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Bush Scandals Are Roiling: Turn Up the Heat!
April 7, 2004
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

In the face of imminent scandal-eruptions, it's surprising to see Bush&Co. moving so forcefully in so many domestic-policy areas, rather than pulling back and trying to ease their way through the November 2 election.

This aggressive attitude suggests a firm belief on their part that they'll still be residing in the White House after January inauguration day. What do they know that we don't? Rigged computer-voting machines with no way to double-check manipulated vote tallies? Osama bin Laden already in the can? Photos of John Kerry in flagrante delicto with a parakeet?

Something strange is going on sub-rosa beneath the subtext. How else to explain the following list? Are they carrying this out to solidify their right-wing, militarist, fundamentalist base? Are they exhibiting lotsa muscle to indicate confidence and lack of fear? Are they grabbing for what they can get now because they're not really that confident about victory in November? What?

So, let's try to examine the actions on this list - all engineered or encouraged by the Bush Administration - and see what they indicate, taken as a package, and what kind of sense we can make of them.

JUDICIAL END-AROUND. During a recent congressional recess, Bush appointed two Southern appeals-court judges, Pickering and Pryor, so far to the right that there was no way they were ever going to gain the required Senate approval. Now these two right-wing activists are hearing major federal appeals.

GOP HACKING. The Republicans got caught with their hands - and eyes and ears - in a Watergate-like bugging, but this time in a high-tech kind of way: For months, as a result of computer hacking, a key GOP Judiciary Committee staffer was reading top Democratic Senators' emails about strategy and tactics, and passing them on to his superiors; selected newspapers then reported these private communications. No wonder many in the GOP constantly seemed to be one step ahead of their Democratic opposition.

DUCT-TAPING MOUTHS SHUT. The Republican National Committee is pressing the Federal Election Commission to issue new rules that would hamstring non-profit groups that try to communicate with the public in any way critical of Bush Administration policy. As MoveOn notes: "Any kind of non-profit - conservative, progressive, labor, religious, secular, social service, charitable, educational, civic participation, issue-oriented, large, and small - could be affected by these rules." In other words, shut yo' mouth, "watch what you say."

WHAT CAN BE TAUGHT. The Bush Administration is moving to control curriculum and expression on college campuses, especially in the teaching faculty. HR 3077, the so-called "International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003" - which has passed the House overwhelmingly and now is in the Senate - would monitor the curriculum in colleges and universities of, among other things, professors deemed critical of the Bush Administration's neo-imperialist and Middle Eastern policies. In other words, you pointy-headed liberalcommiepinko perfessors better alter your ways or face the consequences.

UNDER THE MEDIA-RADAR. On the same day that Saddam Hussein was captured, with the media focused on the events in Tikrit, Bush signed an order giving the FBI widesweeping new powers to examine any business' financial records - and, if you've dealt with businesses (and who hasn't?) your records as well - without having to seek any sort of court approval. The new rules also forbid the affected businesses discussing the matter with any of their clients involved. In other words, you'll never know what hit you, or that you even got hit. (Sort of like the Patriot Act, which permits sneak-and-peek explorations of your computer and email, without you even knowing the government is violating your privacy.)

EGADS, FLORIDA AGAIN! There's a Republican bill making its way through that state's Senate that would outlaw any manual recounts of undervotes from touch-screen computer machines. One wonders why the GOP in Florida would not want there to be a manual recount - which, conceivably, could benefit their candidate - unless they're pretty confident about the computer-voting outcome long before the election even will be held.

YOUR HOME IS YOUR CASTLE - NOT. According to a 5th Circuit Appeals Court decision, police officers in Louisiana no longer need a warrant to conduct a brief search of your home or business. A reminder, if more are needed, about the power to influence policy for decades through the judicial appointments to the Appeals Courts; see Pickering/Pryor item above.

BACK TO THE FRONT. To meet the demand for troops in Iraq, the military has been deploying some National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers who aren't fit for combat. More than a dozen members of the Guard and reserves told Knight Ridder they were shipped off to battle with little attention paid to their medical histories - including imminent heart-attacks because of badly clogged arteries. Those histories included other ailments such as asthma, diabetes, recent surgery and hearing loss. Once in Iraq, the soldiers faced severe conditions that aggravated their medical problems (the soldier with clogged arteries died), and the medical care available to them was limited.

HERE, HAVE A SUBPOENA. Ashcroft's Justice Department has been targeting peaceful anti-war and anti-Administration groups - religious, political, civic - issuing subpoenas left and right, trying in the public mind to equate dissent with aid to terrorists.

FEEL A DRAFT IN HERE? The Bush Administration is moving to re-institute the military draft, probably by June of 2005. Initially, they will be doing selective drafting - that is, picking those with certain skills deemed essential by the Pentagon planners. After that, further drafting will depend on how many countries are selected for the honor of having themselves invaded.

