Saturday, May 13, 2006

Can You Hear Me Now?

From Maureen Dowd's 5/13 New York Times column:

With a Nixonesque sense of paranoia and vendetta, the Bush dominatrixes never seem to worry about the nefarious activity itself - from shoplifting to gathering data on all Americans' phone records. They just resent it when the nefarious activity is revealed.

There's the naked truth: W's administration in a nutshell. Even though we're still very far from having the previous illegal wiretapping surveillance allegations explained and justified (and indeed, the administration stonewalling seems to have succeeded in waiting out the public outrage, thus avoiding criminal trials), it now appears that, if anything, the whistle blowers were grossly understating the violation of the body politic. The heat of the threatened investigations apparently didn't amount to shit to this administration, as they've tempered themselves exactly not at all in the face of stern public criticism and concern. Once again we are treated to assurances that sound at this stage like outright lies, because most of them in the past have been--how "very targeted, very specific," in NSA chief Michael V. Hayden's term, can the collection of data about tens of millions of domestic calls and emails be?

I don't doubt now that heads will roll--not for illegal activity, but for somebody in the smoke-filled room letting the cat out of the bag. Someone's about to lose their tee time and preferred parking spot.

And again to those who are happy to wave W's "national security" white flag in the face of their retreating civil liberties, I suggest that the program and its scope should, like everything else in a government with a balance of powers, be under SOMEONE'S scrutiny, someone other than the one-person rule of our current autarch. A responsible government would have looked into the legality and public perception of a groundbreaking public surveillance program and sought to change the laws if necessary. This is how the public governs itself. At the very least, there should have been independent Justice Department approval (to the extent that any piece of the apparatus remains independent amid the epidemic of corruption and cronyism that is sweeping our government), if not a congressional discussion--behind closed doors, if necessary--about exactly how deeply into our private lives the government tentacles should be allowed to penetrate.

So, how about such a Justice Department investigation?

From the NYT:

WASHINGTON, May 10 — An investigation by the Justice Department ethics office into the conduct of department lawyers who approved the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program has been closed because investigators were denied security clearances, according to a letter sent to Congress on Wednesday.

The head of the department's Office of Professional Responsibility, H. Marshall Jarrett, wrote in the letter to Representative Maurice D. Hinchey, Democrat of New York, that "we have been unable to make meaningful progress in our investigation because O.P.R. has been denied security clearances for access to information about the N.S.A. program."

Mr. Jarrett said his office had requested clearances since January, when it began an investigation, and was told on Tuesday that they had been denied. "Without these clearances, we cannot investigate this matter and therefore have closed our investigation," the letter said.

Mr. Hinchey said the denial of clearances was "hard to believe" and compounded what he called a violation of the law by the program itself, which eavesdrops without court warrants on people in the United States suspected of ties to Al Qaeda.

Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman, said that the N.S.A. program was "highly classified and exceptionally sensitive" and that "only those involved in national security with a specific need to know are provided details about this classified program." He said the legality of the eavesdropping program had been reviewed by other Justice Department offices and by the N.S.A. inspector general.

Are we really to believe that no one in the Justice Department can handle information about national security? In our own Justice Department?


Dzesika said...

Sheesh. OMG and sheesh.

I mean, we all know somewhere deep down that all this stuff is going on, but we're somehow, I don't know, preserved by the idea that maybe it really doesn't ...

Joshua said...

I might be a silly young fool, but it seems to me that the only difference between the corruption of this administration and the earlier corruptions of administrations past is media coverage. I am sure a few people have already argued this point, but it stands to reason that most of what goes on behind closed white doors will never be allowed the public eye. Recently, and I think this probably skips back to the previous administration as well, we are seeing far too much of the process.

I say "too much" because I think we are seeing what it takes to get things done, domestic and foriegn, and we are seeing it prepackaged with moral condemnation.

That being said, I think (truly, and not to backpedal) the people in this forum probably do a better job than most of distilling the truth from the muck that is modern media.

wunelle said...

Joshua--a good conversation point. I'm inclined--not to rebut you, since god knows I don't have better information than anybody else--to feel that, if anything, the administration has gotten a free ride as far as media scrutiny, but it's an absolutely valid point to ask what the media's role is in all this. Are we upset simply because we're learning about things that always happen (a la Nixon's claim about Watergate) but that are traditionally kept secret?

In that case (though I'm having a bit of fun here) one might question W's competence in not being able to keep his shit under wraps! I think there was something of a standard liberal response to the Clinton woes that EVEN IF the affairs were non-issues (they certainly were for me), he was STILL doing a really shitty job of keeping his personal dirty laundry from the public eye.

But with our present administration, I cannot separate the surveillance from the war from the upper bracket tax cuts from the cronyism. It's a valid argument that maybe they're only being PORTRAYED as the most corrupt administration in a long time, but I'd need convincing that this was all a media tar & feathering.

