Overload: Hoping You Cannot Attend To It All
Consider the major news stories now in play.
Ex-CIA Official Faults Use of Data on Iraq, with a summary from Editor and Publisher here. This is not just some low-level flunky speaking out. This is the man who for five years prepared the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for the president, now retired and teaching at Georgetown University. He makes three points - in the run-up to the war the intelligence was "cherry-picked" for items that would justify invading and occupying Iraq, ignoring intelligence that argued Iraq was contained "in a box" and no real threat and the ever more intrusive inspections were doing the job of keeping a lid on things, and the connection between Saddam Hussein and his government with al Qaeda was wholly manufactured as everyone in the intelligence community knew there just wasn't one, and all the intelligence reports that our post-victory presence would cause big trouble, and some sort of uprising without a quick and massive Marshall Plan sort of effort to restore basic services were discarded. On the third point, the first request for an intelligence assessment of just what was happening on the ground there was made one full year after the fall of Baghdad.
Paper: White House Knew About Levees Early, with a summary from Editor and Publisher here. The New York Times finds documentation that the administration knew, a few hours after Hurricane Katrina hit last fall after midnight on a Saturday, that the levees broke, New Orleans was going under, and a hundred thousand people had no way out. The president said he had no idea until late Monday, the head of homeland security said he found out sometime Tuesday. The president continued his vacation with planned rallies and speeches and didn't get around to dealing with it until late in the week. The news services knew, and covered it all, and anyone who watched the news knew. It was embarrassing, but, and things sun out of control and people died, the official line was, "But we didn't know." It seems they did. And this was followed by hearings where the head of FEMA, Michael Brown, who was forced to resign, testified he had actually being telling the White House and Homeland Security what was happening, but got nowhere, as in Ex-FEMA chief blasts White House over Katrina, Ex-Katrina Chief 'Warned White House Of Imminent Danger' and Brownie's revenge. They didn't know? He said that "was baloney" - since he wasn't dealing with "terrorism" he and his agency got put off. In fact, FEMA was being quietly defunded and disregarded as it wasn't a priority in the new system. Believe him? He recounted just who he spoke to and when, and there's been no dispute from the White House.
But you have to love this -
The whiner twists the knife.Brown says that White House Chief of Staff Andy Card rebuffed his efforts to solicit more help from the White House, ordering him to work through the "chain of command" instead. That chain ran through Chertoff and the DHS bureaucracy, Brown said. "We've done a great job as Republicans of establishing more and more bureaucracy," Brown told Maine Sen. Susan Collins.
Brown said that he cried in his hotel room during the early days of Katrina, frustrated by the failure of the federal government to deliver the help he knew it was capable of providing. Asked whether the Bush administration was making him the fall guy for Katrina, Brown said, "I certainly feel abandoned." As for the president, Brown said: "Unfortunately, he called me 'Brownie' at the wrong time. Thanks a lot, sir."
The lobbying scandal? McClellan Confronted With Abramoff Emails. The White House says the president hardly knew the chief bad guy, Jack Abramoff. A whole bunch of emails surface with Abramoff chatting abiout how well they knew each other, and about meetings. The White House spokesman, McClellan, has a job no one would want. He repeated the lWhite House line, and would say no more - ongoing investigations and all that.
The scandal about outing the CIA spy, that Plame woman? Waas's New Scoop: Cheney 'Authorized' Libby to Leak Classified Information - Murray Waas finds the portion of the record where former chief-of-staff to Vice President Cheney, Scooter Libby, under indictment for misleading the investigation as to who "outed" the woman, said the vice president had actually authorized him to leak classified information to the press to discredit those who questioned what the White House was saying. He revealed the identity of a CIA agent, burned her contacts, and ended her career, because there was a general policy to leak classified information when politically necessary? That's an interesting defense. Administrations do that, of course, and it's not precisely illegal, just, as the Wall Street Journal put it, a little "sleazy." They did release parts of the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) when that was useful to build support for the war. Scooter, in an "oops" moment, thought burning a spy whose husband said uncomfortable things in public was the same sort of thing. He was just enthusiastic? That's a fascinating defense.
