2005: The Year in Hypocrisy
Things just get better and better for poor scribblers who depend on mendacity and corruption for our daily bread. No matter how depraved the Bush administration becomes, the Democrats remain too incompetent and grasping to present a credible challenge. Love them or hate them, the Republicans know exactly what they want and let nothing - not the law, not procedure, not traditions, not ethics, not cognitive dissonance - get in their way. That makes for some juice hypocrisy.
I'm not even going to touch on DeLay, Abramoff, and the sordid business of Republican Congressmen and lobbyists transforming influence peddling from a crime into standard policy. I've also avoided the disaster and porkfest that was Hurricane Katrina and its ugly aftermath. They're just too easy; it's like taking candy from a three-year-old (watch for that in next year's Year in Hypocrisy - the Bush administration will have to sink that low to beat their performance this past year).
Anyway, that's garden variety corruption - there are much juicier pickings to be had. Because there are so many entries, I've grouped them by category: propaganda, human rights violations, and that old standby, Vietraq.
Let's jump right in with the Bush administration's ongoing efforts to keep Americans as ignorant as possible.
See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.
-- President George W. Bush
If I also wrote "2005: The Year in Stupidity", this item would make both lists: the government paid conservative pundit Armstrong Williams $241,000 (USD) via PR firm Ketchum Inc. to say nice things about President Bush's "No (Rich) Child Left Behind" scheme and give friendly interviews to Education Secretary Rod Paige - something Williams was already doing anyway.
Williams noted, "I wanted to do it because it's something I believe in," but that's not really the point. There's this little thing called "disclosure," and it makes all the difference between advocacy and propaganda. One person's quid pro quo is another's sixty-nine.
Second to None
When the Williams story blew open, it drew further attention to other interesting ways the government was spending taxpayers' money; for example, the Department of Education paid Ketchum $700,000 to rate journalists on how positively they covered the No Child Left Behind Act.
More tellingly, a number of government departments were - and still are -in the habit of making promotional videos and sending them to the media to play on their news programs as if they were authentic reporting. They arrive complete with fake reporters and fake interviews (in Armstrong's case, choreographed dances with Paige). Most of the time, TV news programs just play them as if they were news and not paid advertisements.
With their high production values and slick marketing, the US government has demonstrated its superiority once again. The Soviets were never this sophisticated.
Next, we delve into the curious case of James Guckert, reporting as "Jeff Gannon" for an obscure right-wing website called Talon News. He wasn't eligible to obtain a White House press pass, but he managed to get daily passes between 2003 and 2005, starting before Talon News even existed and often under his assumed name. Two years of administration-friendly questions culminated with the following softball, lobbed on January 26, 2005:
Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy. Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet in the same breath they say that Social Security is rock solid and there's no crisis there. How are you going to work - you've said you are going to reach out to these people - how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?
This attracted the attention of skeptical bloggers, who discovered that Gannon was a former male prostitute who went under the pseudonym "Bulldog" (Grrrr), had registered a number of military-themed gay prostitution websites, and whose journalistic education (the "Leadership Institute Broadcast School of Journalism") turned out to be a two-day seminar geared to conservatives.
Talon News, a virtual organization owned, with GOPUSA.com, by Robert Eberle, was essentially an Internet mouthpiece for the Republican Party, and a slender reed on which to hang Guckert's media credentials. Gannon, now an out bisexual, has his own website and writes a conservative column for gay magazine The Washington Blade, ironic considering he had so recently criticized Senator John Kerry for supporting the "pro-gay agenda," whatever that means.
One final note: Republican members of the House Judiciary Committeee blocked an investigation into how Gannon/Guckert managed to obtain daily White House press passes despite his shady and controversial past, suggesting somebody inside the White House may have been smoothing the way.
