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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Friday, 5 May 2006
Whipsaw Friday: What A Way To End The Week
Topic: Breaking News

Whipsaw Friday: What A Way To End The Week

So the managing editor, that person who decides what news story goes first, and which stories follow, and in which order, and how many column inches or airtime each gets, depending on the medium, on Friday, May 5th, faced a bit of dilemma.

You had to go with another Kennedy, under the influence, in a car wreck, even if no one died this time. You had to go with this - "A day after a minor traffic caused a major stir by raising questions about Representative Patrick J. Kennedy's condition while he was driving, the Congressman announced that he is entering treatment for addiction to prescription medication."

As this Kennedy, a six-term Democratic congressman from Rhode Island, is the son of Ted Kennedy - the Democratic senator from Massachusetts who could never run for president, as his two older brothers had, after he had driven off a bridge and the sweet young thing with him died - this was just too juicy not to run top right, page one, or use to open the newscast. You could play up "The Curse of Camelot" - America's "first royal family" and its tragic flaws, or, if you were playing to the right, its inherent sleaziness and immorality that mirrored the inherent sleaziness and immorality of all liberals (the current crop of Republicans may be crooks and going to jail in twos and threes weekly, but at least they are pious Christians who have some self-control).

The administration and the Republicans in the House and Senate had been taking a beating, and the day had opened with another new poll, with the president's approval hitting a new low, the lowest of any second term president except for Nixon the week before he resigned, thirty-three percent, and with the Republican congress dropping ten points down to twenty-five percent approval. The Democrats had been making hay (or hey) over all the problems - the size of the "strongly disapprove" numbers and the word "incompetence" coming up so often seemed to have a whole lot to do with war in Iraq and the problems there more than three years after we "won," and the lingering issue of FEMA and the slow-reacting president and the still obvious mess in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast long after Hurricane Katrina, and the record-high gasoline prices, and this and that. And the morning had opened up with the job numbers for the last month - the Labor Department reported American employers added 138,000 jobs in April, and economists had expected 200,000 new jobs as a median, a little below the 217,000 news jobs that would keep up with population growth. Bummer - but actually great news for some. The stock market hit a six year high - maybe there'd not be another inflation fighting interest rate hike from the Fed, making doing business one notch more expense, and this would hold down costs by tamping down salaries, killing "wage demand" (see Bloomberg here). Hey, no one would be demanding higher wages or bailing out for a better job now, and labor cost would go down again. Business would continue to boom. Yes, it is troubling that those who actually vote have seen their real wages decline significantly in the last six years, and their health care and commuting costs jump amazingly higher and higher quite regularly, and that corporations don't vote (they only buy the behavior of those who have been voted in). But you could spin this. The economy is really great. Business is booming. And as for the eighty percent for whom it isn't, the new data could be spun as being their own fault for not taking personal responsibility for their lives, or for not buying big blocks of stocks and bonds, like normal people.

In the context of the day's "numbers" the Kennedy story was a godsend. No matter how bad things seemed, you could at least say "look at the druggie, or really, the drunk - do you want those sort of people in charge?"

The Kennedy story played into the Republican "We're the Responsible Ones" narrative that had been being torn to shreds. And the younger Kennedy had a mid-day news conference where he said he'd be off to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for some rehabilitation treatment, as he said the problem was, really, that for years he'd been dealing with clinical depression - the deadly serious underlying problem.

This was too good, evoking the name Thomas Eagleton, the senator who withdrew from the Mondale ticket back in 1972 when it came out that he had the same problem, and had had shock treatments. Democrats are just certifiably insane. The Kennedy story was a gift - a ray of light after months and months of darkness.

Of course there was a bit of gloom the same day for the evangelical right and the "values" crowd and their fight against Darwin and science that supports him, and the math and physics and astronomy that support that evolution stuff, as the Vatican's astronomer visited Scotland and said some distressing things, as we see in The Scotsman here -
Believing that God created the universe in six days is a form of superstitious paganism, the Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno claimed yesterday.

Brother Consolmagno, who works in a Vatican observatory in Arizona and as curator of the Vatican meteorite collection in Italy, said a "destructive myth" had developed in modern society that religion and science were competing ideologies.

He described creationism, whose supporters want it taught in schools alongside evolution, as a "kind of paganism" because it harked back to the days of "nature gods" who were responsible for natural events.

