It’s an odd little spot, really, sitting between the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and Highway 90 as it runs through Alpine, Texas. Not much bigger than a convenience store parking lot, the [...]
Politics and People
After George W. Bush had been pressured into running for president, his handlers realized he needed a vice president. The Bush family consortium called upon Dick Cheney to begin a search to find the most qualified person, which was more than a tad ironic since W certainly did not own a resume’ that showed he could manage a country or was fit for the top slot. What might be the standards for a VP? Cheney, unsurprisingly, reported back that, in fact, he was the best man for the job.
A match had been made. W, incurious about the world and possessing marginally average intelligence, was smart enough to realize that he could play at the presidency while Cheney ran the world like John Galt. The future vice president, who had been Secretary of Defense under W’s dad, George H. W. Bush, had finally realized the power he needed to make the planet safe for oil companies and defense contractors. The former Wyoming congressman had overseen the Gulf War for “41,” and he had long thought of the liberation of Kuwait as unfinished business with Iraq.
W did, too, though. He had wanted Poppy Bush to chase Saddam’s troops all the way to Baghdad and toss out the dictator. Cheney would not have to work hard to convince W that Iraq was wrapped up in Al Qaeda and Afghanistan was a secondary issue. W just didn’t care, and he wasn’t about to do the reading of historical intelligence necessary to find out or ask third party experts. Plus, an invasion of Iraq gave him a chance to do what he loved more than anything: show up the old man. He’d get Saddam and his gun and his dad would see what a real man he was, not some dry hole diggin’ West Texas loser who couldn’t get into Harvard Business School on his own and had to quit his National Guard pilot’s commission because he got “skeert” when landing jets.
Cheney got elected and let Bush live in the White House. W got to watch movies in his own theatre, had people bring him whatever he wanted to eat, and travel on a big jet plane with an office for him to sit and prop up his boots. Cheney, meanwhile, brought in Donald Rumsfeld, a pal from their Gerald Ford days, and had W make him defense secretary. The C&R Railroad ran on big oil and defense contractors and when big ol’ jet airliners crashed into the Twin Towers, Cheney and Rumsfeld were ready to execute a plan.
Even the redacted 911 Commission pages show C&R were working toward a regime change in Iraq prior to the New York City attacks. W liked the idea, too, but he wasn’t extensively involved until things were rolling toward war. The day the towers fell, Rumsfeld’s aide was taking notes from a meeting that proved the defense secretary was going to find a way to make war. He asked for the “best info fast…judge whether good enough to hit S.H. (Saddam Hussein) @ same time….not only UBL (Osama bin Laden.)”
Nobody knew anything yet about NYC but that same day C&R were plotting war. By November, they were polishing talking points, trying to develop a pretext for war. One of the documents from their meetings suggests ideas like “US discovers Saddam connection to Sept. 11 attack or anthrax attacks.” There were none, of course, but the next idea in the same talking points memo delivers them to their final solution. “Dispute over WMD inspections?”
Where was President Bush? Not that involved with the guys who were really running the world. They weren’t overly concerned with reporting to the boss. Might be a little complicated for him to process. C&R then got the Pentagon to set up something called the Office of Special Plans (OSP.) Chickenhawk Paul Wolfowitz, a C&R ally, ran the OSP and used it to repurpose previously discredited intelligence and to stovepipe intel to Cheney and Rumsfeld without running it past analysts. Essentially, they rumanged through intelligence garbage cans looking for something they could reframe as fact.
Wolfowitz was later quoted as saying the US had no choice but to invade Iraq because “it floated on a sea of oil.” There were no WMD. Saddam was not connected to 911. He had only made the mistake of being a bad man in a land with oil beneath the ground. W told his yellow cake uranium lie to congress, the New York Times and reporter Judy Miller spewed back the nonsense to America that Cheney and Rumsfeld were spewing at W, and we were off to kill the guilty and the innocent with the same malice. Of course, General Colin Powell first had to go before the U.N. and force the bile up from his gut that made him destroy his reputation and back the lies about WMD.
George W. Bush was a minor player in our latest American tragedy. His role was as mouthpiece for the tapestry of untruths woven by Cheney and Rumsfeld. And when the truth about WMD was finally known, W deflected further inquiry by blaming the intelligence community instead of the two men who had cooked the data and sent it to him with their pleadings to attack. If he’d had his preference, W would have stayed in that Florida classroom reading about pet goats until he got to go back to Texas.
George W. Bush is complicit in war crimes. There ought not be any building in Dallas or any other American city that bears his name. He violated the Geneva Conventions with extraordinary rendition and torture, preemptively invaded a country that had done nothing to the US, and killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings, tossed over the Constitution to eavesdrop on private citizens, cut taxes to the wealthy and corporations just as he launched two wars, and wasted what is now trillions of dollars to leave Iraq a bigger mess than when Cheney and Rumsfeld decided the president ought to decide we needed to invade.
And now they are dedicating a presidential library to W in order to maintain the historical spin. More money and time and American spirit expended on a troubled and insecure little man who only ran for the White House because of family, business, and party obligations. If there has to be a library on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, let it be named after the man who actually ran the country, and not the man who simply nodded his head in affirmation. Let’s call it the “Richard Bruce “Dick” Cheney Presidential Library.”
And remember that “Dick” part is pretty important.
Anyone else would be embarrassed about the timing. But not Texas Governor Rick Perry. Hell, he hardly turned red over his inability to remember three federal agencies. So, why should he be bothered by the awkward juxtaposition of his Texas ad campaign in Illinois launching just as a damning report on the state of his state is released by the Texas Legislative Study Group (TSG?)
Perry, who annoyed Californians briefly with a radio ad trying to lure businesses to Texas, has just published a print appeal to Illinois companies. He brags about how great it is in Texas and urges the Illinois businesses to “get out while they still can” after equating their situation to being in a house afire. Unfortunately, the ad goes up in Chicago just as the “Texas On the Brink” report is issued in Texas by the non-partisan Texas Legislative Study Group.
And it ought to scare away anyone thinking about moving to Texas.
First, don’t consider failing. There is no safety net. If you remember nothing else from the “Texas on the Brink” report, take with you two simple facts about the Perry administration’s generosity to help the unfortunate: The average monthly benefits, per person, for Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) recipients in Texas were $29.30. Worst in the nation. Not enough for tuna and crackers from a governor who spends millions on his traveling security entourage. And, second, the maximum Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grant for a single parent family of three is $263 per month. If you want to eat Ramen noodles and live in a refrigerator box, Texas has you covered.
The ‘firsts” and “worsts” that have occurred during the 13 years of the Rick Perry administration in Texas are more astonishing than Perry’s obliviousness to the problems of his state. In his last legislative session, the Texas governor led a reduction of $5.5 billion in public school funding even though the state ranks dead last in the percentage of population that graduates from high school. According to the “Texas on the Brink” study, Texas also leads the nation in the percent of the population uninsured as well as the percent of non-elderly that are uninsured.
There are only two other states where the percentage of the low-income population covered by Medicaid is lower than in Texas. (Hint: Unofficial Texas state motto is, “Thank god for Mississippi.”) Those numbers make it even more absurd that Governor Perry continues his intransigence with regard to accepting federal expansion of the Medicaid system into Texas. Analysts say the money from Washington would provide coverage for up to 3 million more uninsured. Instead, standing on his quivery, semi-flaccid principles, Perry refuses to take the $100 billion from DC over ten years and instead allows federal tax money from Texas to be used to provide health care in other states, and he has the cowboy cojones to call that good government.
Texas may be on the brink, but Perry and his political playmates are doing just fine; they are busily looting the bank before riding west in the night. His scandalous use of taxpayer-funded programs has delivered wildly profitable benefits to his campaign donors and right wing ideologues. Although Texas taxpayers receive little in the way of quality services from their state, their money has, nonetheless, been used to build up three lucrative investment funds that are controlled by Perry, the Lt. Governor, the Texas house speaker, and governing boards of political cronies.
The Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), for instance, was funded by a $3 billion bond vote and was supposed to provide grants for companies seeking cancer treatments and cures. Instead, as much as $56 million in early grants was awarded without proper business or scientific review. Numerous top scientists resigned from CPRIT because of a failure to conduct due diligence and they publicly indicated awards were being granted for political favor. The top three officeholders in Texas received millions in campaign donations from recipients of CPRIT grants. The Austin district attorney’s office and the state attorney general have both launched criminal investigations.
Although the health care system in the state Rick Perry governs is last in the percent of women receiving first trimester pre-natal care, and almost 20 million of its residents live in poverty, the state’s leadership has ignored those problems and their costs to spend hundreds of millions on speculative business development funds. The Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF), and the Emerging Technology Fund (ETF), have both provided venture capital to corporations and startups promising jobs and growth, which have largely gone undelivered.
