Don’t let the Bush crowd plan your next canoe trip


Picture the Bush government as the super-organizer of a canoe trip up north for a hundred clueless young explorers.

I was introduced to this scary prospect a few days ago by a Minneapolis businessman and outdoorsman who glories in the imagery of traditional American know-how. The man seemed bitter and inconsolable. He reached the depths when he brought up the specter of a Bush-led canoe trip.

“I’ll tell you what would happen if these guys went into the wilderness as the scout leaders. They’re going to haul in 500 gallons of mosquito juice but forget the canoe paddles.”

I was powerless to rescue the man from his gloom. I told him to count his blessings. “Thank your stars that you’re not with the scouts,” I said. “Try to figure out how to canoe when they put you in 50 amphibious landing craft assigned by Rumsfeld to revolutionize scouting.”

I think it’s clear by now that the average American citizen generally understands the governing style and philosophy of the Bush administration. In the routine operation of the government in Washington, Americans have come to expect workaday deceit, corruption, law-breaking in the White House, collusion with corporate donors, the institutionalizing of torture, falsification of official documents, criminal neglect and the promise of endless war for America.

This is a load, granted. What the public had not expected from the Bush gang was the kind of gourd-headed ineptness that may outlast all of the actual felonies as its ultimate legacy.

The federal response to Katrina, putting the most charitable construction on it, is still an evolving disaster. The misbegotten epic of Iraq–from the schemes that spawned the war to its sloppy planning, the unnecessary killing of Americans and Iraqis and now the infusion of more American troops from Kuwait—is filled with as much bungling as blood.

The Bush crowd now wants the world to know that war with Iran is an option; “surgical strikes” are on the table. This is in case the world got the idea that the Bush administration is intimidated by the chaos it created in Iraq or has the slightest pause or misgivings.

If you can’t be smart or honest, stick out your jaw.

It works in some of our elections.

The all-options-open strategy seems to scare the daylights out of the rest of the world but does not particularly seem to terrify Iran.

And yet for all of its generic muddling, there didn’t seem any imaginable way the government could screw up the case against Zacarias Moussaoui, who’s already admitted conspiracy in the Sept. 11th attacks. The government wants the fumbling terrorist executed for not reporting what he knew about the plot. The prosecution wanted to seal its case by bringing in witnesses who were aviation experts. The judge some time ago issued a warning whose meaning was unmistakeable: Don’t coach prospective witnesses.

Whereupon, a lawyer for the Transportation Security Administration of the United States government coached aviation experts about how they should testify in order to maximize the government’s case for execution. To make sure there was absolutely no misunderstanding, the TSA lawyer coached her witnesses by e-mail, which leaves fairly visible tracks.

The judge found out and blew up. When the hot lava stopped flowing she disqualified the prospective expert witnesses, left the government prosecutors with their motions dangling and the constantly-dazed Moussaoui even more so. Meanwhile the embattled TSA lawyer summoned her own lawyer to protect her against self-incrimination in the same court she tried to game.

And the bungling carrousel spun a little faster.

For lovers of suspense, especially those who didn’t think it can get much worse or unsightly, keep your eye on the Republican stalwarts in Congress. They are about to take up legislation to improve ethics in lobbying, examine congressional free rides and bring sanity to campaign financing.

If you tend to be confused by these unlikely goals and the double talk, contact the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Chertoff will calm your nerves.

Former Star Tribune columnist Jim Klobuchar writes at