By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
If anyone still harbors any illusions that the lame-duck CheneyBush Administration will taxi relatively harmlessly to its departure gate in January 2009, recent events suggest otherwise. It’s been made abundantly clear that in the next ten months, these guys are going to behave even more brutishly in amassing and misusing their power, and in screwing things up, than they’ve already done in the past seven-plus years.
In essence, the message emanating from the White House to the country can be summed up this way: “You want us? You come and get us. Otherwise, get out of our way! We’ve got a whole lot of unfinished business to complete.”
In foreign policy, we should expect CheneyBush to continue locking-in agreements with the Iraq government that will permit permanent stationing of troops and aircraft and missiles on that country’s soil, which in effect means a continuation of the war perhaps for decades — or, in the approving estimate of John McCain, for 50 or 100 years or more. (But you can bet that CheneyBush will withdraw some troops from Iraq, for partisan reasons, just prior to the election.) Then there’s the prospect they will bomb Iran’s military/scientific installations from the air, something Cheney and Bush and the other neo-cons, in and out of government, are salivating about.
In domestic policy, one can expect even more bad policy: placing a whole lot more incompetent ideologues into positions of administrative power and onto the courts, selling off more of America’s public lands for energy exploitation, giving more sweetheart deals to their contributors (such as the one the EPA just cut with big agriculture so they don’t have to report their factory-farm toxic-gas emissions), cutting more vital social and infrastructure programs as the economy continues to tank — thanks to Bush policies of spending upwards of three trillion dollars on the wars and associated costs), etc. etc.
Consider just four examples from last week:
1. ENJOY YOUR “DOWNER” BURGERS
Americans were justifiably horrified when they saw recent hidden-camera footage on the nightly news of emaciated, scrabrous cows being dumped into the food supply that winds up as hamburger meat in schools and prisons and who knows where else. According to Department of Agriculture regulations, those so-called “downer” cattle (those too sick or weak to stand) are not permitted to be placed into the public food-supply chain, for fear of passing on “mad cow” or other horrific diseases.
Nearly 145,000 million pounds of such potentially tainted meat from the slaughterhouse in question had to be recalled, 37 million pounds of which already had been consumed in school lunches and other nutrition programs.
Good, the meat-processers in question were shamed and embarrassed. The government’s regulatory system was in place and all was well in the world. Right?
Wrong. CheneyBush and their GOP enablers in Congress are in hock up to their eyeballs to their corporate benefactors, and ideologically opposed in any case to the concept of regulating a free market. So, how did the Administration handle this black-eye episode?
Were the fines increased for meat-processors that skirt the rules? Their corporate owners shunned and contracts canceled? Nope.
Instead, last week, the CheneyBush Administration officially authorized the use of “downer” meat as fit for human consumption. A few more random inspections were ordered at meat-processing plants, but no systemic overhaul of the limited inspection protocols were devised to increase protection for the public.
“So you caught us red-handed bowing to the meat-processing industry,” Bush&Co. seemed to be saying. “What are you going to do about it? Bugger off and get out of our face.”
2. WHO WATCHES THE WATCHERS?
The CheneyBush Administration is probably the most secretive in U.S. history. It doesn’t like anybody looking over its shoulder and knowing what it’s up to, mainly because so much of what it’s up to is either immoral, illegal or the result of massive corruption, often all three at the same time.
CheneyBush have been especially secretive about the many and various ways they’ve mangled and decimated the Constitution, especially in how the massive intelligence-gathering techniques available to it have been marshalled to data-mine and spy on American citizens. New technologies have enabled federal agents to secretly enter citizens’ computers, read their personal email, tap their telephones, etc., without those victimized ever knowing. Such privacy violations are done, of course, in the name of “fighting the war on terrorism.”
Just like authoritarian governments all over the globe, the CheneyBush regime keeps its illegal operations top-secret, and fights like the devil to keep them that way. One way they do this is to make sure nobody — no court, no congressional committee, and certainly not the public — is privy to their shadowy operations. To have total control of the inflow of information, they had to figure a way to avoid the post-Nixon law establishing the FISA Court as the one legal entity for oversight of all Executive requests for wiretapping and the like.
Even though the FISA court has been a virtual rubber-stamp for whatever Bush&Co. choose to do, CheneyBush don’t want to be compelled to seek official “permission” to listen in on phone calls of American citizens. But they especially don’t want to admit that the President can be reined in by any other institution. And so, shortly after CheneyBush took office, but before 9/11, on their own order they had the NSA begin massive wiretapping and eavesdropping. After 9/11, they asserted an even greater desire to have all intelligence in their hands, always using the “national security” excuse, and, in effect, maneuvered the FISA court out of any meaningful say in their intel-mining programs.
But one final institutional outlet needed to be made toothless. It’s called the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), established in 1993, which had the power to question the legal authority of intel decisions made by the Administration. By executive order last week, it has been renamed (taking the word “foreign” out of its title) and its most important committee, the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB), was effectively stripped of its oversight responsibilities. Most notably removed was the requirement that abuses of executive power “shall be reported” to the Attorney General and that investigations can be carried out by the IOB to determine how bad the situation is. The IOB now merely reports to the Director of National Intelligence.