According to Texans for Public Justice (TPJ), the biggest beneficiaries of those grants have been Perry and pals, not the Texas economy. In 2011, TEF award recipients gave $7 million to Perry and the Republican Governors’ Association, and the latest report for 2012 from TPJ shows that the “GOP officials who oversee the TEF have collected $3.6 million in campaign cash tied to recipients of $307 million in Enterprise Fund Awards.” The ETF, meanwhile, has spent money on numerous startups that got cursory review and millions of dollars because of founder connections to Perry.
These are the types of disclosures that chasten most politicians. But not Rick Perry. His latest news conference was to announce that Texas would allow companies to deduct the costs of moving their businesses to the state from places like Illinois. That means more millions out of the general revenue fund, and even less money for schools. And roads. And health care. And the hungry. And the unemployed. And those struggling with poverty. But more money for businesses.
As Rick Perry would say, y’all come on down to Texas.
If you are a conservative Republican and looking at the election horizon, the approaching demographic army has to appear a bit disturbing. Old white guys are disappearing into the mists of history and a young and increasingly ethnic population has begun to assert itself at the polls on Election Day. Their numbers continue to grow and the GOP has flailed away at various attempts to attract Latinos, African-Americans, Asians, and young voters. The Republican Party keeps making vows to reach out to minorities and youthful constituencies but it does so while also pushing laws to restrict voting.
The contradiction isn’t hard to spot. Three months into 2013 and a total of 30 states are pushing 55 new laws to restrict voter access. These ideas range from reducing the days that polls are open for early voting to requiring specific types of identification, purging voter rolls, and eliminating Election Day registrations and some Sunday voting. The intent of the legislation is clear, regardless of how it is presented.
Texas is the most recent state to propose dramatic alterations to voting laws. The government is overwhelmingly Republican, including every statewide office and a comfortable majority in both chambers of the legislature. However, a demographic wave of Hispanic and young voters will, at some point, overwhelm the GOP’s political power in Texas. This assumes, of course, continued clunkiness on the part of the right in terms of issues and communications, which seems, just now, a fairly safe assumption. The remaining option, therefore, if you are a Republican dreaming of a future, is to restrict access to the political process.
And how in the hell do you legally do that?
Simple: the first approach is to cut back on the number of days available for early voting. The Texas legislature is about to consider reducing the number of early voting days from 12 to 6 with an optional Sunday. The impact of this is imminently predictable. Early voting in Texas has consistently increased in the past two elections. Latest information, which is from the 2008 vote, shows 66 percent of the Texas electorate voted early during that 12-day period. It doesn’t follow that it would be reduced to 33 percent with a 50 percent cut in voting days, but there is certain to be a significant impact on turnout.
Florida cut early voting in the last election and the secretary of state said the results were a “nightmare.” When the swing state went from 14 to 8 days of early voting the result was long lines on Election Day in 2012. It was not uncommon for voters to wait 8 hours to cast a ballot and the final vote was rendered at 2 a.m. the next day. Florida lawmakers are now considering legislation to restore the lost early voting days. Their experience, however, has done nothing to chasten the conservatives in North Carolina where the state legislature is expected to vote on its own measure to constrain early voting.
Texas is also expected to vote on a measure that would instruct its secretary of state to create an interstate voter “crosscheck” system. The argument for this data matching technology is that too many people are moving and are not being purged from voter rolls in their home states, which creates confusion and opportunity for fraud. These notions are fatuous; of course, because it is difficult enough for people to find time in their daily rush to vote once in one state, much less to get to another or have someone use their registration. The greater risk is that people are unfairly purged from registration rolls because the technology that matches voter lists is inadequate. There is also no standardization of software to do the data matching. As a consequence, little more than data fields with names and addresses and date of birth may be matched, which means Juan Garza in Oklahoma gets purged from his home state list because Juan Garza is already registered to vote in Texas. Matching algorithms function best when they are designed to compare numerous fields but even then accuracy can be very low and people would be unfairly purged.
There is also nothing in the Texas bill that says what type of software will be used for matching, how the law might be implemented, and what states will be partners. Data matching has already caused a huge problem in Texas. The 2012 election saw Social Security Administration records compared to voter registration rolls in the state and thousands of voters got letters notifying them they were dead and were no longer eligible to vote. A number of these “zombie voters” sued and the purge was stopped by the courts.
Although the interstate matching may pass, it is likely to be thrown out by federal courts. The National Voter Registration Act makes illegal any purging of voters using matching technology. The law says that before a voter can be removed from a state’s registration, that voter must confirm in writing a change of address, or does not respond to a forwardable notice, or does not vote or appear to vote in the next two federal elections. A state is required to attempt to communicate with a voter and, if nothing is heard, two elections must pass before the purge of the voter’s name is legal.
The conservative argument has been that their only interest is in protecting the integrity of the process. But laws like video monitoring of polling places, the issuance of voter IDs, Sunday voting, motor voting, and eliminating Election Day registration, all have a singular impact and that is simply to reduce turnout, which, in turn, reduces young and minority voting. Those are constituencies the GOP continues to struggle to attract. But they are failing. So the next best strategy is to keep them away from the polls with legislative legerdemain.
And even that no longer work
The Texas A&M Aggie graduate governor of Texas is trying to undermine University of Texas athletic programs to gain a political edge.
Read it again. Let it sink in. An Aggie governor is willing to screw with UT sports if it helps him achieve his political goals. He’s probably also getting a few private chuckles out the harm he is causing, too. And it’s pretty easy to prove his intentions.
Just for further political effect, Rick Perry also equated UT’s sports problems with Penn State’s pedophilia crimes.
On Super Bowl weekend, the UT board of regents called an emergency meeting to be conducted telephonically. They were supposedly discussing a four-year-old incident where assistant football coach Major Applewhite had a sexual indiscretion with a female team manager. Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, couldn’t understand why a meeting was necessary until her phone rang. Governor Perry’s chief of staff was calling. A crisis was being manufactured.
Ann Bishop explained the emergency with a very disturbing sentence. “The regents don’t want this to become another Penn State situation.”
The chief of staff of the governor of Texas had just compared consensual sex between two adults to rampant pedophilia. She, and the regents, all appointed by Perry, had come upon a clunky plan to smear UT athletics. Bishop never retracted her statement and neither she nor the governor apologized for its ignorance. They were just hoping a solid punch had landed. And UT sports would stagger.
Perry, who is always willing to sacrifice anyone and anything for political advantage, ditched Bishop, but not because of the inflammatory nature of her analysis. He dumped her because she inadvertently let out the governor’s political positioning strategy on UT. She was merely repeating what she’d probably heard in planning sessions. Bishop was new to that type of gutter politics. She had come over from the Employee’s Retirement System to run Perry’s office, and had been given a $160,000 bonus to make the transition. A few weeks after her moment of honesty, she was back in her old job, richer in political insight and money.
The Applewhite story, though, was clearly made public in response to UT’s firing of Bev Kearney, the women’s track coach who had acknowledged a relationship with one of her athletes. Perry and his political cronies were trying to take those two incidents and cleverly position UT athletics as a kind of Caligula of the NCAA.
This is where sports fans need to get a little political if they want to protect their university’s reputation. Here’s the simple answer to the question: Governor Perry does not like the president of the University of Texas and he is willing to kick around UT athletics to make President William C. Powers look like he doesn’t know how to run a major university. If Perry can make Powers look incompetent, he stands a better chance of getting rid of him. Powers has disagreed with the governor on key matters regarding the funding and operation of UT. And Powers is right, which is embarrassing Perry. Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds reports to the university president, consequently, Perry wants to stick UT sports failings on Powers.
The nasty dispute began over a philosophical difference on how to fund higher education. In 2003, the Aggie joke of a governor convinced the state legislature to deregulate college tuition by arguing that it would make universities compete for students and lower costs. His real reason for deregulation was a desire to cut funding to higher education, which was reduced the same year by 11 percent. In the last legislative session alone, UT was reduced $92 million by the state and began cannibalizing programs to cut corners. Colleges and universities that lost state funding had to make it up somewhere and the result was increased tuition rates. The state abdicated its responsibility to fund higher education under Perry’s leadership and, consequently, institutions were forced to raise tuition to make up for losses. College tuition in Texas is up 55% since Perry led the deregulation charge. (The state presently has a surplus estimated at more than $8 billion and the governor refuses to touch it for either public schools, which he reduced by $5.5 billion, or higher education.)
Even the intellectually numb Perry had come to the realization he had screwed up. But he was looking for a way out and began talking about promoting a $10,000 degree and more online education, a notion pushed by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. This, of course, ignores the notion that the state’s constitution calls for the creation of a “university of the first class,” which means research and considerably more than just conferring degrees. But Perry had moved into political butt covering mode. Use a head fake to distract from the real problem. The 10k degree requires many college credit hours at the time of high school graduation, a couple of years in a community college, and then a very narrow choice of four year institutions to finish. The public was underwhelmed.
