Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The redirection

With windlasses and with assays of bias, By indirections find directions out.
- Polonius
The rolling pin of White House scandal continues to splay out an ever widening pastry of malfeasance, fraud, jobbery and inquity. No sooner had VP Chief of Staff Lewis Libby been convicted on four counts of perjury and obstruction of justice than out rolled the next scandal à la mode: the US Attorney purge. While merely demonstrating the painfully familiar standard operating procedure of the White House -- federal departments exist to serve the interests of the GOP and their generous donors -- the attorney purge is notable for its timing and what it has displaced as the discussion du jour: the FBI's likely illegal abuse of National Security Letters, the Walter Reed scandal with its associated meme that the Bush administration doesn't really care about about the troops and the Libby verdict and that event's potential to further expose the Vice President's office, not only in the outing of Plame, but in Cheney's and other neocons' roles in cooking pre-invasion WMD intelligence. It appears the White House thought attentions would be better directed toward the purge of US Attorneys -- something that is probably not illegal -- and away from a far more dangerous direction. If Gonzales takes the hit, well, he won't have been the first to go down covering for Cheney and Rove.

Indeed, we have seen this scandal-bump-issue pattern often enough. Just as various congressional committees were gearing up for hearings surrounding the Libby trial, with Fitzgerald and Plame on tap to testify, and more outrage yet again generated by police state practices run amok -- this time at the FBI -- suddenly Congress is consumed by investigating the attorney purge. Not that this isn't something that should happen, but it is certainly far less serious than any of those simmering issues.

Notable also now is the conveniently timed release of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's recorded confession to the 9/11 plot, garnered during a secret military tribunal to which no press or witnesses were allowed access. But the Pentagon says this guy confessed, so, by god, that's good enough. Though hardly a stunning revelation -- Mohammed's involvement has been long asserted, despite sufficient doubts -- the story served another and far more important purpose: bring back pained memories of 9/11, remind of us of the evildoers' evilness, and suck up the big headlines (see how that draws the eyes) while a picky Congress frets about a few lawyers getting fired. Suddenly, FBI malfeasance, Scooter Libby, Walter Reed and White House intelligence manipulation are relics of long, dusty, forgotten past.

Within this larger redirection, though, there exists what we have all come to recognize as the painfully familiar media snow job, this time surrounding the attorney firings. Rather than examining the issues that no doubt were of considerable concern to both the Republican party and the White House and which likely led to the dismissals -- especially of Carol Lam -- the American public are, once again, treated to disingenuous discussions about what Clinton did or did not do. The usual suspects have lined up to poo-poo Bush's unprecedented mid-term firings as common; The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, The Washington Times and even NBC's David Gregory have called the bulk discharge of USAs no big deal or at least have questioned its import. With the exception of Gregory -- who appears more hapless than determined -- these same GOP tools had been previously engaged in the disinformation campaign about the Libby trial, disgorging the worn and tired White House talking points about Plame and Wilson and calling, if not demanding, a pardon for Libby.

The issue, of course, is not whether Bush can dismiss US Attorneys; he can. The issue is why and why now (or roughly now). Which means that this redirection from other swirling scandals carries with it a certain risk. We've heard enough about Iglesias and his refusal to speed up investigations of State House Democrats in New Mexico prior to the November elections. But the vastly more important dismissal is that of Carol Lam. Her investigation and eventual conviction of Randy Cunnigham had led to a far wider sweep that also brought down long time Republican bag man, Mitchell Wade and was also pointing at Republican congressman Jerry Lewis, chairman of the House Appropriations committee, the same one through which Cunningham had been directing defense contracts to the Wade and Wilkes enterprise, MZM.

Lam's investigation also pointed towards the CIA, where, just two days before her forced resignation, her Grand Jury brought indictments against the CIA's former Executive Director, Kyle Foggo, and another GOP "donor," graft and corruption specialist Brett Wilkes, a partner of the already convicted Wade. "Hookergate" swirled around these four shady GOP horsemen and is likely what led to the abrupt departure of Porter Goss after less than two years as CIA Director. Though no one really notice at the time, unaware of its potential significance, Goss had inexplicably bumped Foggo to the number three spot at the agency, Executive Director, but Bush's own Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board had grown concerned about
a widening FBI sex and cronyism investigation that's targeted Kyle (Dusty) Foggo, the No. 3 official at the CIA, and also touched on Goss himself.
Clearly, things were getting entirely out of hand and the only real way to bring this to an end was to can the prosecutors. Both Lam and Debra Wong Yang, a US Attorney in LA who began the investigation of GOP Rep. Jerry Lewis, are now gone; Lam having been fired and Yang suddenly retiring just after the election. It is now expected that none of these investigations will proceed any further.