WORSE THAN WATERGATE

Well, one could go on and on with this list. There is no lack of frightening actions in Bush&Co.'s world. But you get the picture. A little slice of your freedom here, another slice there, another there, and, before you realize it, the militarized state has amassed more power into the hands of government and police agencies.

As John W. Dean, President Nixon's counsel, titles his new book: It's Worse Than Watergate. Far, far worse; most of the Nixon crimes involved trying to cover up a scandal, but the Bush Administration has turned its extremism into permanent national policy, with horrifying consequences.

Now, what Bush&Co. haven't been able to fully control are events on the ground here in this country, and, especially in Iraq.

Domestically, they still have to maneuver their way through the political/judicial minefields of their most egregioius scandals: doing nothing with their pre-9/11 knowledge, their outing of a covert CIA agent, and their gross lies and manipulations that took the country to war in Iraq. Abroad, the Bush Administration has to hope and pray that things go their way in the roiling Iraq snakepit.

Let's take them one at a time:

THE 9/11 HEARINGS

Unless she blows it bigtime - in which case she can conveniently take the fall for the decision-makers - Condoleezza Rice might be able to wiggle her way through her hearing before the so-called "independent" 9/11 Commission. The quote marks are used because not only is that word laughable in terms of who Bush appointed and who's in charge, but because White House counsel Alberto Gonzales contacted at least two of the GOP members of the panel right before Richard Clarke's testimony and apparently supplied them talking points for questioning the White House's former counter-terorrism chief.

In addition, even though the commission held the best cards, the panel permitted itself to get snookered by Karl Rove. In order to get Rice under oath and in public, the commission too quickly agreed to the sneaky White House deal that: ensured that Rice will testify only for a few hours (if the GOP panelists ask long questions and she gives long answers, she's basically home free); guaranteed that Rice can't be called back and that nobody else on the NSC staff (such as key Rice deputy Stephen Hadley) can be made to testify; and caved by agreeding that Cheney and his sock-puppet can testify together and NOT UNDER OATH!

In short, this commission - which, in any case, has concentrated on lower-level intelligence failures all along, rather than on what exactly the executive decision-makers knew, when they knew it, and what they did or didn't do about their knowledge - is designed to be an ineffective truth-seeker and probably will decide nothing all that important with regard to Bush Administration crimes and misdemeanors. I would be overjoyed to be proven wrong.

THE PLAME OUTING

The Plame case - where two "senior Administration officials" revealed that Valerie Plame, the wife of Bush critic Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was a covert CIA operative - is a bit more potentially explosive. For one thing, revealing the identity of CIA agents is against the law; former President George H.W. Bush called such outing of secret operatives "treasonous." The issue is too hot and too public to hide. Somebody is going to have to be indicted.

The only question is whether Bush&Co. can minimize the damage by having a couple of lower-level aides take the fall (supposedly "rogue elements" acting on their own), or whether the grand jury investigating the case won't be content with that B.S. but will go after the Big Guys, maybe Karl Rove and I. Lewis Libby or maybe even Cheney himself.

The Bush Administration may not be able to postpone the investigation past Election Day, so the thinking here is to get the indictments out soon and the cases into the judicial system, so as to diffuse the potential electoral damage as much as possible and make the Plame issue "old news" by the time November rolls around. My guess is: limited indictments of lower-level aides, dragged-out court cases beyond November 2, pardons later if anyone is convicted. But, again, I would be happy to be proven wrong.

THE IRAQI TIME-BOMB

If 9/11 and the Plame case are explosive and potentially hurtful to Bush's election hopes, what's happening in Iraq is positively catastrophic to those chances. There are so many things that can continue to go wrong, and unlike the Plame and 9/11 Commission cases, the U.S. has far less control over the unfolding events. And I'm not even talking here about the egregious lies of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, Rice, Wolfowitz, Powell, et al. that were used to manipulate the country into approving a war that was one of choice, not self-defense. Those deceits could come back and bite them with the electorate - at the least, removing the cloak of "trustworthiness" from Bush - but far more likely is that the military situation in Iraq will continue to spiral out of control.

The whole Bush&Co. object here is to try to rig events from now until Election Day so that the worst aspects of the ongoing war in Iraq disappear from the political radar screen in the U.S. To this end, the U.S. desperately wants to hand over a limited kind of "sovereignty" to its own appointed Iraqi Governing Council, which presumably then will exercise (or seem to be exercising) total control over domestic matters. If Paul Bremer, with U.N. help, can somehow can get to that point - the whole of Iraq may explode into outright rebellion and/or a civil war before the handover - the military will pull back to bases outside the flash points, with Iraqi army and police forces in charge of security operations.