As was UT president William Powers.
The governor called for a four year freeze on tuition rates, even though he was the revival tent preacher who said absolution came from deregulation and a free market. Powers, though, looked at what was needed at the “university of the first class” and pushed for a tuition hike in the face of Perry’s idea of a Family Dollar store degree. The regents failed to approve a suggested 2.6 percent increase. But the Aggie-grad gov got upset, anyway. He called upon Powers to resign to avoid the embarrassment of being voted out of his job by the board of regents.
Perry has appointed all of the nine current regents but they will have a tough time making a case against Powers. He was recently named to a two-year post as vice-chair and then chairman of the American Association of Universities, the most prestigious higher education group in the country. He has also cut the recent UT budget by $46 million while raising the four-year graduation rate over the past six years from 48 to 52 percent.
Still, Perry won’t quit.
Perry appointees on the board of regents and some members of the legislature want to launch a $500,000 legal investigation into a law school deferred compensation program that was overseen by Powers. The program has already been investigated by the UT System’s vice chancellor and general counsel as well as the state attorney general’s office. Nothing improper was discovered but because Powers is a former dean of the law school and used the program to recruit and retain professors, Perry and his allies want another investigation. Let’s take a guess how many $500,000 investigations have ever returned a report that said, “Leave it alone. Everything’s fine.” It’s another Perry hit job.
Which is exactly what he is doing to the Longhorn sports programs. The governor wants to create a controversy where none exists. If he can make UT athletics look out of control, he can blame Powers. And that’s why his political strategists equated UT sports with Penn State’s pedophilia problems. The analogy is reprehensible and Perry owes an apology to a great university and the coaches and athletes that have strived to create a national reputation for excellence.
And then Perry needs to shut the hell up.
Eric Resnick did not want to ask the question. He felt an obligation, though, because other reporters were avoiding the subject. They ought to have long ago confronted Ken Mehlman about the contradictions between his politics and his personal life. Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, was constantly around reporters from the New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, CNN, ABC, NBC, and all of the major media outlets. None of them, however, had dared to question the RNC chairman about what Eric Resnick considered a blatant, obvious hypocrisy.
Mehlman, Karl Rove’s general for handling issues and elections across the country as President Bush’s campaign manager, had been closely involved with the Issue One referendum in Resnick’s home state of Ohio. Republicans there referred to the ballot item as the pro-marriage amendment and the Defense of Marriage Act. People like Eric Resnick, a gay man who was a reporter for the Gay People’s Chronicle in Cleveland, considered Issue One to be an anti-homosexuality law designed to make their lives miserable. He resented being used as a political device to motivate a hate vote against homosexuals.
“For our community, it was absolutely incredible,” he explained. “Every single debate and discussion had something gay in it and we’ve never seen anything like that before. At that point, it is part of the public policy discussion and those guys revved up their base and used our community as an issue to win votes in that election and at that point it does become a public matter.”
Resnick and most of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community of Ohio were incensed at Republican efforts, led by Karl Rove, to use a political wedge issue to drive a huge turnout of Christian Right voters. Even more than that, though, gay political organizations had begun actively questioning whether RNC chairman Ken Mehlman was gay, making it difficult to believe that he was complicit in the anti-gay part of Rove’s Master Plan. Gay bashing gays? Resnick had trouble believing in such a concept. Nobody in the mainstream media had considered Mehlman’s apparent hypocrisy that important. But Resnick did. He thought he had a right to know, that the GOP had made gay Republicans an issue by advancing an anti-gay-rights agenda in its bid to win the presidency.
Coincidentally, Resnick was being presented with a chance to confront the hypocrisy during a trip to Ohio by Mehlman. And he was not going to pass it up. Resnick intended to be the first reporter to ask Ken Mehlman if he was gay. So when an invitation came from the Log Cabin Republicans to a fund-raising banquet in Akron, Resnick knew he was going to attend. Ken Mehlman, the target of a relentless Internet outing campaign and the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, was the featured speaker for the post-2004 election thank you dinner for Summit County Republicans.
Most of the people gathering that night were either unaware of the controversy or did not care. But Eric Resnick did. And as a good journalist, he knew that the dinner and speech in Akron was exactly where he needed to be. As a result, on March 19, 2005, Resnick was making the quick run between Cleveland and Akron to attend the Summit County Lincoln Day Dinner.
Out the window of his car, the mercurial weather of late winter offered the possibility of warm days ahead in the Great Lakes basin or the unexpected dump of new snow. Resnick had purchased a $40 ticket from the Log Cabin Republicans in order to attend the fundraiser at the Quaker Station convention hall in Akron. He had no intention of presenting reporter’s credentials but he was not making the trip as a participant in Summit County’s Republican Party politics.
“I knew Ken Mehlman would be there,” Resnick explained. “And I knew I would have access to him afterwards just because of the way people are when they line up to talk to the head table. I knew what I was doing when I went in and I knew the question I wanted to ask him.”
Resnick was well aware of the buzz within the gay community about the possibility that Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman might be gay. Mehlman, Resnick believed, needed to be confronted because he had been instrumental in the promotion of Issue One, referred to variously as the Defense of Marriage Act or the anti-gay rights law. As keynote speaker for the Lincoln Day Dinner, Mehlman intended to offer a personal congratulation to Summit County Republicans for dramatically helping President Bush with an increased turnout.
Issue One was part of an electoral elixir concocted by President Bush’s chief strategist Karl Rove. The political goal was about turning out millions of evangelical voters in Ohio and in ten other states where similar referenda to ban gay marriage were on the ballot. Rove had made a strategic decision to run toward his Republican base during a general election instead of attracting voters closer to the center. Many gays and lesbians saw the Issue One campaign as a direct affront to their inherent condition, a cruel and discriminatory piece of political gamesmanship that they knew would make their lives more complicated.
As always, Rove was careful to frame the issue in language emphasizing the sanctity of marriage, not a rebuke of homosexuals. The goal was to send a strong message to conservatives without jeopardizing moderate Republicans and independent voters, especially women in the suburbs, easily put off by any whiff of intolerance.
“Marriage is a very important part of our culture and our society,” Rove told Fox News. “If we want to have a hopeful and decent society, we ought to aim for that ideal. And the ideal is that marriage ought to be and should be a union of a man and a woman.”
Eric Resnick was one of the millions of gays in the US who was incensed by the tactic. Nothing, he felt, was being “forced on the political process.” After rulings in Massachusetts and San Francisco, Rove conducted polling on gay marriage and saw its political potential as a galvanizing issue among conservatives. In Resnick’s view, it was Rove and his Republican apparatchiks who were forcing the issue into the national debate. Worse, the policy was being advocated by gays within the GOP, which is what had put Resnick into his car to drive to Akron and confront Ken Mehlman on the Republican National Committee chairman’s own sexual orientation.
In the 2004 presidential election, there was no way for Resnick or any other Ohio resident to avoid Issue One. It was all over television and radio, on phone messages and in sermons at church. It was impossible for Ohio voters to miss the message about the sanctity of marriage and the need to protect all those “years of human history” by defining the institution of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Even Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, the Ohio officeholder whose constitutional mandate called for non-partisan supervision of the state’s elections, recorded an announcement distributed using robo-calls to promote Issue One. Blackwell, a Republican who had designs on the Ohio governor’s office, is a conservative African-American. His association with Issue One helped to broaden the appeal of the measure into conservative black churches and increased the turnout for President Bush among minorities sympathetic to a gay-marriage ban.
Herb Asher, a political scientist at Ohio State University, abandoned his academic detachment in describing the Ohio secretary of state’s active involvement in promoting the change of law in his state.
“I actually came home one night and there on my answering machine was a message, ‘Hi. This is secretary of state Ken Blackwell urging you to vote yes on Issue One, an issue that will uphold the sanctity of marriage. It’s a simple little amendment.’ You fucker. I mean where are the ethics from the National Association of Secretaries of State to say that he shouldn’t be involved?”
During the 2004 race, Eric Resnick had been aggressive seeking out political candidates and campaign operatives in writing about Issue One and Blackwell’s advocacy of it. When the vice presidential debate came to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Resnick sought out Ken Mehlman, who was then running the Bush campaign, and asked him how closely Blackwell was working with the president’s re-election team on Issue One and why such a divisive subject was being used as a tactic. Mehlman denied that Issue One was anti-gay or divisive but he acknowledged that Bush officials were coordinating with the Ohio Secretary of State on Issue One. Officially, Karl Rove’s position was that the marriage amendments had arisen organically within 11 states and the Bush Campaign was not connected to those efforts. In fact, it was part of Rove’s active strategy to divide and conquer by microtargeting religious conservatives and motivating the base.
