James O. Castagnera

Fool Me Once, Shame on You ...

On Friday, Oct. 28, I felt I was having a flashback. In Washington for a few days for a conference, I walked past the Watergate Hotel, down I Street and Pennsylvania Avenue to the old Willard Hotel (where the term "lobbying" allegedly was invented). In the Rose Garden of the White House at 1:30 p.m. the cameras were being set up for the press conference concerning Scooter Libby's indictment and resignation.

On a street corner a protester, wearing a Dick Cheney mask and prison garb, walked back and forth dragging a ball and chain. Shades of Spiro Agnew in 1973? We'll have to wait and see how the Libby case plays out. I heard one TV commentator say that morning that the case will never be allowed to come to trial, because it might bring down the whole administration. Scooter Libby in the role of G. Gordon Liddy? Again, only time will tell.

A couple of months ago, I published "An Open Letter to Liberals" in which I argued that the Republican Right, rabid to rule, be given a fair chance at it. Well, I think they've had their chance.

During the past few months, since that piece appeared, their façade of competency has crumbled like the Louisiana levees.

On the international front, as the American body count in Iraq passed 2,000, Condoleezza Rice has refused to rule out the possibility of an American troop presence in Iraq a decade down that road of bloody sand. Meanwhile, the "Big Lie" of Saddam Hussein's Weapons-of-Mass-Destruction has finally set the administration's pants on fire. Scooter Libby looks to be the first, but probably not the last, White House denizen to get burned.

While America pours lives and treasure onto the shifting sands of the Middle East, China -- our true challenger for Superpower status in the 21st century -- persists in its unfair trade practices, burying us in manufactured goods while disregarding international copyright and trademark rules. The Bush administration can do nothing about this, because the billions of bucks flowing to China due to this trade imbalance are returning as loans in the form of US Treasury securities. In other words, the Chinese are bankrolling our Iraqi debacle. Fu Manchu would have been proud.

To my mind the Scooter Libby case echoes a meanness at the top that I cannot recall occurring since the Nixon years. Tricky Dick's plumbers and dirty-tricksters tarred reputations and violated civil rights in the name of national security. Their antics often bore a disturbing similarity to a Mafia feud. Illegal acts, such as the burglary of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatric records after he leaked the Pentagon papers, were for revenge, not national security.

Leaking the identity of a CIA covert operative, after her husband had the temerity to put the lie to a critical facet of the administration's WMD justification for our Second Iraqi War, similarly smacks of arrogance and vengeance.

Meanwhile, on the domestic scene, the quick crash-and-burn of Harriet Miers's Supreme Court candidacy was a sad sequel to FEMA's Hurricane Katrina debacle. I was almost able to forget that Cheney's Halliburton Corporation is profiting almost as much from Katrina as it is in Iraq.

Then came the third-quarter profit reports of the big oil companies. Of the five so-called "supermajors," four reported a total $29 billion in profits ... a 52% increase over the time period in 2004. The biggest of the bunch, ExxonMobil (remember when they used to be two separate companies?), tallied up $9.9 billion on $100.7 billion in gross sales. That, friends, is reportedly the biggest quarterly profit ever recorded by any publicly-traded US corporation. Yes, I said ever.

Say, weren't we told that gasoline prices reached record highs because of petroleum and processing shortages caused by the war in Iraq and the devastation of Katrina? Now, I'm just an old lawyer with little facility for high finance. Still, in the dim recesses of my shrinking brain I recall that, even in Economics 101 some three-and-a-half decades ago, profits were defined as what was left over, after all losses and expenses had been satisfied. What's wrong with this picture? I ask myself, as I pump $2.50/gallon gas into my tank. And, just incidentally, isn't the Bush family in the oil business?

In the early 1970s I might as well have been from Missouri, the "show me" state. I had a hard time believing that the president who opened China to diplomatic relations and sent Henry the K to Paris to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War would stoop to burglarizing his political opponents' headquarters or the office of Ellsberg's shrink. True, Tricky D. was a nasty little street fighter, who worked his way up to the White House the hard way. But, come on, no president of his diplomatic astuteness would ever get that down and dirty. Well, he sure fooled me.

In the coal towns where I grew up, we embraced an old saying: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." This time around, it won't be "shame on me." How about you?

Jim Castagnera is a Philadelphia lawyer and writer.

From The Progressive Populist, Dec. 1, 2005

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