Disgraced New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who rehashed Ahmed Chalabi (yes, the guy who was working for Iran)'s WMD propaganda on the front pages without, apparently, much editorial oversight, has also been embroiled in the Plamegate affair, in which senior government officials (okay, Karl Rove) leaked the fact that Valerie Plame, the wife of Joseph Wilson IV, is an undercover CIA agent.
The leak was an attempt to punish Wilson for writing a 2003 op-ed debunking the government's claim that Saddam Hussein obtained nuclear fissile materials. Wilson had investigated the claim on behalf of the CIA before the war started, and the offical who leaked his wife's identity hoped to discredit Wilson's report by suggesting Plame had hand-picked her husband.
Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is investigating the leak to determine who was responsible and whether a crime was committed in revealing an undercover agent's identity, called on Judith Miller to testify. She refused, claiming the right to protect her sources, and made a big martyr show of going to jail before her source, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, gave her permission to identify him.
Note to first amendment fundamentalist reporters: you're supposed to protect your sources so you can report the news, not freakin' hide it.
Knock on Woodward
Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward has made a career of cozying up to power and basking in its reflected heat. Even his initial jump into the limelight, the Watergate leak, was essentially a matter of picking sides in the schism of American power - he received his leak from a disgruntled senior FBI official, after all.
In 2005, Woodward admitted in testimony to Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he was one of the first reporters to learn Joe Wilson's wife was an undercover CIA agent, but sat on the story for two years while reporters and administration officials around him went down in flames.
Woodward kept the information from his editors and asked fellow Post reporter Walter Pincus to keep him out of Pincus's reports, all while dismissing the investigation publicly and calling Fitzgerald "a junkyard-dog prosecutor," overzealous in his search for evidence.
In his apology, Woodward (the, uh, journalist) wrote, "I'm in the habit of keeping secrets. I didn't want anything out there that was going to get me subpoenaed."
A breath of stale air in a fetid swamp of media-government collusion and inbreeding.
The End of the World is So Last Season...
The United Nations commissioned a major study of the state of the world concluding that the planet balances at the edge of global environmental catastrophe: mass extinctions, ecosystem collapse, and half a dozen "tipping points" for abrupt change.
This wasn't some doom-and-gloom prognostication by wound-up greens either; it was a collaboration of 1,300 leading scientists participated from 95 countries.
According to the head author, "The bottom line of this assessment is that we are spending earth's natural capital, putting such strain on the natural functions of earth that the ability of the planet's ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted."
Unfortunately, what with all the more important news to cover, the Millenium Assessment could barely get a word in edgewise. The Skeptical Environmentalist this ain't. Perhaps the reason the corporate media didn't consider the report newsworthy had something to do with its conclusions:
The overriding conclusion of this assessment is that it lies within the power of human societies to ease the strains we are putting on the nature services of the planet, while continuing to use them to bring better living standards to all.Definitely not cool.
Achieving this, however, will require radical changes in the way nature is treated at every level of decision-making and new ways of co-operation between government, business and civil society. The warning signs are there for all of us to see. The future now lies in our hands.
Faxing the Fix
Many observers were astonished by the ho-um attitude with which the newsmedia greeted the publication of the so-called "Downing Street Memo," which demonstrated clearly that the Bush administration was determined to go to war against Iraq no matter what. "The facts were being fixed around the policy" of invading Iraq while administration officials claimed publicly that war would be a last resort.
When media activists like FAIR complained that this ought to be really big news, they were told it's not really newsworthy because it told us nothing we didn't already know. The New York Times explained, "the documents are not quite so shocking. Three years ago, the near-unanimous conventional wisdom in Washington held that Mr. Bush was determined to topple Saddam Hussein by any means necessary." Other media entities issued similar dismissals.
If they knew all along, then where were the front-page articles in 2002 investingation the administration's lies about not having made up their minds? Instead, the major news sources regurgitated every White House press release without a murmer of protest. I guess this is one piece of news that's not fit to print.
