Diatribes - Computer, Economic & Political

This blog is really just for me. If you find something interesting on it, leave me a comment. If you disagree with something, let me know what and why. In this blog I am just putting some of my thoughts for computers, the economy, politics, and other topics in writing.

07 July 2006

A Disgraceful Presidency

As a preface, when President Bush was running for election in 2000, I was skeptical, but I supported him over Al Gore. While now I see this as a grievous error, I couldn’t have known this beforehand.

The trouble with President Bush is that he has good intentions. So it is difficult to make a villain out of such a nice man. I believe this is one of the reasons why people still stand behind him. In any event, I think his presidency is an abject disaster full of deceit and secrecy. I will give my reasons for this below.


The administration has had many failures – their environmental policy, immigration policy (or lack thereof) and the list goes on. But all administrations have failures. Kennedy had several prominent failures, the Bay of Pigs invasion and beginning the Vietnam war, but he is still regarded highly.

It isn’t the fact that the failures have happened, it is more so their reaction to the failures that convince me that this presidency is a disaster.


Iraq is a disaster. We went in for the wrong reasons and we are staying for the wrong reasons. Initially we were told about the biological and chemical weapons Saddam had. Then we were warned that he was attempting to procure nuclear weapons from Africa and Iraq had links to Al Qaeda. What the poorest continent on earth was doing with nuclear weapons, I still can’t figure out, but that is beside the point. In the aftermath the September 11th attacks, Americans were sufficiently persuaded that Iraq was a threat and needed to be overthrown. Heck, we had just hammered Afghanistan; while we are there why not overthrow another dangerous enemy? After all, it will be relatively cheap, we were told.

Except everything was wrong. Saddam did not have, what we call, “weapons of mass destruction”. Nothing credibly proved that he was trying to get anything nuclear, and no links to Al Qaeda were ever established. Saddam was certainly a terrible despot, but as we haven’t made it a habit of overthrowing all despots before, I’m not sure that is a good reason to invade. Iraq was nothing like the success story in Afghanistan, and the projected costs were so far off the gap between reality and projection can only be chalked up to deception. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia, recently estimated the cost of the Iraqi war between one and two trillion dollars (between $10,000 and $20,000 per U.S. household), and that if we had pulled out in early 2006.

Not only get we invade Iraq under false pretenses, but congress never declared war. I understand President Bush was just following a recent precedent set by presidents on failed wars, but I’m not sure that excuse is good enough. So once we were there, President Bush and his advisors consistently ignored every piece of evidence and advice that contradicted their own optimistic predictions.

I can not personally blame President Bush for the abject intelligence failures that allowed 9/11, but I can blame him for not reforming sooner. We had just seen how inadequate our intelligence was during the September 11th attacks, what more did it take to get some intelligence reform? I suppose it took a war with Iraq. But now we have the opposite problem with intelligence, it isn’t feeble and inaccurate, it is invasive and abusive.


On December 15th, 2005 the New York Times ran a story entitled “Bush Secretly Lifted Some Limits on Spying in U.S. After 9/11.” It alluded to domestic phone tapping, but this was largely a warning shot for the deluge of information that was to follow. President Bush, perhaps trying to ensure the intelligence would never be bad again, had launched a major effort to get intelligence by nearly any means necessary.

Then the news broke about a massive database of phone calls. We were assured that these were only suspicious foreign calls, and guaranteed that this was NOT a domestic program. Then a witness came out of AT&T and claimed that AT&T was terribly abusing the privacy of its customers by handing data over to the NSA. The EFF launched a lawsuit against AT&T and it was killed by the “state secrets” privilege, an option the government has to kill any private lawsuit it wants, even if it wasn’t a plaintiff.

Later, news broke that the surveillance was, in fact, a domestic program and that AT&T as well as nearly every other major telephone company, except Qwest, had handed over data to the NSA. This is handing over massive amounts of private data to the NSA, without a warrant or probable cause to be suspicious. Now news is breaking that the Pentagon has been spying on gays, anti-war groups, and other “counter culture” groups. Again, without a warrant, and without suspicion of wrong-doing.

Recently, news broke that the US government had been spying on international fund transfers through SWIFT, a Belgian clearinghouse for financial institutions. While this has raised international ire, still more news has pointed out that the spying began with Bush before 9/11.

The most disturbing thing is the administration’s response: secrecy. The US government designated 81% more documents as one of the fifty classifications used to restrict documents. The state secrets privilege has been used more often in the last six years than any other six years in history. And when you look at the cases it quashed, you find a veritable showcase of hidden injustices.

The Press

Every politician uses the press, as best they can, to their advantage. But not every politician has routinely attacked the press over unflattering, but true, stories. With the revelation of the SWIFT story, the New York Times story was deemed a "disgraceful" compromise of national security by President Bush, and treason by Representative Peter King of New York. Tony Snow, the new white house press secretary, accused The NYT of putting the "public's right to know" over "somebody's right to live."

Negative press of the war in Iraq has met with a similar attitude among Bush and his administration. If you report on anything negative, it is claimed that you are helping the terrorists. While that may be true, the nearly universally negative coverage (except for Fox News for the most part) from the BBC, NBC, CBS, CNN and others, suggests something to the visibility of the bad versus the good, if not the frequency.

When accusing the media of bias doesn’t work (or isn’t convenient) the Bush administration has also routinely tried to distract from real issues. The swift revival of the gay marriage amendment, the illegal immigration controversy and the flag burning amendment, have occurred just at a time when President Bush’s approval ratings are lowest. Soon after the SWIFT story broke the Feds caught a group of men in Miami planning on taking down the Sears tower. Unfortunately the seven men were found without weapons, explosives, links to Al Qaeda and the FBI announced there had been “no operational threat.” It seems each time a negative story about the Bush administration hits the major press that points out something new, a flag waving story seems to hit soon after, to drown out criticism.

