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Beating Around the Bush

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Now that the media have decided it’s safe to criticize the Bush administration and its leader, Poppy’s pride, I want to know: What took them so long? And what’s behind the tactical switch?

Last week — just in advance of learning that Bush was “briefed” about terrorist attacks before September 11 — fading CBS news anchor Dan Rather complained that American journalists had “stopped asking tough questions of the Bush administration.” He put the blame on “patriotism run amok.”

“I do not except myself from this criticism,” he confessed in an interview with the BBC. “I would willingly die for my country at a moment’s notice and on the command of my president.”

It just seems to Rather, all of a sudden, that “it’s unpatriotic not to stand up, look them in the eye, and ask the questions they don’t want to hear.” Dubya himself is said to be “furious” over the recent disclosures and sounds like Custer in his own defense: “Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people.”

Only a week ago, after a Republican fundraiser that netted an unprecedented $30 million for the party, Bush was trounced in the press for selling pictures of himself, taken that same “fateful morning” as he flew aimlessly around the country on Air Force One. “The Bush crowd has a glaring double standard when it comes to opportunistic use of catastrophes,” wrote New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. Presidential spooks-man Ari Fleischer declared: Hillary Clinton will pay for this!

“What you have are some folks trying to… take the benefit of 20-20 hindsight with pre-9/11 information and trying to impart upon it a post-9/11 wisdom,” explains Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge. By the time you’ve done the math, they’ll have snatched another liberty away without your knowing it. Government Web sites, once open to all, are rapidly shutting down. Federal agencies are instructed not to comply with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act; maps and statistics are off-limits.

“I cannot and will not divulge information... that will damage the national security of the United States, the safety of its citizens or our efforts to ensure the same in an ongoing investigation,” says Attorney General John Ashcroft — the scariest man in government, next to Vice President Cheney.

Cheney allows that “a thorough investigation” of last year’s intelligence failures is “entirely appropriate,” but has already decreed it will be conducted away from prying eyes. Documents will not be released. This is an administration with a greater “commitment to secrecy” than any since World War II, according to Morton Halperin, a veteran of the Nixon, Carter and Clinton administrations and now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“We’ve never had hundreds of people arrested for long periods of time without knowing who they are, why they’re being held, where they are and what the charges are against them,” Halperin told USA Today, which recently ran a brave report on the Bushmen’s corporate code of silence. “Even during the Japanese internment, there was no effort to keep secret who was being detained.”

About the undeclared, undefined war in Afghanistan, Rather adds, “There has never been an American war, small or large, in which access has been so limited as this one.”

It won’t do to rely on Americans’ sense of history in this regard — they don’t have one. The Department of Education reports “truly abysmal scores” on this year’s standardized “U.S. History Report Card” test, noting that 57 percent of graduating high school seniors “could not perform even at the basic level” in history, with “basic” defined as “the bottom of the achievement ladder.”

A member of the test’s governing board remarks, “Our ability to defend — intelligently and thoughtfully — what we as a nation hold dear depends on our knowledge and understanding of what we hold dear. That can only be achieved through learning the history we share, and clearly, far too many high school seniors have not learned even a modest part of it.”

Over the weekend, Cheney declared that further terrorist attacks on the United States are “almost certain” — “It’s not a natter of if, but when,” he informed. The subtext is clear: If you attack the administration, you attack America. Democrats, in particular, are warned “not to seek political advantage by making incendiary suggestions. Such commentary is thoroughly irresponsible,” Cheney scolds, “and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war.”

Sure enough, here’s House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt kissing the ass of power. “I never ever, ever thought that anybody, including the president, did anything up to September 11th other than their best,” he swoons.

Meantime, Jim Pavitt, chief of the CIA’s clandestine service — does it have another kind? — publicly boasts, “Today, the year 2002, I have more spies stealing more secrets than at any time in the history of the CIA.”

Pavitt’s superior, executive director A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard, confirms that the CIA has been “showered with cash and power” since 9-11 and is currently operating any way it wants.

“Today, there is only one rule,” Krongard explains, “and that is, there are no rules.”

The BBC suspects, I hope incorrectly, that what’s “in the public interest may not interest the American public.” And only the British press has noted the big irony of Brief-gate, or whatever they’re going to call it — “that a president most often accused of ignorance should suddenly be assailed for knowing too much.” Let’s hope it lasts.

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