Saturday, September 20, 2008
Cheney Fiddles as We Burn, Insensible

As a measure of how totally screwed up this country is, consider the response to the lead article in last sunday's Washington Post. What article? What response? Right. My point exactly.

The article, the first in a series, outlines the attempt of Cheney and his minions to run the domestic surveillance program despite the fact that it was totally illegal, by controlling access to the papers that would have revealed to the Justice Department the extent of the legal flaws in the argument for the program. (The series is based upon a Pulitzer-winning series that ran in the Post last year, and was expanded to book length and published this week --Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency).

Cheney's legal counsel, David Addington, attempted to intimidate lawyers from both the NSA and Justice when they asked for access to the legal opinions that would have allowed them to determine if the spying program was legal or not. Fortunately for the country and the Constitution (oh that pesky little document), there were lawyers at both Justice and NSA who rebelled against Cheney's heavy-handed intimidation tactics and expansion of his office's powers. The lawyers who rebelled included both career civil servants and conservative Bush appointees--no starry-eyed liberals. They learned that even Rice's deputy National Security Advisor for counterterrorism was kept out of the loop. Really, only Cheney, his attorney Addison, John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales (this is during Ashcroft's tenure) were privy to the legal justification for the domestic espionage--and the fact that the justification arguments were legally flawed.

My favorite line from the article is when the Deputy Attorney General, James Comey, finally prevails and sees the documents. He says their legal analysis "is flawed, in fact facially flawed. No lawyer reading that could reasonably rely on it." And when Cheney's attack dog Addison retorts "well, I'm a lawyer and I did," Comey puts him in his place: "no good lawyer." [Yes!]

But, but--how IS it that our country is not responding to this news with outrage? This article is every bit as important as Woodward and Bernstein's Watergate exposé. But does anyone care?

What's happened to us? Why are we so apathetic? Here's what I think. It's due to a number of factors, the first two of which can be laid at the doors of the media: first, Bill O'Reilly, Rush LImbaugh, et al, have so ramped up the rhetoric in this country about stupid stuff that there is no range--it's all over the top for everything that the right wants to push. So when a real scandal comes along, how can we respond with any greater outrage? We have no sense of moral relativity. For the right-wing mouth-foamers, one undocumented immigrant crossing the border illegally is more morally reprehensible than a vice president abusing the power of his office and attempting to hide his machinations from those who are responsible for deciding the legality of the executive's programs. We can't know how to respond with a proper level of emotion about something when everything's at top volume and there's no modulation. Also, the proliferation of the fake in our media ("reality" shows, celebrity-focused "news,") causes us to be unable to distinguish between what's real and important, and what is just the electronic equivalent of crack. The fourth estate has abandoned its all-important post as a check on untrammelled power, and decided that instead, entertainment is their main function--forget all that boring investigation, and analysis of the actions of the powers that be, and informing the populace. No money in that!

But, we are responsible as well. Because there IS real news out there--on the front page of one of the most important newspapers in the country, for gosh sakes! -- and we don't pay attention, because we're happy snortin' that crack. Americans are too busy titillating themselves with Brangelina and playing with their wii-wiis to care about what's happening in the real world. And isn't that what happened to the Roman empire?

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