Lincoln's Rolling in his Grave
The Bush administration has been eager to export American democratic traditions to Iraq, including elections and newspapers and all that great stuff. So it should come as no surprise that the US government paid a shadowy "intelligence" company with close ties to the Republican Party $200 million to seed Iraqi newspapers with pro-American propaganda.
The White House was shocked - shocked! - to read about the Pentagon operation in the LA Times. President Bush was "very troubled" by the report, presumably because he'd much rather Americans didn't know what his government's up to. Paying the media to print nice things about the government and pretend they're not on the take - Iraq's taking its first steps toward American-style democracy.
You must know the difference between dissent from the Iraq war and the war on terror and undermining it. And any American that undermines that war, with our soldiers in the field, or undermines the war on terror, with 3,000 dead on 9/11, is a traitor. Everybody got it? Dissent, fine; undermining, you're a traitor. Got it? So, all those clowns over at the liberal radio network, we could incarcerate them immediately. Will you have that done, please? Send over the FBI and just put them in chains, because they, you know, they're undermining everything and they don't care, couldn't care less.
-- Bill O'Reilly
President Bush has authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on Americans without a warrant.
Never mind that warrants are easy to obtain (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has received 19,000 warrant requests since 1979, and refused only five). Never mind that the existing law wastes no time - authorities can spy first and ask permission later. Never mind that the US government's existing security apparatus was already sufficient to discover the 9/11 plot before it happened but the executive didn't bother to act on the intelligence (oops).
In his best-defence-is-a-good-offence press conference on December 19, 2005, Bush mentioned "September the 11th" seven times in seventeen paragraphs. (He mentioned it another three times during the tepid Q&A with the White House Press Corps.)
When he was lobbed a softball about the leak that revealed the program in the first place, Bush answered, "My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy." Get it? American citizens discussing what the US government is allowed to do helps the enemy.
In any case, don't worry about whether Bush is overzealous in flexing his executive muscles. "We have been talking to members of the United States Congress. We have met with them over 12 times. And it's important for them to be brought into this process." Yes, it's important for the people who write the nation's laws to be "brought into" the "process" of deciding what the government's allowed to do.
Sucking Media Chest Wound
It turns out the New York Times knew about the NSA spying racket before the 2004 presidential election but didn't bother to report it. They wanted to confirm some aspects of the news - oh yeah, and the White House asked them not to blab, claiming, as Bush later did publicly, that the report "could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny."
They finally went public when they realized one of their own reporters, James Risen, was about to scoop them in his forthcoming book.
In his defence of his government's practice of doing horrible things to prisoners (what we normally call "torture"), President Bush declared, "Any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture."
Kids, this is what we call a tautology. When the people who make the laws give themselves permission to commit horrible acts, the acts are still horrible, however ostensibly "within the law" those acts may be. Bleagh.
McCain Agrees to Follow Orders
Remember Nuremberg? That's when the world decided "I was just following orders" isn't a valid defence for crimes against humanity, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reminded us in his March 20, 2003 address to Iraqi soldiers in Saddam's army: "War crimes will be prosecuted, and it will be no excuse to say, 'I was just following orders.' Any official involved in such crimes will forfeit hope of amnesty or leniency with respect to past actions."
So-called Republican maverick John McCain rolled over prostrate in late 2005 after President Bush threatened to veto his Senate legislation prohibiting the US government from torturing prisoners (aside: that's the first veto threat Bush has made since becoming President. Nice to see he's got his priorities in order...).
Bush agreed not to veto McCain's revised bill, which says US government employees aren't allowed to torture prisoners ... unless they're following orders. Oh yeah, and they're entitled to legal counsel.
One more thing: when Bush signed the bill into law, he also issued a "signing statement," or a memorandum explaining his interpretation of the law. In this case, he argued that the anti-torture law should be applied "in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President ... [to protect] the American people from further terrorist attacks." In other words, America doesn't torture, unless torture is required to stop terrorist attacks - which is, of course, the official reason America tortures today.
