Death of a President (2006)

death_of_a_presidentI have avoided watching this movie for years, because I thought it such a disrespectful way to portray a standing President, especially at a time when some were probably wishing him dead … until they realized Dick Cheney would have become POTUS!

So the other night I’m skipping around my 800 channels looking for something, anything worth watching before I turn to tried-and-true On Demand.

And there it was …! Death of a President on one of the movie package channels.

A 2006 docudrama, produced in Britain (I had thought it was a German production.) as a “high concept” political thriller.

Not so sure about the “high concept” thing, but nonetheless … The question was should I swallow my Sense of Propriety; watch it; and see what value – if any – it offered. Or should I continue to avoid it like I do the Michael Moore: Outraged activist while I’m making all this money spectacle?

I decided to watch it.

Should have held onto my Sense of Propriety just a bit longer.

Sure, I get it. If you want to do a docudrama right, you must have some Docu in the Drama! You have to have a hook to connect the theoretical subject with reality.

I’m sorry. No … You really don’t have a whack a President, no matter how unpopular he is, in order to sell an entertainment concept. His inclusion added nothing to the subject matter of what happens in a theoretical situation. POTUS could have very well have been played by some formless, off-camera subject.

But let’s not kid ourselves. The fact that George W.Bush was so roundly hated in 2006 simply made the concept more palatable to a large section of the population … both here and abroad.

If you don’t believe that, just answer the following questions honestly.

If it was the current President being portrayed in this way – simply to sell a docudrama concept as being relatable, up-to-date, and credible – what do you think the reaction would be in this country?

Do you think – at a time when Kim Jong-un could stop a comedy dead in its tracks – the movie would have a chance at seeing the bright lights of the local Bijou???

I don’t … not for a second.

Chris Christie’s very good, hush-hush Day

e93e3153ee628c054b0f6a7067002518Chris Christie went to Chicago, a city of Democrats if ever there was one,on Tuesday to speak to the Economic Club of Chicago.  His appearance was viewed favorably by those who heard it.  He was intelligent, engaging, and as critical as always of really, really bad ideas.

Did you hear?

Probably not, since its coverage – what little there is – is tough to find among the clutter of bridge lane closures, helicopter rides, and glee from both ends of political spectrum.

You would think – maybe – it was a Top Secret national security brief for the dearth of media coverage.  So allow me to educate.

Among the topics Christie touched on was the difference between income equality vs. income opportunity.

(Pardon the link to the  “Morning Joe” segment, but it was the only site I could find the segment I wanted. Besides the exchange between Nicolle Wallace, a former George W. Bush staffer and Chuck Todd is pretty entertaining.) 

It was an intelligent discussion with which I was impressed.  Of course the member of the Economic Club liked what Christie said, being they know a bit about what’s good for an economy.

The other interesting segment from Christie’s hush-hush day was this little riff on former President George W. Bush.  He recognized Bush’s superior political skills compared to recent GOP presidential candidates.  It was right up my alley!

But of course, Christie just keep getting hammered over a few lane closures on a bridge no one outside New Jersey/New York cares about.  Fortunately, the Governor continues to simply go about his job; managing the Republican Governors Association; and testing the waters for a run in 2016.

Perhaps Mr. Christie realizes that any good President must demonstrate the ability to push through the political BS in order to get things done.  It’s a lesson the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue could have used before he was handed the keys.

Discomfort and disbelief with 9/11 coverage

I had considered writing a personal 9-11 perspective for this past weekend’s remembrances, but felt it would have been an inappropriate self-indulgence.  So many others were more directly and frightfully affected by the events of that day, to add my own personal noise to the remembrances of survivors and those who lost friends and family members seemed superfluous.

However, after reading much of what was published Sunday in The Philadelphia Inquirer, I became sufficiently motivated to address what I consider the wayward perspectives on what has happened since that day in this country and in its responses to those attacks. 

