a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Legal scandals, impeachment efforts force President’s resignation

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 18th August 2008

In Pakistan. The New York Times’s Jane Perlez reports:

Under pressure over impending impeachment charges, President Pervez Musharraf announced that he would resign Monday, ending nearly nine years as one of the United States’ most important allies in the campaign against terrorism. […]

Mr. Musharraf has been under strong pressure in the past few days, as the coalition said it had completed a charge sheet to take to Parliament for his impeachment. The charges were centered on “gross violations” of the Constitution, according to the minister of information, Sherry Rehman.

Yeah , whatever; bet Pakistan doesn’t have 72 Olympic medals. U-S-A! U-S-A!

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Jane Mayer: Powell not told about al-Libi doubts

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th July 2008

From the Jane Mayer interview by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!:

JANE MAYER: Many of the detainees have said they lied to stop the torture. Shaykh Ibn al-Libi was perhaps one of the most fateful cases, because he was taken into custody by the CIA, sent to Egypt, where he was basically beaten up. While he was in Egypt, this was before the war in Iraq. He was asked, “Are there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? And are there connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein?” He later said he had absolutely no idea. He didn’t even really know what weapons of mass destruction were. But he told his interrogators whatever they wanted to hear. And what he told the interrogators made its way into Colin Powell’s speech to the UN, which was one of the major turning points in selling the war in Iraq. Colin—

AMY GOODMAN: February 5, 2003, five weeks before the invasion.

JANE MAYER: Right. And it was a speech that was very powerful, convinced an awful lot of people who were on the fence about whether we needed to go to war. One of the things Powelll talks about in that speech is the information that came from al-Libi saying that there was WMD and that there were connections between terrorists from al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

Almost one year after Powell’s speech, this same detainee, Shaykh Ibn al-Libi, recanted. He told the CIA he made it up. He said he had to say something, because they were killing him.

You know, one of the things, though, that I think people haven’t picked up on in that story is not only the disinformation that came out of this program, but that there were really doubts about al-Libi at that time that Powell gave that speech, and Powell was not told about the doubts. The DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, already suspected that al-Libi was fabricating things, because his confessions lacked all the kind of detail that’s convincing. And the DIA was sounding an alarm, but Powell wasn’t told about this when he gave his speech.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was Cheney’s role?

JANE MAYER: Well, Cheney vetted the speech, so he—his office was just deeply involved in almost all of these issues. You know, David Addington was up in Congress not very long ago, and he testified. And again, people didn’t pick up on this much. But he said as kind of an aside that he was very involved in the CIA’s interrogation program, which is extraordinary. Now, why is the lawyer for the Vice President involved in the CIA’s interrogation program? Well, when the history of this is told—and I did my best to tell it in The Dark Side—you’ll see there’s sort of fingerprints from Cheney and the people in his office all over this program.

While this hasn’t escaped attention before now, there are two reasons the bolded parts remain important and worth emphasizing, I think. First, obviously, a key convincing spokesman went to the United Nations with a story that was built on sand — leading to the deaths and maimings of (at minimum) tens of thousands of Iraqis, and thousands of Americans. Second, perhaps less obviously, there was an effort — a conspiracy, to put it bluntly — to have him do so. I’ve compiled a short and no doubt partial list of other major instances of this kind of deception here — “Practice to Deceive.”

For people to argue that torture or deception leading to war (or, in this case, both) were somehow done in good faith is to “hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil.” It’s wilful blindness in the face of overwhelming evidence. In my view, these were part of a conspiracy of war crimes, crimes against U.S. statutes, and impeachable acts. There must be accountability for them; all I can do, I suppose, is point that out — and hold it against politicians, pundits, and others who argue otherwise.

UPDATE, 7/29: Support Dennis Kucinich’s call for impeachment hearings here; your name will be forwarded to your Representative.

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Gordon Clark (Green-MD-8) on Congress and impeachment

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 13th July 2008

Gordon Clark is a former SANE/Freeze, Peace Action, and Public Citizen state and national organizer who is challenging Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) in the November election, as the Green Party candidate for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District seat in Congress. As befits a Green Party and progressive candidate, he’s centering his campaign on the issues of the Iraq war, global warming, and to some extent on the storm clouds gathering for a possible Iran war; as I noted at the time, I first learned about the execrable H.Con.Res.362 bill demanding a blockade of Iran via a press release from the Gordon Clark campaign.

I was curious where Mr. Clark stands on impeachment, accountability, and the dream of a healthy constitutional democracy in the United States. Via his website, I just got through listening to an interview he gave on June 13th on the (quite excellent) BlogTalkRadio news show “Radio Resistance,” hosted by Chip Gibbons. The Clark interview begins at around 32:30 minutes*; the key part, for me, is here:

GIBBONS, “RADIO RESISTANCE” (at around 44:52): If you were in Congress right now instead of Representative Van Hollen, would you be pursuing impeachment of George Bush?