In case you think the idea of a President appending his own interpretation to a new law as an official supplement is constitutionally bizarre, it just so happens that Bush's Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, a strong proponent of increasing executive power, believes the Court should defer to the President's interpretation of a law as described in signing statements.
Alito noted approvingly that these statements "increase the power of the executive to shape the law" and encouraged President Reagan to use them when he worked for former Attorney General Edwin Meese.
You see, President Bush didn't have to veto the anti-torture law. All he had to do was interpret it to mean he's still allowed to torture people. Isn't law wonderful?
Gulag Archipelago Part Deux
Think conditions in US prisions at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are bad? Imagine what it's like being in a secret, CIA run prison in Eastern Europe. No, this isn't a thought exercise; they're real.
In case you might be thinking the CIA are exemplary in their treatment of secret prisoners, Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss recently asked Congress to exempt the CIA from its new legislation that kinda, sorta prohibits torture (see above).
Amnesty for Amnesty
You know that radical terrorist group Amnesty International (AI)? When they reported extensively documented, widespread prisoner abuse in the Summer of 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney was quick to respond. "I frankly just don't take them seriously." This is the group, remember, that champions civil liberties and individual freedom from government coercion and unjust imprisonment, small matters with which the US Constitution also concerns itself.
Like the NSA spying leak, AI's "ridiculous" (White House Press Secretary Scott McClelland) and "absurd" (President Bush) report only served as grist for the America hating mills of terrorists everywhere.
Of course, AI wasn't nearly so "ridiculous" and "absurd" when Cheney, Rumsfeld, and company were using its reports on Saddam's abuses in early 2003 to justify their invasion.
Partisan Politics is Torture
Democratic Senator Rick Durbin was crucified for reading an FBI agent's description of what he saw at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo, and then commenting, "If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others - that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners."
Granted, the Nazi comparison is so overused that Durbin should have had the rhetorical sense not to use it. However, Durbin wasn't crucified for milking a tired cliche. He was crucified for, in Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's words, "a heinous slander against our country and the brave men and women risking their lives every day to defend it."
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daly, a Democrat, cried, "I think it's a disgrace to say that any man or woman in the military would act like that."
Even John 'I was tortured, and let me tell you, it's torture' McCain stayed in the party line and demanded an apology from Durbin for doing "a great disservice to men and women who suffered in the gulag and in Pol Pot's 'killing fields.'"
Eventually, a teary-eyed Durbin apologized for daring to compare American torturers to the torturers of other countries, insisting it was never his intention to disrespect the sons and daughters of good, upstanding American families.
So, to recap: according to Republican Values™, torturing prisoners is okay, but condeming people who torture prisoners is "heinous" and "a disgrace" and does "a great disservice" to people who have been tortured. Any questions?
Phosphorus, But Not For Us
The 2004 Year in Hypocrisy notes the US military's use of weapons of mass destruction. This year, we get to add chemical weapon white phosphorus (WP) to the list. According to the United Nations, WP is a banned chemical weapon. The US signed the treaty banning WP - but hasn't ratified it yet (nyah nyah), so it's not a war crime after all.Feeling warm and fuzzy yet?
The Bush Administration made a lot of noise last year about "reforming" social security, possibly due to the fact that social security is one of the few US government programs that actually works the way it was intended. The numbers for President Bush's upcoming calamity simply didn't add up, but that's never stopped him before. Amazingly, the reaction even among Republicans was so severe that the administration backed down.
Perhaps some of those people read former Club for Growth president Stephen Moore's take: "Social Security is the soft underbelly of the welfare state. If you can jab your spear through that, you can undermine the whole welfare state."
Paul Wolfowitz, the neocon insider who pushed hard for the Iraq war who insisted that Iraq could pay for its own reconstruction with oil revenues (a Nobel Prize winning economist just calculated that the total cost to the US of the Iraq war will be $1-2 trillion), was appointed head of the World Bank, where he'll have lots of opportunities to practice his math.
