Scandals Are Roiling: Turn Up the Heat!
By Bernard Weiner, The
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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