies were an effort to hide his very personal misbehavior and had no effect on government operations nor the public good. Also it was a subject that many believed was none of the business of an outrageously partisan Congress.

Blumenthal’s is very different . His lies were to magnify his image to the voters and to make him more attractive as a political entity. Clinton lied to coverup his own private sexual foibles with a White House intern. Bad as it was, it was excusable and the Senate exonerated him. Blumenthal’s lies were a deliberate attempt to broaden his appeal among the body politic for his personal ill-deserved gain.

In the end both held the belief that they were important enough to ignore normal rules and scorn the accepted morality of the nation. Both were wrong, but there is a difference. Clinton harmed no one but himself by acting like a tomcat in doing what he did with his doxy.

On the other hand, Blumenthal affronted everyone who was impressed by his dishonest resume and voted for him in the past and was thinking of voting for him again. He also insulted the millions of veterans who did serve.

Pants on fire, indeed.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

No fodder for the GOP

By Don Klein

George W. Bush liked to be portrayed as a warrior president yet during the last four years of his dominance in Washington the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan and its cousins, the Taliban in northern Pakistan, solidified their hold on Waziristan territory.

In contrast, Barack Obama, who the GOP painted as being soft on national security, stepped up the battle with the Taliban by sending more troops to Afghanistan and more drone attacks in Waziristan where American troops were barred by Pakistan. Both appear to be impeding the hostiles. Obama changed the tide of warfare in just one year.

During the early days of the Bush era, Dick Cheney sat down behind closed doors and put together a super secret energy policy with heads of energy corporations. The meetings were sub-rosa and no one outside this group ever learned what deals were made, if any. Now we discover that safety regulations were modified in favor of business.

If I were a Republican leader I wouldn’t be criticizing President Obama for such preventable happenings as the oil spill off the Gulf states or, for that matter, the Times Square car bomb attempt. Both arguments could backfire on them.

Sniveling about the lack of speed in reaction to the British Petroleum spill is tantamount to a skunk complaining about the odor of an alley cat. Everyone still remembers when their man was in the White House during Katrina he refused to interrupt his Texas vacation for four days while New Orleans citizens died in the streets.

Grass roots Republicans are ill-served by most of current leaders who seem to think the only way they can make points with voters is by twisting every incident during the Obama years into harsh criticism. Remember the story about the boy who cried wolf?

The more the GOP gang cries out, the less people believe them. Especially when they employ weak arguments.

There is a credibility limit. Most importantly both the oil spill and the scotched New York bombing have a history that relates badly for Republicans who genuflected at the foot of the Bush Administration, that did just about every thing wrong. We are paying the price for those failures these days.

Let’s take the oil spill first. Think back to the early days of the Bush Administration and the behavior of his vice president. Cheney, the former head of the Halliburton oil empire, loosened many regulations demanded by big oil. He had always been a shill for the oil companies offering them sweetheart contracts starting when he was secretary of defense.

To make a point, if offshore drilling is to be safe there should have been the equivalent of a deadman switch, which would have automatically stopped the flow of crude if workers in the tower were unable to shut it down.

It is hard to understand why the oil companies would not have installed such a device which is required at their European deep sea rigs. It would be a lot cheaper than paying damages in the wake of a massive oil spill. But businessmen are always quick to spot ways of cutting costs to increase profits.

If these automatic cutoffs were installed at BP’s gulf equipage, there would be no threat today to wild life, the economy and the seashore of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

The cockeyed notion expressed by Michael Brown, discredited Bush FEMA head, that Obama is deviously thrilled about the spill because it now gives him reason to halt drilling after he had approved it just months ago, sounds a bit like Alice’s favorite Mad Hatter on the loose.

"This president has never supported Big Oil, he’s never supported offshore drilling and now he’s got an excuse to shut it back down." Brown said, "This is exactly what they want because now he can pander to the environmentalists and say, I’m going to shut it down because it’s too dangerous."

If you want to hear adults acting like conspiratorial children just tune in on House Minority Leader John Boehner, his No. 2, Rep. Eric Cantor and Rep. Mike Pence, all chirping away as if Obama is behind the spill which in reality happened because Cheney allowed Big Oil to avoid installing automatic cutoffs.

Now let’s talk about Faisal Shahzad, the disgruntled Pakistan-born naturalized American citizen who was so incompetent or nervous he failed to set off a bomb in Times Square. He was arrested two days and five hours after the bomb was discovered and faces numerous criminal charges.

Shahzad reportedly became a militant because he objected to US drone attacks on Pakistan insurgent hideouts, killing many. During a visit to Pakistan he was indoctrinated in terrorism and sent back to the US to wreak havoc.

