Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – May 13, 2011

This week the governors of the Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida discovered that they had so much money that they could refuse over $2 billion in infrastructure funding from the federal government. And now there is Newt Gingrich as presidential candidate, threatening to “Win The Future”, whatever that may mean. And finally revisionists like Condoleezza Rice continue to try to spin the past and take undeserved credit for the death of Osama bin Laden while taking no blame for the bloody quagmire called Iraq.

We’re in the Money?

This past week the governors of Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida, seemingly chained to anchor of a truly stupid campaign promise, rejected an allocation of approximately $2.4 billion in federal funds that were to be used for infrastructure development related to high speed rail construction. It should be noted that the governors of New York and several other steps happily took the allocation of these dollars that were initially intended to help the citizens of Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida.

The unemployment rate in Ohio is now 8.9%. The unemployment rate in Wisconsin is currently 8.1%. The unemployment rate in Florida is running at 10.6%. And these numbers are not abstract statistics. These numbers represent men and women who are out of work as they watch the last wisps of the American dream blown away by the winds of poverty and hopelessness.

It will come as no surprise that three governors are all recent G.O.Tea Party candidates, elected this past November. Clearly they are men of their word. Just as clearly, their words are toxic.

And Now There is Newt

Newt Gingrich has now declared himself a candidate for the presidency of the United States. His campaign slogan is “Win The Future”, a meaningless phrase that might be better used in connection with the sale of condo units.

It is clear that Newt Gingrich is counting on the collective amnesia of the American electorate. We are supposed to forget his failed tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives when he was directly complicit in the shutdown of the federal government.

We are also supposed to forget him carrying a torch and pitchfork, calling for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Presumably we should forget his blatant hypocrisy in being engaged in an extramarital affair when he wasn’t busy with impeachment proceedings.

More recently Newt Gingrich is counting on you and me forgetting that he has called for a virtual crusade against Islam which has only served to cause more turmoil in the troubled relationship between this country and a faith adhered to by over a billion people.

Perhaps we are also expected to forget that it has been Mr. Gingrich who has termed the current President “dangerous” and a “socialist” while giving elbow-nudging support to the now completely discredited birther movement.

I would hazard a guess that it is much more likely that we will forget Newt Gingrich as a presidential candidate before we forget his many transgressions and failings.

Memories Are Made of This

It appears that Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney and other members of the Bush Administration just can’t let it be. The op-ed columns and news shows have been flooded with these discredited faux warriors’ claims that it was the Bush Administration that should be given credit for the downfall of Osama bin Laden.

President Obama noted in his announcement of the killing of bin Laden that the work over the military over the past ten years resulted in the success of two weeks ago. He was gracious enough not to point out that the Bush Administration was directly responsible for the thousands of lives and billions of dollars that were wasted in a stupid war in Iraq and a misguided mission in Afghanistan resulted in a loss of focus.

It is clearly too much to expect that Rice, Cheney, et. al. would demonstrate similar graciousness.

Have a great weekend!

Be My Guest

Guest Column by Congressman Gregory W. Meeks

The Killing of Osama bin Laden:
Now That Was Really the Week That Was

Like most New Yorkers and most Americans, I have been consumed with contrasting emotions from the instant my congressional alert, blackberry, cell phone, land line, email, and television went off repeatedly and almost simultaneously late the Sunday before last with news that Osama bin Laden was dead and President Barack Obama would shortly speak to the nation. The president’s his words resonated throughout the nation as he confirmed what hundreds of millions of Americans had longed for nearly ten years to hear.

Four days later, I was among the firefighters, police officers, current and former elected officials, and families of 9/11 victims, who joined President Obama at Ground Zero for a wreath-laying ceremony that closed a painful chapter in the ongoing saga of America’s war with al Qaeda, the world’s foremost terrorist network.

It was at this moment that my contrasting emotions asserted themselves. While it was great to see a new World Trade Center rise from the gigantic hole Osama bin Laden left at the site and in our hearts, I remembered visiting Ground Zero a few days after the collapse of the Twin Towers.

Standing amid the rebuilding, my mind flashed back to the vastness of the carnage I had witnessed, the smell of death, the simmering debris, the first responders and volunteers risking their own health and safety to sift through the rubble in hope of finding survivors, and the constituents and friends who were among the 3,000 Americans and other nationals that Osama bin Laden targeted in the war he declared on America.

All faiths teach that we should not revel in the death of any human being. I admit to feeling no remorse for the demise of bin Laden. Nor am I critical of those Americans, mainly young, who flocked to the White House, Ground Zero, Times Square, and other locations by the thousands to cheer the success of an amazingly difficult mission and to acknowledge the commander-in-chief whose exceptionally courageous decision making had brought America to such an extraordinary triumph.

I distinguish between being triumphant and triumphalism. The latter has no place in our foreign policy or antiterrorism efforts. The president deserves our congratulations for his leadership in helping the nation walk this fine line.

I agree as well with his decision not to release photos of bin Laden’s corpse. Within minutes all sorts of paraphernalia bearing that morbid image would have been available on the internet. Within hours venders would have been hawking t-shirts with that likeness at every imaginable public event.

Deeper reflection explains the spontaneous turnout. Think of burden Americans bore on 9/11 and since. Think of the age range of most the people who turned out. They were grade schoolers when the attacks occurred. Fear of another bin Laden-inspired terrorist attack has been all they have known.

Think of the cost to America and the world: The cost of the destruction of the World Trade Center and the damage to the Pentagon, extraordinary in itself, and the expense of rebuilding both; the direct and indirect destruction of over 100,000 jobs; the setback to aviation and commerce, which pushed the economy to the verge of recession.

Without bin Laden’s leadership in conceptualizing, approving, planning, financing, and carrying out the 9/11 attacks, there would be no war in Afghanistan and no pretext for the invasion of Iraq with the combined cost of several trillion dollars. Homeland security, which has drained our treasury of at least another trillion dollars, wouldn’t be part of our lexicon.

Then there’s the cost of fear and the restructuring of American democracy, American values, and American everyday life with the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretaps, Guantanamo, the Iraq war, Abu Ghraib, and the profiling of Muslim Americans. There’s the cost of bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya, the suicide attack on the U.S.S. Cole, the first bombing of the Twin Towers, and the cost to our confidence of bin Laden’s ability year after year to elude capture to the point that most Americans thought it would never happen?

But it has happened. And it has happened on this president’s watch and under his leadership. Saying so does not diminish the efforts of previous administrations.

What diminishes this singular achievement – above all, the skill, courage, and capability of the military personnel that undertook this mission – are claims that finding bin Laden justifies the use of torture; attempts to belittle the caliber of President Obama’s national security team; efforts to make stories out of non-stories about whether or not Mr. Obama’s bump in the polls will last; and navel-gazing that questions why the Navy seals shot an “unarmed” bin Laden.

These are “insider stories.” Whether or not the death of bin Laden works to Mr. Obama’s favor in the next election is quite beside the point. I believe the more details the public learns about how difficult this mission actually was and about how much could have gone wrong, the more they will appreciate having a commander-in-chief who is detailed and decisive in his decision making, intelligence professionals who are persevering and exceptionally competent, and a military composed of men and women of extraordinary courage and capacity who will get the job done however long it takes and to whatever venues the pursuit of justice takes them.

Congressman Gregory W. Meeks represent the Sixth Congressional District of New York