Governing and War

Two things: 

1. A decade ago, our mass media mostly parroted the notion that Iraq was such an imminent threat that a “pre-emptive” invasion and occupation was justified. 

Back in 2002, America was still reeling from 9/11, and Iraq was subjected to myriad UN sanctions, inspection schemes, no-fly zones, and other restrictions stemming from its invasion of Kuwait and subsequent defeat a decade before. Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly a brutal dictator whose Ba’athist Arabic-unity, socialist ideology had been perverted into nothing more than an Arabic construct of fascism. His rule was corrupt and murderous, and he had started two expansionist wars during his reign, neither of which worked out well for his country. He, on the other hand, lived like a king.

But there are lots of bad actors running horribly brutal dictatorships around the world. We can’t invade them all. Nor, if you ask most Republicans when they’re being honest, should we. Just ask most Republican commentators when President Clinton got NATO militarily involved in Bosnia and Serbia.

Turning back to 2002, the UN had implemented a new set of sanctions based on what turned out to be incorrect intelligence that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. The UN – never one to rush into war – sent neutral inspectors into Iraq to look for these WMDs. Hans Blix’s team of inspectors went everywhere the US government told them to look. Spy satellites, after all, don’t lie.

UNMOVIC inspectors under Hans Blix were in Iraq for 111 days, and they didn’t find the WMDs they were looking for.

United States troops were in Iraq for 2,724 days, and they didn’t find them either, instead merely stockpiles of old WMDs that the Saddam regime had in its possession, and which it had used against Iran, Kuwait, and the Kurds. The US did not find any evidence of any new production or ramp-ups towards same. We know Saddam had used gas in Kuwait and on Kurds. But that’s not what we were sold in 2003 when Powell addressed the Security Council.

…the facts and Iraq’s behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction…

…A second source, an Iraqi civil engineer in a position to know the details of the program, confirmed the existence of transportable facilities moving on trailers.

A third source, also in a position to know, reported in summer 2002 that Iraq had manufactured mobile production systems mounted on road trailer units and on rail cars.

Finally, a fourth source, an Iraqi major, who defected, confirmed that Iraq has mobile biological research laboratories, in addition to the production facilities I mentioned earlier….

The war was based on either poor information or lies. Neither one will resurrect a fallen American or innocent Iraqi civilian.

And the neoconservatives’ follow-up “rationales”? Hamas and Israel continue to murder each other. What a fundamental waste of lives, money, and dignity.

That was the legal basis on which we invaded Iraq – that they had deliberately violated UN sanctions regarding WMDs. There was no other legal rationale. What the Bush Administration’s neoconservative hawks did was just shift the objective to eliminating Ba’athism, regime change, stopping Iraq’s support for terror, help Israel in its efforts against terrorism, etc. After 7 years of battles, death, destruction, we gave Iraq its democracy, but the other regional goals have never been met. Instead, Iraq became flypaper for every disaffected, pimpled Arab teen who wanted to kill Americans. Once Saddam was gone, we had Zarqawi to deal with. Thousands of American men and women died.

So, to my mind, it’s not time to navel-gaze about whether the surge worked and whether Obama was wrong about it, and whether he is sufficiently remorseful or introspective about how wrong he was. Instead, we should re-evaluate why we invaded Iraq in the first place, further destabilizing an already unstable region; subjecting an oppressed people to 7+ years of war, terrorism, and occupation.

To my mind, it’s time to re-examine the so-called “Powell Doctrine”, which was completely disregarded in March 2003 by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and his bosses.

  • Is a vital national security interest threatened?
  • Do we have a clear attainable objective?
  • Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
  • Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
  • Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
  • Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
  • Is the action supported by the American people?
  • Do we have genuine broad international support?

Now? This same band is trying to get payback through words such as “Benghazi” and “drones”. Payback for being wrong? 

2. If you haven’t yet, please do read this report from the Economist, which explains that the Nordic countries that are usually – ignorantly and anachronistically – so derided as socialist hellholes, are economically outperforming the US and the rest of Europe. There is a remarkably high public trust in government institutions, and these countries have done much to reform without damaging the social safety net for which they’re known. If you deride the Democrats or Obama for wanting to turn the US into Sweden, it beats the Republicans’ efforts to turn the country into the Sudan. 

Money, Money, Money

1. Anyone else getting the sense that the Cuomo billion for Buffalo is just a new way for our local Very Important People® to further enrich themselves and their friends on the public teat? We’re attracting a business from Albany?! What does Albany have to say about that? 

2. Congratulations to the Republicans + Tom Loughran for passing a 2013 county budget with an $8.5 million shortfall.  That’s just the kind of fiscal conservatism we need in Erie County. This is precisely the sort of “parental supervision” that the control board was put in place to provide, right? Oh, wait – you say the control board also has problems with what the Republicans and Tom Loughran did? Wait, you say that it’s somewhat suspicious that Amherst’s Democrat joined the Republicans and one of the few increases in the budget is for something called the “Amherst Symphony Orchestra”? 

