And one man, smelling strongly of gasoline and burnt matches, tries to blend into the wallpaper. President George W. Bush, widely considered a front-runner for the less than coveted title of "Worst President in History," pops his head up occasionally to make a brief statement, then disappears into the White House in hopes that everyone will forget he even exists. For Bush, the market failure is like a thunderstorm rolling through -- not anyone's fault and totally unavoidable. Both parties in Congress point fingers across the aisle, but no one points to Pennsylvania avenue, where a stupid, stupid man sits nearly forgotten. And he wants to keep it that way.
For the most part, he's been successful. The economy, the market, the election, the two wars he began without any plan to finish them, all keep President Zero off the front page. The lamest of lame ducks, Bush is merely a clockwatcher now, waiting to clear out his desk and start his foundation to promote his lousy ideas (no, he doesn't plan to go away).
But the ghosts of old lies and crimes poke at him, driving him out into sunlight. His neocon paranoia and his contempt for constitutional principles will continue to follow him around long after he leaves office and even into the grave. His shiny new neocon think tank for a New American Century will suffer from its association with its founder -- a man with such powerful organizational skills that he once lost a fair fight to a pretzel.
And so it is that President Bush gets a brief moment in the media spotlight, before it wanders off to more pressing issues, more flashy headlines, and less historically damned figures.
Despite pledges by President George W. Bush and American intelligence officials to the contrary, hundreds of US citizens overseas have been eavesdropped on as they called friends and family back home, according to two former military intercept operators who worked at the giant National Security Agency (NSA) center in Fort Gordon, Georgia.
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), called the allegations "extremely disturbing" and said the committee has begun its own examination.
"We have requested all relevant information from the Bush Administration," Rockefeller said Thursday. "The Committee will take whatever action is necessary."
"These were just really everyday, average, ordinary Americans who happened to be in the Middle East, in our area of intercept and happened to be making these phone calls on satellite phones," said Adrienne Kinne, a 31-year old US Army Reserves Arab linguist assigned to a special military program at the NSA's Back Hall at Fort Gordon from November 2001 to 2003.
Really takes you back, doesn't it? If it weren't for the big stories of Wall Street and the election, this would be a week-long media feast. But scandal for the Bush administration is old news and Bush himself barely exists anymore for the press, so it'll go under pretty quickly -- just one more crime exposed in a long history of presidential criminality.
When the NSA's wiretapping program first came to light, there were a lot of people -- myself included -- who said this was an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. Not so, said Bush. That's crazy talk. The Bush administration was following legal principles and getting warrants for their wiretaps. "Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires — a wiretap requires a court order," he told us. "Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so."
Yeah, that turned out to be a complete lie. The NSA's program was soon revealed to be (and was ultimately referred to as) a warrantless wiretapping program. Completely ignoring everything they'd said about it up to that point, the Bush administration asserted they had the right to do it. They didn't.
Once it was established that the wiretapping was going on, the constitution be damned, Bush told us that it would only be used to listen in on conversations between a domestic number and one overseas. The implication being that only calls with at least one foreign national would be monitored. In fact, Bush came right out and said it would only be used if you were actually talking to al Qaeda. "What I'm talking about is the intercept of certain communications emanating between somebody inside the United States and outside the United States; and one of the numbers would be reasonably suspected to be an al Qaeda link or affiliate," Bush told us. "In other words, we have ways to determine whether or not someone can be an al Qaeda affiliate or al Qaeda. And if they're making a phone call in the United States, it seems like to me we want to know why."
That too was a lie. ABC News again:
[An intercept operator, former Navy Arab linguist, David Murfee Faulk,] says he and others in his section of the NSA facility at Fort Gordon routinely shared salacious or tantalizing phone calls that had been intercepted, alerting office mates to certain time codes of "cuts" that were available on each operator's computer.
"Hey, check this out," Faulk says he would be told, "there's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, 'Wow, this was crazy'," Faulk told ABC News.
Faulk said he joined in to listen, and talk about it during breaks in Back Hall's "smoke pit," but ended up feeling badly about his actions.
"I feel that it was something that the people should not have done. Including me," he said.
Yeah, probably not. But someone needs to find out from the president which of these parties could be "reasonably suspected to be an al Qaeda link or affiliate" -- the soldier in the field or their spouse at home? ABC quotes linguist Adrienne Kinne as saying the calls were "personal, private things with Americans who are not in any way, shape or form associated with anything to do with terrorism." How can this be? Could it be that -- once again -- George W. Bush is proved to be a lying sack?
NSA wiretapping was a big deal once -- arguably impeachable and inarguably a crime. So how is this keeping us safe -- a bunch of Navy techno-spies jacking off to dirty phone calls from Lance Corporals in Fallujah? It's like Bush is just doing this because he can. It's a tremendous waste of time and resources, it's unconstitutional, unethical, and more than probably immoral. But someone told him he couldn't do it and goddam it, no one tells Emperor Bush what to do. So, like a petulant and contrary child, he does it anyway. He'll show them. It serves no other purpose.
But, of course, this isn't news. John McCain's busy freaking out over something that happened forty years ago. Somehow, that's news. Maybe Barack Obama will trip and skin his knee -- then that'll be news.
But the Constitution in a slow, pointless burn will be a blip on the media's radar screens -- something to fill time between Sarah Palin's Newsweek cover and John McCain handing out torches and pitchforks to angry Republican mobs. It's Bush, so it's not important.
The Worst President in History will watch the media spotlight move on to the newest shiny bauble and breathe a sigh of relief. Here's hoping he doesn't realize he can get away with anything at this moment in history.