Brother Consolmagno argued that the Christian God was a supernatural one, a belief that had led the clergy in the past to become involved in science to seek natural reasons for phenomena such as thunder and lightning, which had been previously attributed to vengeful gods. "Knowledge is dangerous, but so is ignorance. That's why science and religion need to talk to each other," he said.

"Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which at the end of the day is a kind of paganism - it's turning God into a nature god. And science needs religion in order to have a conscience, to know that, just because something is possible, it may not be a good thing to do."

Brother Consolmagno, who was due to give a speech at the Glasgow Science Centre last night, entitled "Why the Pope has an Astronomer", said the idea of papal infallibility had been a "PR disaster". What it actually meant was that, on matters of faith, followers should accept "somebody has got to be the boss, the final authority".

"It's not like he has a magic power, that God whispers the truth in his ear," he said.
Damn - even if the Catholic Church has a problem with war as a good thing, and doesn't see torture as morally right even if only Americans do it for the greater good, at least they adamantly condemn abortion, and the use of birth control of any kind, and seem so obviously Republican - and now we get this. Creationism and Intelligent Design are just paganism repackaged. Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality? Bummer.

But the news from Brother Consolmagno was lucky insignificant in light of the Kennedy story, as every managing editor over here knew. The Catholic Church ripping apart of creationism, and by implication its subset Intelligent Design, was put on the backburner. We had other Friday fish to fry. And very few care what if anything happens in Glasgow.

So the day was to be a turning point for the sinking Republicans and the beleaguered president.

Then it all fell apart. The CIA Director resigned, or was fired, or forced out, or something, and the news hit the wires an hour or two before the younger Kennedy made his remarks and left the room for Rochester Minnesota.

The official explanation of what this was all about, delivered as usual by way of leaks from those inside who demanded anonymity (how Americans get the White House version of things), came from the Washington Post Saturday morning with this array of tidbits -
Porter J. Goss was forced to step down yesterday as CIA director, ending a turbulent 18-month tenure marked by an exodus of some of the agency's top talent and growing White House dissatisfaction with his leadership during a time of war.

The likely successor to Goss is Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the former director of the National Security Agency and now deputy to Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, senior administration officials said. He could be named as soon as Monday.

Seated next to President Bush in the Oval Office, Goss, a Republican congressman from Florida before he took over the CIA, said he was "stepping aside" but gave no reason for the departure.
Bush, who did not name a successor, said he had accepted the resignation and thanked Goss for his service.

... senior administration officials said Bush had lost confidence in Goss, 67, almost from the beginning and decided months ago to replace him. In what was described as a difficult meeting in April with Negroponte, Goss was told to prepare to leave by May, according to several officials with knowledge of the conversation.

"There has been an open conversation for a few weeks, through Negroponte, with the acknowledgment of the president" about replacing Goss, said a senior White House official who discussed the internal deliberations on the condition of anonymity. Another senior White House official said Goss had always been viewed as a "transitional figure" who would leave by year's end. His departure was accelerated when Bush shook up his White House staff in hopes of beginning a political turnaround.

... administration officials said Goss never forged a strong relationship with Bush. "It just didn't click," one official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Goss's reserved personality and inability to master details of intelligence activities dampened the atmosphere of the president's morning intelligence briefing, which had been a central feature of the close relationship between Bush and Tenet.
So that's what was leaked to the Post so they could provide the "real story" as the White house wants it told - Goss was just not a good ol' boy and it that wouldn't do. He was too "reserved," and that was his downfall. And he probably didn't like the ranch either. Snob. Not one of the regular guys.

The Post does mentions other factors the White House didn't need to leak - the open revolt in the agency with a good number of key high-level executives quitting in disgust as top positions went to Republican operatives who knew next to nothing about what the CIA did and how things worked.

Keith Olbermann on his MSNBC show "Countdown" interviewed an ex-CIA fellow and asked him if Goss had been trying to turn the CIA into FEMA, with a whole array Michael Browns running the major operations. The ex-CIA guy got a kick out of that and smiled broadly.