CLARK: As I said, I think it’s a tough call in some ways. I’ll start off by saying: yes, I would. […] If I were in the legislature right now, there’s no question that this administration has committed crimes that deserve impeachment and I would be forced to vote for it.

(All emphases are mine.)

Read the rest of this entry »

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Quotes of the July 4th weekend

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 7th July 2008

  • From a 4th of July parade watcher I spoke with: “I figured Obama would disappoint me sometime; I just didn’t think it would be so soon.”
  • Walking back from the parade, I ran into a neighbor who asked why the costume. Explained about FISA, and he asked “So, you’ve given up on impeachment?” So I answered, “No, everyone else did.” That’s not strictly true, of course;“No, you did” was what I thought, but that would have been a little too sharp.
  • Overheard in a bookstore, in front of Scott McClellan’s book: Here it is! He’s the snitch I was telling you about, he’s snitchin’.”

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Worth reading

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 25th May 2008

  • A stalled U.S. peace movement? Antiwar activity since 2001 (janinsanfran, “Happening Here”) — This is the fifth and last post of a series Jan wrote to gather her thoughts for a history workshop, and the whole series is worth your while. Jan concludes:

    A more effective peace movement needs to be offering a vision of a plausible, sustainable global community that doesn’t hinge on U.S. use of force to maintain empire. Elements of that vision clearly need to include challenges related to technology, climate change, and how to rein in cancerous capitalism. We really haven’t known how to put out such a vision yet.

    That’s not surprising — it is hard and perhaps, also, the struggle against empire may not have changed us enough so that we could see it. But the group(s) that find elements of that vision will discover that millions are already with them, looking for something similar, ready to elaborate something as yet unknown. They just don’t currently identify with the peace movement.

  • The Cynic and Senator Obama (Charles Pierce, Esquire) — This is one of the best political essays I’ve read in a long time. Self-described cynic Pierce considers Obama’s oratory and politics, and finds them serviceable but not entirely satisfying:

    There is one point in the stump speech, however, that catches the cynic up short every time. It comes near to the end, when Obama talks about cynics. Obama says that cynics believe they are smarter than everyone else. The cynic thinks he’s wrong. The cynic doesn’t think he’s wiser or more clever or more politically attuned than anyone else. It’s just that he fears that, every morning, he’ll discover that his country has done something to deface itself further, that something else he thought solid will tremble and quake and fall to ruin, that his fellow citizens will sell more of their birthright for some silver that they can forge into shackles. He has come to believe that the worst thing a citizen of the United States of America can believe is that his country will not do something simply because it’s wrong. It would be a mistake for anyone — but especially for a presidential candidate — to believe that the cynic thinks himself wise or safe or liberated. In 2008, the cynic is more modest. He considers himself merely adequate to the times.

    I could go on quoting this piece at length, but I’ll make do with two quotes — one that made me nod my head as the main thing I hold against Obama (link added):

    In 2007, when asked about the possibility — just the possibility — of impeaching George W. Bush and/or Dick Cheney, Obama scoffed at the idea, not entirely because it was constitutionally unsound but also because it was impolite and a nuisance and might make many people angry at one another, and he was, after all, running to help save us from ourselves.“We would, once again, rather than attending to the people’s business, be engaged in a tit-for-tat, back-and-forth, nonstop circus.”

    He was offering a guilty country a nolo plea. Himself. Absolution without confession.

    The cynic declined the deal. There were not enough people in handcuffs yet.

    And one that made me laugh:

    “I look forward as president to going before the world community and saying, ‘America is back. We’re ready to lead,’ “ Obama says on the radio, the static crackling and popping and the transmission fading, and it takes a moment for the cynic to wonder whether or not the world wants America to lead. Maybe the world wants America to sit down and shut up for a while.

  • Race to the Bottom, (Betsy Reed, “The Nation”) — Reed stipulates that misogynistic attacks on Hillary Clinton have happened and are deplorable, but thinks declaring “sexism the greater scourge” than racism is not helpful. She continues:

    Yet what is most troubling–and what has the most serious implications for the feminist movement–is that the Clinton campaign has used her rival’s race against him. In the name of demonstrating her superior “electability,” she and her surrogates have invoked the racist and sexist playbook of the right–in which swaggering macho cowboys are entrusted to defend the country–seeking to define Obama as too black, too foreign, too different to be President at a moment of high anxiety about national security.