None of this will you hear being discussed by our media mavens, who insist on portraying the USA dismissals as just another thing Bush can do whenever he wants. Even less likely to capture mainstream attention was the recently released study by Donald C. Shields, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Communication at University of Missouri and John F. Cragan, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Communication, Illinois State University. In The Political Profiling of Elected Democratic Officials, Shields and Cragan document the practices of the Bush Department of Justice as regards targeting Democratic politicians at the local level across the country. The data to date indicate a disturbing if unsurprising bias:
Data indicate that the offices of the U.S. Attorneys across the nation investigate seven (7) times as many Democratic officials as they investigate Republican officials, a number that exceeds even the racial profiling of African Americans in traffic stops.
And that the Bush administration is engaged in setting yet another precedent:
The current Bush Republican Administration appears to be the first to have engaged in political profiling.
The effects of such biased behaviour can be expected to be long term and further indicates the Rovian drive to establish the long-dreamt permanent Republican majority by marginalizing Democrats at the lowest levels, levels the media rarely notices. Shields and Cragan state the likely effects of this DoJ effort.
  1. Political profiling makes Democratic officials look like they are more corrupt than Republicans, just as racial minorities are made to look more corrupt than whites by the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement agencies. However, the data on state-wide, U.S. Congress, and U.S. Senate elected officials do not support this claim.
  2. Political profiling of local Democratic elected officials attacks the party at the very grassroots essence of its personality. Each local case of reported or insinuated corruption by the federal authorities eats at and saps the local Democrat's energy to be the grassroots leader of the party and drains his or her resources in defense against the comparative unlimited resources of the federal government.
  3. Political profiling discredits each candidate's persona as a viable leader of and spokesperson for the local Democratic party.
  4. Political profiling weakens the candidate's ability to raise monies for themselves when seeking re-election and negates their ability to raise money for other democratic candidates.
  5. By keeping political profiling at the local level -- in this way the story is most likely not to be viewed nationally -- it makes it harder for reporters to connect the dots between corruption investigations in say Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, or Philadelphia let alone towns like Carson, Colton, East Point, or Escambia, or counties like Cherokee, Harrison, Hudson, or Lake. Each local report of a corruption investigation appears as only an isolated incident rather than as a central example of a broader pattern created by the Bush Justice Department's unethical practice of political profiling.
Years of political profiling of Democrats by the Bush administration is behaviour that is not being discussed nor will it be discussed within the mainstream media frame. And what is clear from the Shields-Cragan study is that the dismissal of Iglesias, someone who refused political pressure to which many US Attorneys appear to have succumbed, is a rarity. Which means, of course, that this legalistic pogrom against low level Democrats has in fact been carried out with great abandon and has been utterly overlooked by the media. Unfortunately, even with the publication of the Shields-Cragan study, that will likely continue (Shields has appeared on The Colbert Report).

As indicated earlier, the redirection of attentions onto the US Attorney purge carried some risk, although it seems the White House can always bank on their loyal minions to put in the requisite face time and focus the energies of the media on issues entirely unrelated to what has been really going on in the Department of Justice during the Bush years.

The one wild card in this will be Democrats with congressional majorities. Now that the Senate has indicated that subpoenas will be forthcoming in the attorney purge issue, it will be interesting to see whether the Democrats ask questions, not only about the firings themselves, but about the long term DoJ efforts in political profiling. Apart from the obvious efforts in obstructing ongoing investigations of elected Republicans, Bush administration political profiling is something the Democrats better recognize as an existential threat to their party, a party that lately is constantly under attack by both Republicans and the media (all you need to do to confirm this is watch any talking head show on any network). But they also know that the media, in concert with its dreadful willingness to cover up such behaviour rather than expose it, will perform the usual function of blaming whiny Democrats for complaining about being investigated seven times more often than Republicans. One's of those is called a rock, the other, a hard place.

But Democrats don't need to rely on assays of bias to figure out what is going on. They have the power of subpoena and they better start using it. And after hearing Leahy speak on this issue over the last few days, he sounds like a man worn out by this White House and who probably doesn't give a shit what the flaccid jowls of Bret Hume are quivering about. Here's hoping he is mad as hell and won't take it anymore.


Blogger The Misanthrope said...

If I read this post correctly, what is happening now is another version of the terror alert system. Since they no longer use their color coded fear factor, they now release Mohammed's trumped up confession that no one is really sure whether to believe or not.