There is that 'let's make it political" factor, the effort to make the agency Republican, and not neutral. The old CIA was mad as hell when that Plame woman, a key secret agent, was exposed in the process of a political "hit" to discredit her pesky husband, and demanded an investigation, the one that we have now. Goss, who was head of the House Intelligence Committee at the time said he saw no problem. That didn't endear him to those he was then supposed to manage. And firing the woman who leaked to the Post all that stuff about our secret prisons in the old Soviet prisons in Eastern Europe, and about the nasty "renditions" that filled them, didn't work out well when it turned out she hadn't and this was part of an effort to purge the agency of those who even once voted fro a Democrat or who were just neutral? That didn't make Goss too popular in the ranks - you don't dump professional directors of key operations with decades of hard-won experience and excellent contacts because they're not enthusiast Republicans. And you don't laugh off exposing a key agent because her husband embarrassed the president and suggested he was a liar or a fool. Or maybe you do. But it doesn't make you popular with those risking their lives just trying to find out what's really going on in the hotspots of the world.

The Los Angeles Times runs this -
Four former deputy directors of operations once tried to offer Goss advice about changing the clandestine service without setting off a rebellion, but Goss declined to speak to any of them, said former CIA officials who are aware of the communications. The perception that Goss was conducting a partisan witch hunt grew, too, as staffers asked about the party affiliation of officers who sent in cables or analyses on Iraq that contradicted the Defense Department's more optimistic scenarios.
But the White House just lost confidence - and too this Goss fellow didn't like working under Negroponte instead of the old way where the CIA director controlled more and had the president's ear.

But the leaked White House version of what happened just doesn't make sense. No public reason for what happened is offered, and, if this was in the works for weeks and weeks, no successor named. And they drop this bombshell, so to speak, right in the middle of the day when Kennedy story was relieving a whole lot of pressure on the stories of the "incompetent president no one like at all and his even more feckless House and Senate enablers." It could have waited. Something else is going on?

Many are guessing that.

Jane Hampsher does here -
Color me confused. Everyone on TV seems to be buying the line that the Goss resignation has been planned for weeks. No natural curiosity about the fact that it takes effect immediately, or that there is no replacement, or that he had a meeting scheduled this afternoon he didn't show up for. Not to mention the fact that ... the White House would've probably sacrificed its collective left nut to avoid stepping on a drunk Kennedy story.

But has the entire press corps turned into such a pile of humorless prudes that they can't connect the dots in the Brent Wilkes hooker scandal?
The hooker scandal?

There's a nice review of that from Josh Marshall here -
... The hookers in Hookergate are, of course, the sizzle. But there's a bigger story. It stems directly from the Randy "Duke" Cunningham bribery scandal, which many had figured was over. But it's not. You may have noticed that while Duke Cunningham is already in jail and Mitchell Wade has already pled guilty to multiple charges, Brent Wilkes has never been touched. Wilkes is the ur-briber at the heart of the Cunningham scandal, you can see pretty clearly by reading the other indictments and plea agreements. Wade was Wilkes' protégé.

Now, on the surface one might surmise that the prosecutors are just taking their time, putting together their best case.

I hear different.

Wilkes has deep ties into the CIA. The focal point of those ties is to Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the man Porter Goss appointed to the number three position at CIA when he took over the Agency last year. Remember, Wilkes' scam was getting corrupt contracts deep in the 'black' world of intelligence and defense appropriations, where there's little or no oversight. Foggo was in the contracting and procurement field at the CIA. So you can see how he and Wilkes, who have been friends since high school, had plenty to talk about.

The CIA wasn't the only place Wilkes and his protégé Wade plied their corrupt trade. There were also in the mix contracting on the Bush Pentagon's extra-constitutional spying operations. And I am told that senior appointees at the DOD knew about their corruption but overlooked it.

Now, since the Cunningham scandal got under, and particularly of late, there's been a big tug of war between federal law enforcement and the CIA over whether to really go after Wilkes. Probably a little more specificity is in order there, folks at CIA in the orbit of Foggo and presumably Goss.

Now, how does Goss know Foggo?

That's how we get into the other part of this story - those 'hospitality suites', that moveable feast of food, poker and love, Brent Wilkes ran in Washington for maybe fifteen years. We hear that's how Goss got to be friends with Foggo, whom he later promoted to executive director of the CIA, the number three post at the Agency.

Now, last week, Goss denied he had attended any of Wilkes' parties. ... Foggo admitted attending the parties but claimed he'd never seen the hookers.

