Friday, February 23, 2007

Impeachment Road Map

Court of Impeachment and War Crimes blog

THE DEMOCRATS’ IMPEACHMENT ROAD MAP; IT’S FINISHED, AND READY TO GO: The Complete Case against George W. Bush, Richard B. Cheney and all other Guilty Subordinates subject to Impeachment, and/or, Civil, and/or ,International Prosecution for criminal actions and for the commission of, or contribution to crimes against Humanity.

But First A Bit Of Perspective: “A crowded elevator smells different to a short person than it does to all the tall people crowding him. Right now this short person feels like he’s in a politically crowded elevator…and it smells really bad!”

PICTURE THIS: A folksy, self-consciously plainspoken Southern politician rises to power during a period of profound unrest in America. The nation is facing one of the half-dozen or so of its worst existential crises to date, and the people, once sunny, confident, and striving, are now scared, angry, and disillusioned.

This politician, a ''Professional Common Man,'' executes his rise by relentlessly attacking the liberal media, fancy-talking intellectuals, shiftless progressives, pinkos, promiscuity, and welfare hangers-on, all the while clamoring for a return to traditional values, to love of country, to the pie-scented days of old when things made sense and Americans were indisputably American. He speaks almost entirely in ''noble but slippery abstractions''-Liberty, Freedom, Equality-and people love him, even if they can't fully articulate why without resorting to abstractions themselves.

Through a combination of factors-his easy bearing chief among them (along with massive cash donations from Big Business; disorganization in the liberal opposition; a stuffy, aloof opponent; and support from religious fanatics who feel they've been unfairly marginalized)-he wins the presidential election.

Once in, he appoints his friends and political advisers to high-level positions, stocks the Supreme Court with ''surprisingly unknown lawyers who called [him] by his first name,'' declaws Congress, allows Big Business to dictate policy, consolidates the media, and fills newspapers with ''syndicated gossip from Hollywood.'' Carping newspapermen worry that America is moving backward to a time when anti-German politicians renamed sauerkraut ''Liberty Cabbage'' and ''hick legislators...set up shop as scientific experts and made the world laugh itself sick by forbidding the teaching of evolution,'' but newspaper readers, wary of excessive negativity, pay no mind.

Given the nature of ''powerful and secret enemies'' of America-who are ''planning their last charge'' to take away our freedom-an indefinite state of crisis is declared, and that freedom is stowed away for safekeeping. When the threat passes, we can have it back, but in the meantime, citizens are asked to ''bear with'' the president.

Sure, some say these methods are extreme, but the plain folks are tired of wishy-washy leaders, and feel the president's decisiveness is its own excuse. Besides, as one man says, a fascist dictatorship ''couldn't happen here in America...we're a country of freemen!''

While more paranoid readers might be tempted to draw parallels between this scenario and sundry predicaments we may or may not be in right now, the story line is actually that of Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel ''It Can't Happen Here,'' a hastily written cautionary note about America's potential descent into fascism, recently reissued by New American Library in a handsome trade edition with a blood-spattered cover design.

At its center, ''It Can't Happen Here'' is no different from these prior efforts. It's just carried out on a bigger, more hyperbolic scale: Lewis takes that Babbitt mentality-the entrenched incuriosity, the smug certitude, the conformity, the complacency-and combines it with the growing desperation of the times to envision an end of America as we know it.

It's an unsettling read, especially in a day and age where wags and politicos on both sides compulsively accuse one another of plotting to destroy America. Other such books, most recently Philip Roth's ''The Plot Against America,'' ask whether a fascist dictatorship can happen here. But whereas Roth manipulates history in order to show what could have happened, imagining an America so blinded by celebrity adulation that it elects an isolationist, anti-Semitic Charles Lindbergh president, Lewis suggests that it already has happened, in little pockets all over America: in bridge club meetings, Rotary luncheons. No invading army will be needed to turn America fascist. Instead, the catalyst will come from within, and when it does it will speak colloquial American, and it will come waving the Stars and Stripes.

However broad its themes, ''It Can't Happen Here'' echoes its time, sometimes literally. The Depression was dragging on, the New Deal was on the rocks, FDR was vulnerable, and the GOP had foundered. People were desperate for strong leadership, and as a result there was a real threat coming from numerous quasi-populist movements led by fire-breathing demagogues promising deliverance.

Among these groups was the Share Our Wealth movement, spearheaded by Senator Huey Long, a former Louisiana governor best known as the inspiration for Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren's ''All the King's Men.''

Long sought to radically redistribute the nation's wealth and impose an income gap, which, while socialist on its face, was more a cynical ploy for votes than a fast-held ideology. Equally prominent was sulfurous radio personality Father Charles Coughlin's Union of Social Justice, a nativist movement that proposed abolishing the Federal Reserve to reverse the Depression. Both groups were as corrupt as they were illogical, and FDR feared they would combine, unseat him, and replace American democracy with a strain of Hitlerism suited to America's unique temperament.