  • Women and the Invisible Fist (Charles Johnson, Rad Geek People’s Daily) — Libertarians (and others) grant and even assume the possibility of spontaneous order; but if so, must they not also grant the possibility of spontaneous repression? An interesting essay by libertarian Charles Johnson argues yes, with a close examination of writings by feminist theorist Susan Brownmiller. The latter coined the ugly but compelling “Myrmidon theory” of rape — that men as a class or gender benefit from the transgressions of rapists.* Roughly speaking, the thinking is that the “good” men often identify themselves as protectors, women often agree, and society as a whole shapes itself around the ever-present threat. Johnson:

    But if widely distributed forms of intelligence, knowledge, virtue, or prudence can add up, through many individual self-interested actions, into an benign undesigned order, then there’s no reason why widely distributed forms of stupidity, ignorance, prejudice, vice, or folly might not add up, through many individual self-interested actions, into an unintended but malign undesigned order. Moreover, if you consider that spontaneous orders can emerge as unintended consequences of certain widespread forms of violence, then it ought to be especially clear that not all undesigned orders can be considered benign from a libertarian point of view.

    Via Jim Henley, who seems lately to be about metamorphosing your father’s (and/or mother’s) libertarianism into something more honest, multifaceted, and interesting. See also in this respect Henley’s Art of the Possible post, and the site as a whole: “Liberals and libertarians on common ground… and otherwise.” Henley says that the challenge is to “correct spontaneous malign orders without the tool of state violence.” I’m not sure that circle can be squared — some countervailing force is needed against spontaneous malign orders, and that force will need some agreed on norms of justice and enforcement. But I’m interested that libertarians are thinking about the challenge.

  • “Secret Law and the Threat to Democratic and Accountable Government,” Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, April 30, 2008 — From Senator Russ Feingold’s opening statement:

    “More than any other Administration in recent history, this Administration has a penchant for secrecy. To an unprecedented degree, it has invoked executive privilege to thwart congressional oversight and the state secrets privilege to shut down lawsuits. It has relied increasingly on secret evidence and closed tribunals, not only in Guantanamo but here in the United States. And it has initiated secret programs involving surveillance, detention, and interrogation, some of the details of which remain unavailable today, even to Congress.

    “These examples are the topic of much discussion and concern, and appropriately so. But there is a particularly sinister trend that has gone relatively unnoticed – the increasing prevalence in our country of secret law.

    Feingold went on to list examples like the secret Yoo memoranda on torture and (as we now know) on warrantless surveillance. Testimony by Federation of American Scientists secrecy expert Steven Aftergood, former Clinton OLC lawyer Dawn Johnsen, and University of Minnesota law professor Heidi Kitrosser, among others, delineate the problem and suggest some legislative solutions, or at least balances. Kitrosser:

    …as the experience with the surveillance and torture programs demonstrate, the oversight system too often cracks under the weight of executive branch disregard and legislative acquiescence in the same. Such disregard and acquiescence is facilitated in part by the same arguments used to justify the circumvention of substantive statutory directives. That is, the executive branch often simply asserts that statutorily required disclosures or requested disclosures would prove too dangerous, and these assertions too often are met with acquiescence.


    Given the Bush Administration’s propensity to claim that it is simply engaging in statutory interpretation when it in effect is claiming the authority to disregard a statute, Congress should amend the current notification requirement to extend beyond cases in which the executive branch acknowledges iti is refusing to comply with a statute. Presidents should explain publicly not only when they determine a statute is unconstitutional and need not be enforced, but also whenever they purport to rely upon the constitutional avoidance canon to interpret a statute.

    (“Constitutional avoidance” is when a statute admitting of an unconstitutional interpretation is instead is interpreted in such a way that the result is constitutional.) Administration spokesbot Bradford Berenson had his say as well; find it yourself. Via Marty Lederman (“Balkinization”).

* The term “Myrmidon” is from the Iliad, where Myrmidons were Achilles’ henchmen soldiers, who did his bidding: “Loyal and unquestioning, the Myrmidons served their master well, functioning in anonymity as effective agents of terror.”

UPDATE, 6/2: “Rad Geek” elaborates on his points in a lengthy and worthwhile comment here. Also, reading between the lines of Henley’s link to this post, I wonder if I gave offense; that was not my intent. Maybe what’s metamorphosing are my own views, not libertarian thinking. I meant that I see Henley as having his own considerable impact on reshaping libertarian thinking (and/or promoting understanding of it) for the better. Glenn Greenwald is another example. Thanks also to Avedon Carol for her nice link to this post.
UPDATE, 6/10: “Rad Geek” comments on our discussion here at his own blog: “10,000 ways to lose your freedom.”

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Why we’re liberals — an impeachment altercation

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 20th March 2008

Politics & Prose is quite possibly the best bookstore in the country, and I’ve seen some good ones. We went there again last night, ostensibly to pick up a birthday present for Maddie’s friend, in reality to feed our family’s book addictions, and just to go to one of our favorite places.

The hook for me: “Eric Alterman will be there, you want to go?” I would have gone anyway, but that made it better: the acute observer of modern media and politics, the pioneering big-time blogger (“Altercation,” currently ensconced at Media Matters), the prolific author (“What Liberal Media?”, “Sound and Fury: The Making of the Punditocracy”), the American historian made good — I didn’t even know what his latest book was and I wanted to go.