It turns out the impetus for this attack was the effectiveness of increased US drone activity approved by Obama in contrast to the inept undertakings by Bush to contain Taliban belligerents.

How come sad sack Shahzad got the Times Square assignment that failed so miserably? The consensus is the Taliban is so decimated by the drones, they have few skilled operatives left to carry out their terror, thanks to Obama’s policies.

The Republicans say that we were lucky in the Times Square case, but others could conclude that it was success in destroying terror hideouts overseas that resulted in an incompetent getting the bombing mission here. It’s an axiom that winners make their own luck. That seems to be the case.

It would be prudent for the GOP to stop criticizing the president -- at least on these two matters – if only to avoid being tarred with their own brush. But there is something unique about the current breed of Republicans. They are slow learners and no doubt will entrap themselves in continued foolishness.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hats off to NYPD

By Don Klein

If a terrorist attack is inevitable in the United States, as so many experts predict, we should hope that it comes off in New York City. I know that doesn’t sound right, but the hope is it takes place where there is a first class police department.

Just imagine if the Times Square car bomber had decided to decimate Toledo, Ohio, or Biloxi, Mississippi instead? No one would have noticed the flames from the car and it would have exploded possibly killing a curious cat, two stray dogs and homeless man who curled up against the car’s fender.

The local cops would have eventually converged on the scene and scratched their heads for 15 minutes before calling for expert help which would have arrived hours later. The culprit by this time would be well on his way out of town heading for the next major airport and eventually getting on a Dubai flight unnoticed.

But not in New York. With all its problems, or maybe because of them, the NYPD is the most professional, most efficient and smartest collection of crime fighters in the country. They deserve a standing ovation. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said it took 53 hours and 20 minutes to make an arrest in the case. It takes longer than that for a small business to fill out an application for a bank loan.

The task was monumental as detectives fanned out after the discovery of the plot to interview thousands of guests at nearby hotels. They talked to tourists and vendors on the streets for evidence. They explored every nook and cranny along the route believed taken by the car owner. This could only be done by a large and experienced assortment of smart cops.

In many ways this may not be an indorsement of the city where the variety and complexity of crimes makes its gendarmes the most knowledgeable in handling wrongdoers. They prove time and again to be better than any other departments in the country because they have to in order to keep up with the multifariousness of lawbreaking in a large metropolis.

Who would have thought that the suspect in the West 45th Street bombing attempt would be in custody in 53 plus hours. I know some will say it was not all NYPD. There was the FBI and Homeland Security agents involved, but none could have been done their jobs if the grunt work was not performed first by the officers in blue on the streets.

The FBI blew the tailing of the suspect and lost him for three hours while he was awaiting his escape flight at JFK International and the jacks at Transportation Safety let him through the security check point, often a barrier for innocent travelers carrying "weapons" as large as miniature nail clippers.

The New York cops on the other hand, just did their jobs. They uncovered the suspect’s auto VIN number, a key to eventually tracking him down. They were the people who recognized the seriousness of the situation immediately and did the initial forensics.

Most importantly, they made sure the innocent bystanders –- tourists and residents alike -– on the nation’s busiest streets were kept safe.

They were the law enforcement representatives who where most in danger before anyone learned the bomb was faulty and would not fire. They were the ones poking around the vehicle looking for clues when it was still "hot." The FBI and others arrived when the scene was considered neutralized and out of danger.

A real tribute to the reputation of the New York police was the first words out of the suspect’s mouth once nabbed by the Border Patrol at the airport. He looked at the officers and asked,"Are you NYPD or FBI?" In the old days it would have been the NYPD, but now international airports are in the jurisdiction of the Customs and Border Protection agency.

Too often cops are badgered for the bad things they do, but when there is an emergency you can always count on the quick action of New York’s Finest. They rush towards danger while all others run in the opposite direction. Remember the indelible scene of cops and firemen racing into the mortally crippled World Trade Center while frightened occupants ran for their lives.

When they make mistakes it is usually a whooper, but when they do the right thing it is a classic.

And in these days when we are constantly the target of fanatical Muslims who believe the US is anti-Islamic, we can thank God for the NYPD. Be happy they are on our team. Too bad there aren’t more police departments like them.

As good as they are, though, the prediction is that there will be a successful attack on New York. If there is, the only solace the rest of us have is the police won't let the perps won’t get away with it.

So let’s take our hats off to the cops for doing their jobs in quick order and hope that their diligence never diminishes. They are our first line of defense. They may not be able to stop every fanatic determined to hurt innocent people, but they will make them all pay dearly if ever they try.

While cops in Arizona are learning that now they can harass innocent people on the streets and demand their papers like they used to do in Nazi Germany, the police in New York just do their job of protecting us all from the bad guys. The latter is nobler.