Driven by his support of Roosevelt and informed by the insights of his second wife, Dorothy Thompson, a pioneering journalist who more than anyone helped bring home the full horrors of Hitler's rise, Lewis cranked out the book in two months in 1935, in the hope that it would help avert what he felt was a looming catastrophe. In order to do so effectively, though, he would have to mine the collective prejudices and disenchantments inherent in the American character.

Can it happen here? Is it happening here already? That depends, as a recent president might have said, on what the meaning of "it" is.

To Sinclair Lewis, who sardonically titled his 1935 dystopian novel "It Can't Happen Here," "it" plainly meant an American version of the totalitarian dictatorships that had seized power in Germany and Italy. Married at the time to the pioneering reporter Dorothy Thompson, who had been expelled from Berlin by the Nazis a year earlier and quickly became one of America's most outspoken critics of fascism, Lewis was acutely aware of the domestic and foreign threats to American freedom. So often did he and Thompson discuss the crisis in Europe and the implications of Europe's fate for the Depression-wracked United States that, according to his biographer, Mark Schorer, Lewis referred to the entire topic somewhat contemptuously as "it."

If "it" denotes the police state American-style as imagined and satirized by Lewis, complete with concentration camps, martial law, and mass executions of strikers and other dissidents, then "it" hasn't happened here and isn't likely to happen anytime soon.

For contemporary Americans, however, "it" could signify our own more gradual and insidious turn toward authoritarian rule. That is why Lewis's darkly funny but grim fable of an authoritarian coup achieved through a democratic election still resonates today -- along with all the eerie parallels between what he imagined then and what we live with now.

For the first time since the resignation of Richard M. Nixon more than three decades ago, Americans have had reason to doubt the future of democracy and the rule of law in our own country. Today we live in a state of tension between the enjoyment of traditional freedoms, including the protections afforded to speech and person by the Bill of Rights, and the disturbing realization that those freedoms have been undermined and may be abrogated at any moment.

Such foreboding, which would have been dismissed as paranoia not so long ago, has been intensified by the unfolding crisis of political legitimacy in the capital. George W. Bush has repeatedly asserted and exercised authority that he does not possess under the Constitution he swore to uphold. He has announced that he intends to continue exercising power according to his claim of a mandate that erases the separation and balancing of power among the branches of government, frees him from any real obligation to obey laws passed by Congress, and permits him to ignore any provisions of the Bill of Rights that may prove inconvenient.

Whether his fellow Americans understand exactly what Bush is doing or not, his six years in office have created intense public anxiety. Much of that anxiety can be attributed to fear of terrorism, which Bush has exacerbated to suit his own purposes -- as well as to increasing concern that the world is threatened by global warming, pandemic diseases, economic insecurity, nuclear proliferation, and other perils with which this presidency cannot begin to cope.

As the midterm election showed, more and more Americans realize that something has gone far wrong at the highest levels of government and politics -- that Washington's one-party regime had created a daily spectacle of stunning incompetence and dishonesty. Pollsters have found large majorities of voters worrying that the country is on the wrong track. At this writing, two of every three voters give that answer, and they are not just anxious but furious. Almost half are willing to endorse the censure of the president.

Suspicion and alienation extend beyond the usual disgruntled Democrats to independents and even a significant minority of Republicans. A surprisingly large segment of the electorate is willing to contemplate the possibility of impeaching the president, unappetizing though that prospect should be to anyone who can recall the destructive impeachment of Bush's predecessor.

The reasons for popular disenchantment with the Republican regime are well known -- from the misbegotten, horrifically mismanaged war in Iraq to the heartless mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. In both instances, growing anger over the damage done to the national interest and the loss of life and treasure has been exacerbated by evidence of bad faith -- by lies, cronyism, and corruption.

Everyone knows -- although not everyone necessarily wishes to acknowledge -- that the Bush administration misled the American people about the true purposes and likely costs of invading Iraq. It invented a mortal threat to the nation in order to justify illegal aggression. It has repeatedly sought, from the beginning, to exploit the state of war for partisan advantage and presidential image management. It has wasted billions of dollars, and probably tens of billions, on Pentagon contractors with patronage connections to the Republican Party.

Everyone knows, too, that the administration dissembled about the events leading up to the destruction of New Orleans. Its negligence and obliviousness in the wake of the storm were shocking, as was its attempt to conceal its errors. It has yet to explain why a person with few discernible qualifications, other than his status as a crony and business associate of his predecessor, was directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency. By elevating ethically dubious, inexperienced, and ineffectual management the administration compromised a critical agency that had functioned brilliantly during the Clinton administration.

