Donald Rumsfeld Dead, Memories From President George H. W. Bush

The news of the death of Donald Rumsfeld will doubtless bring back a plethora of stories and memories dating back to the time when Richard Nixon was living in the White House. The Republican power broker, highly controversial defense secretary and architect of the failed Iraq War – died Tuesday, days before his 89th birthday.

I am currently on chapter 34 of John Meacham’s terrific read about President George Herbert Walker Bush. Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush is one of the books I am juggling this summer, reading topics and subjects as the mood strikes. The death of Rumsfeld today occurs with this book providing an honest appraisal of the man which Bush noted was an “arrogant fellow.”

Speaking of Rumsfeld, who served as Secretary of Defense for President George Bush (43), the elder member of the family did not let anyone guess what he truly meant when speaking about Rumsfeld in hours of conversation with Meacham.

“I think he served the president badly,” Bush said. “I don’t like what he did, and I think it hurt the president having his iron-ass view of everything. I’ve never been that close to him anyway. There’s a lack of humility, a lack of seeing what the other guy thinks. He’s more kick ass and take names, take numbers. I think he paid a price for that.”

He was particularly critical of Rumsfeld, which stands out from the usual respectful tone that is practiced with words from Bush. He added that, “Rumsfeld was an arrogant fellow and self-assured, swagger.”

From a political perspective, the fractures in their relationship can be summed up this way.

The quick version starts with the years Gerald Ford was president. Rumsfeld was Ford’s chief of staff, and Bush was appointed envoy to China. The resignations of Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew had left the vice presidency open, and Bush was a top candidate for the post.

But then the intrigues gains steam as Rumsfeld went all out to ensure Nelson Rockefeller was named. One of the reasons long associated with the deeds of Rumsfeld was, during the VP selection process news emerging of potential campaign-finance irregularities during Bush’s unsuccessful 1970 Texas campaign for Senate. Most accounts clearly point to Rumsfeld leaking the news in an effort to hurt Bush’s VP chances. The scandal kept popping back up to hurt Bush throughout the rest of his political career.

At times like this, when less than honorable men pass away, the stories and inside accounts of the history they made, or tried to make, allows for a wider understanding of their lives, and the consequences of their actions.

Total Investigation, For Love Of Nation, Required Of January 6th Insurrection On Capitol

It is beyond absurd and hypocritical for Republicans to now bemoan and kvetch about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi creating a January 6th select committee to investigate the insurrection which struck at the heart of our democracy. After turning tail and running away from their responsibilities to burrow down to the facts about the attempted coup of our government, Republicans now are complaining about those who are taking the forward movement this nation requires.

The 30-some House Republicans, who took their official duties seriously enough earlier this year when supporting a bipartisan commission, should be applauded. They were the brave ones in their party.

But is that not sad?

Only 30-some Republicans stood tall, when at stake for all the nation is knowing the full weight of what happened when an attack on the Capitol by a Trump-supporting mob, incited to violence by the “big lie” that Trump had lost the election, killed police officers and injured so many others. Why are so many Republicans dodging the need for this nation to grasp the full impact of the security and intelligence failures that led up to the disaster?

Over the past decades, Republicans have rightfully been concerned, as have the Democrats, about terrorism that has jarred our nation, and places around the globe. But one has to ask what in the blazes is wrong with the modern Republican Party when they blanch at taking a solid investigation of domestic terrorists who launched a horrendous attack on our nation’s Capitol?

Are not Republicans able to grasp a branch of the federal government has not been so seriously threatened since 9/11? Why can they not gather up enough steam and anger to wade into the harmful elements within this nation with the same speed and zeal they had for invading Iraq? (Iraq, as we know had nothing to do with 9/11.)

How Republicans can be so timid given their place of work was overtaken by a ruthless and barbaric group of Americans, and not care if the mob was following a preconceived plan, is stupefying.

