Just Above Sunset
November 6, 2005 - Rule 21 from Outer Space

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As noted in these pages, on the weekend of October 29-30 it was clear the White House really needed to change the subject - people buzzing about the new polling that showed now more than half the country felt all this business about the Bush team restoring "honor and integrity" to the White House was a load of crap, and this was a failed presidency, and a calls for an apology about what had happened with Libby and for Karl Rove to be fired. The administration was having a bad Sunday. And we were at the end of a bad month in Iraq, casualties rising with no end in site.

So the subject needed to shift to something more positive, and we got a new Supreme Court nominee Monday morning - a mild-mannered, well-educated, experienced judge, who seemed to support all the all of what the right wanted. What he has written and how he has ruled from the bench combine that love of deregulating business from all those pesky rules about treating people right, with an urge to regulate and control what people do personally with the sexual lives, the bodies, and their religion. And he supports unregulated sale of fully automatic machine guns. What more could you ask for? This was meat for the conservatives who wanted a fight for what they believe, and guaranteed outrage from the middle and left. That should get folks all riled up - and change the subject.

Why not more? Tuesday, November 1st, there was the "We're here to protect you" announcement - Bush Outlines $7.1B Flu-Fighting Strategy - which should have been great PR and caused a lot of responses from everyone saying that the administration wasn't so bad after all. They were doing the right thing. They weren't anti-science and all the rest. The response to Hurricane Katrina was probably an anomaly. They did plan for things. Good for them.

That second-shift of topic lasted about four hours until this: Democrats Shut Down Senate For Rare Closed-Door Session On Iraq Intelligence.



As Gil Kaufman reports at the link –


Not content to wait until Thursday's arraignment of former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby (on charges that he lied about the leaking of a covert CIA agent's name) to start getting answers on prewar intelligence on Iraq, Democrats stunned Republicans with a surprise political maneuver. Without warning his Republican counterparts, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid effectively shut down the Senate Tuesday afternoon by invoking the rarely used Rule 21, which calls for a secret session of the Senate in order to discuss intelligence issues.

Prior to calling for the closed session - which required all Senate staff, press and other officials not sworn to secrecy to leave the chambers - Reid said in light of the Libby indictment, the American people and soldiers need to know how and why the United States became engaged in the Iraq war. He also said that Senators deserve an answer as to why a second phase of investigation into prewar intelligence has not been completed.

"The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really all about, how this administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq and attempted to destroy those who dared to challenge its actions," Reid said. "I demand on behalf of the American people that we understand why these investigations aren't being conducted, and in accordance with Rule 21 I now move the Senate go into closed session."

Shortly thereafter, fellow Democrat Dick Durbin seconded the call, the public was ordered out of the chambers, all 100 Senators were ordered in and the lights were dimmed...



Endlessly repeated on the television news, Senate Majority Leader Frist - "Not with the previous Democratic leader or the current Democratic leader have I been slapped in the face with such an affront to the leadership of this grand institution. Every other time there has been at least consideration for the other side of the aisle before a stunt, and this is a pure stunt, by Senator Reid."

He looked real unhappy. He was shocked, just shocked (see Claude Raines in Casablanca). What about dignity and decorum, and at least telling him this was coming? Reid said telling him this was the plan would allow Frist to pull some counter-move and stop him, so why tell him?

So much for Sam from New Jersey and Bird Flu vaccine development. Back to the original topic - is it possible your side lied to get us into this war - or at least planted scary stories in the press, based on forgeries and exaggerations, and this Libby fellow delayed the Fitzgerald probe for a year with all his cons so none of this would come out until after the last presidential election?

Hey, inquiring minds want to know. It's kind of important. (Heck, those of us with close relatives serving in Iraq want to know about this, although the composition of the Supreme Court is important, and no one wants to die of Bird Flu.)

Actually this all came down to Republican Senator Pat Roberts, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The committee never got around to working much on the second report they were supposed to produce. The first report, issued long ago, was clear - all the pre-war intelligence was flat-out wrong. Don't you hate when that happens. The second report was supposed to be an investigation into whether the administration manipulated prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. It's a year late.

Well, what with the indictment of Libby last week, and the surrounding facts shown, someone, and it seems many, were messing with us.

In March it seems Roberts said the investigation into whether the administration manipulated "prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction" was over. Hey - the earlier panel had found that the intelligence was flawed. What more do you need to know? But there is a draft of the plan for the second phase of the investigation. The Democrats just want to know why they're not allowed to see it. They've been asking for this "Phase Two" stuff for a year now. Last week's events - and all those ancillary facts in the five-count Libby indictment - kind of get you thinking.