The Inqy’s coverage of such an emotional event was quite detailed, complete, and somber.  It’s certainly not easy to strike the right balance when trying to accurately portray such a huge, complicated picture.  This is especially true when trying to put into perspective the hard data (costs in blood and treasure) along with the social, psychological, and emotional toll of such an event.  Maybe the smart thing would have been to treat this data separately, perhaps at another time even.  And yet – I’m sure – many people would have complained had not “the other half” of this story been presented on such a momentous anniversary.  

For instance,  The Inqy ran two charts in its paper edition on Sunday, describing both The Human Toll and The Financial Toll since the 9/11 attacks.  I thought it an unfortunate juxtaposition, having both of these displayed together.  (I would link them here, if I could find them on the site.  After two days of searching, I have given up.) 

Several data points caught my attention.

  • The Financial Toll of 9/11 was split between War Costs and Security Costs.  Among the latter category (Totaling $819 billion) was included $100 billion for the “Cost of delay to passengers for airport screening”! 

After seeing that, I was interested in how that was calculated and searched for the source from which the numbers came.  What I found was a study performed for an financial-based risk-assessment/benefit analysis by two professors analyzing the costs of preventing terrorist attacks vs. the actual risk of loss from such attacks.  The authors attempt to equate the value or benefit of prevention to a number of successful attacks needed to reach a so-called break-even point.

I was – almost immediately – sorry I dove into the deep end of this pool.  My problem being that one must be able to put a price tag on the value of a life.  And although this is something that’s certainly done in instances such as the cost and design of highway/auto safety features or in analyzing the costs of environmental protection measures; it’s still a nasty concept with which to deal.  

In this case, it’s a lose-lose situation, even if you’re able to get past the human element of the equation.  The psychological effects of massive casualty events puts an equation-type approach in evaluating responses to such attacks well beyond the realm of acceptability. 

For example, one conclusion made by the authors was that it would require 1667 Times Square-type attacks (i.e. like the one thwarted by poor design this past New Years Eve) to reach the break-even point of security measures needed to prevent any such attacks.  I doubt we could get to the point – psychologically – where, if one such attack was successful, that even two such events would be acceptable. 

You just have to wonder whether the likes of an Osama bin Laden understood that concept to the extent that it did not matter – to him anyway – what might happen to himself or to his organization.  They would win either way.  

It’s not a comforting thought.  But it’s not like we, as a nation that cherishes its domestic freedoms, would have the choice to consider the alternatives of such cost-benefit analyses either.

(I never did find an explanation of how they calculated the cost a traveler incurs waiting for a security screening, as opposed to the coast of being vaporized as a passenger on an 175 ton missile.  I guess I’d have to buy the book to find out, but that’s not going to happen.)

  • The Human Toll of 9/11 included U.S. and Iraqi military casualties, the civilian losses on 9/11, and a section on Iraqi civilian deaths, estimated to be 125,000.  The fine print attributed the Iraqi casualty estimate to a professor working on the Costs of War project at Boston University.  It attributed an estimated 15% of those Iraqi deaths to American and Iraqi military operations; the rest to sectarian violence, insurgent assassinations, and other criminal acts.

It was as early as 2006 that Iraqi War protestors were claiming upwards of 600,000 civilian Iraqi deaths as the result of the war.  Supposedly, these estimates were gleaned by surveys conducted on less than 2,000 Iraqi households and were then extrapolated for the entire war-ravaged country.

I never bought that methodology.  It was just too difficult to balance the claims of such widespread and willful violence and death in an almost lawless environment with what I imagined were census-type surveyors going door-to-door in Baghdad.  Even the margin-of-error (426,369 to 793,663 deaths) was over three times the figure now claimed in The Inqy chart!

I also found it odd that there was no information provided on estimated Afghanistan civilian deaths.  If your intent is to present “the whole picture”, it’s difficult to get past this glaring omission.

In another area of Sunday Inqy Karen Heller, a regular contributor, provided her perspective on that day in Forgetting isn’t possible.  One segment drew my attention.  