Republicans have shown their true colors. From across the spectrum, they have unleashed all sorts of bile about the investigation, and the need for a commission to sort through the evidence. In so doing, they clearly demonstrate that fealty to Donald Trump is more important to them than the love of the nation.

Meanwhile, Democrats will plow ahead with the investigation the nation wants, and more importantly, requires.

Democracy deserves the truth.

And so it goes.

Governor Tony Evers Must Veto Republican State Budget For ‘Folks Back Home’

There are times when even the most genial of elected officials need to show that behind the smile is resolve, determination, and political spine. That moment is approaching for Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers as the Republican-controlled legislature inches its way to completing the biennial budget.

Once that document reaches the Governor’s desk, there is but one way to deal with it. No line-item veto’s this time, or pining about what was hoped for when it was first introduced earlier this year, what the citizenry needs, but what they now must accept. Given what has transpired this budget cycle such reactions are not acceptable. Given how the majority party in the statehouse handled the array of issues presented to them in the budget Evers has only one path to take.

He must veto the entire measure and send it back to the legislators with a stern note attached. Plan to spend the summer in Madison doing the people’s business.

The policy reasons for such a move by Evers have made headlines for weeks. When presented with the need for the expansion of Medicaid, and tapping into federal funds the Republicans rolled their eyes and tossed the matter away. The health care and long-term medical services for Wisconsinites, however, must not be treated in so cavalier a fashion. Let us not forget that state taxpayers absolutely deserve to have their fair share of federal tax dollars returned so as to use them in accordance with the services our citizens require. $1.6 billion in federal funding should not be discarded for partisan reasons.

When asked to ensure that federal dollars to the tune of $2.3 billion for public schools could be accessed the Republicans used a shell game to provide more state aid but in the form of lower tax levies without providing the additional spending for our cash-strapped schools. The Governor requested $1.6 billion for education funding, but the Republicans saw fit to provide roughly 1/10th of the package. As such, there are 421 reasons (school districts) with a massive statewide constituency, that underscores as to why the behavior of the budget-writers was so harmful with this one issue, thus necessitating a veto.  

The absolute requirement for broadband expansion, and the funding for it, has no middle squishy ground upon which to stand. Evers made it clear that the digital divide in this state must be closed. Thus, he requested $200 million for this project, but the GOP Joint Finance Committee was only able to find $125 million. Even what Evers proposed is but a small amount of what will be required to address full broadband connectivity, so to not have it accepted by the committee is too tough a pill to swallow. There are an estimated 400,000 residents who do not have broadband, and the majority reside in rural red counties. The Governor can demonstrate he works for all citizens by showcasing this issue as another reason to veto the budget.

The lack of any regard by Republicans for the needs of redistricting reform has created an electoral stranglehold in the legislative branch. But that does not preclude the needs of the citizenry. It is very important that the people be properly reflected in this budget. While Assembly Republicans elected Robin Vos to the chair of Speaker, that does not make him the governor or the final arbiter on policy.

Only Tony Evers was elected by a statewide vote, and now is the time to show his political mettle and steadfastness with the people of this state. He more than did his share of compromising in the 2019 budget process and was rewarded with even more partisan showmanship from Republicans in this years’ process. If anything over the past weeks the JFC has proven Will Rogers to be correct. “There are men running governments who shouldn’t be allowed to play with matches.”

Therefore, Governor Tony Evers must veto this budget and demand, on behalf of the people, that the summertime is spent by legislative Republicans meeting the needs of the ‘folks back home’.

And so it goes.

Book Worthy Of Your Time, The Heir Apparent: A Life Of Edward VII, The Playboy Prince

While I do not care much for the current royals and their continuing saga of woes, I am, however very much interested in the history of the British monarchy. As such, several days ago I ventured into a book that was recommended to me by a woman who reads this blog ‘on the other side of the pond’.

I have taken Edith’s advice before when she properly instructed me to get Alaska by James Michener. After thoroughly loving that book, I am now well into Chesapeake with equal fondness for the storytelling ability of this famed author, with Centennial and The Source already bought and on the shelves. I am ready when the mood strikes! So when I was alerted that given my interest in past royal families I was sure to be delighted with The Heir Apparent by Jane Ridley, I quickly moved on the suggestion.

