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Reading between the lines

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Or: all the news that gives you fits

When I read the Saturday headline in the local daily, “Terror plot aimed to flood N.Y.,” I thought, Fantastic! The Bush Administration has finally copped to its real motive for ignoring global warming. No such luck, of course. Apparently some al-Qaida operatives were plotting to blow up an underwater commuter tunnel in New York in the fall. This winter, they were going to aim their freeze-ray at Washington, D.C.

C’mon, why would you spend all that time and effort on something that Mother Nature is going to take care of for you in a few years? And did anyone else find the announcement of the foiled plot to be incredibly lucky timing, bumping news that the Secret Service disclosed four more White House visits by convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff to page four? Speaking of which, in the wake of ex-Enron-chief Ken Lay’s untimely death, Abramoff’s not feeling so hot, either.

OK, I know what you’re thinking, but remember, it’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you. If this were the Clinton Administration, we’d already be subject to a host of stories about how Lay was either (A) Laura Bush’s secret lover (B) a black-bag carrier who knew too much, and/or (C) suicidally despondent at the level of corruption in his old friend’s White House. In this case, however, (B) actually has some validity. No, I’m not really suggesting foul play in Lay’s death (although the Bush Administration’s relationship with the Vatican is cozy ... ) but the President got lucky on that one.

Try this fun exercise. Take out a sheet of paper and draw a smiley face in the center. Label it POTUS. Next to it draw a frowny face. Label it Cheney. Connect Cheney and POTUS with a line, then start making little circles all around your dumbbell (also much like postmodern Comedy and Tragedy masks; equally appropriate). Label each circle with the name of a Bush and/or Cheney associate that’s landed in hot water. It doesn’t have to be as fancy or convoluted as a New York Times illustration. There’s Kenny Boy, the Hammer, Sad-Sack Jack, Ralph “do as I say, not as I do” Reed, and Scooter, just for starters.

You get the point. But toying with the public’s famously short attention span isn’t the only ancillary benefit of all this plot-foiling. “There is some kind of public relations gained by making Americans on the one hand feel concerned that the Sears Tower in Chicago or some tunnel in Manhattan is targeted yet on the other hand feel comforted that the government is on top of it,” University of Richmond (Virginia) law professor Carl W. Tobias told Eric Lipton, who wrote a news analysis in the Sunday New York Times titled, “In Zeal to Foil Terror Plots, Cases May Be Missing Something Important, Lawyers Say.”

The public might be missing something, too, if it doesn’t pay attention to the less-sensationalist headlines, such as “Ally Told Bush Spying Projects Might Be Illegal,” a front-page NYT story about the May letter U.S. Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) sent to Bush warning him that the national intelligence agencies needed to come clean with the House Intelligence Committee, which Hoekstra chairs. Hoekstra followed the public disclosure of the letter with an appearance on Fox News Sunday. “We can’t be briefed on every little thing that they are doing,” he said. “But in this case, there was at least one major what I consider significant activity that we have not been briefed on. I want to set the standard there that it is not optional for this president or any president or people in the executive community not to keep the intelligence committees fully informed of what they are doing.”

Hoekstra has, up to this point, been considered a strong ally in the Bush assault on civil rights — er, war on terror — but maybe if the administration can bag a few more incipient terrorists, you’ll forget that even their friends are beginning to question their motives and actions. When they’re not being indicted, that is.


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