Sunday, November 06, 2005

Ethics for Beginners 

It is widely acknowledged that our President, the putative leader of the free world, cannot find his own bottom with both hands -- so you will, we hope, forgive our skepticism when we first read of Mr. Bush's stated intention to get to another bottom, namely that of the Plame affair. That was back in the late Pleistocene, Feb. 11, 2004:
"If there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is," Bush told reporters at an impromptu news conference during a fund-raising stop in Chicago, Illinois. "If the person has violated law, that person will be taken care of . . . .

"I want to know the truth," the president continued. "Leaks of classified information are bad things."

He added that he did not know of "anybody in my administration who leaked classified information."

Bush said he has told his administration to cooperate fully with the investigation and asked anyone with knowledge of the case to come forward.
It pains us to confess that in this instance, as in so many others, we misunderestimated the President. Now that Messrs. Libby and Rove have been exposed as the outers of Valerie Plame, Mr. Bush, ever a man of his word, has taken swift and decisive action against the liars and traitors that surround him on every side:
President Bush has ordered White House staff to attend mandatory briefings beginning next week on ethical behavior and the handling of classified material after the indictment last week of a senior administration official in the CIA leak probe.

According to a memo sent to aides yesterday, Bush expects all White House staff to adhere to the "spirit as well as the letter" of all ethics laws and rules. As a result, "the White House counsel's office will conduct a series of presentations next week that will provide refresher lectures on general ethics rules, including the rules of governing the protection of classified information," according to the memo, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Post by a senior White House aide.

A senior aide said Bush decided to mandate the ethics course during private meetings last weekend with Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and counsel Harriet Miers. Miers's office will conduct the ethics briefings.
We are fortunate indeed that one of our bravest and most loyal Zemblan patriots bears a striking facial resemblance to the aforementioned senior aide (although his features are considerably more youthful, less ravaged by sin) and was therefore able to sit in on the first White House ethics briefing undetected. Thanks to a tiny digital microrecorder concealed in his anus, he was able to provide us with the following transcript of the proceedings:
Q. Harriet? Harriet? What do the new ethical guidelines have to say about "noble lies"? I mean in the Straussian sense. Let's say you have a war in the works, but you can't quite sell it to the American public. Would it still be okay to push bogus, discredited intelligence from a known fabricator if it gets you over the hump? You're not asking us to run the government without lying to the people, are you?

A. Hey: we are certainly not here to tell you how to cook intelligence. But there's one thing we do ask: when it's cooked the way you like it, remember to have it declassified before you serve it up to the press, okay? You'll save us a lot of headaches down the line.

Q. But there are no retroactive penalties if things go horribly wrong after the fact? Even if -- these are just ballpark figures -- over two thousand Americans and untold Iraqis die needlessly, and it later comes out that regime change could have been accomplished through negotiation?

A. We're getting off point here. Let's remember: we're talking about the proper handling of classified material when dealing with the press. My heavens, if killing thousands for no good reason were a crime, we'd all be in the Hague!


Q. All right. Brass tacks. What's the penalty for leaking classified information?

A. Well, Karl, it's not a firing offense like overestimating the number of troops we might need in Iraq, or revealing the true cost of the Medicare bill. But the President does mean business. On the first offense, you have to attend a mandatory one-hour sensitivity-training session.

Q. And the second offense?

A. A mandatory two-hour session. Next question?

Q. Is it wrong to share classified information with a really, really good friend that we know would never act against our interests? I mean, one with whom we have a longstanding "special relationship"?

A. That's a great question, Larry, but rules are rules. If this sort of thing goes public, not only does it embarrass the President, but you could be indicted and convicted under federal espionage laws. And if you do wind up behind bars -- as much as I hate to say it -- you could lose your security clearance.

[shocked murmurs from audience]

Q. What??

Q. No!!

A. I know it's harsh, but that's the bitter partisan climate we live in.

Q. But let's say it's a good leak. Let's say the target of the leak is an enemy of the White House.

A. Same rule.

Q. Or the spouse or loved one of an enemy of the White House.

A. Same rule.

Q. I'm not making myself clear. The target of the leak is an enemy of the White House, or the spouse or loved one of an enemy of the White House, and a Democrat.