What struck me at once was the way Ridley used facts on the one hand regarding the high-strung nature of Queen Victoria, mother to Edward VII, and on the other hand, removed the royal trappings and subjected her to the same examination that anyone on the historic stage requires. She is not a loving mother and doting parent, but rather quite plain in her thinking and actions when it comes to the next King of the nation.

Victoria considers her son a lazy halfwit, and woefully and temperamentally unfit to succeed her.

I think most readers are aware, at least in a vague way, that Edward was happier with many women, and not well suited for a marriage relationship. But without pretending to a psychoanalyst, Ridley does allow readers to better understand why his behavior was so shabby. He was so unloved as a child that he seems to have created his own path on how to secure the emotional bonds he needed.

The death of his father, Albert, and the only way he even knew the tragedy was playing out is due to a sister sending him a note, as both Victoria and Albert would have been fine had he not arrived at Windsor at all during this period. That chapter is perhaps the most poignant when trying to grasp the emotional wreckage that is Victoria (in good times and bad) along with the Victorian model on how to raise children. Or deal with adult children.

History makes for the best writing, and from this side of the pages, the best reading. It is even more so when the author, as Ridley clearly proves, given she is a professor of history at Buckingham University in England, where she teaches a course on biography, takes up the task. If you have a craving for a figure from the past that will crackle and spark conversation, with solid research and engaging storytelling this book is clearly the one you should consider.

And so it goes.

Madison’s MNA Board Should Not Promote Drunkenness

The Marquette Neighborhood Association Board has hit a new low. With a neighborhood that is overwhelmed with drinking establishments, along with the knowledge that too many of our community have clearly observable drinking problems, the news from the MNA this week was truly stunning.

Here is how they promoted what they call the Drunk in Public Picking Up Litter.

DIPPUL (Drunk In Public Picking Up Litter) Event Saturday, June 26 
MNA will be co-sponsoring DIPPUL, a bar-crawl-meets-neighborhood-trash-pickup-party, in our neighborhood from 1:00-5:00pm this Saturday. Bags, picker-uppers and safety gear will be supplied. Just bring yourself and a “do good” attitude. Meet at (bar not named on this blog post) at 1 pm to pick up supplies and get started. Midway stop will be at (also not named here) and the event ends at (yet another bar). Discounted drinks on offer at each establishment. 

There is no way to take any comfort in the design of this pub crawl being about trash pickup. The fact is that once again Wisconsin culture proves that everything needs to revolve around drinking. What message does that send to our youth? Equally important what does this drinking afternoon say about our neighborhood? About the Board?

In 2020 a posting on the local neighborhood listserv painted the picture with data about the drinking problems we face locally.

Here then are the findings of this most progressive place in Madison.  As the compilator of the numbers alerted readers on the neighborhood listserv the data is 95% accurate.

Did you know that the Marquette neighborhood has 6,105 residents in 2010, (12.2 % of which were age 17 or younger)? Knocking off the under age 17 leaves 5,360 residents.

Did you know that there currently exists 4,431 seats where one can get a drink in the neighborhood (plus event places including Elks, Sylvee, Old Sugar’s event space)?   

Did you know that of those alcohol seats, there are 2,458 where one can be entertained (1,514 of those seats are on E Washington)?  That no Williamson Street entertainment establishment has a capacity greater than 99 (now that Prism is gone)?

4,735 capacity for drinking

2,302 capacity for primarily drinking/entertainment

1,822 capacity for licensed entertainment establishments

Before I venture further I should say that I am a Wisconsinite, having lived here all my life.  In many ways my life has mirrored that of other men my age who grew up here.  I came from a middle class family, attended public schools, and had dreams of being an astronaut when a kid. But somewhere in high school I realized I was different in one real black and white way.  I did not drink.  For me that meant I did not attend the drinking parties at the gravel pit in Hancock. 