It struck Resnick that Mehlman’s answers at the vice presidential debate were evasive and mostly inconclusive, and so in the wake of Bush’s reelection and the smashing success of Issue One in galvanizing GOP voters, the gay journalist decided to make the trip to Akron where hundreds of Republicans gathered at Quaker Station in the post-election warmth of a political victory. Many in the crowd had paid $1000 to hear Mehlman offer praise for helping the president earn a second term and reinforce their own conservative principles. Mehlman had thanked Summit County because it had “increased its votes for George W. Bush from 2000 to 2004 more than any other county.” A line had formed in front of Mehlman near the dais and Resnick waited until it had shortened before approaching the chairman of the Republican National Committee. He was not carrying a recorder or wearing reporter’s credentials.
“I shook his hand and introduced myself as a reporter for the Gay People’s Chronicle,” Resnick said. “And I began asking him innocuous questions about things he had said in his speech. But I prefaced each one by saying, ‘Since the bloggers have outed you,’ or ‘Since you were outed on national radio is that going to change how the party treats gay people?’ He just ignored my premise and gave me canned, standard answers.”
A new line of Mehlman well wishers had gathered behind Resnick but he ignored them and kept peppering the GOP chair with questions. Eventually, Mehlman’s patience ran out and he denied that he had been outed.
“That’s inaccurate,” Mehlman said.
“What do you mean?” Resnick thought “inaccurate” was an odd word to use in that context.
“What they are saying in the blogs,” Mehlman answered, attempting a delicate political clarification.
“You mean you are not gay?” Resnick was hoping for some clarity of his own and he did not expect to get another chance to pose such a question.
“You have asked a question people shouldn’t have to answer,” Ken Mehlman said before slowly backing away from the reporter.
It was the first time a journalist had publicly asked the chairman of the Republican National Committee about his sexual orientation. Resnick’s story for his paper, headlined GOP National Chair Avoids Questions about his Sexuality, created a brief phenomenon in the gay and lesbian community that came to be known as “Mehlmania.” There was more blogging on the Web and talking on the radio, but Mehlman’s ambiguous reply did not meet the standards of news for mainstream journalists who neither noticed nor wrote about it.
“I just went in there believing if reporters started asking the question multiple times it would start to have an effect on him,” Resnick said.
But nothing changed. Ken Mehlman still ran the Republican Party. Powerful gay members of the GOP continued to exercise their influence in a manner that many considered both contradictory and hypocritical. And this odd confederacy was under the political auspices of Karl Rove, a man who had been forced to handle the emotional strain of dealing with homosexuality in his own family when he had discovered his adoptive father, who had raised him, was gay.
To Eric Resnick, it appeared that hardly anyone seemed to notice or care. “I am extremely angry about it all. I still am. And sometimes it’s hard for me to do this job as a reporter and put that all aside effectively and appropriately and truly get the story. And I am not sure I will ever get over the anger. Sixty-two percent of the people who voted in Ohio basically told us to go to hell. And that is not an easily reconcilable thing.”
And it still isn’t. Regardless of what the law says, or how the U.S. Supreme Court rules.
“The truth is beautiful, without doubt, but so are lies.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
The timing was a thing of pure political beauty. President George W. Bush was only a few days away from speaking to the United Nations’ General Assembly about Iraq’s renewed efforts to acquire banned weaponry. And, in a month, the president was going to Congress to seek a resolution approving of a war against Iraq. A Sunday morning story, September 8, 2002, in the New York Times made the U.N. speech and the congressional debate much easier for the White House.
Under the headline, “Threats and Responses: The Iraqis; U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts,” a 3603 word story by Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller detailed the administration’s case against Saddam Hussein related to weapons of mass destruction. America was about to be scared. Citing “administration officials,” “Iraqi defectors,” and “intelligence sources,” Gordon and Miller wrote that Iraq had attempted to buy the type of aluminum tubes needed for the construction of a gas centrifuge to develop nuclear materials.
“In the last 14 months,” they reported, “Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium.”
According to the newspaper’s report, the specifications, including diameter and thickness, had persuaded American officials that the tubes were meant for Iraq’s nuclear program. The duo ticked up the national pulse rate with the news that, “Iraqi defectors who once worked for the nuclear weapons establishment have told American officials that acquiring nuclear arms is again a top Iraqi priority.”
If, however, what Gordon and Miller’s sources had told them was true, and the shipment of tubes had been intercepted in “recent months,” a contradictory opinion on the tubes might have saved them from relentless criticisms, and spared America unnecessary angst. It might have also helped to stop a war.
“I had no reason to believe what I reported at the time was inaccurate,” Judy Miller said during an extensive interview with me in 2003. “I believed the intelligence information I had at the time. I sure didn’t believe they were making it up. This was a learning process. You constantly have to ask the question, ‘What do you know at the time you are writing it?’ We tried really hard to get more information and we vetted information very, very carefully.”
The claims in the Times’ story, however, were not able to be independently corroborated at the time of publication. Miller and Gordon wrote that officials told them that, “the aluminum tubes were intended as casing for rotors in centrifuges, which are one means of producing highly enriched uranium.”
While senior administration officials insisted to the two journalists that the specifications of the tubes, length, thickness, and number, indicated they were destined for use in a gas centrifuge, those specifications were not included in the story the pair filed for the paper. The Times reported that the sensitivity of the intelligence kept the officials from divulging where the tubes came from, or where they were intercepted.
The truth about the scary tubes wasn’t easy to access. But it was available. Correspondent Judy Miller said she and Michael Gordon made numerous calls in an attempt to get differing opinions on the tubes from the intelligence community prior to publishing their original report.
But no one was willing to talk.
“We made many, many calls,” Miller explained. “All of these intelligence analysts and operatives said the same thing, ‘We are not having this conversation.’ Someone had ordered them not to talk. This [story] was a hot one, and they weren’t going to talk about it. Nobody was willing to speak until after we published the first piece on the tubes.”
According to a story in the Washington Post, published almost a year later, the senior administration officials speaking to Gordon and Miller appeared to be talking about a shipment of 3,000 aluminum tubes intercepted in Jordan, bound for Iraq. In July 2001, exactly fourteen months before the Times printed its front page exclusive, a CIA operative, working with Australian intelligence, discovered the tubes going to Baghdad from China. Even though the timing of the delivery coincided with the fact that Iraq had depleted its supply of rocket body tubes, the operative set about trying to convince analysts the tubes were part of an Iraqi scheme to build a gas centrifuge.
The Post’s Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus wrote that missile assembly lines in Iraq had thousands of crated rocket motors and fins awaiting arrival of the tubes at the Nasser factory north of Baghdad. But that information was not reported in newspapers until long after American citizens had been convinced the tubes proved Saddam Hussein was chasing a bomb.
During the late summer of 2002, however, when journalists were first learning of the aluminum tubes, Gellman had trouble finding someone to disagree with the administration. Contradicting science on the purpose of the tubes was gathered between the fall of 2002 and the spring of the war. Throughout the course of this work, government scientists refused to speak with journalists.
“The scientists who disagreed with the White House were effectively silenced,” Gellman said. “The intelligence types were told to keep their mouths shut all the way up to the end. I heard from a lot of people that they weren’t authorized to talk and they weren’t going to, even though there was strong disagreement with the White House over what these tubes were for.”
Judy Miller, who broke the story, encountered the same politically enforced silence within the government. She does not appear to have looked very hard outside of the government.
“We tried to get other intell types to talk,” Miller added. “I went all over looking for data. The White House knew we had been working on this for weeks. And remember what it was like at that time. The drums of war were already beating. But the White House manipulating the New York Times is just bullshit. The timing was ours, not theirs. But they may have worked with it. I mean, if you were the administration, wouldn’t you have used that tubes story for your cause?”
That is exactly what happened. Knowing that the war effort required coordinated information and messaging, Bush chief of staff Andrew Card organized the White House Iraq Group in August. The strategists on that team included the president’s senior political advisor, Karl Rove, who had sharpened his media manipulation skills during the Texas gubernatorial terms of George Bush, and a tough presidential campaign. Karen Hughes, communications counselor and Bush confidante, and Mary Matalin, Republican media expert, also worked with National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby. Stephen J. Hadley, deputy to Secretary Rice, was also a part of the assembled big thinkers.
Convinced that the war’s promotional effort required a constant message campaign, the White House Iraq Group (WHIG)coordinated with senior staffers in Tony Blair’s administration in the United Kingdom, and was in constant contact with U.S. military officers in Kuwait, who were conducting briefings each day during America’s morning network newscasts. The aggressive approach drove the daily news cycles and editorial content of the media. Rove and Hughes, two of the best practitioners there have ever been at “gaming” the media, guided the WHIG. The president’s two closest advisors, Hughes and Rove are masters of an evolutionarily new version of media relations, which they practically invented. The method pitches political interpretation as fact, even in governmental, nonpolitical environments.