Turns out it’s “Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America.” From an online blurb:

Alterman examines liberalism’s development and demonstrates how its partisans have come to represent not just the mainstream, but also the majority of Americans today. In a crisply argued though extensively documented counterattack on right-wing spin and misinformation, Alterman briskly disposes of such canards as Liberals Hate God and Liberals Are Soft on Terrorism, reclaiming liberalism from the false definitions foisted upon it by the right and repeated everywhere else.

The book looks good — there’s a cover by Tom Tomorrow displaying the pantheon of liberalism — FDR, Teddy Kennedy, Tom Paine, you name it, with Mr. Alterman in the middle of the crowd. Alterman didn’t read from it, but described it to the audience in an entertaining, if somewhat rambling way.

Alterman’s point, as I take it, is straightforward: Americans are liberal, by and large, judging by opinion poll majorities or trends pointing to acceptance of liberal goals like health care, ending the war, even gay marriage. But they’re reluctant to apply the label to themselves, due to a successful propaganda campaign to make the word and the concept distasteful. American political liberalism in Alterman’s view is less a philosophy than a pragmatic outlook; “government might help with this problem; if not, we’ll try something else.”

The word “handbook” is apt: after a tour of liberalism’s antecedents, philosophy, history, and recent retreats in Part I, the book gets down to brass tacks in Part II with a kind of “how to” compendium of 10 to 15 page chapterlets with tongue-in-cheek titles in the form of questions, such as “Why Do Liberals Love Hollywood Smut Peddlers?”, “Why Are Liberals Educating Our Children to be Perverts?”, or “Why Do Liberals Hate Religion?” It looks to be an entertaining, yet well built set of polemics, or anti-polemics if you will, ready to be used at a moment’s notice by those who master its arguments.

“Principles are a form of moral vanity
My point, however, will not be to shower praise on what looks to be a perfectly serviceable book, but to question its author. In the question and answer session, Alterman was asked about impeachment — and he kind of went off on the guy, comparing impeachment advocates to Nader supporters in 2000, allegedly blind to the consequences of their actions, indirectly complicit in the disasters that followed.*

So I joined the short line of questioners, and wound up being the last one. I asked where he saw the rule of law and adherence to the Constitution in his definition of liberalism; in the tension between adhering to principles and focusing on winning the next election, where were the bright lines Alterman was willing to draw to say “this far and no further”, regardless of the cost? Because, I told him, his answer to the first questioner had me thinking, ‘maybe I’m not a liberal after all.’

This tacitly conceded what I shouldn’t have — that impeachment, even a failed impeachment effort, was all political cost and no gain. But the strong form of the question remains, since as I suggested to Eric, “the rap on liberals can be that they have no bright lines”, no principles they’ll go to the mat for and risk losing elections for — that they’re moral relativists, triangulators, etc., more interested in attaining or keeping power than in speaking truth to it.

Interestingly, Alterman had recounted an example of just the opposite in his remarks: LBJ noting that the Civil Rights Act he’d worked so hard for would cost Democrats the South for years to come. So when he sort of squared up and said that to him principles were a form of moral vanity, what I think he meant was that my principles were that kind of vanity, in the face of the looming election, in the face of people who were struggling to make ends meet. (I paraphrase, but not by much; and the “principles [are] moral vanity” were his words.)

That’s funny, though, because to me that particular principle — rule of law, or “playing by the rules” in 90s Democratic vernacular — is a core liberal value and is not some kind of luxury item we can do without in tough times. Without it, the little guy has no recourse against the high and mighty, whether they’re government officials or CEOs. To me liberalism, plainly put, is saying the little guy should always have a chance to get his grievance heard and to be made whole, and that there’s a public sphere where the big guy with lawyers, guns and money can’t expect to win.

And it seems self-evident to me that that credo starts at the top; the measure of a country isn’t just how it treats its weakest members, but the standards it applies to its most powerful ones. We are plainly failing both tests; I think it’s a single test, and that those failures go hand in hand.

I certainly didn’t set out to embarrass Mr. Alterman last night — but I also somewhat worry that I didn’t. By now I’m somewhat resigned to the fact that my opinions about impeachment seem to be a minority opinion within the cognoscenti and silverbacks of the Democratic Party; it’s not just Alterman, it’s commenters at Obsidian Wings, it’s the largely silent liberal wing of the legal profession and academia, it’s Harold Meyerson, it’s Van Hollen, it’s Pelosi, it’s Conyers.

And it seems shortsighted to me, even — indeed especially — by Alterman’s own “damn straight I’m a liberal” lights. At the time, I was nonplussed by Alterman’s protestations that he wasn’t advocating euthanasia or something — where the heck did that come from, I wondered. But I think he was pre-emptively answering the objection that occurred to me later — the old saw that “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll go for anything.”