From what I came to understand during Monday morning’s ‘show and tell’ time the best parties were located at the pit late at night only a few miles from my home. I still recall that at the time I never thought I was missing anything even though I was assured quite the opposite was true.

In simpler terms, unlike many of my peers back then I never grew up thinking that drinking was an activity all by itself.

I know I am not the only one who finds the drinking culture in Wisconsin troublesome, and yet at times I feel like an island on the issue.  To be frank and honest about it I think the drinking culture is embarrassing.  I would rather our state be touted for stem cell research and the home of Lynn Fontanne than endless drunken parties and Milwaukee beer.

To think that my views might be so different had I only been a participant at the gravel pit those many years ago.  I too might see drinking as an activity in and of itself.

Which is another way to say thanks to my mom and dad for keeping tabs on me as a teenager.

I am never sure what makes people want to waste a life in a bottle or glass.  I feel like I never have a day to waste or a time that I do not want to recall down the road. Good days or bad ones.  Being an adult requires being able to cope with life sober-minded. There are also professionals to talk with at points in life when issues need to be addressed.  When both of my parents died I reached out to talk with someone who allowed me to understand grief and work through it.  I never had a single drink at either of their passings.  In fact, that notion never even crossed my mind.

What I do know is the data shows what impact sitting for hours with a bent elbow does to society.  I wish my college-educated and progressive neighborhood would grasp that fact, too.

And so it goes.

Abortion In America To Face Supreme Court Test In Midterm Election Year

The high-wire political act being demanded of each political party in the 2022 midterms will be filled with enough bombast without adding more to the red meat container. As if the tribal politics of the country were not already strained comes a very important abortion case before the Supreme Court.

At issue is what is termed viability, whether states can ban abortions before a fetus can survive outside the womb. In shorthand that means a potentially and dramatically altered landscape for abortion, the likes we have not seen for nearly 50 years.

Mississippi, which is asking to be allowed to enforce an abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy, is not asking the court to overrule the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision confirming a woman’s right to an abortion, or a decision 19 years later that reaffirmed it. But what it is seeking is a stark attack on abortion rights since there is no way the Court can agree to the law from the Deep South and at the same time not severely harm the principal protections of Roe v. Wade.

What is feared, of course, is even with a ruling, narrow as it might be handed down, is anything that creates an opening for more men in legislative bodies around the country to keep adding cumbersome restrictions on the right of women to make their own healthy choices.

While I have a personal disdain for abortion, I find it necessary to advocate for the 1973 law that allows women to make their own choices. As such, I find the idea of viability, a tactic used by conservatives to force an economic decision on women who should not have to abide by the moral test of others to be very unjust. From the data that I have read the vast majority of abortions in our nation occur in the early stages of pregnancy. So to add viability to the equation is nothing more than a slick move by some overly zealous men without enough meaningful ways to use their law degrees.

I fully understand the power and punch of religious conservatives and the use of this block by the Republican Party for their partisan ends. Prohibiting abortion is a topic that has been used from the pulpits of churches, and the fundraising arm of the GOP. In, and of itself, those tactics are certainly to be allowed. What we can not, and must not allow, however, is for a religious test to be applied to each woman in this land who might consider an abortion. Because that is, and make no mistake about it, precisely what is being asked of the justices to allow in this case.

Meanwhile, the nation continues to speak in a centrist fashion about the 1973 law.

The nation has a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds 61% of Americans say abortion should be legal in most or all circumstances in the first trimester of a pregnancy. However, 65% said abortion should usually be illegal in the second trimester, and 80% said that about the third trimester.

Still, the poll finds many Americans believe that the procedure should be allowable under at least some circumstances even during the second or third trimesters. For abortions during the second trimester, 34% say they should usually or always be legal, and another 30% say they should be illegal in most but not all cases. In the third trimester, 19% think most or all abortions should be legal, and another 26% say they should be illegal only in most cases.