While Democratic legislators tend to fight for things like funding the culturals and social services, Republicans tend to like things like road maintenance – things that the towns should be handling, but got the county to subsidize for them over the years. So now, with the budget as passed, the county executive needs to find $8.5 million worth of things to cut beyond what the legislature Republicans allegedly “cut” to eliminate the extra $18 additional bucks per year a $100,000 house in Erie County would have paid to help maintain a healthy cultural scene, and our roads.

I’m also especially disgusted by the Legislature’s right wing refusing to negotiate or compromise with the Democrats. As I pointed out yesterday, young Joe Lorigo should be held up for especial scorn for his ignorant, disingenuous statement about how hard people are fighting to raise taxes; Chris Collins went to court to raise them higher in 2008.  

Someday, Erie County will be free of the despicable stranglehold the Lorigo family holds over its politics. They are neither conservative nor proponents of good government, and they would rather promote an unbalanced budget than compromise and otherwise govern. 

The Comptroller’s office said Poloncarz’s budget is sound and reasonable. The control board conducted its own independent analysis, and found that Poloncarz’s budget is balanced and reasonable, and its board unanimously approved the budget and Four Year Financial Plan on October 26th.  By contrast, the control board’s chairman publicly expressed the control board’s concerns that the Republican amendments are unbalanced and unreasonable when he testified at the Legislature on December 3rd.

Here’s what Poloncarz said last night: 

…the Legislature has voted 6 to 5 to approve a 2013 Erie County Budget with the set of amendments proposed by Legislators Mills, Dixon, Hardwick, Lorigo, Rath and Loughran that we have talked so much about over the past week…

…Although I have earnestly kept the lines of communication open throughout this process in hopes of reaching a compromise that ensures the fiscally stability of the county and protects the programs and services demanded by the public, none could be reached.

In fact, earlier this afternoon, I proposed a package to Legislator Hardwick that would meet them half-way.  It cut the proposed property tax in half—to about $4 million, or 9 cents per $1,000—along with a set of difficult, yet real, cuts in discretionary spending to make up the rest.  I was told that it doesn’t go far enough to meet their definition of compromise.

So here we are.   Although the people spoke when they elected me as their County Executive, their voices have been muted by this Legislature.  And while the legislature has a role in the process, all I can say is that I am disappointed in its action.

I am disappointed that a majority did not agree that after closing more than $20 million of a $33 million gap with targeted cuts across the board, and a responsible use of fund balance—in order to ensure the quality of life programs and services mandated by the people remain, we needed to propose a small property tax increase to find that last $8 million.

I am disappointed that when it was clear they would not accept any property tax increase—no matter what—instead of proposing real cuts in spending to offset the loss of revenue, they, instead, chose gimmicks that look good on paper but do nothing to reduce our obligated costs—not a single dollar.

Throughout this process, no matter how many times they said it, their math simply doesn’t add up.  And their refusal to present a single piece of data in support of their claims shows me they knew that as well. It sounds eerily similar to the debate we recently witnessed on the national level: it all comes down to arithmetic and their numbers don’t add up.

I can accept that we have different opinions on how we should spend our finite resources.  But, I cannot accept a difference in facts on what we have to pay and what we don’t. 

Instead of doing what is right, though difficult, they chose to do what was easy and wrong.

They chose to adopt a budget that is not balanced—from day one—and a Four Year Plan that isn’t balanced today or in the future.

Throughout this process, we’ve fixated on whether or not there is or is not a property tax increase, on this number or that number but what we need to really ask ourselves about this budget is what have we accomplished?

That’s frankly, what I am most disappointed about of all.  I am disappointed that instead of a budget that builds upon the many great successes we have had already this year, we now have a budget that takes us a step backwards towards the fiscal crises of years past.

Instead of moving forward on the many exciting economic development initiatives we have worked so hard on—and are beginning to come to fruition—we will be forced to shift that focus on correcting the structural issues within this budget and Four Year Plan in an attempt to stave off a hard control board.

This was entirely avoidable.  All it would have taken was one more Legislator to stand up and show the kind of leadership this community deserves from them.

In the coming days and weeks, I will begin to do everything in my power to rebalance this budget and the corresponding Four Year Plan. 

 The only thing missing from this scenario is a deep inhale of one-shot tobacco money.  Happily, Poloncarz will veto every spending increase that the right wing put in place. Yes – increase; almost $200,000 worth. They didn’t just make phony cuts on paper, they also increased spending on some items. Because protect the taxpayer. 

More despicable to me than bullshitting their way into an unbalanced budget is the legislature’s right wing refusing to compromise with Poloncarz. Compromise, as any political science professor will tell you, is what government is all about. Or supposed to, anyway. 

Of course, most local media are simply parroting the notion that your property taxes won’t be going up. Let’s don’t discuss what else is going on. Just keep it stupid and incomplete – the way you perceive your audience to be. 

Welcome back, Failboat. We missed you.