It's just one of those obscure little unreported-upon conspiracy theory-ready hunks of floating White House detritus, a couple of odd, sticky, foul-smelling documents no one really wants to touch and no one knows quite what to make of, probably means nothing, probably being misread anyway, all a bit overblown and strange and not all that important and not all that different than the way things are now.
Unless, you know, it's not. Unless the violent twinge of queasy paranoia crossed with that uncontrolled bout of colon-clenching sighing you experience is deadly accurate and your radar for all things sinister and Rovean is right on target as you read about the delightfully titled National Security Presidential Directive/NSPD 51 and the Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-20, wherein it is calmly and furtively revealed that, in essence, George W. Bush owns your sorry ass.
Or, to put it another way, it looks like the Bumbling One just gave himself ever more power. Power to control and dictate the entire government, power to really spread the gospel of happy GOP incompetence, power to command the entire wobbly American universe should some sort of epic -- or not so epic, as the case may be -- calamity strike the homeland.
It goes something like this: Should any "decapitating event" occur in America that somehow incapacitates the D.C. power structure, should "any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions" take place, well then, all power and decision making would devolve to the White House, which would then attempt to orchestrate our very survival and oversee all essential governmental functions with none other than the president himself as, well, Super-Mega Lord Decider. With extra crayons.
You know, a dictator.
Wait wait wait, I hear you moan through your first pour of wine for the day, a futile attempt to stave off the sucker punch of doom you received from that last paragraph. There is nothing really new here. Hell, we've had a silly, ominous, "Terminator"-tinged master plan for post-apocalyptic America in place since Reagan was knee-high to a simpleminded jellybean, plans for a scowling "shadow government" to run the joint should, say, Russian nukes blow up all our Safeways or China secretly buy up all our Skippy peanut butter.
And more recently, this plan was transferred into the hairy, pockmarked arms of our own Homeland Security Department, which seems entirely appropriate, given how you like to imagine such a plan living alone in a dark and musty Pentagon subbasement stocked to the rafters with rusty Winchesters and shiny bayonets and giant shoe box-sized satellite phones from 1987 and a small mountain of vacuum-sealed emergency meat rations that will last through 2197, or at least the next season of "24." Cool.
But now, Shrub has seen fit to dust the thing off and make a few, uh, "revisions," most notably the one that appears to shift the decision-making process away from Homeland Security (which was then to disperse responsibility to various agencies and emergency services), straight to the Oval Office itself because, hey, who better to decide who gets to do what to whom when the s-- hits the fan than the most secretive, warmongering, never-saw-an-illegal-power-grab-it-didn't-like administration in American history? Gives you that warm, fuzzy, well-protected feeling all over, doesn't it? Like a rash? In your spleen?
Even more heartwarming, "catastrophe," in the vague, nearly useless language of these documents, could mean, why, just about anything at all. Hurricane? Flood? Low polling numbers for Giuliani? A bad tattoo of Alberto Gonzales' smirky face on Jenna Bush's sacrum? You bet! Because who gets to decide what constitutes a "catastrophe"? Why, Shrub himself, that's who. What's more, the event doesn't even have to occur in America (see "regardless of location"). Such a perceived "disruption" can happen anywhere in the world and with a press of the shiny red button next to his bed, Bush kicks the Enduring Constitutional Government (ECG) into gear. Neat!
I know what you're thinking. And I completely agree: Such secret plans are one of the most adorable, comic-booky aspects of dumb, ultrasecretive administrations. After all, do many 'Merkins not love to swoon and polish their NRA memberships as they imagine all those White House suits suddenly turning into patriotic superheroes at the first sign of a meteor strike or an attack by an alien super race or maybe just if Iraq gets a bit too uppity and starts bootlegging illegal DVDs of "The Office"? You bet they do.
And then boom, the nation goes into lockdown and it's a strict military state and Lynn Cheney starts enjoying sweaty night visions of Dick lumbering purposefully through the White House halls deciding who to nuke next as Dubya quivers in the corner and the flying monkeys prepare the escape pod. Just like in that Will Smith movie! Neat!
Let us now be serious for a moment. Let us hold back the sarcasm and step back and breathe a sigh of relief because I'm sure Dubya's changes to NSPD 51 mean a whole lotta nothing. I'm sure it's just another standard -- albeit a bit weird -- governmental procedural, boring and forgettable and just one of thousands of such indecipherable, hazily unconstitutional legal quirkballs in the Pentagon's creaky file cabinets, and Dubya's recent changes are just an honest tweak to what really amounts to a rather ridiculous, fantastical document in the first place. Yes, surely it's just a bunch of silly leftist paranoia to think that something dark and nasty could result from such a move.
After all, Shrub only has a year and a half left in office. Plus, his power has been severely truncated by the Dems. Why would he care to try for such a thuggish, cagey power grab now? What would be the point? Except, you know, to savagely tilt the next election and to further the new 'n' brutal neocon agenda of perpetual war and as a desperate, last-gasp move to prove he actually has the cojones to do something so appalling, so perfectly megalomaniacal, it's sure to rescue his rotten legacy from history's compost pile? I mean, besides that.
Thoughts for the author? E-mail him. Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SFGate and in the Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle.
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