Now, corrupt contractors saucing up Agency officials and members of Congress to get contracts and free money. Hospitality suites where the saucing takes place. Hookers in the mix. It's going on for more than a decade, various members of the key committees in the mix. Goss, former member of one of those committees, appoints one of the key players in all this mess as the number three guy at CIA? The feds leaning hard on the limo company owner who probably knows all the details and already has a long rap sheet and can't afford another conviction?

There's a lot going on here, a lot we don't know, what's connected and what's coincidence. But this is the backstory. And why this story is likely to turn out to be a very big deal.
Is it? Even the editor of the Weekly Standard, William "Bill" Kristol, the public voice of the neoconservative movement, and one of the founding members of the Project for the New American Century that became the definers of what our foreign policy should be, was on Fox News saying to Shepard Smith that there must be something else going on (video here) -
KRISTOL: It wasn't done in a routine way. I don't think people - certainly people close to Goss did not expect this to happen. Senior congressmen and senators didn't expect this to happen. I'm not sure the White House expected this to happen. ... I do think this was sudden. It was unexpected. There will be more of a story that will come out. I don't know what it implies for the future of the agency and Goss' effort to shake up an institution, an institution that's very difficult to shake up. But I do not believe it was part of a long-planned -

SHEPHARD SMITH: How the heck could it have been? In a Bush White House world, things are lined up and they're put out in a sort of meticulous, controlled way. I can envision - if this had been planned in advance, there would have been almost an immediate announcement of a replacement, the hugs, the thank yous, probably a medal or something. Instead what we have now is a vacuum, and you have to wonder what could have gone boom like that to cause him, A) to tender the resignation and, B) for the President to accept it under these circumstances.

KRISTOL: Well you and I think alike, Shep. Either it's brilliant minds or suspicious minds thinking alike -

SMITH: It is just out of character.

KRISTOL: It looked that way to me. What was striking about the statement in the Oval Office with the President, he didn't say, "I will serve until my successor is confirmed," which is the usual practice. In the written statement, he says he intends to be there for a few weeks to help ensure a smooth transition, but implying he could well leave before his successor is confirmed by the United States Senate. So again, I think there were either serious disputes or some internal problem at the agency or some scandal conceivably involving an associate of Goss'. Who knows? Something that popped this week and that caused this sudden event this Friday.
It could be the FBI agents fanning out all over DC wanting to talk to hookers.

And there's this suggesting the key is this "Dusty" Foggo fellow, the low-level supervisor Goss lifted from obscurity to make him number three at the CIA -
As we've reported previously, the CIA's inspector general is looking into Foggo's oversight of contracts at the agency; NBC says the investigation includes allegations that Foggo steered a $2.4 million contract to Brent Wilkes, one of the contractors implicated in the Cunningham case. Wilkes and Foggo have been pals since college, and Foggo made the scene at - and even hosted some of - the contractors' poker parties.
Maybe it was just time to resign, before it all ended in an embarrassing prep walk. And it had to be done now, before everything came out. Yeah, it neutralized the wonderful another-drunk-Kennedy-driving-badly story, but perhaps there was no choice.

Maybe it's what the Wall Street Journal reports Saturday Morning, that the Friday bombshell resignation had something that came up, oddly, on Friday -
The agency also has been drawn into a federal investigation of bribery that has sent former Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham to prison. Just this past week, the CIA confirmed that its third-ranking official, a hand-picked appointee of Mr. Goss, had attended poker games at a hospitality suite set up by a defense contractor implicated in the bribing of former Rep. Cunningham. Friday, people with knowledge of the continuing Cunningham inquiry said the CIA official, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, is under federal criminal investigation in connection with awarding agency contracts.
Odd. Meet a fellow at a decades long series of poker-plus stag parties run by shady contractors the guy has known since high school, promote him from obscurity to a top position where he manages all contracts, and stand back? And within the Post item at the top, this - "After Goss's announcement yesterday, Foggo told colleagues that he will resign next week."

This is a mess. And the managing editors all over lost their juicy another-drunk-Kennedy-driving-badly story. The man who ran the key agency keeping us safe from foreign threats by finding out what was going on in the shadowy corners of the world had to cut out, quickly.

But then, the younger Kennedy gets less attention, and his problems seem insignificant.

What a way to end the week.

Posted by Alan at 23:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 5 May 2006 23:34 PDT home

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