Everything about that morning, and almost all that came after, was characterized by speed: the planes crashing, the buildings falling, the deaths mounting, the rush to a wrongheaded costly war.

Now Ms. Heller and I rarely agree.  She being quite to left of me in her opinions and writings.  And my first take on this statement was that she was speaking about Iraq, not Afghanistan.  On the other hand, her piece was presented as a reflection on the events of 9-11 and the developments that resulted from the events of that day.  Yet she never once mentions Afghanistan; but does make mention of Saddam Hussein and even Niger yellowcake.  

So I’m left to wonder whether the “rush to a wrongheaded war” is an oblique reference to Afghanistan that coyly attempts to seek cover from the later – more deliberate – decision to overthrow Hussein.  Or was she unwilling to concede that Afghanistan was a “rightheaded war”, and so glosses over that episode in order to stick to the Liberal storyline. 

I suspect that latter, since I cannot fathom one suggesting after 9-11 that invading Afghanistan wasn’t “rightheaded”.  Then again, there is that storyline …

Finally on Sunday, a Letter to the Editor in the Currents section (no link still available) relates how the writer called his mother on 9-11 to check on her, and in their conversation compares the events of the day to Pearl Harbor.  Mom rather pointedly declares that the attacks were nothing like the 1941 attack that kicked off World War II.  She claims the 9-11 attacks were the result of America’s years of bullying other countries.  He concludes after ten years that he agrees with her, ” … as he watches America … launching one preemptive war after another.”

Sentiments like these are difficult to accept, given how ignorant the logic is. 

Bin Laden’s so-called justification for the 9-11 attacks was the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, as they protected Islam’s holiest lands from the invasion threat posed by Saddam Hussein, who had just crushed the Kuwaiti armed forces.  This son should be prohibited from further editorials until he lists the multiple preemptive wars we have launched since 9/11. 

But I know of only two wars initiated by the U.S. since 9/11.  One was reactive, one preemptive.  Am I missing a few wars?!?  Even the “preemptive” war on Iraq was preceded by a decade of U.N. pronouncements and Congressional resolutions under the Clinton Administration declaring Hussein a lethal threat to his regional neighbors, the international community, and national security!

It boggles my mind the extent to which people cannot – or simply will not – admit who the aggressor was that day; why they attacked us; or that our response had to go beyond flushing out and punishing the cowards who perpetrated 9/11 and were responsible for everything that followed. 

 What’s really, really disturbing is that I’m not at all surprised that they still don’t get it.

Review: “Decision Points” by George W. Bush

At times I have been accused of being an apologist for former President George W. Bush.  Rightfully so, I must add.  That’s why I have been looking forward to reading Bush43‘s memoir, Decision Points

The book starts out with a frank, introspective look at Bush’s struggle to overcome his problem with alcohol.  Most telling was his failure at Laura Bush’s urging to remember a day when he had not had a drink.  Unable to do so, he begins to realize that he just might have a problem.  From my perspective, it was a surprising way for an ex-President to kick off his memoir.  But it conveyed the obvious importance that struggle was to his future success.  It also helps to understand his reliance on Laura’s strength and wisdom.  They were married just three months after they met!

Of course the linchpin event of George Bush’s presidency was the attack of September 11, 2001.  Through all the smoke, fire and loss of life from that day comes the one pledge that overshadowed the rest of his presidency.

Yet after 9/11, I felt my responsibility was clear. For as long as I held office, I could never forget what happened to America that day. I would pour my heart and soul into protecting the country, whatever it took. (page 151)

This is the prism through which one must view his subsequent decisions and actions, both here and abroad.  Afghanistan was a no-brainer; but going into Iraq was a dicier decision that resulted in a major distraction from the Afghan operation.  

However a decade after Operation Desert Storm, the Saddam Hussein situation required a solution.  The international community, the U.N., and the Clinton Administration had been convinced that Hussein had WMDs; and the reliance on no-fly zones was not the solution to Hussein’s cruelty, oppression, and perceived threat to the region.  That no WMDs were found does not diminish the validity of these widely held beliefs.