The Bush&Co. hope is that once that happens, the Iraqi insurgency either will ease off its violent campaign since "sovereignty" has been transferred to the Iraqis - or, if not, that mainly Iraqi soldiers and police will take the brunt of the bombings and shootings rather than American forces. In short, the theory goes, there won't be the daily stories (and graphic images) on America's TV networks about the rising rate of U.S. dead; the Bush hope is that the U.S. population will be content that it's Iraqis being slaughtered rather than our own young men and women, and the issue of a continually rising military death toll will disappear as a volatile one for the election campaign.

After November, assuming Bush wins, the Administration figures it can do whatever it wants to do in Iraq (it's already set up 14 military bases in that country), since it'll have four years to make things right there, with only limited and ineffective opposition anticipated from the defeated Democrats and others. In addition, the compliant corporate media will remain faithfully in the Bush&Co. camp, the so-called "peace/anti-war" movement can be marginalized or frightened by the use of police force against them or indicted for "impeding the war effort," and the internet political websites can be effectively dealt with and neutralized.

THE KERRY FACTOR

Another unknown for the Bushistas is how strong a candidate Kerry will turn out to be. So far, the GOP has been able to keep the Massachusetts senator from roaring ahead in the polls - even during the past several weeks, when Bush&Co. suffered a lot of political damage - by trying to define him as a typical Dem tax-raiser, a flip-flopper on issues, and weak on national defense.

The whole object here is to keep Kerry locked solely into his base voters - union workers, liberal Democrats, minorities, etc. - but not let him break out where he could attract enough moderate Republicans, Independents, Libertarians and so on to make an electoral difference.

The GOP strategy appears to be: to solidify the 40% Bush base, keep Kerry boxed in to his 40% Dem base, and lure or frighten enough swing voters and swing states to pick up the requisite electoral votes for victory. And they're not forgetting either the Nader factor - they're covertly supporting his run in hopes that he can pull 3-6% of votes away from Kerry in key states - or that many millions of voters will be using touch-screen voting machines that provide no paper or other means of double-checking the ballots cast.

If Kerry were to fire himself up as a campaigner, and distinguish himself more from Bush on key issues - for example, on the Iraq war and Sharon's policies in the Middle East - the electorate would be able to see two very different candidates and candidacies, and Kerry might begin to rise more in the polls. But, on foreign policy, as Noam Chomsky has observed, Kerry is "Bush lite" - representing the concerns of the corporate power-wielders - though he's much better on domestic issues such as health care, prescription drugs, judicial appointments, the economy, the environment, Medicare, veterans' rights, etc.

If only because of his domestic policies on most issues, he deserves our enthusiastic support. A Kerry administration would not be as arrogant, mean-spirited, greedy, or corrupting. Potentially, he could bring the country back more toward the liberal-moderate center, and away from the extremist, reckless domestic direction Bush&Co. have taken us, and (though he needs to re-examine some of his foreign positions) international policies that have created such havoc here and around the globe.

But Kerry does need to grow as a campaigner, and as a human being. He said he admires the late Robert Kennedy; now is the time for him to grow, as RFK did, into a compassionate, thoughtful, determined, dynamic campaigner - and, as Kerry sometimes exhibits, into even more of a scrapper against Bush's dirty tricks and as a fighter for justice and peace.

BUSH CAN BE BEATEN

The scandals are bubbling away in Washington's political pressure-cookers, and the opposition to Bush is building up steam and momentum. Critical mass could occur at any time. In short, Bush can be denied a second term - if all of us pitch in to make it happen, concentrating a good share of our energies on the computer-voting dangers - and the country can, after the January inauguration in 2005, start to reverse the immense damage caused by the Bush neo-cons.

Not only will a GOP defeat rob Bush&Co. of their absolute hold on power and their control of billions to hand out to friends and supporters, but it could leave some of the higher-ups in danger of criminal prosecutions. This helps explain the ferocity of their attacks, and why the anti-Bush fight to dislodge them is not going to be easy. But the battle must be joined.

But if we and Kerry blow it, it's clear where the country will be headed: down the dark road of a kind of police-state neo-fascism domestically, and more imperial warmongering abroad. We simply cannot allow that to happen. Regardless of what we may think of some of Kerry's positions, the alternative of four more years of unchecked power in the hands of Bush&Co. is too horrific to contemplate.

It's time now, even eight months before Election Day, to head toward the electoral ramparts and make our power and determination felt. To do otherwise is to abandon our country to the shadow forces currently obscuring the sun that is our beloved country; grab a light and let's make a stellar difference in our collective future.


Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at various universities; was a writer-editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for 19 years; and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers.

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