A. Karl? You go right ahead. Blow this target's cover. Reveal the company she works for as a CIA front. Expose all her undercover colleagues to potentially deadly reprisals. But if you do, and you get caught, mark my words: you had best be prepared to spend one full hour in mandatory sensitivity training.

Q. I get that. I just don't get why it's wrong.

A. Because I said so! You, over in the corner.

Q. What if you kind of accidentally-on-purpose blurt out some classified information in the context of, well, you know . . . .

A. What?

Q. Pillow talk.

[muffled laughter]

A. I bow to no one in my admiration for Doris Day. I used to see her all the time at Pebble Beach. But I'm not quite sure what that has to do with --

Q. Say you have a reporter who's willing to run a hit piece or a smear job, but in return they expect a certain favor of a sexual nature . . . .

A. We're all adults here. Say what you mean.

Q. The reporter wants to do it on the rug in the Oval Office.

A. On the rug! Whoa! That's what I call a "shag carpet"!!

[agonizingly long silence]

A. So. You're saying that, in exchange for, er, sexual congress on the, er, rug, this individual would be willing to post unsourced White House propaganda on the front page of the New York Times?

Q. Times? No. The front page of Talon News.

[tittering; whispered remarks]

A. And how many column-inches would he guarantee you for this story?

Q. He said he would give me eight inches. Uncut.

A. Harriet, may I interrupt? Sex in the Oval Office is the one crime neither God nor man is empowered to forgive. I don't think it's worth the risk.

Q. But Andy, he really wants a scoop for his blog. It could mean thousands of hits. And the thing is, he's got this little black book detailing certain business transactions from his, how to put this, previous career. And if this book should ever fall into the wrong hands . . . let's just say our majorities in both houses of Congress would be in serious jeopardy.

[long silence]

A. And who else is in this alleged book?

Q. Congressmen. Lobbyists. Certain White House staffers who shall go un--

A. That's not what I mean. Any Democrats??

Q. How would we know? Unless we had the book?

A. If we did have the book, is there any reason we couldn't just flip it open to the "R" section and write in a name? Say . . . "Harry Reid"?

Q. I don't see why not. But we don't have the --

A. Okay, then. Here's my considered advice. You give this reporter any classified information he wants.

Q. Really?

A. Sure. It doesn't matter. It'll never see print. You know that equine sculpture on the President's desk?

Q. The commemorative Lone Ranger bronze?

A. That's the one. Now you get your "reporter" down here on the carpet of the Oval Office and once you're in the "saddle," as it were, the old "driver's seat," you steer him toward the desk, see? And at an opportune moment, when he's starting to get all "preoccupied," you grab old Hi-Yo Silver and WHAM!! -- right down on the back of his bald melon!

[A moment of silence. Then, scattered applause, followed by a standing ovation]

Q. So it's ethically permissible to blab classified information, as long as you brain the journalist immediately afterward?

A. Sure. Where's the harm?

A. Just make sure he's got the book before you bash his skull in. The President loves his little Lone Ranger.

Q. But who drags the corpse of the dead gay hooker out of the Oval Office?

A. Traditionally, Scottie. [checks watch] I see our hour is almost up. Report back here next week, and we'll discuss the correct ethical response to man-pimp Harry Reid's mixed-race homosexual prostitution ring. We'll also have Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales and John Yoo to drill you on proper etiqutte when dealing with a congressional oversight committee. See you then!
UPDATE (via our distinguished colleagues at Crooks & Liars): Steve Soto of The Left Coaster speculates that there may be a close connection between the release of the previously-classified document exposing Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi as a serial fabricator (see link above) and the procedural move by Harry Reid that shut down the Senate earlier this week:
This latest revelation means that at the time Bush justified the commencement of war against Iraq consistent with what was required under Public Law 107-243, he certified things not in evidence, and made claims to Congress (Saddam’s active operation of a WMD program and Saddam’s assistance to Al Qaeda) that he, Cheney, and Rummy already knew were false.

He lied to Congress to start the war. And now
53% of the American public says that if it is clear that Bush lied, they would support Congress considering impeachment proceedings against the president.

That may be why the Democrats just now made their stand this week. They have new evidence that Bush lied to Congress, and that the March 18, 2003 determination was faulty, and that Bush knew it was based on fabricators, faked documents, and doctored intelligence.

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