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When Jupiter Aligns With Mars: Are Scandals Coincidence, or Breaking Point?

A friend in D.C. with whom I was having a conversation remarked on the timing of our discourse with words to the effect of: "It's a hot time in the old town tonight." The headlines are definitely interesting: Benghazi, the IRS selective investigation of conservatives, plus a whole host of other issues -- any of which would be front-page news by itself -- are jockeying for a position above the fold.

It's that crowded; almost like the planets were lining up. The ancients had a word for this kind of alignment of celestial objects: disaster -- meaning "ill-starred." The headlines look like The Onion on steroids:

"A Saudi man was arrested at Detroit Metropolitan Airport after federal agents said he lied about why he was traveling with a pressure cooker, according to a court documents filed Monday." -- Reuters.

"FBI surrounds house of Saudi student after sightings of him with pressure cooker pot." -- Daily Mail

Obama calls controversy over Benghazi talking points a "sideshow" -- L.A. Times

"Abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell found guilty of murdering three babies" -- Chicago Tribune

"'You don’t want the IRS ever being perceived to be biased and anything less than neutral in terms of how they operate,' said President Obama." -- Politico.

The Onion, except they're real.

And then there's the big one about the wholesale seizure of an entire news agency's phone records by the administration to find a leak:

The Justice Department used a secret subpoena to obtain two months of phone records for Associated Press reporters and editors without notifying the news organization, a senior department official tells NBC News, saying the step was necessary to avoid "a substantial threat to the integrity" of an ongoing leak investigation.

Yep, it's a hot time in the old town tonight. So my first reaction in the conversation was to wonder whether these were "emergent events," or just happenstance. "Emergent events": a fancy way of saying that several different elements have come together in an unexpected way and now the whole shebang is going critical, like a reactor running out of control. The alternative is to posit coincidence and simply believe fate conspired to release six months' worth of scandals in the same week.

Fortunately, we won't have to speculate for long. If this malevolent alignment of stars is the karma all coming together, then the next few weeks will feature an increasing spate of these things. Like a building in the process of collapse, first one beam goes, then two, then three, and before you know it the whole tower is gone. That will be noticeable, even in the glittering and impressive District of Columbia. If it's coincidence, then after this big spurt of news, the Washington Post will go back to reporting local crime.

There's a good chance it's emergent for the simple reason that it is difficult to think it is the handiwork of Republicans.