And they were all so confident of their skills; the WHIG members chose to let Americans know what was coming. Two days before the New York Times’ story on the tubes of terror, Andy Card was quoted in the paper, explaining why talk of Iraq and the war had diminished during the summer months.
“From a marketing point of view,” he explained. “You don’t introduce new products in August.”
Sunday morning, though, the product was delivered on the front page of the nation’s most influential newspaper, and the story carried the White House’s message of fear, invoking the image of a mushroom cloud over America. The long article offered no voices of dissent on administration claims that Iraq had accelerated its pace of nuclear development. The journalistic coup, however, was by White
House design, and not just a failure of the Times’ writers. The WHIG had sent out word to the government intelligence and scientific communities that no one was to dispute administration claims about the aluminum tubes.
The lie was, however, in danger of being revealed. The White House was in a hurry to give the story some validity because, in the intelligence community, the allegations about the tubes had already been discredited, if not publicly. When journalists finally spoke with scientists about the discovery, they were certain to learn the administration’s charges about Saddam Hussein and the aluminum tubes were, either uninformed, or blatant lies.
To create the beginnings of war hysteria and nuclear phobia, the White House Iraq Group had planned to immediately execute a tactic that created a media echo chamber. The same Sunday morning that the tubes story was splattered on the front page of the Times, the Bush administration dispatched the vice president, the national security advisor, and the secretary of state, to elevate the buzz on the network talk shows. A false story had been planted, was given credibility by a leading publication, and then the people who benefited from the one-sided information appeared on national television to corroborate the value of their bad evidence.
On NBC’s Meet the Press with Tim Russert, Vice President Dick Cheney warned Americans that Hussein was taking all the steps necessary to end up with a nuclear warhead, and he made it sound as if the question of the aluminum tubes was not subject to verification by science.
“And what we’ve seen recently that has raised our level of concern to the current state of unrest, if you will, if I can put it in those terms,” Cheney told Russert. “Is that he now is trying, through his illicit procurement network, to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium to make the bombs.”
“Aluminum tubes?” the moderator asked, having read the Sunday Times.
“Specifically, aluminum tubes,” the vice president explained. “There’s a story in the New York Times this morning, this is, I don’t, and I want to attribute the Times. I don’t want to talk about, obviously, specific intelligence sources, but it’s now public that, in fact, he has been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring through this particular channel, the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge. And the centrifuge is required to take low-grade uranium and enhance it into highly enriched uranium, which is what you have to have in order to build a bomb.”
Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, who cannot hide his discomfort when nuclear explosions are mentioned, went on Fox News and mentioned “specialized aluminum tubing,” and referred to the Times’ piece with the words, “We saw in reporting . . .”
The strongest assertions were on CNN’s Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, where National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice insisted that the tubes were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs,” and she argued that Hussein was “actively pursuing a nuclear weapon.” Almost astonishingly, Rice parroted words the reporters had used in their story in the Times, raising immediate suspicion she was one of the unidentified sources of the story.
“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” she said.
The smoking gun to prove that these tubes were not for use in a gas centrifuge was likely an Internet address. According to Newsweek magazine, Iraq’s purchase order for the aluminum tubes was posted on the Web. The White House surely did not think Hussein wanted the United States to get advance notice he was working on a nuclear bomb. Clearly, a vast intelligence network was not essential for the Bush administration to learn about the tubes. Hussein had put the information on the Internet.
Regardless, a frenzy of follow-up stories covered front pages of newspapers and filled the broadcast and cable news shows for days.
In some cases, reporters did not even bother with attribution for claims about the tubes. Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, in her nationally broadcast story the next day, flatly stated, “They were the kind of tubes only used in a centrifuge to make nuclear fuel.” Her colleague, White House correspondent Norah O’Donnell had already called the tube news, “An alarming disclosure.” By the time President Bush stood before the United Nations’ General Assembly later that week, the aluminum tubes had slipped into the national collective consciousness as indisputable proof Saddam Hussein had his finger on a nuclear trigger.
There were several resources in a position to discredit the Bush administration’s allegations about Iraq’s aluminum tubes after the original story had broken in the Times. Andrea Mitchell must have failed to order her producer to make a call to the International Atomic Energy Agency; had she done so, she was likely to have been told the specifications of the aluminum tubes meant they were going to be used in rocket production. An Italian rocket, the Medusa 81, used body tubes that matched down to the fraction of a millimeter those being pushed by the White House as proof of a nuclear weapons’ gas centrifuge under construction in Iraq. All of the dimensions and the type of alloy were precisely the same as those needed for Iraq to create copies of the Medusa 81. Further, U.S. analysts in Iraq had taken a photo of one of the tubes, which appeared to be identical to those intercepted. The logo of the Italian manufacturer of Medusa was on the side, and, clearly visible, was a label: “81mm rocket.”
When he spoke before the United Nations, however, Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to deflect the idea that the tubes were meant for rocket production. He argued several batches of tubes had been intercepted and that they showed a “progression to higher and higher levels of specification, including in the latest batch an anodized coating on extremely smooth inner and outer surfaces.”
“Why,” Powell wondered, “would they continue refining the specifications, go to all that trouble for something that, if it was a rocket, would soon be blown into shrapnel when it went off?”
Unwittingly, the secretary of state had confirmed that the tubes were not for a gas centrifuge, though neither journalists nor the wider world happened to notice. Anodized coating helps aluminum resist corrosion, and rusted rocket bodies had ruined most of Iraq’s previous arsenal. More specifically, according to scientists later quoted by the Washington Post, the anodized coating had to be removed for the tubes to be used in a gas centrifuge. What the White House also knew from intelligence reports, but refused to share with the American public, was that Iraq had two blueprints for a gas enrichment centrifuge. Those plans had been stolen somewhere in Europe, and required a hard steel alloy, not aluminum, for the rotors.
The specs for the other stolen design listed carbon fiber rotors. In fact, aluminum rotors had not been used in centrifuge construction since the 1950s, and the shipment being touted as evidence of Iraq’s nuclear ambitions were too long, the walls excessively thick, and the tube diameters too narrow.
These conclusions had all been reached by scientists after the details of the intercepted tube shipment had been circulated through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a year earlier. Their unanimous findings were supported by Houston G. Wood, III, who founded the Oak Ridge centrifuge physics department. Considered to be the world’s expert on the subject matter, Wood said, “It would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges. It stretches the imagination to come up with a way. I do not know any real centrifuge experts that feel differently.”
Wood’s scientific conclusion, and those of his colleagues, was known to the White House almost a year before the story about the tubes appeared in the New York Times. The White House Iraq Group, however, had managed to suppress dissenting opinions within the government’s scientific community to the point that none were available when Miller and Gordon were making calls for their initial report. Not surprisingly, either, no one bothered to include Wood’s opinion in the National Intelligence Estimate, being prepared for the White House as the tubes story was playing out in the media.
Eventually, in front of the United Nations, Colin Powell included the esteemed scientist Wood in the same category with the Iraqis.
“Most U.S. experts,” Powell said, “think they [tubes] are intended to serve as rotors in centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Other experts, and the Iraqis themselves, say the tubes were really for rockets.”
Powell, whose reputation for integrity was unparalleled in Washington, was either easily hoodwinked by government bureaucracies, or he simply lied. The vast majority of scientists with expertise in the development of nuclear material disagreed with the White House about the tubes.
In the Post, Wood described Powell’s statement as a “personal slam at everybody in the DOE.” [Department of Energy]
“I’ve been grouped with the Iraqis, is what it amounts to,” he said. “I just felt that the wording of that was probably intentional, but it was also not very kind. It did not recognize that dissent can exist.”
The Institute for Science and International Security was busily dissenting, regardless. Based in Washington, the organization had prepared a report analyzing the White House’s allegations related to Iraq’s nuclear potential. The lengthy treatise, written by nuclear physicist David Allbright, an Iraqi arms inspector during the 1990s, concluded the Bush administration’s claims about the aluminum tubes were without merit. Allbright, who had been a member of a team sent to Iraq by the International Atomic Energy Agency, interviewed a number of researchers and analysts for his October 9, 2002, report.
The findings showed that the anodized coating of Saddam’s tubes was the surest sign that they were not designed for use as parts in a gas centrifuge. The coating had to be machined off before they were installed in any kind of uranium separator. Allbright had also spoken with scientists at Oak Ridge’s Lawrence Livermore Laboratories in California, who strongly disagreed with the White House’s analysis of the tubes, and they told Allbright they had been ordered by the Bush administration to keep quiet.
“This is the problem with reporting on the intelligence community,” Judy Miller said. “You can only write what you know. And if no one else will give you contradicting information, you try to give your readers a sense of where the information is coming from that you are using. The naysayers on that [the tubes] story did not come out of the closet until afterwards.”