The issue is going to create a gigantic rhetorical explosion in the nation as the midterms come closer. I suspect there are many, such as myself, who while having problems with abortion itself, are standing with women as we know it is a health choice. It is a choice not for me to make. As an American, I know that is the way it should be.

And must continue to be.

Gun Sales Surge, Murder Rate Up 25%, Biden Takes Action

The news from this gun-soaked nation continues to be alarming.

Though overall crime was down last year, according to FBI data, the murder rate rose about 25 percent and violent crime about 3 percent. Based on the data that has been collected President Biden will impose one slice of a solution this week.

Sturm, Ruger a leading gun manufacturer, reported a 50% spike in quarterly sales and more than doubled its profit, continuing its frenetic sales surge during the coronavirus pandemic. These types of staggering sales are being reported by all the gun manufacturers.

Sadly, there is no government or national database of gun sales, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps track of pre-sale background checks, an indicator that’s been soaring to record highs.

We are aware that more than 2 million of the March background checks were for new gun purchases, according to the National Shooting Sports Federation, the firearms industry trade group that compares FBI background check numbers with actual sales data to determine its sales figures. About 40% of buyers in early 2020 were first-time buyers, according to this foundation.

If there is any ray of sunshine to this madness it is the degree to which a provision of the background check is working.

The number of people stopped from buying guns through the U.S. background check system hit an all-time high of more than 300,000 last year amid a surge of firearm sales, according to new records obtained by the group Everytown for Gun Safety.

The FBI numbers provided to The Associated Press show the background checks blocked nearly twice as many gun sales in 2020 as in the year before. About 42% of those denials were because the would-be buyers had felony convictions on their records.

The Biden Administration has been stymied by the NRA-bought Congress, but will seek to effect change in another manner.

Biden will direct the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to seek to revoke licenses from gun sellers the first time they are caught willfully selling a weapon to a person who is not permitted to have one, neglecting to run a required background check or ignoring a federal request to provide trace information about a weapon used in a crime. The policy attacks a source of crime guns, which in some instances can be traced to sloppy or irresponsible dealers, experts say.

The type of gun business Biden is talking about could have applied to the one in West Milwaukee that created a plethora of news stories years ago. The business had operated under the names of Badger Guns & Ammo, Badger Outdoors, and Badger Guns. Federal investigators repeatedly found violations at the gun store.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in 2009 on the highly troubling impact of this one gun store on the larger community.

Badger Guns, and its predecessor, Badger Outdoors, have accounted for roughly one-third of all crime guns traced by Milwaukee police in the past four years, the data shows. No other store in the state comes close to that figure. The next closest, The Shooters Shop in West Allis, accounted for less than 3% of guns traced by Milwaukee police during the same period.

A total of 1,880 crime guns recovered in Milwaukee were linked to Badger between January 2006 and Sept. 1 – or more than one a day, according to a Journal Sentinel analysis.

During the 11-week operation, Milwaukee police:

• Discovered felons use Badger’s shooting range for target practice. In one case, store employees rented a gun to a felon to shoot. Another felon had a shooting “range pass card” in his pocket showing he had shot at Badger previously. Store employees check driver’s licenses but not criminal histories of shooters.

• Seized 12 guns from felons and others leaving the store. They arrested nine felons for possessing guns, seven for carrying a concealed weapon and four on drug charges. Eight people have been charged so far as a result of the sweep.

• Spotted felons frequently going in the store or waiting outside. Felons are banned from possessing guns, but probation agents do not routinely require felons to stay out of gun stores such as Badger. Police and prosecutors say that should change.

Police Chief Edward Flynn said he learned how many guns from Badger were ending up in violent crimes when he became chief nearly two years ago. After the officers were shot, Flynn ordered up a plan to target illegal gun buys at Badger.

I am very glad that Biden will use the power granted to him and work within that framework to impact the gun epidemic in this nation. The danger to the larger society from the guns and their violent owners need to be corralled.