Even better, John Bolton, the man who said, "There's no such thing as the United Nations. If the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference," was nominated U.S. ambassador to the U.N. One of his first acts was to edit a draft of the UN's reform agreement to purge references to "peace and security", "respect for nature", "colonial domination and foreign occupation", "fundamental freedoms for women and children", "external debt relief", reducing poverty and disease through the Millenium Development Goals, and, you know, all that dumb stuff the UN stands for.
Iraq and a Hard Place
Anti-war demonstrators can demonstrate legally and peacefully all they want when there is no war. ... The president and the secretary of defense are the only ones who actually know what is happening and what will occur in the future in the war. The protesters and the rest of the people just do not have this same information and cannot make informed, accurate judgments.
-- Wilson Lucom, then vice-chairman, Accuracy in Media, April 2003
The so-called "liberation" of Iraq has been a big step in the wrong direction for women's rights. But not to worry: Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA Middle East specialist, clarified that whole democracy thing on Tim Russert's Meet the Press. It turns out, "women's social rights are not critical to the evolution of democracy." I guess Edmund Burke was wrong: radical discontinuities in cultural evolution are, like, totally conservative.
The Agony of the RumsfeldDonald Rumsfeld reiterated how the Bush administration struggled with whether to go to war against Iraq. Back in October 2002, he tells us, Rumsfeld "sat down, and I said, 'What are all the things that one has to anticipate could be a problem?' And circulated it and read it to the president - sent it to the president. Gave it to the people in the department, and they planned against those things. And all of the likely and unlikely things that one could imagine are listed there. It was just on the off-chance we'd end up having a conflict. We didn't know at that stage.
Of course, Donald Rumsfeld contacted his aides in the Defense Department to begin drafting plans to invade Iraq mere hours after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. "Best info fast," he told his subordinates. "Judge whether good enough hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time. Not only UBL [Osama bin Laden]."
Rumsfeld instructed his staff to "Go massive," and does not seem to have been concerned whether Iraq was actually involved. "Sweep it all up," he told his staff. "Things related and not."
All on the off-chance, of course, that America would end up having a conflict.
The Salvador Option
Like flies chasing ripe shit, death squads follow American occupations of foreign countries. In January, the Pentagon publicly mused about the "Salvador option", or officially sanctioned death squads that hunt down and kill people the US suspects are a threat. As one military staffer explained at the time, "What everyone agrees is that we can't just go on as we are. We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing."
Should anyone be surprised that John Negroponte, the blood-soaked US Ambassador to Honduras from 1981-85 is now the Ambassador to Iraq?
Then, in November, the news broke that the Iraqi government is using death squads to round up and kill its enemies, dumping dozens of smashed bodies a week along roadsides and in piles. Yes, folks, it's 1980s Central America all over again, back when the Reagan revolution was washing across the continent in a wave of righteousness (that's what the sticky red stuff is, right?).
One thing the Iraq occupation hasn't featured much of is mutilated nuns. Perhaps that will change now that the US-backed Iraqi government has decided to exercise its Salvador option.
And the Loser Is...
Honestly, I could go on. There's still plenty more hypocrisy to document, but this roundup is already nearly 4,000 words, and almost no one is even going to make it this far.
Speaking of making it this far, how much farther can the American Republic make it if it continues to suffer under the mendacity, contempt for human rights, extreme secrecy, insidious propaganda, and liberty constraints of the Bush administration?
The descent into fascism won't be abrupt; it will happen by degrees. The accroutrements of democracy - political parties, elections, newsmedia - will persist long after they've stopped serving any real function, as a kind of elaborate dance that keeps people busy with its increasingly elaborate protocols and rituals.
Or perhaps Americans will give their heads a shake and find ways to throw off the top-heavy, dictatorial cabal that has wrested control of the levers of power.
The country could go either way, but it's touch and go right now. In the meantime, Canada risks falling prey to a neoconservative wave of its own (more on that in my next essay).
January 10, 2006