Topic: Couldn't be so...
Big News, Small News
Thursday, May 25, 2006, 7:30 in the evening in Washington, and half past midnight in London, the President Bush and Prime Minister Blair hold a joint press conference at the White House, the Prime Minster on his way back to Downing Street after a visit to Iraq. (If you fly west it's sort of on the way home.) Blair had been visiting with the new government there, almost complete but for someone to head two key ministries, one Interior, in charge of whatever sort of police force can be cobbled together to replace the religious and tribal militias all in black driving the streets and doing those revenge killings with the twenty or more bodies showing up each day here and there. It a bit of a problem. But the claim is there's now a working government there, elected by the people, and it has organized itself, or close enough. It's a turning point, just like killing Saddam Hussein's sons and displaying their bodies, Mussolini style, just like capturing their father, just like the trial of the father, just like the three previous elections. But this one is a real turning point, the others being false alarms or something. That's a hard sell. It's not exactly a "the boy who cried wolf" thing, but something like it. Cynics wait for the next real turning point, or the one after. Collect the series.
This press conference was supposed to be the big news event of the day, even though all the speculation that there would be some sort of announcement of troop reductions had, earlier in the day, been blown away. The press secretary, Tony Snow late of Fox News, had said no way - that wouldn't be the big news. But what would? He has a cool grin.
The problem was that there was competition for the big news of the day, things not on the schedule and hard to top.
The Enron trial ended unexpectedly with former CEO Ken Lay and his business buddy Jeff Skilling being convicted on almost all counts and facing at a minimum twenty years in jail each, with more likely longer sentences. Lay, formerly a key Bush supporter and the one who gave the most money to the man over all the long years, is going to jail. Out here in California we think of Enron for the year of the massive power shortages when they manipulated the energy market for fun and profit and our electric bills more than tripled. Others remember being told to hold on to their Enron stock by the folks who ran the company while those guys were dumping everything - and many Enron people lost all their assets and pretty much a lifetime of savings, as did investors who relied on analysts who had been basing their projection on cooked books. So this, the bad guys going to jail, was big news for lots of people. You might have caught Bill O'Reilly on Fox News arguing with the Fox business editor, that Cavuto fellow, that these guys didn't deserve jail time, asking Cavuto, over and over, what did they do to you after all? Bill was outraged. Cavuto looked depressed. He didn't want to fight, not with O'Reilly. Who does? O'Reilly was being the contrarian again, of course. It's a ratings thing. Or he's out of touch. Or he's mad.
Then too Senate finally passed an immigration bill, with a guest worker provision and offering some illegal immigrants a way to become citizens, setting up the mother of all conference committee fights as the House bill explicitly has none of that and calls for building a giant wall along the whole border with Mexico with armed guards and all that, for making anyone here without proper papers guilty of an aggravated felony, and all the rest. This won't be pretty - angry Republicans calling each other names and being outraged, while the Democrats run errands and catch up on the sports pages. The public? They must realize this means no legislation will go to the president for his signature and they're be no new law, and as much as Lou Dobbs on CNN and all the rest have whipped everyone into a frenzy that this is an immediate and dire problem that had to be solved now, it won't be, and life will go on, and tables will be bussed and lettuce won't cost three hundred dollars a head and the world won't end. Next year will be fine, or the year after. But the news was the Senate had just set up a big Republican showdown and there'd be a whole lot of screaming and posturing to come.