The spying scandal, with NSA tapping calls, reading emails and scanning web logs of US citizens without warrants from the special, secret court set up to expedite warrants so they could do just that? Chief FISA Judge Warned About Misuse Of NSA Spy Data. The Washington Post gets hold of evidence that what they are up to was really out of bounds and, even from this "we approve most everything" court, they were on shaky grounds, at best. Even these amazing accommodating judges were getting cold feet. That doesn't sound good.
The Republicans, in the wake of the Tom DeLay indictments and the ongoing lobbying scandal, elect a new house leader to make things all better, but he had a little problem - House Majority Leader's Landlord Is A Lobbyist. The new guy in charge rents his DC apartment from one of the questionable lobbyists. Ah well. Minor stuff.
And mentioned elsewhere -
Republican Who Oversees NSA Calls for Wiretap Inquiry - straight-shooting staunch Republican (also up for reelection in November) says something is amiss. There a bit of that going around in the parts of the party that haven't joined the Bush "cult of personality."
There's the new, proposed Bush budget. Bush's Budget Tricks - Time magazine notes the numbers don't add up and some of the usual tables are simply missing (forward impact on deficit, for one). And there's this - privatizing and eventually eliminating Social Security, that the president just couldn't sell to the country last year, in now part of the proposed budget (along with some new things like eliminating the death benefit for those who lose their spouse, and no aid for kids who've lost their parent if the kids drop out of school). Cute.
And the gem - Tom DeLay to Oversee Justice Department - when Duke Cunningham had to resign for taking over two million in bribes, the house leadership gave the open seat on the Appropriations Committee to DeLay. Amazing.
What to make of all this?
Peter Daou here comments that "each of these stories constitutes a full-blown crisis that would have caused a massive firestorm for any other administration."
But that's not happening, as he notes just a "cursory glance" at the online editions of national papers and news outlets as well as a scan of the major cable news nets "would lead you to believe that the most important piece of news today is that a British man accused of killing his wife and child will return to the US to face trial."
Well, that's news too, as was the Michael Jackson trial last summer. But Daou is contending Bush's political opponents "are unwitting partners in a macabre dance with this administration," where all these political stories just die. Only a few people followed them, while "political leaders who ought to be putting a stop to the madness are frozen in focus-grouped fear" and the Bush supporters just smile.
The effect? -
Well, yes, the opposition lacks focus. And so? "Bush and his team count on the opposition's lack of focus, joyfully handing them more catnip."This half-decade tsunami of scandals has had the intended effect: overload the senses, short circuit the outrage, dizzy the opposition. How many times have Bush's opponents simply thrown their hands up in disgust, overwhelmed by the enormity of the administration's over-reach? How many times have bloggers railed against reporters for going about the business of burying scandals and muddying waters? How many times have Americans watched in amazement as a missing girl in Aruba receives weeks of blanket coverage while lies that led to war and law-breaking at the highest levels of government get a yawn from the media?
From a purely sensory perspective, it's natural to chase the flak. We're conditioned to respond to incoming fire. It's reflexive. But when the fire is coming from all sides, and coming relentlessly, the urge is to stop defending and curl up and give up. This is a process the Cheneys and Roves of this world understand all too well. It's no accident that the scandals get more and more outrageous - after all, the whole point is to have the opposition frantically racing around, chasing stories, distracted and exhausted, wearing itself out like a kitten in a catnip-doused, mouse-filled room.
The amazing thing is that so many of Bush's opponents continue to play along. The sheer inability to put on blinders and drive one scandal home, to take it to its ultimate conclusion, is a failing of magnificent proportions. ...
And then we get just the odd stories - a foiled al Qaeda attack on Los Angeles! But four years ago. And it probably isn't even true, just some idea being tossed around and abandoned. And Bush got the name of the building wrong. It's the Library Tower, not the Liberty Tower (photo here here from 2003). They call it that because it looms above the downtown public library, but anyway it's now the US Bank building. Much has been made of our new mayor being miffed at not being told Bush was going say anything about this, but he's also miffed Bush will not meet with him after two requests. Scheduling conflicts, he was told. But he's a Democrat, and Hispanic without being a Cuban from south Florida. Ah well.
Were folks impressed with the revelation of stooping these nefarious people? Hardly. Is it proof warrantless spying on US citizens does real good? That's illogical because the "planning" took place in Indonesia. But folks don't think too carefully. Is it proof the Patriot Act should be made permanent? No, not related - but it might help sway some people, as general fear overrides logic. Is it proof we really can work with our allies? They like us in Indonesia?