My biggest concern with the Bush administration’s dealings with the press isn’t about the distractions; it isn’t even the verbal attacks. My concern is that they are wasting time. When you’ve got an entire nation to run, with 250 million citizens, hundreds of billions of dollars of deficit each year, trillions of dollars in debt, and a war going on, it is a wonder that the government’s biggest concern can be, for any length of time, to make burning the flag illegal.

Illegal Actions

The administration has also flaunted binding laws inside the United States, most notably with the “Abu Garib scandal.” I hesitate to call this a scandal – this was wholesale, state-endorsed torture. Real people were hurt, humiliated, tortured, and killed here. This is really the height of inhumanity and it embarrasses me that so few people got charged, found guilty and punished over this. The least we could do is to make sure this doesn’t happen again by sacking those in command who allowed this, and making the message clear – we will not tolerate torture in our prisons.

We, in the Western world, like to consider ourselves civilized. Unlike the Muslim world, we don’t decapitate, whip, flog, cut off hands or stone anyone. But also unlike the Muslim world, we imprison people for years in places where homosexual rape is a daily occurrence, there is disease, frequent beatings, and sometimes murder. We often demur that our governments don’t support, sponsor, or endorse such activities. But the mere frequency of such acts, and the assurance that, if in prison, you will have experience with this, is reason enough in my mind to make us culpable nonetheless.

Another area where the administration has flaunted laws is in Guantanamo bay. I don’t think Bush is responsible for the infrequent kidnappings, tortures and subsequent releases of a number of non-US citizens, but ignoring Habeas corpus in Gitmo and elsewhere says a lot. It is really sad that it takes the suicide of someone like Yasser Talal al-Zahrani to remind us of our little secret. As a bit of history, Yasser went to Gitmo at 17 for supposedly running guns in Afghanistan for Al Qaeda. We don’t know if he was guilty because he was never tried, and never even officially charged with anything, he was just held for four years until he and two others (one of whom was not even ‘officially’ at Gitmo) committed suicide. This guy was younger than I am! And he had spent four years in prison before I even graduated from college.

News of soldiers killing civilians has been around on and off since the Iraq war started. The consensus seems to be, we don’t care enough for it to take a prominent place in our news for more than two days in a row. I don’t think Bush has encouraged this, but just like Vietnam the situation he has placed these soldiers in certainly does encourage this.

The Valerie Plame scandal is another instance where part (or all) of the administration has been caught doing something wrong, and no consequences were felt among those higher up.

Expansion of Power

The Bush administration has taken unprecedented steps to expand executive power. Seeking to get out from under binding legislation, such as the Geneva Convention (with respects to torture), which congress had put into law long ago.

The Bush administration has put undue pressure on many firms and foreign governments to achieve their aims. Aside from the AT&T issue, another representative example is that of “The Pirate Bay.” Somewhere from within the US government, someone of sufficient power put pressure on Sweden to raid and take down a website named “The Pirate Bay” for copyright infringement. Under Swedish law, The Pirate Bay was legal – it hosted no content, it simply ran bittorrent trackers. I don’t endorse piracy, but I also don’t endorse imposing US laws on foreign entities.

States rights have also been consistently disregarded. The whole “no child left behind” is a great example of this attitude. The "No Child Left Behind" education act inserts progress reports and federal testing requirements in an area that had been under state and local control.

Whether you think the "Patriot Act" goes to far in stripping citizens rights in favor of security or not, it certainly gives federal law enforcement greater authority to supersede states where needed in criminal investigations and prosecutions. Another example of expansion of power, republicans in congress are again pushing bills to move class-action lawsuits from state courts to federal courts, and put federal ceilings on what state juries can award in malpractice cases.


There are many other reasons I think this presidency has been a disaster, but for the lost sake of brevity I will only mention some of them here.

The administration has been far too friendly to firms. One of the first official acts of the administration was to ignore the orders of Judge Penfield Jackson to break up Microsoft three ways. Maybe it was better that Microsoft stay together, but the administration didn’t say that, they just ignored the court order.

FEMA blew the Katrina clean-up in a spectacular way. I don’t blame Bush for this, or for the incompetent people he appointed to FEMA. But the awarding of reconstruction contracts was a debacle – going for above average prices to many with ties to government officials. It was so bad, many of the contracts had to be re-bid on.

The recession was not Bush’s fault. Neither was the recovery due to anything Bush did. But a future recession may be due to Bush. His reckless policies of lowering taxes and expanding spending now and in the future have stunned any true conservative. In inflation adjusted dollars, Bush and the GOP congress has outspent any non-war president, including FDR and Ronald Reagan (both of whom, arguably, had much larger recessions to recover from). The rash spending has exploded our deficit from a positive under Clinton to a stunning $600+ billion per year.

End Rant

I understand this may be unpopular, and certainly a highly debated, post. But my hopes for rationality in this administration have been repeatedly dashed as they have done stupid thing after stupid thing. And through all of this they refuse to admit to mistakes and attempt to right the wrong, they attempt to deceive, cover up and intimidate. I’ll close with a quote from Benjamin Franklin, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good gravy those are some large fonts on your headers. Care to turn them down?

No seriously, pretty good article. Terrifically one sided - you didn't say a single good thing Bush has done - but I suppose that for someone else.

My wonder is this - does the negative outweigh the positive? I mean really - do the good things outweigh the bad things or vice versa?

07 July, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Umm... what good things?

07 July, 2006  

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