Your lead on this story was outstanding, I loved it.

6:41 PM  
Blogger theBhc said...

Thanks, misanthrope! I'm honoured.

2:51 AM  
Blogger Demon Princess said...

Wonderful, eloquent, impassioned essay. I enjoyed it immensely.

I really can't account for the MSM's abdication of its responsibility to address these sorts of issues ~ none but the usual (lame) excuses: ratings, ratings, ratings & media lite explained in terms of same.

However, my gut instinct wants to add that there's some sort of overlayer to that, though, perhaps reflecting an inherent weakness in our anemic two party political system. (A point first made to me by an Irish resident of Germany married to an American media guy there when she asked, "What is the difference between your Republicans & your Democrats, really?" I was visting there just after The Wall came down, so this was pre-raving-Bush-Neocon-time.

I often hear her words when I'm thinking about current events & wonder what she'd think now.

Your essay revives those questions for me. Can it really be so easy, & so invisible, for the Neocons to do what they have systematically been doing to not only the Democrats (who've proved in the past that they're mere politicians, too--hence my general lack of excitement about or endorsement of any particular one of them), but more outrageously & importantly, to our entire system of governance. And SO swiftly! They've cynically & disingenuously undone, here & abroad, everything we Americans THOUGHT our country stood for in record time, all the while assiduously excercising spin designed to exploit those same "what it means to be American" memes. The record time in which they've managed to accomplish it just knox my sox off (official legal terminology, that.)

Long story short, I think it's confluence of factors: a calculated dumbing down in political discourse combined with the careful cultivation of special interest groups, the conflation of all those groups' interests: business, social conservatism, religion (the oddest element of all), & the careful construction of their own single-minded noise machine which has accounted for their success.

The stasis on "our side" was hastened by MSM's laziness in the very important role as the 4th estate in government, as well as Americans' increasingly short attention spans (if we don't get it in a 3-second soundbyte, we're on to something else.)

The net effect is it seems as we all just blinked, when we refocused, we find we suddenly live in a country we no longer recognize. In reality, it's taken the neocons decades to work themselves so insidiously into the political arena, to gain such great control (to shift the world's axis, in fact) & until the last election they seemed unstoppable. I really feared for that one, but we did make some gains in righting the balance. I'm hopeful that the neocons' era is waning & will come to a close, but this is no time to start taking that for granted, as your essay points out. There's a long distance yet to go.

What I fear now is that, given the MSM's laziness, the average American's unwillingness to pay attention/detachment, we have even less of a difference between our parties, and less of a choice as Democrats become more centrist in order to draw votes in a radically polarized political environment. I personally think we as a country would benefit by a vigorous third or even a fourth political party.

How likely, given that we've all been fairly well inculcated with capitalism & consumerism as our REAL central values (citizenship, the public square, humanitarism, collective well-being, not so much)? I don't dare speculate.

Thinking that we could benefit by some fresh thinking & more political viewpoints is a highly unpopular view in some circles, I know, but I'm taking the long view.

But in the meantime, yes: the Democrats we have should take heed & fight back with every means at their disposal. And they should stand for something, definitely not just neo-con lite. In that they must take the initiative, including self-preservation.

The only bright spot, as I see it, is that neocons have gotten so arrogant they've gotten really sloppy. I don't see them effectively being able to manage themselves anymore, much less media critique (when it comes). I see them trying to spin situations that have gotten away from them (distraction is definitely one of their favorite ploys), but it's apparent they can no longer keep the lid on the scandals, which are popping out as if from beneath a pressure-cooker, an apt analogy, IMHO.

It's a far cry from their former ability to control everything & everyone; all they can do now is try to maintain some semblance of damage control.

4:57 AM  
Blogger theBhc said...

As little difference as exists between the two parties now, this DoJ program of investigation assault on grassroots Democrats is, I find, one of the more insidious things I've seen. Because it is meant to stomp down any nascent popularity that any actual progressive candidate might have. Of course, such candidates must move into the Democratic party -- there is no real choice because of this relic of a two party system -- and there they will either be smacked by the DLC (think Paul Hackett) or attacked by the DoJ. Anyone who wants to make the Dems actually move in a liberal direction is doomed by these people.

The DoJ program, or as Gonzales might call it, "administration priorities," is yet another wake up call to real Democrats. The Republicans are not interested in democracy, they will do whatever it takes to win and to keep winning. Yes, they lost majorities despite all these efforts but that doesn't mean they haven't been effective. It just means Americans have grown more pissed off that the GOP were prepared for.

Thanks for stopping by!

12:43 PM  

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