London’s authoritative International Institute for Strategic Studies, though, also issued a report about the same time as Allbright’s organization. The data was counter to the paranoia the White House Iraq Group was selling to the public.
“Iraq does not possess facilities to produce fissile material in sufficient amounts for nuclear weapons. It would require several years and extensive foreign assistance to build such fissile material production facilities,” the report stated.
The absolute refutation of the aluminum tubes story was already more than a year old when Michael Gordon and Judith Miller broke the aluminum tubes story in the Times. Apparently, though, they were unable to immediately find opinions divergent from the “administration sources” and “intelligence analysts,” whose frightening assessments of the tubes meant that, if we did not act, there were certain to be “mushroom clouds” in America. Presumably, the reporters contacted non-governmental organizations in Washington that monitor nuclear weapons issues, as well as government agencies.
Miller and Gordon, who were later accused of being used by the administration, found themselves in a tough spot. Over the course of several weeks, they had been developing sources that had told them the tubes were a part of an attempt by Hussein to build a uranium enrichment facility. But they did not come up with sources to refute that allegation. Ethically, were they supposed to not report this information if they were unable to find a different scientific opinion? The most brutal criticisms came from people who argued the two simply did not try hard enough to find other perspectives.
When I asked Judy Miller if she had contacted any of the nongovernmental organizations about scientific data on the aluminum tubes, she demurred.
“I’m not about to discuss whom we called,” she wrote in an August 2003 e-mail. “That would get into sources, the protection of which is sacrosanct as far as I’m concerned.”
But Washington was supposedly filled with people who knew those aluminum tubes had nothing to do with nuclear proliferation. One of them was Greg Thielmann. He was retiring as the head of the State Department’s Office of Strategic Proliferation and Military Affairs. According to Thielmann, “The most knowledgeable people in the U.S. government believed that this was not the kind of aluminum that the Iraqis would have been seeking to use in centrifuges for uranium enrichment.”
Drama-driven, oh-my-God journalism, had, however, taken root, and fear was selling newspapers and cranking up television newscast ratings. By the end of the week, the President was before the United Nations’ General Assembly, adding White House authority to the fable that the confiscated tubes were for making nuclear fuel.
“Iraq,” he told the world, “has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year.”
Reporters covering the president’s trip were given what was labeled as a “fact sheet,” detailing claims made in the president’s speech. In it, White House analysts said Saddam Hussein was trying to make chemical weapons, biological agents, and was pursuing a nuclear program.
Less than a week from their story that had launched the aluminum tube hysteria, Judith Miller and Michael Gordon were once more reporting what they were told by the Bush administration. In a piece about a third as long as their previous Sunday expose, they did finally acknowledge that there was a debate about the purpose of the aluminum tubes. Unfortunately, the reporters did not include anyone in their story who disagreed with the White House’s version of reality.
A “senior administration official” told them that it was a “minority view” among intelligence experts that Iraq had acquired the aluminum tubes to construct a multiple launch rocket system. Karl Rove, who has always insisted on being referred to as “a senior administration official,” and his White House Iraq Group were running so fast that the truth did not begin to get real traction until December.
Bob Simon of CBS’s 60 Minutes interviewed David Allbright, the weapons inspector whose findings had strongly contradicted the president’s charges against Iraq. According to a transcript of the interview,Allbright indicated there was almost no support for the administration’s suspicions of the tubes as parts of a potential centrifuge.
“People who understood gas centrifuges,” Allbright told Simon, “Almost uniformly felt that these tubes were not specific to gas centrifuge use.”
“It seems that what you’re suggesting,” the correspondent said, “Is that the administration’s leak to the New York Times, regarding aluminum tubes, was misleading?”
“Oh, I think it was. I think it was very misleading.”
Judith Miller vehemently denied she was a recipient of a White House leak.
“We worked our asses off to get that story,” she said. “No one leaked anything to us. I reported what I knew at the time. I wish I were omniscient. I wish I were God, and had all the information I had needed. But I’m not God, and I don’t know. All I can rely on is what people tell me. That’s all any investigative reporter can do. And if you find out that it’s not true, you go back and you write that. And I did that. You just keep chipping away on an assertion until you find out what stands up.”
Of course, that’s not the way journalism really works. Otherwise, reporters could easily be replaced with stenographers and people to read and publish e-mail news releases. Actually, if Miller had spoken to one of the various scientific organizations when she wrote the first story, including the leading groups in her own country, she would have learned there was almost no chance the tubes were going into a centrifuge. Her list of interview subjects needed to include contradictory voices and opinions on the uses of the aluminum tubes. There was certainly plenty of them out there.
There remains the confounding matter of a journalist’s obligation to report. Presented with authoritative sources making claims that an enemy dictator is trying to build a uranium gas centrifuge to make a nuclear weapon, the journalist is compelled to deliver that information to the public. In a story of this nature, are the assertions may be too significant to be withheld until a skeptical source can be developed? This reasoning often creates misleading impressions. If a reporter writes only what they know at the time and that data comes only from a source with one perspective, a reader or viewer can readily conclude they have just experienced fact. A refutation, in the form of a follow-up story, often does not receive the same prominence or promotion, and that results in the original report having greater veracity. Either way, in the case of the aluminum tubes story, it was too late. The story was alive, and it was never completely retracted or repudiated by the prominent newspaper that had initially put it in front of the American public.
Miller and Gordon’s inability to find a divergent opinion in a city full of political minds, scientists, and think tanks, has remained a perplexing mystery among their colleagues. But the words of war had been written. And more were coming; equally flawed, potentially lies.
The White House had mixed up journalists’ ambitions with misleading intelligence and brewed up a myth that yielded a powerful national belief in its illusion. A political Sasquatch, the aluminum tubes story was the first to begin banging the drums of conflict. The truth, finally, was tortured until it was no longer recognizable.
And the sons and daughters of America were sent marching off to war wearing the boots of a well-told lie.
“Death ends a life, not a relationship.” – Robert Benchley
The little girl sat at the table with her face leaning close to a small piece of paper. Her dark, bobbed hair swung forward, slightly obscuring the soft curve of her cheeks. She did not notice her mother enter the room.
“What are you doing, mija?” her mother asked.
“I’m writing daddy a note.” She answered without looking up, her concentration focused on the careful shaping of words and letters.
Nancili Mata wanted to cry. Instead, she smiled, and did not let emotion take control of her. When she surrenders to her sadness, she does so in private.
“I have to be strong because if I’m not my little girl will see me, and then she’ll hurt more than I will,” she explained.
At age seven, Stephani Mata has the oversized, startled eyes of a child finding amazement in the mundane. A happiness moves across her round face, and it rarely disappears. She has figured out a way to deal with a sadness no child should ever have to confront.
“They are just so sweet when she writes them,” Nancili said. “They make me want to cry. But I don’t. I won’t let myself.”
The notes began appearing after the funeral out in Pecos. Nancili found them stuck to pictures of her husband, Johnny. In the hallway of their new home, or on shelves, anywhere there was a photo of Johnny Mata, a message from Stephani might be attached.
“Dear daddy,” she wrote. “I miss you. But I know you are happy up in heaven with Jesus. Love, Stephani.”
Johnny Villareal Mata and his wife, Nancili, were supposed to grow gray together in the house he had bought for her in the North Hills area of El Paso. In seventh grade, she had told the shy Johnny, “You’re going to be mine.” He only smiled, unaware that the entire course of his life might be determined by the strong-willed girl with high cheekbones and unabashed honesty.
Nancili got what she wanted, though, because it made Johnny so happy to provide for her dreams. The house at the foot of the Franklin Mountains, however, was also a dream of his. As a Chief Warrant Officer in the U.S. Army, Johnny had managed his money well enough that they were able to build a new home with a two car garage, and a view of the Franklins out of almost every window.
“In a way, I felt like a queen,” Nancili said. “Johnny and I, we had known each other for fifteen years, and I think the longer we knew each other, the better we were. At the end, he was like, ‘Okay, this is your dream. I bought you a house.’”
Every day, the mountains across from her new home have a different look. Nancili Mata notices how the light changes the color of the rock, and the softening created by a passing cloud obscuring the sun. The desert heat can give the Franklins a frightening sharpness before they are colored, and made inviting by the long light of a new morning. She feels this way, too. There are dramatic changes inside of Nancili, and she struggles to be strong, to understand.
“I have my days. I like to go to the cemetery in Pecos and do my talking to Johnny. Most of the time at the cemetery, when I start getting depressed, I pray, and it helps.”
Almost a hundred people showed up at the home of Domingo and Elvira Mata the first night news came that their son, Johnny, was missing in Iraq. Each night, a priest performed a rosary, and prayers were offered for Johnny’s safe return. The crowds and the candles did not go away until Johnny’s casket, being transported by the army, was met at the Reeves County line by police cruisers. Thousands lined the roadways, silently watching the procession, holding up candles in the 3:30 a.m. desert darkness. When he was buried, half of the 10,000 population of Pecos surrounded the church, or stood in the withering desert heat at the graveyard, waiting for the arrival of Johnny’s funeral cortege.