President Bush’s 9/11 pledge also explains the decisions to house captured terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, The Patriot Act, creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and the development of the Bush Doctrine and the Freedom Agenda.  And no matter where you stood on the pro-con scale as the Bush Administration enacted these measures, they are still in place two years after President Barack Obama entered The Oval Office!

The book’s tone is straight-forward and conversational.  My impression was that the book read much the way his speeches and national addresses sounded (minus the ill-timed gaffes).  Those who regarded President Bush as a fumbler and stumbler would be impressed by GWB’s efficient style.  I found the book to be an easy and enjoyable read.

The common thread throughout the book is how Bush43 approached the problems and decisions he faced.  Oft times criticized for not being naturally inquisitive, he relied heavily on experts and leaders in applicable fields of research and study – both from within his administration and in industry and academia – when facing complex issues and problems.  And when it came to making a decision, GWB viewed all situations through his strongly held core values.  Although he was not pretentious in his religious beliefs, his beliefs were the foundation of those values.

And yet President Bush was capable of making sound value-based decisions that were not restrained by the desire to pander to his political base.  An example was his decision on stem cell research.  Despite the fervent wishes of the religious right, GWB was adamant in his commitment to seek out all sides of the controversy.  His final decision was based on several factors: stem cell research offered the potential for monumental breakthroughs in medical research; research was already progressing on several dozen stem cell lines (per the National Institute of Health), and the number of lines in development were plentiful for current and future medical research.  His decision to allow federal funding for existing stem cell lines, while affirming the dignity of human life and preventing the use of federal funds for future stem cell harvesting was a practical and compassionate solution to a difficult problem.

If the measure of a good compromise is the reality that neither side is entirely satisfied with the solution, then George Bush certainly hit the mark with stem cell research.  A good leader can never be burdened with the concept that he must please everyone all the time.

Several other aspects of the book were very interesting; some surprised me:

  • As Governor of Texas, GWB was renown for his ability to work across the aisle.  Something that was essential as a Republican Governor with a State House and Senate headed by seasoned and well-respected Democrats.  In fact, Bush and Lt. Governor Bob Lubbock – a Democrat – respected each other to the point where Lubbock not only endorsed Bush for his second term as Texas Governor, he predicted that Bush would be the next President of the United States!
  • Laura Bush was a real cutie when she landed GWB!  (See third page of the first photo section.)
  • The Bush Administration committed $15 billion over 5 years to fight the spread of AIDS in Africa.  After a 2003 visit to AIDS-ravaged Uganda, Bush was inspired to push the country to do more in fighting the disease.  He envisioned the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) as a medical version of The Marshall Plan.  In addition to testing, counseling and treating tens of millions for AIDS, there was also considerable commitment to eradicate malaria.
  • During the 2008 presidential campaign and the banking crises that resulted in the Toxic Asset Recovery Program (TARP), Republican candidate for president, Arizona Senator John McCain insisted that The White House host an emergency meeting of both candidates, the leadership of both parties in the House and Senate, and the Bush Administration.  Expecting McCain, who instigated the meeting, to address the issues and how Congress could support TARP, the President was astounded at McCain’s silence in contrast to Barack Obama’s succinct analysis of the program.

In my opinion, anyone interested in politics and government whether a supporter or critic of President George W. Bush would enjoy reading a Commander-in-Chief’s view of his eight years in The Oval Office. 

DISCUSSION TOPICThe Bush Doctrine included the concept that America’s interests would be maximized by promoting freedom and democracy wherever possible.  It supported fledgling democracies in the Ukraine, Georgia, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories as well as Iraq and Afghanistan.  And it lent encouragement and support for dissidents and reformers in places like Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela.

“America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.”

Given the uprisings in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, etc., can the argument be made that the Bush strategy of supporting democratic reforms in that region has been much more successful than illustrated by the novice democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Democracy overseas, Security at home: Bush43 legacies?