It was just a crass move for the rubes. But good for one day's amusement.
As for getting the name of the building wrong, a little Freudian speculation - he was not thinking of a "library" getting blown up (his wife was a librarian so he couldn't) and used the word "liberty" as he's got a Jones for blowing up civil liberties. No, too facile.
But as Peter Daou writes, the sheer number of scandals makes it almost impossible for the press and the public to see any of them clearly, or separate the spin for what's really happening. The Los Angeles story was "Los Angeles Didn't Blow Up!" - and that can run any day of the week. It didn't blow up today either. Is that because of what the government has done? Maybe. Is that because the city makes all bars close by two in the morning? Is that because no penguins have massed in Santa Monica on the beach because it's too warm for them? Why does something "not happen?" It's a classic problem in formal logic, and the basis of many a bad joke.
As for seeing clearly, there is too much noise for much of that. The press is overwhelmed at the selection of possible stories, and has to sell ad space anyway. More news from Aruba.
Will an opposition party really form and help out. Digby at Hullabaloo says no, maybe you just have to trust layers -
Maybe. The next round of NSA hearings may bring some of them in front of the cameras.... our two party tradition provides for very little real power to be invested in an opposition party on its own - the rules have been devised for bipartisan compromise. When you have a very disciplined majority (even if only with a slight numerical advantage) the minority party can be virtually shut out of government, as in a parliamentary system. We have little experience with this kind of government and without the open floor debate and partisan press that exists in other systems, this makes for very lopsided power structure.
The structural political imbalance, the media cacophony and the overwhelming numbers of crises and scandals both large and small have virtually paralyzed this country's ability to deal with the very serious constitutional crisis that is developing over the president's assertion of unlimited executive and war making powers. I think the law is our only backstop on this. It's appearing more and more that we are going to have to ask certain lawyers, cops and judges who understand that their duty to their country is bigger than their duty to this president to step up.
They also might help with some comments on that report from law professor Mark Denbeaux, with attorney Joshua Denbeaux, counsel to two of the detainees at our Cuban prison at Guantánamo Bay - heavy on statistics, reporting more than half of the 517 detainees there are not accused of hostile acts - they're mainly unlucky. (See Connecting Dots this week.) Only a small minority of them had anything to do with Al Qaeda, and the Administration's assurances regarding who it was who was detained there were fundamentally false.
Note John Henke here -
So, the press is overwhelmed, the public anesthetized and busy with tabloid stories, the political opposition neutered and useless, so bring on the attorneys? Maybe.This is why we have due process. This is why we have transparency. This is why a free people who want to remain that way ought to insist we apply due process and transparency even to suspected terrorists. Instead, we've largely stood by while the Bush administration has run roughshod over innocent people; while the Bush administration detained innocent civilians and lawful combatants, and abused them into false confessions. And then that administration had the temerity to say that legislation removing legal recourse by those people "reaffirm[s] the values we share as a Nation and our commitment to the rule of law" ...
Remember: the people who told us that the detainees at Guantánamo Bay were all Taliban, captured on the battlefield or otherwise terrorists are the same people who swear, really, that the domestic surveillance program is "solely for intercepting communications of suspected al Qaeda members or related terrorist groups."
Some folks wouldn't mind - Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings with this -
Yep, and those two items, quoted by the attorney Glenn Greenwald here, in an article called "Why All This Matters," ends with this - "If someone isn't opposed to these things and isn't willing to fight against them, it's hard for me to see how someone can claim to believe in the values and traditions of this country."I have spent my life loving this country for its values, among them the right not to be tossed in jail at the whim of some ruler, but to be guaranteed the right to live free from searches, wiretapping, surveillance, and arrest unless some official could convince a judge that there was probable cause to believe that I had committed a crime. I could scarcely believe it when Padilla was locked up: I was as shocked as I would have been had Bush asserted the right to ban Lutheranism, or to close down the New York Times. It was such a complete betrayal of our country's core values that it took my breath away.
I feel the same way about the NSA story.
Yeah, but we're all busy, overwhelmed and confused. It's overload.
Posted by Alan at 16:21 PST
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Updated: Saturday, 11 February 2006 16:24 PST home