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The New New Threat

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One needn't read nor hear anything further than the indefatigable Fox News Channel's introduction to the well-timed release of security camera video of Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon to gleen some understanding of the current news cycle:
Reliving the September 11, another wave of memories of that day....
The headline is perhaps, even more revealing:
Pentagon Releases Video of Plane Hitting Building on 9/11.
The video assuredly does not show a plane hitting the Pentagon.

With the Bush administration under assault for their flagrant and now exposed intrusions into Americans' privacy, failing efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and polls numbers now in the 20's, a wave of 9/11 memories is exactly what was thought was needed now. To the White House, it has been clear for sometime that the justification for all the secret programs, executive orders and Congress-subverting signing statements needed to be re-established in minds of the American public.

Less than a week after USA Today broke the story of yet another secret NSA telephone monitoring program, this one "drift-netting" millions of domestic phones calls, a scan of media outlets reveals that, other than George Bush claiming "we do not listen to domestic phone calls," the story has all but evaporated from the general reportage. Practically nothing about Iraq is obvious, despite a fierce fire fight yesterday that resulted in another downed helipcopter (pg. A12 of the NY Times). At Fox, we are treated to breathless accounts of polygamists gone wild, soccer hazings, the Duke rape case, 'Da Vinci' protests, alligators on the rampage, another missing cruise passenger, Ward Churchill misconduct, and Hugo Chavez taking a wizz on the White House again.

In place of any significant follow-ups on the NSA issue, enormous discussions of Bush's immigration speech and the Flight 77 video release have crowded out secret surveillance programs and wars. And while the motivation for the release of the 9/11 video is patently obvious, the immigration discussion now enthralling an easily distracted media and its attendant chattering class is something that has been on the back burning for sometime -- on slow burn -- just waiting for the proper time for Bush to finally enter the fray and really stir things up. With recent approval numbers in some cases hitting 29%, that time appears to be now.

The grim and failing conditions in both Iraq and Afghanistan have become situations even most Bush supporters simply cannot cheerlead anymore. The shrinking population of Bush supporters' constant and continual attacks on the media for portraying the failing war efforts as they are had resulted in neither a change in the coverage -- at least not until the immigration debate started amping up -- nor in the stream of conservative critics and retired generals who have been stepping out lately and denouncing the administration's handling of the war, demanding Rumsfeld's resignation. Though halting defenses of Rumsfeld were put forth with tepid arguments that "retired generals" are just that; what do they know? even staunch Bush supporters realised, if even only unconsciously, that this adminstration had indeed lost Iraq. No amount of happy spin was going to bring it back. It had also become obvious that Iraq was not a military failure but a policy failure directed by the Bush administration. It had been obvious enough before, but it became further obvious that the White House was incapable of admitted problems let alone correcting them. Clearly, attention would have to be redirected. With reports that the Taliban is on the rise and is now acting as a de facto government most everywhere but Kabul, Afghanistan also appears to have been relegated to the bin of ignominious inattention.

Even the "impending threat" that Iran supposedly posed to Israel and, by proxy, the United States, has lost its appeal, or rather, has been displaced by a more localised, homegrown threat. Though Dick Cheney may yet harbour glorious, bomb-laden visions of an attack on Iran, as news that military action was becoming more and more of a possibility, a sense that Americans were of no mind for yet more war became redolent. An insurgency of brown people pouring across a barely restricted border would come to be portrayed as the latest threat to America. Though we have heard neither Bush nor the Republican Congress fret so vocally about illegal immigration for most of Bush's time in office, with six months until the 2006 elections and with Republicans at all levels fearing lost seats and possibly one or both of their Congressional majorities, immigration would be the designated go-to issue that would drum up a conservative base that hopefully comprised more than just fundamentalists twitching about gay marriage and abortion. Of course, Bush's tack in this matter should not surprise us. This White House knows not how to address any problem except with the pointed barrel of a gun, and Bush's proposal to militarize the border by sending some 6,000 troops there has been met with a wave of criticism from, not only Democrats and Republicans, but border security officials themselves as being either inadequate or entirely useless.


Nonetheless, national attention has been redirected and strenuously so. The White House does not appear to know what to do about illegal immigration. Bush's "plan" hardly appears to be much of a plan at all. But the effect of it has been sufficient to steer a great deal of attention away from increasing revelations about White House complicity in Iraqi intelligence failures, failing war efforts and attending military criticism, NSA surveillance and monitoring programs, and even Iran's nuclear program, the previous grave threat of the week.

Mexicans! Are entering the country! This is something Mexicans have been doing for a long time, of course, but when things are going this badly for the White House and a Republican-led Congress, the threat watch had to be aimed at a new target. Of course, right wing media outlets and other minions are only too happy to provide redirection. This is not to say that illegal immigration is not a problem that needs addressing, but given the relatively sudden nature of the current debate and the impending elections this fall, it is almost guaranteed that a reviled and desperate Congress will attempt to cobble together yet another ill-considered, bilious piece of legislation likely to do more harm than good. The fact that the immigration issue is now suddenly the threat du jour is testiment to the White House's ability to direct the national debate as it sees fit. The media, as they always do, unconsciously or not, is only too happy to oblige Bush's misdirections.

The Bush administration thrives on threat or at least perceived threat and it is something they will not relenquish, it being one of two arrows in their meager quiver, the "memory of 9/11" being the other. Filled as it is with political and corporate cronies, they know they do not possess the policy competence to effect real, long term solutions. But it should be clear at this point that this administration is really not interested in solutions to anything. They simply want to retain the power of the White House and Congress (such as it is under Bush) and their best and only way to do that is to play up threats at every necessity and hope no one notices that, as far as actual governance is concerned, they have no idea what their doing. The raison d'etre of the Bush White House has never been about actual governance.

 

An astronomer who has worked on a number of NASA projects, Ken lives in Baltimore, where he devotes his scientific training to observations and inferences about current affairs, politics and the media. He authors Shockfront and The Bonehead (more...)
 

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