To date, however, we do not know the full dimensions of the scandals behind Iraq and Katrina, because the Republican leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives abdicated the traditional congressional duties of oversight and investigation. It is due to their dereliction that neither the president nor any of his associates have seemed even mildly chastened in the wake of catastrophe. With a single party monopolizing power yet evading responsibility, there was nobody with the constitutional power to hold the White House accountable.

Bolstered by political impunity, especially in a time of war, perhaps any group of politicians would be tempted to abuse power. But this party and these politicians, unchecked by normal democratic constraints, proved to be particularly dangerous. The name for what is wrong with them -- the threat embedded within the Bush administration, the Republican congressional leadership, and the current leaders of the Republican Party -- is authoritarianism.

The most obvious symptoms can be observed in the regime's style, which features an almost casual contempt for democratic and lawful norms; an expanding appetite for executive control at the expense of constitutional balances; a reckless impulse to corrupt national institutions with partisan ideology; and an ugly tendency to smear dissent as disloyalty. The most troubling effects are matters of substance, including the suspension of traditional legal rights for certain citizens; the imposition of secrecy and the inhibition of the free flow of information; the extension of domestic spying without legal sanction or warrant; the promotion of torture and other barbaric practices, in defiance of American and international law; and the collusion of government and party with corporate interests and religious fundamentalists.

What worries many Americans even more is that the authoritarians can excuse their excesses as the necessary response to an enemy that every American knows to be real. For the past five years, the Republican leadership has argued that the attacks of September 11, 2001 -- and the continuing threat from jihadist groups such as al Qaeda -- demand permanent changes in American government, society, and foreign policy. Are those changes essential to preserve our survival -- or merely useful for unscrupulous politicians who still hope to achieve permanent domination by their own narrowly ideological party? Not only liberals and leftists, but centrists, libertarians, and conservatives, of every party and no party, have come to distrust the answers given by those in power.

The most salient dissent to be heard in recent years, and especially since Bush's reelection in 2004, has been voiced not by the liberals and moderates who never trusted the Republican leadership, but by conservatives who once did.

Former Republican congressman Bob Barr of Georgia, who served as one of the managers of the impeachment of Bill Clinton in the House of Representatives, has joined the American Civil Liberties Union he once detested. In the measures taken by the Bush administration and approved by his former colleagues, Barr sees the potential for "a totalitarian type regime."

Paul Craig Roberts, a longtime contributor to the Wall Street Journal and a former Treasury official under Reagan, perceives the "main components of a police state" in the Bush administration's declaration of plenary powers to deny fundamental rights to suspected terrorists. Bruce Fein, who served as associate attorney general in the Reagan Justice Department, believes that the Bush White House is "a clear and present danger to the rule of law," and that the president "cannot be trusted to conduct the war against global terrorism with a decent respect for civil liberties and checks against executive abuses." Syndicated columnist George Will accuses the administration of pursuing a "monarchical doctrine" in its assertion of extraordinary war powers.

In the 2006 midterm election, disenchanted conservatives joined with liberals and centrists to deliver a stinging rebuke to the regime by overturning Republican domination in both houses of Congress. For the first time since 1994, Democrats control the Senate and the House of Representatives. But the Democratic majority in the upper chamber is as narrow as possible, depending on the whims of Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, a Republican-leaning Democrat elected on an independent ballot line, who has supported the White House on the occupation of Iraq, abuse of prisoners of war, domestic spying, the suspension of habeas corpus, military tribunals, far-right judicial nominations, and other critical constitutional issues. Nor is Lieberman alone among the Senate Democrats in his supine acquiescence to the abuses of the White House.

Even if the Democrats had won a stronger majority in the Senate, it would be naive to expect that a single election victory could mend the damage inflicted on America's constitutional fabric during the past six years. While the Bush administration has enjoyed an extraordinary immunity from Congressional oversight until now, the deepest implication of its actions and statements, as explored in the pages that follow, is that neither legislators nor courts can thwart the will of the unitary executive. When Congress challenges that presidential claim, as inevitably it will, then what seems almost certain to follow is not "bipartisanship" but confrontation. The election of 2006 was not an end but another beginning.

The question that we face in the era of terror alerts, religious fundamentalism, and endless warfare is whether we are still the brave nation preserved and rebuilt by the generation of Sinclair Lewis -- or whether our courage, and our luck, have finally run out. America is not yet on the verge of fascism, but democracy is again in danger. The striking resemblance between Buzz Windrip [the demagogic villain of Lewis's novel] and George W. Bush and the similarity of the political forces behind them is more than a literary curiosity. It is a warning on yellowed pages from those to whom we owe everything.

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