Then too, just before the George and Tony Show, there were new developments in the CIA leak case. The vice president could be called as a witness, as the prosecutor, Fitzgerald, wants to ask him, under oath this time, if what the defendant, his former chief of staff, said is true. Did he tell Scooter Libby that the pesky Wilson's wife was an undercover CIA agent who worked on uncovering secret nuclear proliferation deals and he should look into whether she set up the trip and then he should talk to the press? That seems to be what Libby testified to. Fitzgerald wants to know if this motivated Libby to lie to the grand jury, saying he didn't leak to anyone and he didn't know when or where he heard about the woman. The sly thing is that this is not about Cheney at all, just about the other guy's motivation. But then, if and when Cheney testifies, the whole effort to find out who illegally exposed a CIA agent and ruined her operations and thus damaged the nation would seem to point to one man. That man is not the defendant. But that's not Fitzgerald's aim, of course. This is just part of his case against Libby for perjury and obstruction of justice, just investigating the underlying motivation of the man charged. But it's hot. The story started here and was the buzz all over, all day. Fitzgerald is purposely not connecting the dots here. That's not what he's working on - he's methodical and focused on the one case. Everyone else is connecting the dots, of course. And just for the fun of it, the same day there was this - Fitzgerald wanting to understand a phone call from the reporter who wrote the column telling the world the woman was a CIA agent, Robert Novak, to the president's key advisor, Karl Rove, as the investigation started. It sure looks like Novak and Rove got together and tried to coordinate their stories to keep each other out of hot water, making sure no one would know anything. Just something to look into. The George and Tony Show - Iraq is a wonderful success story, we were right, but we're staying there and can't say when anyone gets to come home - seemed minor stuff, small beer as it were.
And congress was still ticked about the FBI's search of William Jefferson's office (the executive branch trying to intimidate and thus neuter the legislative branch and all that), and ABC reports they're after House Speaker Hastert on another matter, and the FBI says they're not, and Hastert wants to sue ABC for defamation or whatever, and ABC stands by their story, and Hastert suggests maybe someone at the FBI is planting stories about him because he complained about the Jefferson thing. It's all here, in all its silly detail. But there's the obvious bigger issue. Is the executive branch, for the first time in our history, trying to intimidate and thus neuter the legislative branch, essentially changing the way our government has worked for the last two hundred nineteen years. Many say yes, and this is big news, a fundamental change, a strategic move toward a unity executive government where the legislature and courts are somewhere between subordinate and irrelevant. Others say no, it's just a criminal matter or two handled in a new and exciting and much more effective way than the stuffy "separation of powers" traditions. Maybe so. But there is this - the FBI now wants to interview members of the House and Senate to determine whether they were responsible for leaking information about the Bush administration's warrantless spying program to the New York Times. What next? The IRS goes after tax records? So senators and congressmen (and congresswomen) are learning just who's the boss, and that what they and everyone else thought about the constitution was, apparently, quite wrong. The George and Tony Show - Iraq is a wonderful success story, we were right, but we're staying there and can't say when anyone gets to come home - seemed minor stuff, small beer as it were, compare to this, a kind of a slow motion coup if you think about it. Or maybe it's nothing. After all, there was this - the president ordered all the documents the FBI seized from congressman Jefferson's office sealed for forty-five days - so people could calm down. If it really is a slow motion coup, then going slow is important. People might forget the issue by July. Other things will come up. Have to be careful. Very clever.
As for the George and Tony Show, Tim Grieve offers a pleasant summary here -
That was cold, but overall it was dull. The talking heads on television, doing the "instant analysis" were all over the only news - two years ago the president was embarrassed to admit he could not think of one mistake he made in office, and on Thursday, May 25, 2006, he admits three - he didn't realize that "Bring it on!" and "Wanted Dead or Alive" could be misinterpreted, and what happened at Abu Ghraib made us look bad. Of course you had to see it (video here) - he looked sad and thoughtful, and that had been carefully rehearsed. The soulful profile gaze that ceiling was masterful. Great theater. And it might have been effectible. Maybe he'll get some support now from the "reality based" folks, as he did alight on this earth briefly, but, on MSNBC, Newsweek's White House correspondent said just after he finished and the cameras moved to Blair, Bush leaned over to the reporters in the front row and gave them all a big sarcastic grin.
It's a game. He's winning.
Or he's not? See Howard Fineman on the Enron verdict here -
Ben Adler says that's horseshit here -
But really, it doesn't matter. Lay and Skilling are old history. Other things are happening.
But that was the big news on Thursday, May 25, 2006.
What about the small news?
The movie about how Jesus had a son by Mary Magdalene and now Opus Dei is trying to take over the world is still a hot topic.
Stanley Kurtz in the National Review here -
What? It's just a movie, and it seems not that good a movie. But it's a conspiracy against the beleaguered and outnumbered true conservatives. Right.
James Wolcott here -
And there's Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter, in the Wall Street Journal here -
Be grateful for what the Christians gave you, you Hollywood Jews! It's so sad you can't be grateful.
Amazing. But a cool diversion from the real issues.