I’ll stipulate that Alterman hasn’t gone for anything — but the presumably liberal Democratic Party arguably has. It has to all appearances been running a two year stall, a political “four corners” drill running out the clock to an anticipated win in 2008 — a strategy that may not be as clever as its authors thought. Late feints notwithstanding, it has effectively stood by — both before and after 2006 — and let the corruption of the Justice Department go unpunished; it has allowed the Bush administration to play semantic games about the meaning of torture and whether waterboarding fits the definition; it’s doing its level best to find as much as possible about warrantless surveillance to be legal after all — and it’s done nothing meaningful whatsoever to get out of a war built on lies that a majority of us (and a vast majority of self-described liberals) considers to be a disastrous mistake. If that’s liberalism, I want off.

I don’t think that has to be liberalism — but the evidence is against me. As it stands, liberalism as practiced by its leaders — and as hobbled by Alterman with his disappointing “moral vanity” remark — is in deserved disrepute. Impeachment proceedings would have let the word go forth that these things were crimes, crimes against the people of the United States, and that we weren’t afraid to say so and stand for who we are. That word has not gone forth — and we are thus lessened not just by our foes, but by ourselves and our friends as well, however well-meaning we may be. And people notice; they line up with those who fight, and avoid helping those who won’t.

Alterman claims to know “Why We’re Liberals.” I guess by now I question the premise. I just don’t know where that leaves me.

* I wasn’t taking notes, and I don’t have a recording; however, one may be available in the near future. If so, I’ll let you know, especially if it contradicts my account here.

UPDATE, 3/23: I’ve transcribed Alterman’s impeachment-related comments (and the questions by myself and another audience member) from an audio recording prepared by Politics & Prose. The transcript bears out my account above.
UPDATE, 3/24: WorldWideWeber and Mick Arran write about my encounter with Alterman — and with rather different points. At the risk of oversimplifying their excellent posts — which you should read — WWW identifies support for Bush and Cheney’s impeachment as true conservatism, while Arran sees Alterman confirming that the Democratic Party isn’t in fact liberal. Thanks to both for their thought-provoking reactions. For my part, I retell the story at American Street — with crisp, fresh new arguments!
UPDATE, 3/26: Another post by Mick Arran on this subject, taking up comments by Nell and Paul here.
UPDATE, 4/1: eRobin takes up the idealism vs. pragmatism elements of the post and the comments about it in “Hardcore Idealism.”
EDIT, 7/12/10: “Principles are a form of moral vanity” subheading added.

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On the other hand: a changed system

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 23rd February 2008

Scott Horton, writing in Harper’s Monthly, concludes a piece on the subversion of the Justice Department:

It is improbable that any contender who prevails in the 2008 presidential election will renounce the Bush model of a redefined presidency. A newcomer will likely differentiate his (or her) policies on a number of points, pulling back somewhat from positions (such as the presidential right to torture or wage pre-emptive war) that have drawn sharp criticism. But these changes will be introduced as a matter of presidential policy, not because the president is bowing to law defined by Congress or to constitutional constraints.

Our Constitution provides a mechanism for countering transformational excess, but the people’s representatives thus far appear to have decided that the impolite process of impeachment is only for presidents who have affairs. Given this failure of will, we must be prepared to accept a changed system in which the will of the people is subsumed by good manners and fearful politics. As long as this new democracy prevails, little will matter beyond the will of the president.

We are henceforward at the mercy of the noblesse oblige a given president brings to the job — and whether he or she is lucky. And that is not enough. Say both Obama and Clinton are constitutional paragons — the minute they are gone, the Department of Justice, the Office of Legal Counsel will revert to whoever the next president is. Will the laudable customs and habits a Barack Obama or a Hillary Clinton instill in their administrations survive them? No. Will they survive another September 11? No.

We once assumed that Congress would check the executive branch. We now know to our detriment that it will not; rather, representatives and senators mostly see themselves as an auxiliary support of the executive branch, or as a cabal contending for it in the future. By definition, no presidential candidate can repair this damage; no matter who wins the White House in November, I believe we must also work for the return of a true first branch of government, a militant Congress.

I voted against Representative Chris Van Hollen in the recent primary. I will vote against Senator Barbara Mikulski when or if that time comes. Both have failed to protect the Constitution and the rule of law from the depredations of this administration. I can only think that Representative Van Hollen reckoned his duties to party fundraising and chain of command higher than his duties to protect and defend the Constitution from the impeachable acts of this president and vice president. I can only think that Senator Mikulski believes that when a law like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is broken, we must change the law to suit the lawbreaker. Neither will have my support in the future.

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Video: last leg of Nirenberg’s "March in My Name" for impeachment

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th January 2008

Filmed and edited by Takoma Park’s own Michelle Bailey.