Here’s the sum-up, as explained by Daily Kos’ Sminthius: “The Bush administration is engaged in an epic struggle with Congress to keep its illegal domestic intelligence activities secret. That is what the battle over the FISA bill is all about. The last thing Bush, Cheney, and Addington would wish to do would be to leave the IOB in a position to start investigating or exposing that illegality — now, or in a future administration.”
What are CheneyBush hiding in their all-encompassing intel-mining of U.S. citizens? It could involve listening in on their political enemies, or it could be something huge in the works (an attack on Iran?) that they feel would require a nationwide clampdown on intel collection and dissemination. Stay tuned.
3. TRUE CONTEMPT OF CONGRESS
Another way of avoiding scrutiny and oversight is to ignore and neuter the other branches of government. Given how many HardRight judges they’ve appointed, CheneyBush more or less can count on getting their questionable actions approved by the appellate courts and even by the Supreme Court. In addition, they control the Department of Justice through the ideological toadies they appointed as Attorney General, most notably Alberto Gonzales and now Michael Mukasey.
Recently, the House voted to hold two key Administration figures (White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers) in contempt of Congress for their failure to honor a subpoena by the House Judiciary Committee requiring their testimony and relevant documents relating to the matter of the fired U.S. Attorneys. They were informed by the committee that they could assert a claim of “executive privilege” as a justification for not answering questions and not providing the documents, but they had to do that by appearing and making that claim in front of the committee. They were not simply free to ignore a lawful subpoena to appear. In short, nobody was above the law.
The committee gave the Administration all sorts of extended deadlines and opportunities to comply, but all they got back was silence from the White House. CheneyBush didn’t want their aides to appear and so they didn’t; for them to appear, in this twisted theory of governance, would be to acknowledge the validity of Congressional oversight and the separation of powers under which the U.S. has operated for more than 225 years.
Congress can not challenge the authority of the President, this White House reasoning essentially is: “We will not submit to your requests or demands or subpoenas, so go stuff yourself.” (Of course, it’s easier to strike this tough-guy ‘tude when you know that the Democrats in charge of Congress have taken impeachment “off the table.”)
Eventually, the House leadership had had enough and Miers and Bolton were cited for contempt, which could earn them jail time. But the citation is meaningless unless it can be enforced and guess who is in charge of referring those contempt citations to a grand jury for possible indictments? Right, Michael Mukasey, CheneyBush’s handpicked lackey as Attorney General. And, sure enogh, Mukasey refused to refer.
Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Charles Schumer voted to confirm Mukasey because, they said, he promised to be an objective independent AG. It didn’t take long, as was demonstrated last week, to figure out that Mukasey, like Gonzales, is little more than a trained poodle willingly and energetically doing the White House bidding whenever called upon to protect Cheney and Bush from possible legal problems.
And, even if Muksasey had sent the contempt citations to the criminal court, the U.S. Attorney for the D.C. District, Jeffrey Taylor, would have to sign the request in order for criminal indictments to be delivered. Taylor is another made man, one of Bush&Co.’s handpicked U.S. Attorneys, and he’s made clear that he would not enforce Congress’ contempt citations against Administration officials.
4. YOU’VE GOT (NO) MAIL
Another way Bush&Co. hide what they’re really up to is to make sure there’s no evidence lying around. Rove and his minions, to keep their less savory projects secret, used both White House email addresses and Republican National Committee email addresses. The White House claims that several million of its requested emails have gone “missing. When Congress subpoenaed the tens of thousands of RNC emails to the White House, they were told that, glory be, those emails likewise had somehow “disappeared” and couldn’t be found. Angry Democratic chairmen said look again. The Republicans said they would try to restore computer backup tapes.
Many months have now gone by and last week, the RNC told Congress that it “has no intention of trying to restore the missing White House e-mails.” No explanation. That’s it. “Up yours. Whatya goin’ to do about it, suckers?”
Unless somehow the Democrats can bring more power to bear, the RNC move, writes Lambert at the Corrente blog, “increases the likelihood that an untold number of RNC e-mails dealing with official White House business during the first term of the Bush administration — including many sent or received by former presidential adviser Karl Rove — will never be recovered…”
Maybe the Democrats should ask Attorney General Mukasey to look into the likely destruction of email evidence pointing to illegal activity in the White House. That should take care of the matter.
FOLLOW THE POLITICS
The secrets of how and why CheneyBush fired those U.S. Attorneys and replaced them with their own loyalists will remain hidden away from public view, even though it’s clear to all what was going on. CheneyBush needed to get rid of independent-minded U.S. Attorneys and replace them with those who would do what they’re told, especially harassing and indicting Democrats on trumped-up “vote fraud” and other phony charges prior to the November election, and protecting corrupt officials and GOP dirty-tricks operatives working to suppress hundreds of thousands of minority voters from exercising their franchise in the November elections.
So shutting down Congress’ contempt citations is par for the course for this administration that makes sure that it is never held accountable for its reprehensible and often illegal actions. That’s the way autocrats rule.
House Speaker Pelosi said she’s now entertaining taking those contempt citations into civil court, thus bypassing the U.S. Attorney. We shall see.
Or, given the CheneyBush penchant for secrecy — aided and abetted by their enablers in Congress, the corporate mass-media, and the courts — maybe we won’t see. #
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at various universities, worked as a writer/editor for the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers. To comment: email@example.com .
First published by The Crisis Papers and Democratic Underground 3/4/08.
Copyright 2008 by Bernard Weiner.