Nancili did not get to see her husband for a final time when his body was returned. Brutalized by gun fire, she became convinced what was left was not the man she loved.
“I thought about seeing his body, and then another day I talked to my priest, the chaplain, and it made me realize it wasn’t gonna be Johnny any more,” she told a visitor. “It was just a body. And the way my husband always was, he was clean, always good-looking, detailed, and he would like to be remembered the way he was. I was speaking to the funeral person, and he said he didn’t even get to see him because he [Johnny] was so wrapped up in a blanket. I think we made a pretty good decision, and I’m pretty comfortable with that.”
Everything Johnny and Nancili Mata had dreamed about was killed in that Iraqi ambush in Al Nasiriyah. Settling into his duty station at Fort Bliss, Texas, Johnny Mata decided to invest his savings in the new home. In January 2003, Stephani, and her big brother, Eric, moved into their own bedrooms. Before the family had finished unpacking boxes, however, Johnny got orders for overseas deployment. While his family adjusted to the new house, he was packing bags for a long trip. By March, Johnny Mata was in Kuwait.
“We made a video the night he left, and you could hardly see Johnny because Stephani was all over him. Every time you look at the picture, she’s climbing all over her daddy.” Nancili drew her index finger across the recesses below each eye, pressing away the tears. “Stephani is such a daddy’s girl.”
Johnny Mata was movie star handsome. A photo that circulated in his hometown of Pecos, Texas, showed him with his strong, angled jaw tilted slightly upward, dark, wavy hair shining in the sun, and a smile that dominated all of his other distinguishing features. Nothing, his family said, ever deterred Johnny. Even Pecos, suffering a kind of dry desperation on the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, did not wear down Johnny Mata the way it did so many of the other young people. Great commerce, and big dreams have never come closer to Pecos than the eighteen wheelers howling past out on Interstate 20. But none of that ever affected Johnny’s attitude. He loved his parents, Domingo and Elvira, and his four brothers and sister. He loved his wife, and his children. And he loved his country, so much that he was willing to go to war.
“He always wanted to serve his country that way,” Nancili said. “The reason that it didn’t bother me was because I would see it in his heart. If he wanted to do anything, it was like excitement. You would see that glow. You would see that glow.”
While Nancili spoke, an old-timers’ baseball game was being played on a nearly grassless ball diamond beyond a tall fence. On the outfield wall, carnations, made out of tissue, spelled out the message, “In your honor, Johnny.” A blast furnace wind meant that even the shade of a temporary awning did not offer relief from the heat. Flavored ice cones and barbecue were being sold behind the bleachers. Money raised was to be donated to local charities in the name of Johnny Mata. His daughter, wearing a tee shirt, spun around to show the silk screen to a stranger; “In honor of my father and hero, Johnny Mata.” Mata’s face, encircled by the text, shines through the cotton fiber.
As a mechanic, Johnny Mata had acquired expertise in all of the heavy vehicles used by the United States Army. When his commander-in-chief, the President of the United States, issued orders that the 507th Mechanized Company relocate to Kuwait, Johnny saw his role as that of a soldier doing his job. He and Nancili did not talk about the politics of going after Saddam Hussein. There was no point to such a discussion. Orders were orders. He had to go, and so did all of the other soldiers in his outfit.
No one at Fort Bliss knew about faked documents trying to prove Saddam had attempted to buy uranium from Nigeria. They didn’t know there were no provable connections between Saddam and al Qaeda terrorists. Their commander-in-chief, they were certain, took his duties as solemnly and seriously as everyone at Fort Bliss. If the president said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, every soldier accepted the statement for fact. As hazy as the politics were, they were irrelevant to everyone shipping out from Biggs Army Air Field at Fort Bliss. A soldier does not debate the politics of a presidential decision. He follows orders.
“We don’t think about no politics in our family,” said Domingo Mata. Johnny Mata’s father is a man whose impressive size reflects an appetite for all of life’s pleasures. He had been hovering nearby, listening to his daughter-in-law answer questions.
“Politics is just when someone tells you they’ll do something so you’ll help them get something they want, and then when they get in there, they forget all about the people who got them in. In our family, we just do what we need to do, what we think is right. That’s all Johnny did. When he went up there, (Iraq,) he just wanted to help all those little children who were hungry, and hurtin’, you know?”
Logic told Nancili and all of the Matas that they did not need to fret too much over Johnny’s deployment. Even though Johnny was in Kuwait, the president sounded like he was trying to give the situation time to work itself out, peacefully. Surely, he did not want a war. Besides, Johnny was not with a combat unit. He fixed vehicles. His work was done at the rear. By the time the 507th moved through, the Matas reasoned, the Marines, infantry, and air support were certain to have secured the area and chased off, or killed the enemy. Odds of Johnny Mata encountering harm or great danger were considered minimal.
But Nancili Mata knew her husband, and it made her worry while her family expressed confidence.
“I did not think he was safe. I said, ‘Johnny, I want you to tell me, if a vehicle is broken down, how are you gonna fix it? Are you gonna go out there and fix it, or are they gonna bring it to you?’ And he said, ‘Well, sometimes they bring them and sometimes you have to go out there and fix them.’ And I said, ‘Okay, if they break down you send somebody else to fix it,’ knowing well that he wouldn’t do that. He would go out there.”
She believed in her president, though. This was the United States of America. George W. Bush had grown up just down the highway to the east. He had to have the basic, common sense that comes from learning to live on such a harsh, unforgiving landscape. Nancili Mata shared that with the most powerful man in the world. Her family traced its lineage way back to the days when the state had been called Tejas, and it was ruled by Mexico. She knew the kind of sensibilities a place like this could provide a person, the cold, clear judgment it taught by the desert heat. There was no reason not to trust a president who came from here. Surely, her president would be guided by restraint and honor, a wisdom swept clean by the dry, desert winds of his youth.
Instead, Nancili Mata has new troubles.
“I worry, sometimes, that he, (God,) will come for me, too. And I’m ready. I want to go be with Johnny. But we…I’ve got these two kids to raise. I have to be here for them. I want to see them grow up. And then I’ll go see Johnny.”
Eric, who is 16, has already made plans. After high school graduation, he will enlist. “My intentions are to go into the Army,” he said. “My father’s death has strengthened that decision.”
Stephani Mata walked up and touched her mother’s arm, needing nothing more than closeness. Just then, Nancili tilted her head back, and lifted her eyes toward heaven, as if she were speaking directly to her husband. Her gaze burned through the makeshift awning protecting her from the white, hot Texas sky.
“Wait for me,” she said.
And then her voice softened.
“I’ll be there. But not yet.”
There was a joke making the rounds in the Texas capitol when George W. Bush left for Washington that he had affixed a bumper sticker to his car for everyone to read as he drove north. “If you think I was bad,” it supposedly said, “wait till you meet the guy who replaces me.” Turns out to be not that much of joke. Rick Perry has made Bush look almost logical and moderate. Not even W could stare $100 billion in free health care money from the federal government and say no.
But we have another gubernatorial loon in the pipeline that might give Perry a chance to repeat the Bush bumper sticker apocrypha. Greg Abbott, who is presently the attorney general of Texas and is reputed to have about $15 million in campaign funds in his account, is beginning to make Perry look like a PhD. instead of an aggie with a below average grade point. Abbott’s hoping Perry won’t run again for governor and the door will open for a new GOP candidate. Unfortunately for Abbott, Perry wants to run for president again and if he’s not governor he won’t be in a position to strong-arm donors. The only way Perry gets cash again is from people who think they have to do business with him in Texas, so he’s running.
But just in case, Abbott is trying to get to the right of Perry, or at least let the loons on our Texas landscape know that he’s the ideological equivalent of our current governor. Abbott put a graphic photo on his Facebook page that shows a handgun and a Bible with the line, “Two things every American ought to know how to use, neither of which are taught in schools.” Let’s get to his bad grammar first. “Neither” is singular, not plural, so it should be “neither of which is” not “are taught.” If you weren’t paying attention during grammar lessons, what in the hell makes you an expert on what is and isn’t taught in schools?
The funny, and sad thing is that the Bible actually is taught in Texas public schools, and Abbott damned sure ought to know that. It is an elective class and he was one of those leading the legal charge 5 years ago to put religion into publicly funded institutions. He should have that basic knowledge of his own state. Of course, schools are hardly teaching the Bible in an academic manner or using a non-devotional approach. A report prepared by the Texas Freedom Network indicates Texas children are often being taught the earth is 6000 years old and the origins of racial diversity can be traced back to the curse put upon Noah’s son.