From John Nirenberg’s remarks in front of the National Archives:

…even with the separation of powers, even with the checks and balances, even with the staggered election cycles, they put in impeachment. Because they so feared that the executive would be tempted to abuse his power much like the kings and queens that they were familiar with. […]

And yet today we find ourselves now facing a crisis of the Constitution… The Democrats have in their silence granted a pardon to the President and the Vice President … and future presidents. Not only has their silence granted them a pardon for their many crimes, but their silence has also amended the Constitution. By being silent and allowing a shift in power from Congress to the executive they have changed the document — they have changed the Constitution which …they have sworn to uphold… […]

We wouldn’t have ever thought the Constitution would be trashed peacefully, quietly, through silence.

From David Swanson’s remarks:

…John Conyers is telling us “no – we have subpoena powers, we’ve got FOIA, we’ve got contempt.” But it’s as if a labor union had announced “we will never strike” and then announced “but we can whine, and we can bitch.” If you don’t put impeachment back, you cannot get subpoenas enforced, you cannot get FOIA requests enforced, you cannot get contempt citations delivered — forget it, you’re powerless, you’ve removed the power of the people through our representatives from the Constitution, there is no more Constitution.

And ten, twenty years from now we won’t even be doing this across the street of what they told us is a place of business. We’ll be doing it in hiding. We’ll be doing it in hiding. Now is the time to act, while we can still attempt to do this.

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A walk to strengthen a weakening Constitution

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th January 2008

We the People
John Nirenberg talks with two supporters
next to a “We the People” banner signed by
impeachment supporters.
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew

John Nirenberg is a retired college professor from Vermont who began walking from Boston’s Faneuil Hall to Washington, D.C. on December 2 last year to demonstrate his support for the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney. In the first entry on his web site about the march — March In My Name — he explained:

I’ve decided that being outraged isn’t enough. Bush and Cheney have so perverted our system of government, I have to do more than just be angry. What can we do as citizens? As a former Social Studies and American History teacher I remember telling my students to get involved, to vote, to speak their minds. Today, unfortunately, that’s not enough. We voted for change a year ago and nothing has happened. Congress is controlled by the Democrats but instead of holding the administration accountable for its wanton disregard of the Constitution, gets scolded by Bush for inaction and is intimidated by Cheney! Yikes, what’s a citizen to do?

I have chosen to march for the impeachment of both Bush and Cheney for their many high crimes and misdemeanors including placing themselves above the law.

I joined several dozen other impeachment supporters in accompanying him on the last leg of his journey on Saturday morning at the National Arboretum. We chose a huge and seemingly abandoned parking place for the rendezvous with John and his support crew. Not abandoned enough, though — the cars had to be reparked elsewhere, we were told by Arboretum police (or rent-a-cops, not sure which to be honest). Fine, whatever.

Around quarter to 10 the initial group — about twenty of us — started walking west down New York Avenue, which (other than the Arboretum quickly left behind) is initially a fairly bleak urban panorama — gas stations, overpasses, Washington Times printing plant, cheap motels. But as it bends southwest it begins to descend into Washington proper. I stopped briefly to take in a nice view of the city and the Capitol building in the distance. The weather was fine; blue skies and a sunny day; it must have been a great sight indeed for John after his long walk south. Along the way, we got mostly honks of support and thumbs-up reactions, though on one occasion an angry fellow yelled out of his window… what was it… oh, yes: “You guys are the greatest for sticking up for our Constitution!” At least, that’s how I remember it now.

Cheney: “I’ve got my own branch, so
go f*** yerself.”
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew

We made for Union Station, where additional supporters rendezvoused with us around 11:30, among them AfterDowningStreet‘s David Swanson, with his wife and little boy (Wesley; not quite two; loves pigeons; cute as a button; smiles or wails enormously as warranted.) We were also joined by Deborah Vollmer, who is once again challenging Chris Van Hollen in the primary (February 12) for the Democratic candidate for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District. Ms. Vollmer is running a decidedly low-budget, shoestring type of campaign, but I hope her advocacy for impeachment and for a tougher Democratic stance on ending the Iraq War cuts into Mr. Van Hollen’s totals a month from now.

As we waited for others to join us, security personnel again approached. We had set down our signs, and assured the security people we were just passing through. But they preferred we do so sooner rather than later; with two new participants costumed as Bush and Cheney in prison stripes, we apparently seemed like an imminent threat to make a slow Saturday more interesting than they wanted it to be.

Union Station being private property, we made a kind of slow retreat across the Liberty Bell plaza in front of the station, with “Bush”, “Cheney,” and two Code Pink “policewomen” blowing whistles at them. Cheney was very good; he found a little branch of a bush and started waving it around, declaring “I’ve got my own branch now, so go f*** yerself.” Some concern was expressed about young Wesley’s exposure to such language, but he either didn’t hear or didn’t care, and survived.