Here's a summary of what Reid was thinking –


- The most important decision a President makes is to put American lives at risk and go to war.
- Many of us supported the decision to invade Iraq based on the national intelligence presented at the time. - Over the past few months, and vividly last Friday, we've learned that we were given bad information. Americans were intentionally deceived.
- White House indictments confirm Republicans tried to silence critics and cover up the real intelligence.
- America deserves answers. National security is at stake.
- If mistakes were made, we need to know. Otherwise, we are doomed to repeat them.
- Republicans committed to investigate how national intelligence was used to set the stage for war.
- Now, they are refusing to keep that commitment. What are they afraid of America learning?
- Republicans must come clean. It is our shared responsibility to be straight with the American people.
- Stakes could not be higher. That is why we are demanding answers through an unprecedented closed Senate session.
- We will not let up until America gets answers.
- Together, America Can Do Better


That's what the Republicans are calling a meaningless political stunt, and mean-spirited, divisive, and lacking in all courtesy and decorum. The Democrats just want to change the topic.

Well, it is political stunt, of the first order, but it is hardly meaningless.

Divisive? Yeah, of course it is. And it wasn't very nice.

But the idea is that maybe the American people are putting two and two together, and want some answers, and maybe the Democrats in the senate can do something for all of us who wonder just what happened, and what was going on with those forged documents and the VP's office and Judy Miller of the New York Times and all the rest.

The Republicans are forced into the odd position of maintaining that the American people don't want to know such things - they just trust the president and Vice President Cheney, and it doesn't matter now. The American people just want to see Sam from New Jersey on the Supreme Court and abortions stopped and gays not seen anywhere, and what people do in their bedrooms monitored - and big business unfettered - and they want their Bird Flu vaccine.

But that's not how the polls read. Which side is more in touch with the mood of the country right now?

Of course many have commented that this is just the Democrats positioning themselves for the 2006 congressional elections. Many Democrats in 2002 voted for the resolution that gave Bush the authority to use "whatever force necessary" to deal with the Iraq threat. They don't want to seem like they were too dumb to see through the bullshit, or of they did see something was fishy, too cowardly to object to this war - because it was a year after we lost the three-thousand and people would think them unpatriotic (with a little help from the Karl Rove spin machine.) Better to show there was a careful and possibly illegal, and maybe even treasonous plan to fool them, and all of us. It's cover for Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

Maybe it is that, partly. But for some of us it doesn't matter.

Some people resent being tricked, and sending sons and daughters off to face death based clever manipulations. Some folks don't like clever ploys played on them, even if they are told much further on that what was done will do some good of some kind, one day, in a general, geopolitical way - just not the "good thing" originally proposed. (Of course, some do admire a clever trickster, even when they themselves have been bamboozled - thus the enduring popularity of magicians and illusionists, and thus the thirty-eight percent who admire Bush, Rove and Cheney.)

The Democrats are counting the resentment is real. And the odd thing is this "stunt" actually worked. The topic got changed back of course, but in the closed session the Republicans caved in - each side appointed three senators to deal with Roberts and his year-late report. By mid-November there will be some answers.

We seem to have an opposition party.


For a sense of the mood of the country you might check out CNN's "Situation Room" - a really irritating, over-produced multi-hour daily news show - for Jack Cafferty reading viewers' email, the only part of the show that doesn't jump all over the place from graphics to commentary to interruptions of "breaking" trivia to Wolf Blitzer's half-shouting delivery of banalities.

Cafferty on emails he received on this senate matter, Tuesday, November 1 –


You know, I get a lot of mail, and depending on what read, they say you're a conservative, you're a liberal, you're a Republican. This isn't about any of that stuff, I don't think. It's about what is right and what's wrong.

There's a perception in this country that we were lied to about the run-up to the war in Iraq. Maybe we were and maybe we weren't, but there are a lot of people who think we were. And a half a trillion dollars and 2,000 of our kids later, we're still there. We're mired in a thing that has no visible end.

If it was necessary and if the threats were real, fine and dandy. But if they lied to us, if there was some kind of intent to deceive, then they ought to find out who did it and tear their fingernails out and then get rid of them.

And it's not about being on, you know, one side of the political spectrum or the other. It's about what's right and what's wrong and what people who are entrusted to govern this country do with the power we give them. If it's being abused, we damn well have a right to know, and something should be done about it


If you have a high-speed connection you can watch him say this here. It's incredibly forceful.

If Cafferty is an "average Joe" - the CNN "everyman" - a little conservative and full of gruff skepticism and intolerant of nonsense (that's how they seem to market him) - then the administration and the Republicans are in deep, deep trouble.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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