Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On the NY Times' Editorial About Cheney

In today's NYT:

December 23, 2008

The World According to Cheney

Vice President Dick Cheney has a parting message for Americans: They should quit whining about all the things he and President Bush did to undermine the rule of law, erode the balance of powers between the White House and Congress, abuse prisoners and spy illegally on Americans. After all, he said, Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln did worse than that.

So Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush managed to stop short of repeating two of the most outrageous abuses of power in American history — Roosevelt’s decision to force Japanese-Americans into camps and Lincoln’s declaration of martial law to silence his critics? That’s not exactly a lofty standard of behavior.

Then again, it must be exhausting to rewrite history as much as Mr. Cheney has done in a series of exit interviews where he has made those comments. It seems as if everything went just great in the Bush years.

The invasion of Iraq was exactly the right thing to do, not an unnecessary war that required misleading Americans. The postinvasion period was not bungled to the point where Americans got shot up by an insurgency that the Bush team failed to see building.

The horrors at Abu Ghraib were not the result of the Pentagon’s decision to authorize abusive and illegal interrogation techniques, which Mr. Cheney endorsed. And only three men were subjected to waterboarding. (Future truth commissions take note.)

In Mr. Cheney’s reality, the crippling budget deficit was caused mainly by fighting two wars and by essential programs like “enhancing the security of our shipping container business.”

Well, no. The Bush team’s program to scan cargo for nuclear materials at air, land and sea ports has been mired in delays, cost overruns and questions about effectiveness. As for the deficit, the Congressional Budget Office has said the Bush-Cheney tax cuts for the wealthy were the biggest reason that the budget went into the red.

Some of Mr. Cheney’s comments were self-serving spin (as when The Washington Times helpfully prodded him to reveal that even though the world might have seen Mr. Bush as insensitive to the casualties of war, Mr. Cheney himself made a “secret” mission to comfort the families of the dead.)

Mr. Cheney was simply dishonest about Mr. Bush’s decision to authorize spying on Americans’ international calls without a warrant. He claimed the White House kept the Democratic and Republican Congressional leadership fully briefed on the program starting in late 2001. He said he personally ran a meeting at which “they were unanimous, Republican and Democrat alike” that the program was essential and did not require further Congressional involvement.

But in a July 17, 2003, letter to Mr. Cheney, Senator John Rockefeller IV, then vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he wanted to “reiterate” the concerns he expressed in “the meeting today.” He said “the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues” and created “concern regarding the direction the Administration is moving with regard to security, technology and surveillance.”

Mr. Cheney mocked Vice President-elect Joseph Biden for saying that he does not intend to have his own “shadow government” in the White House. Mr. Cheney said it was up to Mr. Biden to decide if he wants “to diminish the office of vice president.”

Based on Mr. Cheney’s record and his standards for measuring these things, we’re certain a little diminishing of that office would be good for the country.

* * *

If you go to the comments on the editorial you will find many letters stating that Bush and Cheney ought to be in prison and, as one writer put it, the New York Times has closed the barn door after the animals have already left.

Another person who is a former Legislative Director for a Congressperson points out in letter #342 that the Jay Rockefeller letter that the NYT puts so much stock in is a "cover your ass" letter that Congresspeople write all the time. The NYT, as this person notes, is not so naive as to truly think it is anything else.

What's in play here is the NYT's inability and unwillingness to step outside the safety of caviling at the margins and act in a way appropriate to the gravity of the situation.

It underscores the necessity for the American people to step beyond what our mass media and major parties will do.

This was my comment at their website on their editorial:

Unfortunately, Cheney isn't misrepresenting the essential facts with respect to the White House briefing the Democratic Congressional leadership on their felonious program of massive spying on the American people. While some of the Democratic leadership might have expressed some reservations such as Jay Rockefeller, the fact remains that none of them went public on this in a manner appropriate to the egregious and outrageous violations of the 1978 FISA law that prohibited surveillance without cause. Moreover, none of them did what WOULD have been meaningful if they really objected - moved to impeach. Letters such as Rockefeller's expressing misgivings and concerns mean exactly how much to someone like Bush and Cheney? It's like saying "No, no, no" to a spoiled and rotten kid demanding his way, while GIVING the damn kid what he wants.

Not only did Bush and Cheney involve and get the approval of the Democratic leadership for their ubiquitous spying, but also for the program of TORTURE, not "abuse" as you continue to describe it. Pelosi, among others, was briefed on their use of waterboarding at least as early as 2002.

What is more disturbing than what Bush and Cheney have done is that they have been allowed to get away with it by the Democrats and by the mass media. If they are not held to account and their precedents are allowed to stand, then anything that they have done and more can be and will eventually be done by future presidents. Even if Obama doesn't do it, in other words, some other president can and will. What happens, therefore, to the rule of law?

The New York Times to its credit exposed the warrantless spying, although it delayed revealing it for a full year, having known about it before the 2004 election, by acceding to the White House's entreaties to not reveal "national security secrets" to who? Why to the American people themselves who were being spied upon!

The Times, to its discredit, still refuses to call for impeachment and still refuses to call torture torture.

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