Bird in Hand, Egg on the Face

January 16, 2014

magritte13Clear and moon-struck once again this early Thursday on California’s north coast as we bask in a spring/summer outbreak of warm weather.
A stalled high pressure out in the Pacific has kept the state warm and rain-free — the first is way-nice, the second, shitty-as-can-be.

Also shitty is the amount of disgraceful shenanigans eating up this country — scandal has become the catchphrase for all kinds of nefarious and semi-nefarious action, and with yoke-on-the-face, what comes first, the egg or the bird doing the hatching?

(Illustration: Rene Magritte’s ‘La Clairvoyance‘ found here).

The best scandals explode beyond the original incident, like the latest: A US air force investigation into illegal drug use by officers charged with overseeing and launching nuclear missiles expanded on Wednesday when the military announced the suspension of dozens of additional officers for cheating on proficiency exams.
Despite 11 officers suspected of drugs, and 34 officers implicated in the cheating, there should be no concern about the safety of nuclear weapons:

“This is not about the compromise of nuclear weapons,” air force chief of staff Mark Welsh said in a statement broadcast on the Pentagon Channel.
“It’s about the compromise of the integrity of some of our airmen … Our actions as we move forward will be about making sure that every member of our air force understands that we will not accept or allow that type of behaviour.”
Welsh said it could be the biggest such scandal in the history of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force.

Yeah, right — nothing to see here, move along.

Americans seem to be fixated on scandal. One hot TV show right now is most-aptly named, “Scandal,” which should tell us something, but what? A generation has come and gone since the biggest scandal in human history, “Watergate,” changed how this shit is tossed into the air.
Affix the suffix “-gate” to anything and lo, and behold, a freakin’ scandal — how did this come about 40-plus years after Dick Nixon?
A brief history from The Atlantic:

And “-gate” long ago escaped the bounds of American politics and the English language.
Column inch-limited headline writers in Argentina, Azerbaijan, Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Poland, South Africa, and especially the U.K. have all imported “-gate” for their own homegrown scandals.
Many involve sports.
Some involve bolognese sauce: The Montreal restaurant community was rocked last year by Pastagate, when Québéc’s language enforcers warned an upscale restaurant to stop using Italian words like “pasta” on their menu instead of the French equivalent.
Very few rise near the level of Watergate.
We need a new term for these sub-gate scandals.
As British social scientist James Stanyer has noted, “Revelations are given the ‘gate’ suffix to add a thin veil of credibility, following ‘Watergate’, but most bear no resemblance to the painstaking investigation of that particular piece of presidential corruption.”
(Disclosure: The National Journal’s offices are located in the Watergate complex, which, by the way, gets its name from the nearby mouth of the C&O Canal and/or a discontinued summer concert series.)
In fact, this degradation of scandal may have been the point of “-gate’s” creation.
Former Nixon speechwriter cum New York Times columnist William Safire was the first to detach “gate” from “water” as early as September 1974, and he went on to coin many more “gates,” including some of the biggies: Briefingate, Travelgate, Whitewatergate, among a dozen or so others.

We need a more empirical categorization.
For that, we can turn to Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan, who has one of the most widely cited theories on political scandals.
In a nutshell, he argues that scandals are a co-production of the media and the opposition party, and only form when both are onboard.
No media buy-in, no real scandal.
Take the scandal du jour, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s closing of toll lanes on the George Washington Bridge.
At first, Democrats cared, but the national media did not.
But when emails emerged last week showing clearly that Christie aides planned the traffic delays to exact political revenge, the issue suddenly became a “-gate,” with wall-to-wall press coverage and the full aura of scandal.

The best scandals are like that, with first the crime/incident, then the required “cover-up,” which when revealed, makes the whole affair shimmer in the sun of public attention. The actual bridge incident happened last September, and was a way-over-there side issue until, yes, “the cover up” was uncovered — former federal prosecutor Stephen Ryan:

“The classic way that people get prosecuted for a matter like this is because they lied to federal or state investigators, or a legislative body,” Ryan said.
“The most likely crime is a false statement to a government investigator, and that’s what would be prosecuted, as opposed to the underlying perverse act of messing with bridge traffic.”

However, the general public at first approaches the incident with their collective heads up their collectives asses. Christie, like Nixon, has so far been spared the shame. Nixon was re-elected by a landslide vote in November 1972, nearly six months after the Watergate break-in — only later did the ‘real’ shit (the cover-up) hit the fan.
Apparently, time is of the essence in these things, and the public becomes aware of what a real asshole these people are only later in the chaos. Christie has yet to reach that threshold of notoriety, at least according to a new survey:

Nearly 70 percent of Americans say the bridge-closure scandal engulfing Chris Christie has not changed their opinion about the New Jersey governor, according to a new NBC News/Marist poll.
In addition, 44 percent of respondents believe he’s telling the truth about his knowledge of the events surrounding the controversy.
And far more Americans view him as a strong leader rather than as a bully.

Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, explains that, overall, this is good news for Christie.
“The numbers suggest it’s far from politically fatal for him,” he says of the scandal, adding: “This is a developing story, so the extent of the damage down the road is an open proposition.”
But the down side for Christie, according to Miringoff: Americans “are getting to know to him, and that’s maybe not the best way to introduce himself to a national audience.”

In time, the egg will hatch, though, still a runny piece of shit.

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