Critical Race Theory And Huck Finn

During the pandemic, I reread Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Some readers will ask why I start off a post about the latest culture war, created by conservative Republicans, with a classic piece of literature? I will get to the point shortly.

It would be almost impossible not to know that all across the nation Republican-led legislatures have either passed bills, or are entertaining the notion, to ban or limit schools from teaching that racism is infused in American institutions.  Not being able to refute the matter, elected Republicans have undertaken a vigilant proactive move to utterly dictate how historical racism in America is presented in our classrooms.

At the core of this issue is the degree to which critical race theory, which is an argument that first registered in colleges and university settings, now should be treated in our public schools. The question is if students should learn about historical patterns of racism that are molded and shaped into laws and our institutions? Then, should students be taught how the consequences of those actions are reflected in our modern times?

America’s original sin–the owning of other people as property–is not something that, because it happened in a by-gone era of our nation, it, therefore, can be papered over with a listing of all the ways we have strived to meet our ideals. That can no more be the end of the discussion than a mere short lesson about how Native Americans were removed from their lands, or the Chinese workers who toiled building railroads were horribly mistreated, or in the 1940s Japanese internment destroyed lives.

At some point, there must be a real reckoning with the past. The increased public awareness about things from housing segregation, red-lining, voter disenfranchisement, how criminal justice policy in the 1990s create unfair outcomes, and the legacy of enslavement on Black Americans all require honest discussions.

One way to achieve that is by tackling the fact that built into our society are layers of systemic racism. While it is very true that our nation has made tremendous strides for social justice it also needs stating that highlighting our misdeeds along the way, and the manner in which they still exist, is a path for national understanding and growth.

But with that attempt at understanding comes the awareness of being uncomfortable.  One of the reasons this issue has generated so much blowback is due to the degree to which it makes people grasp the larger delusions we collectively have as a nation about ‘how well off’ we are with race relations. 

This week in the Washington Post conservative nationally syndicated columnist Michael Gerson wrote that he now understands that systemic racism is real.

I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood of a middle-class suburb in a Midwestern city. I went to a middle-class high school, with middle-class friends, eating middle-class fried bologna sandwiches. And for most of my upbringing, this seemed not only normal but normative. I assumed this was a typical American childhood.

Only later did I begin to see that my normality was actually a social construction. By the time I was growing up in the 1970s, St. Louis no longer had legal segregation. But my suburb, my neighborhood and my private high school were all outcomes of White flight. The systems of policing, zoning and education I grew up with had been created to ensure one result: to keep certain communities safe, orderly and pale.

This is what I mean by systemic racism. If, on my 13th birthday, all the country’s laws had been suddenly, perfectly and equally enforced, my community would still have had a massive hangover of history. The structures and attitudes shaped during decades and centuries of oppression would still have existed. Legal equality in theory does not mean a society is justly constituted.

For me, part of being a conservative means taking history seriously. We do not, as Tom Paine foolishly claimed, “have it in our power to begin the world over again.” We live in an imperfect world we did not create and have duties that flow from our story.

There is an important moral distinction between “guilt” and “responsibility.” It is not useful, and perhaps not fair, to say that most White people are guilty of creating social systems shaped by white supremacy. But they do have a responsibility as citizens, and as moral creatures, to seek a society where equal opportunity is a reality for all.

Gerson’s seeking to understand the issue, along with his reaching out via his column is the type of dialogue our nation requires at this time.  Looking within as we also watch the nation around us can provide answers.

As it did for Huck Finn. 

The Mississippi River was a large adventure for Huck.  Travel by night, tie the raft up on shore during daylight.  The raft meant freedom, but as he traveled further South he took in what the river provided for sights.  He saw the small towns and the ills that confront those like his friend Jim, a slave who is recaptured.  He then needs to ponder his values and moral compass with the added experiences he gains.

So it is with all of us. 

As we listen, read, talk with others, and gain insight into the views of others who share information about systemic racism we too need to follow the footsteps akin to Huck.

Ponder our values and moral compass.