Impeachment advocate, Capitol
in background
. Note the poncho.
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew

Our destination was the National Archives — home to original copies the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Archives (or NARA, National Archives and Records Administration) have spared no expense to protect the physical documents from decay; in 2003, the documents were enclosed in “new airtight containers made of aluminum, titanium, and glass that will be filled with argon gas.” But we quickly learned that while the Archives may be wizards at protecting the documents themselves, they’re not so good at protecting the values those documents are supposed to represent and protect.

We gathered on the right side of the staircase — next to an inscription intoning “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” — and were quickly met by NARA rent-a-cops. “You can’t have those signs here,” they said, meaning our local green “IMPEACH THEM” signs or the Vermonter’s yellow counterparts. “This is a place of business,” one of the security people explained. “Business!?” I reacted, only to be hushed (wisely) by fellow Takoma Park impeachment activist Lisa Moscatiello, who was trying to defuse the situation and negotiate some kind of compromise. But we eventually capitulated and crossed the street to march up and down the block for a short while holding our signs.

We gathered to listen to brief remarks by Nirenberg, Swanson, and Ray McGovern — an ex-CIA agent who has been a vocal war opponent and impeachment advocate. For his part, Nirenberg said that his walk was simply “Phase One” of his efforts, which will now turn to lobbying Congressmembers to take up impeachment hearings. John will meet with Rep. Wexler, who also wants impeachment hearings, and hopes to meet with Nancy Pelosi, who still wants them off the table. I confess I didn’t take notes about Swanson’s and McGovern’s remarks — I agreed with them, and noted that Swanson also thought the “place of business” comment was a strange view of the mission of the National Archives. Like much of the march, the remarks were videotaped by Michelle Bailey, and will soon be available for viewing on her web site (“Impeach Them!“). [UPDATE: see above]

And then it was over, or so it seemed. Having walked hundreds of miles to see them, John and others wanted to go in and have a look at the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. I stayed across the street with the signs and other paraphernalia of the march — bullhorn, satchels, whatnot. But inside, one last disappointing brush with our diminished United States of America was unfolding.

“To your right, the National Archives. The Archives
are charged with hermetically sealing off the
Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and
the Bill of Rights from the American people and
any complaints they might have about their
Originally uploaded by Thomas Nephew

As John’s wife Allyson reports at the March in My Name site, she was stopped and told she couldn’t enter wearing the yellow rain poncho with a protest slogan on it. The slogan — “Save the Constitution”!*

I tried to talk to the guard about my goal in being in the building – simply to see the Constitution of the United States. He wasn’t convinced and kept repeating his mantra, “Just take off the poncho and you can go in.” I asked him what was wrong with my poncho. He replied that they do not allow protests inside the building. I said that I was not protesting, that I was just an American citizen visiting the most important document of our country. […]

I asked for a copy of the policy that mandated I remove my objectionable clothing in order to see the Constitution. They would provide nothing… I asked them how the policy is practiced – that knowing how they interpret and implement the policy might help me understand the policy or law I was violating. They simply and finally said, “You will have to leave if you do not remove your garment.”

So she chose to leave.

And, as I was turning to leave, I told him he was part and parcel of the reason that I found it necessary to articulate my point of view to “Save the Constitution,” on my clothing. “You might want to read the Constitution before you leave work today to find out what this is all about.” I said as I left.

She told us outside, “I’m not going to take off a poncho with a political statement on it to go in and see the document giving me the right to keep it on.”

I’m almost as dissatisfied with myself as with the cops involved — for not being surprised or immediately outraged any more. In the scheme of things, it’s obviously not a major incident if someone doesn’t get to wear precisely what she wants to precisely where and when she wants to, and I don’t feel comfortable trying to make a cause celebre out of it compared to homelessness, the war in Iraq, or our broken, stupid health care system, to name but a few alternatives. Yet I should think someone or other in NARA ought to blush if they ever read this account or others like it. Either their rules or their personnel did a silly, stupid, bad thing on Saturday.

Viewed in retrospect, as dispassionately as I’m able to, we were repeatedly and unjustifiably put on the defensive throughout the day for peacefully, imaginatively, and determinedly doing nothing more than saying what we thought about a highly important political issue. Completely shrugging off these little slights is just conditioning for shrugging off the next bigger one. Meanwhile, I’m just waiting for someone to say “what if anyone just had whatever they wanted on their t-shirt, or baseball cap — then what?” Because my answer would be: “Then the Bill of Rights would be working as intended.”

John Nirenberg walked to the National Archives to help defend its most cherished contents: the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But by the time he got there, it was just a place of business, more concerned with “defending” them from him.

* The full text of the poncho reads: Save the Constitution — Impeach Bush/Cheney — Tell Speaker Pelosi (202) 225-0100 — Pretty inflammatory stuff!