The courses almost always end up being a kind of taxpayer funded Christian evangelism that in one school concludes by asking the students if they “want to invite Christ into their lives as their personal savior?” Anyone wanting to take a course in the history of the Koran or Buddhism or atheism will have to go to one of those commie public schools north of the Mason-Dixon. None of this should be shocking, though, in a state where the new head of the Texas State Board of Education announced she would urge a “softheaded approach” to teaching evolution and will see to it that textbooks include opposing arguments to evolution. Even though science isn’t argued. It’s proved.
But man do we have that softheaded thing going on in Texas.
Greg Abbott is, in fact, our most shining example. Plus, he’s built an entire political career on rank hypocrisy. In 1984, he was out jogging when a tree fell on him and left him a paraplegic. Abbott, now wheelchair bound, sued the homeowner and the tree trimming company, and won what has been estimated at about $10 million. He reportedly gets annual payments of more than $300,000 a year for the rest of his life. Abbott then got busy as a Supreme Court justice under George W. to promote tort reform. He had his money but he didn’t want others to be able to sue and get similar satisfaction. In fact, if the accident happened to Abbott today in Texas, he would not be able to get more than $250,000 in one time damages because of the tort reform laws that he helped pass, and his lawyers would spend that much just getting the case to court.
But a gun and a Bible will become the icon of Abbott’s campaign when he eventually runs for governor. Never mind that the Bible’s story is about a man who worked to change the world without weapons. Nor that our country has a long history and fundamental belief in keeping a single group’s religion out of public institutions. We’ve got a future candidate who is not only unafraid of hypocrisy, he uses it to build his ideological platform.
Greggy get yer gun!
The Perry Principle is simple to state: If a law, policy, or idea does not in any manner provide benefit to the businesses and personal welfare of Rick Perry’s political donors, it is to be avoided.
Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry does not view the working poor as his constituents. Corporations seeking millions in business development grants and investments are his supporters, and they are rewarded, consistently, through institutions that give away tax money from the poor and middle class. These funds, the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), the Emerging Technology Fund (ETF), and the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF), have mostly benefitted individuals and businesses with political connections to Perry. CPRIT is still under a potential criminal investigation by the Travis County District Attorney.
That’s okay, though, but it’s wrong to accept health care from the federal government that would provide coverage for up to two million people. Perry, politically obstinate, will create victims of the uninsured to make his points with the White House. If he simply said yes, Medicaid from Washington would deliver $100 billion in funding over ten years for Texas at a cost of about $15 billion to the state. The first three years are free. The state never spends more than 10 percent on the cost of Medicaid. But the Perry Principle requires Little Tex to say no even after Florida’s conservative governor, who had resisted, has come to his senses. Rick Scott said that he just could not, in good conscience, deny health care to people who needed it. He is the seventh conservative governor to surrender to logic after saying they would not allow Medicaid expansion in their states.
But the Texas Rick would call the Florida Rick a wuss.
Perry will have blood on his hands, though, if he persists. People who would have health care will end up in situations that could have been avoided if Perry had said yes, and they will die. And it will be his fault. No one else’s; Rick Perry’s. He might as well have injected them with Ebola virus. And if those two million people get sick enough to go to the hospital, remember that the law does not allow them to be tossed out the door at publicly funded facilities. They will get care. And who do you think pays for that? Not Rick Perry. You will. Health insurance premiums will increase so hospitals can make up their losses. And local property taxes levied through hospital districts will also jump. A few years ago the Texas comptroller estimated uninsured health care cost taxpayers in the state about $10 billion annually. Almost equal to the state’s share for ten years of Medicaid coverage for those two million uninsured. No, it doesn’t make sense. But this, mam, is Texas; we don’t have to make sense.
Just so Rick Perry could say no. Dead people. And higher taxes.
Perry is, basically, telling the taxpayers of his state that they can go ahead and send their tax money to Florida to keep healthy the people who have a more rational governor. If Perry could say Medicaid was not needed because his state was well insured, he might begin to have an argument, but he does not; one out of every four Texans is without health care insurance, which is the highest rate of uninsured in the land of the free. According to several reports, the quality and availability of health care in Texas rates as the worst among the developed countries in the western world.
The contradictions and ironies in Perry’s ignorance are too wild to ignore. His gun control arguments are that we need to address personal and human problems because guns aren’t the issue. Funny, then, that accepting the Medicaid expansion would provide complete coverage for significant numbers of mental health patients, which Texas doesn’t ever treat like health care priorities. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently ranked Texas last in health care in the US at 51st, behind the District of Columbia. Even stupider is the fact that Perry’s choice means that patients that are currently the most expensive for the state’s share of Medicaid, like those getting long term home care or pregnant women, would be moved into Medicaid coverage paid almost completely by the federal government.
Perry won’t last on this one. If his political people aren’t working on a compromise and a message to follow, they will soon find themselves saying, “Oops.” The Texas Medical Association, Texas Hospital Association, the Legislative Budget Board, and the Greater Houston Partnership are just a few of the organizations that want the Medicaid expansion. Houston and Harris County, for instance, would get about $4 billion annually in the deal and would have to fund only $50 million. What a lousy deal. No wonder Perry doesn’t want to touch it. But the monied interests and Perry’s pals will take this decision away from him. There are billions of dollars to be made by insurance companies and health care providers being paid by Medicaid for treating the ill. They will let the Texas governor know that his posturing has gone hyper-absurd and that, at least in this one instance, it might be a good idea to just grow up.
But some people never do.
George P. Bush is burning with ambition, not ideas but lots of ambition. The latest Bush to sprout on the Texas political landscape is long on pedigree and short on ideology. Of course, that never stops a Bush from running for public office. They call it public service but they act like it’s a birthright, and when a Bush leaves office the greatest accomplishment left behind is that certain donors to their political dreams now have bigger bank accounts. And in George W’s case, two wars were burning our national treasure.
Think of George P. as a small W. Like his uncle, the former president, George P. hasn’t expressed his views on issues prior to filing for a Texas campaign. Karl Rove practically drafted W. to run for governor of Texas when all W wanted to do was to become the commissioner of Major League Baseball. I caught the former president’s ambivalence toward the White House one night on a late flight from California back to Maine and I asked him, “Governor, what happens if you lose this thing?”
“Oh that wouldn’t be so bad,” he said. “I’d go back to Dallas, run the baseball team, sit on some boards, Laura and the girls and I would have a good life.”
A lot of other people would have simply had lives, if that had happened. We certainly would not have invaded Iraq and any other president would’ve gone into Afghanistan first to get Bin Laden where he lived instead of pretending Saddam were involved.
Small W isn’t up to speed on any issues. But he thinks he ought to hold office. He’s said publicly, “We’re definitely running, we just don’t know what office yet.” Clearly, he’s called to serve. Or just hold office because he’s a Bush. Small W went to Austin and visited the office of Land Commissioner like he was shopping for a new house to buy, which is kind of what he’s doing. In a matter of weeks after filing, he had raised well over a million dollars from the usual Bush family cronies like Harold Simmons of Dallas, a multi-billionaire who is making untold buckets of money dumping nuclear waste into the ground outside of Andrews, Texas, a town that I am certain Small W doesn’t even know exists. Simmons was a big contributor to Rove’s failed Crossroads group and funded much of the Swift Boat Veterans’ attack on John Kerry. Just, generally, you know, a good fella.
But George P. says nothing on issues and is, at best, a political dilettante. He does have the knack for Bush opportunism, however. After Chris Kyle, the American Sniper was murdered while trying to help a fellow veteran, Small W let it be known he was going to meet with Kyle to talk about veterans’ issues. He, subsequently, took the courageous stand of wanting to help veterans. “Today, I won’t be having that conversation with Chris, but we as Americans need to do a better job of understanding the realities of PTSD and what we can do to help our veterans transition successfully back into society, including offering counseling, mentoring, and support.” This is what’s known in public policy circles as a tenacious grasp at the obvious. Except, if he followed family protocol, he’d vote to fund the wars the Chris Kyle’s have to fight but he’d skimp on the money to take care of them when they got home. At least Small W, unlike his uncle, served in a war zone, doing six months in Afghanistan under a secret identity.
Small W does, at a minimum, have political vision, even if he lacks issues awareness and ideology. If he runs for Land Commissioner in Texas in 2014, he will benefit from his mother’s Hispanic ancestry as well as the likelihood that his father, Jeb, will almost certainly be in the primary race for the GOP nomination in 2016, which would only boost George P’s profile. But what does he know of Texas? He went to law school in the state and now works at a big firm in Dallas but I’m guessing Jon Steward knows more about Texas than Small W.
It’s likely America still has Bush fatigue and it won’t go away in the next four years. But Texas never suffered from it. And Small W is the latest symptom for which we’ve yet to take a cure.