And the only place to find that vein of persuasion seems to be on Fox News.

Joshua said...

OUCH (FOX news comment)

I would be blind, stupid, and far too right (the opposite of left, not wrong) to try and claim that ALL of this is media. I thinkt he question is how much do we owe the media for the portrayal of Bush. Is he a good president? No. That one's easy. Is he the WORST president EVER? That one's not so easy. But public opinion would cetainly say he is. And my low opinion of the public, coupled with my distrust for the media, sort of makes me question what I really know about this administration, and what I am just being told.

wunelle said...

"And my low opinion of the public, coupled with my distrust for the media, sort of makes me question what I really know about this administration, and what I am just being told."

To me this is good, solid wisdom. In that, I think the media are failing us to the extent that no one quite feels informed about things. Whether this is due to spin and bias or a peculiar bent of investigative journalism is an open question. I like NPR for their thoroughness, and when the shit seems to be hitting the fan they report conservative skepticism as well (which tells me when I maybe ought to wonder at the flow of information). But in the end, there's always much more news than there is time to give it coverage, and so the CHOICE of stories inevitably represents an agenda, or at least it reflects the opinions of those doing the choosing.

And I suppose that is where a reservation of judgment about things is a good course of action, at least until we know as much as we can. (This blog notwithstanding! ;-)

Jeffy said...

Another interesting aspect to the media coverage of this and other 'scandals' is the timing. This one comes just as the former head of the NSA is in line to be head of the CIA. Other stories have been broken at times that seemed oddly coincidental with other events in the administration. This may just be a case of things being publicized at times when there is more interest, but it seems that sources for these things might be doing their best to leak info at opportune moments.

The situation we have gotten to where we have to know the political leaning of our news source is another very bad thing. The whole premise of the news media is that they should be unbiased. It is understandable that some bias will creep in, but to have 'news' organizations that are blatantly promoting one view or another seems to do a lot to ruin the credibility of all news organizations. If you tend to get your news from a source that shares your bias it can feel good, but you no longer are really getting 'news', you are now getting 'stories' that fit with your view of the world. This doesn't educate you so much as confirm your beliefs.

As for the job that the President is doing, I think that while he is ultimately responsible for the actions of his administration, I don't think that he is directly to blame for much of the trouble. I think he has let folks (like Cheney and Rumsfeld) run wild, and they have done a very bad job for him. I think that his primary failing has been to not run a tight ship.

Joshua said...

"I think that his primary failing has been to not run a tight ship"

That might just be the best thing I have ever read on a blog. Honestly, I think we all tend to place the blame on the figurehead, instead of the people involved, a lot of the time. For some, perhaps, it is hasty generalization, and for others, pure unadulterated ignorance. I hope I am in the former group, but I feel, often, as if it is the latter.

As for the media, I think the big beef is that EVERY SINGLE news source seems to be leaning on e way or the other. It used to be (and keep in mind I am fairly young) that a few news sources would do this, and the rest prided themselves on being unbiased. Now, though, they all take pride in reporting their side of the news.

wunelle said...

As to the timing of scandals, this is all the politics, isn't it? Things are delayed until they can give the biggest punch. I suppose it's always been this way; one becomes in tune to gaining advantage in any way possible.

As for the tight ship thing, I'm not sure. Maybe I misunderstand what you mean by that, but I think this has been among the most monolithic, my-way-or-the-highway presidencies. I don't think he's done a good job--far from it. But this is because he is going in directions of which I do not approve, and not because he's doing that badly. I think he's been very good at steering things in a spooky, evangelical direction, and (as I have tiresomely reiterated) I'm not at all sure that he was elected for, and is supported for, the agenda he knew he was going to pursue from the outset.

I guess I'd also need some convincing that what Cheney and Rummy are up to are not to W's liking, though that certainly seems possible. He seems to reward loyalty above all, and so he might not fire them for what he deems transgressions. But I'm just not convinced that he's less than really happy with both these clowns.

Anyway, good discussion.

Jeffy said...

I think that we are giving W too much credit for being in control of his administration. I don't know how much it matters how much he agrees with the directions that his chiefs take, I think they are calling the shots more than he is. I take the view that W is just a likeable figurehead to put a good face out in front of the gang of back-room power brokers that are really running the show. I would love to know how things actually work, but when I see W and Cheney together I have a hard time believing that is it W who is really in charge.

Few of the ideas that he promoted during his campaign have gone anywhere, or even gotten much consideration, and he has a Congress run by his party that could have helped him out.

wunelle said...

Well, a really good point and one I cannot argue against. I've believed the claims that Cheney was the man behind the curtain, and this undermines my previous comment--W can't simultaneously be a monolith and a toadying follower now can he?

Oh, and this, by the way, is a brilliant point:

"If you tend to get your news from a source that shares your bias it can feel good, but you no longer are really getting 'news', you are now getting 'stories' that fit with your view of the world."