Several interesting developments over the past few weeks deserve closer inspection from the perspective of George W. Bush’s presidency.  I have often been accused of being a “Bush defender/apologist”, which I proudly was most notably on national security.  I always felt the Bush presidency was suddenly and unavoidably shaped on 9/11.  Any President, after having that happen on his watch, would be hawkishly driven on matters of National Security … At least they should be.  Yet the battering Bush43 took in his efforts to protect the country from further attacks was withering.  So it’s interesting – to say the least – to assimilate the following events.  

1. Barack O’Bush? 

McClatchy Newspapers revealed this weekend that the Justice Department asserted that the FBI can obtain international phone records WITHOUT any legal process or court oversight

Sorry … Left out one small detail of that opening paragraph.

It was “The Obama administration’s Justice Department …”.

Just didn’t want you to confuse it with the Bush administration’s Justice Department!  Frankly,  it’s very hard to tell the difference between the two in this area.

Do you remember the promise to shut Guantanamo down?  How about the rage and hysteria after 9/11 over those provisions in the Terrorist Surveillance Program and The Patriot Act that were going to eliminate all vestiges of Liberty?  Remember the angst over wiretapping?  Internet and e-mail tracking and monitoring?  All supposedly reporting directly to Darth Cheney? 

Do you remember those promises of openness and transparency made by President Obama as he transitioned to The White House?

 The prison at Guantanamo Bay remains open to this day, after President Obama signed the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill that effectively prevents the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to the mainland or to foreign countries.  President Obama leads one to believe that he was forced to accept those provisions in order to get the authorization bill through Congress.  But he did so with barely a whimper – in December – when his lame duck congressional majority was still intact. 

Now we learn that the Obama Justice Department has asserted the legal opinion that the FBI can obtain international phone records on a voluntary basis from providers without legal process or a qualifying emergency.  That in itself is extremely insightful.  Has President Obama been convinced that the terrorist threat is so active, so dangerous, and so near that these measures are indeed necessary to protect the country?  In other words, has President Obama discovered that President George W. Bush was right in his domestic approach to the War on Terror?!? 

And that isn’t even the most interesting part!

How did McClatchy Newspapers find out?  By chance – perhaps inadvertently – through a response the Justice Department provided the news organization on an open-records request.  There was no administration press release, no announcement, no openness, no transparency.

Gosh, you might think The Evil Empire was still residing in The West Wing!

2. The march of democracy?   

Add another Middle East authoritarian regime to the scrap heap of history, as the regime of Hosni Mubarak was forced to the ground by the clamoring of everyday Egyptians.  There are a number of causes for the demise of Mubarak.  The Egyptian economy was a mess.  Unemployment was high.  Too many people – especially young people – were left idle for too long.

They clamor for regime change.   But chances are they will not willingly fall in behind another strongman, and certainly not accept a military government  in the longterm.  The native populations are also restless in Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria, even Iran.  Can Iranians – again the young and the restless – bring down that government or even that theocracy?!?

Remember the criticism of President George W. Bush over his penchant for exporting democracy?  (Note specific references in the article to Egypt.)  Do you remember those claims that exporting democracy would not work in many areas of the world, especially the Middle East? 

The theme – beginning to grow in places – is an analysis of what effect Bush Doctrine experiments in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on the people in those countries currently in the midst of upheaval.  Certainly we are hearing Democracy mentioned more often in places where it has been nothing more than a definition in the dictionary.

Even President Obama said, ”The Egyptian people have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day, the moral force of nonviolence … that bent the arc of history toward justice once more.”

Of course there is no guarantee that these shaky countries will turn to or allow democratic solutions.  There is no guarantee that if they do, we won’t end up with regimes that are worse for their citizenry or that are threatening to U.S. interests.  But the thought that democracy is the first possible solution emerging from the smoky haze in such places as Tahrir Square has to put a smile on the face of the most blatant Bush defender.   

Perhaps a Bush43 legacy is just beginning to bud!