NOTES: For a few more photographs of mine, go here; for a lot more, see Michelle’s slideshow; as mentioned above, she’ll also have video soon; check this post for updates.
UPDATE, 1/15: More discussion at my post about this at American Street; see also Avedon Carol (“The Sideshow”) and
UPDATE, 1/15: David Swanson (“”) writes: “[Fellow Nirenberg marcher] Suzanne Haviland reported that a guard told her, “The reason I’m stopping you is that you are wearing something that criticizes the President. I’m a federal employee, and I’m not allowed to criticize the President.” I remember hearing about this, too, but didn’t know who to attribute it to.
UPDATE, 1/16: Libby (“The Newshoggers”): Is this freedom?
EDIT, 1/16: Allyson, not Allison.

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McGovern for impeachment

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 7th January 2008

In “Why I Believe Bush Must Go, former Senator and 1972 presidential nominee George McGovern begins:

As we enter the eighth year of the Bush-Cheney administration, I have belatedly and painfully concluded that the only honorable course for me is to urge the impeachment of the president and the vice president.

Subtitled “Nixon was bad. These guys are worse,” McGovern’s Sunday Washington Post lead op-ed piece rehearses points familiar to impeachment advocates — that is, over half the country, if the question is simply “have impeachable acts been committed?” McGovern:

Bush and Cheney are clearly guilty of numerous impeachable offenses. They have repeatedly violated the Constitution. They have transgressed national and international law. They have lied to the American people time after time. Their conduct and their barbaric policies have reduced our beloved country to a historic low in the eyes of people around the world. These are truly “high crimes and misdemeanors,” to use the constitutional standard. […]

I have not been heavily involved in singing the praises of the Nixon administration. But the case for impeaching Bush and Cheney is far stronger than was the case against Nixon and Vice President Spiro T. Agnew after the 1972 election. The nation would be much more secure and productive under a Nixon presidency than with Bush. Indeed, has any administration in our national history been so damaging as the Bush-Cheney era?

He continues:

The dominant commitment of the administration has been a murderous, illegal, nonsensical war against Iraq. That irresponsible venture has killed almost 4,000 Americans, left many times that number mentally or physically crippled, claimed the lives of an estimated 600,000 Iraqis (according to a careful October 2006 study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) and laid waste their country. The financial cost to the United States is now $250 million a day and is expected to exceed a total of $1 trillion, most of which we have borrowed from the Chinese and others as our national debt has now climbed above $9 trillion — by far the highest in our national history.

All of this has been done without the declaration of war from Congress that the Constitution clearly requires, in defiance of the U.N. Charter and in violation of international law. This reckless disregard for life and property, as well as constitutional law, has been accompanied by the abuse of prisoners, including systematic torture, in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

McGovern also lists illegal wiretaps, the Katrina debacle, and lies about Iranian nuclear weapons ambitions as worthy of impeachment investigation. His attitude about the prospects for impeachment is clear-eyed — and not any kinder to Democrats or Republicans than they deserve:

Of course, there seems to be little bipartisan support for impeachment. The political scene is marked by narrow and sometimes superficial partisanship, especially among Republicans, and a lack of courage and statesmanship on the part of too many Democratic politicians. So the chances of a bipartisan impeachment and conviction are not promising.

But promising or not, it must be tried, McGovern concludes:

Impeachment is unlikely, of course. But we must still urge Congress to act. Impeachment, quite simply, is the procedure written into the Constitution to deal with presidents who violate the Constitution and the laws of the land. It is also a way to signal to the American people and the world that some of us feel strongly enough about the present drift of our country to support the impeachment of the false prophets who have led us astray. This, I believe, is the rightful course for an American patriot.

Thank you, Senator McGovern.

I’d like to know when he wrote and submitted it, and whether the Washington Post sat on it until the primaries were underway. I have no doubt many will consider McGovern’s seal of approval just another strike against impeachment.

But it’s heartening to see a good man like McGovern on my side, and able to command a platform to speak out so forcefully about Bush and Cheney’s crimes. We can’t let these two hardened authoritarians, torturers, and scofflaws set an example to the future. Nor can we let dithering fools like Pelosi, Hoyer, Conyers, and (sad to say) my own Congressman, Chris Van Hollen, set the example of how to fail to oppose them.

When Bush and Cheney’s term is up, let it not be said that we failed to oppose them, that we failed to try to bring them to political justice in the way our Constitution provides.

And let it not be said that you failed to do so. Call your Congressman today, and urge him or her to support Congressman Wexler’s call for immediate impeachment hearings about Vice President Cheney, and urge him or her to call for the same for President Bush: for their lies leading to the war in Iraq, for the lies that threatened and threaten to lead to war with Iran, for their illegal warrantless surveillance, for failing utterly to provide for the common defense of the citizens of New Orleans, for the habeas rights they’ve abrogated, for the treaties they’ve violated, for the self-dealing obstructions of justice they’ve committed, for the vile sins of torture that they’ve authorized and encouraged.

Stand with McGovern. Stand against Bush and Cheney and everything those two traitors to American democracy stand for. Call for impeachment; call for it today.

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