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August 25, 2007

What is to be done?

By Kathy G.

What are we going to do about these people?

By “these people” I mean the Bush administration. How are we as a nation going to come to terms with the crimes and abuses of this President and his cronies? You know, the illegal (by international standards) war they started. The torture. The spying on political enemies. The unlawful detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The lying to Congress. The criminal negligence during Katrina. The outing of an undercover intelligence agent for petty political revenge. The politically motivated firings of state attorneys general U.S. attorneys. The clearly unconstitutional claims of executive power. The corrupt deals with war profiteer contractors in Iraq. And on and on and on, the whole sickening mess.

One thing I feel certain we ought to do is to impeach this assclown ASAP. I see no political downside to that one whatsoever.

But beyond that, I’m stuck. Bush, Cheney et al. certainly ought to have their sorry asses hauled before an international tribunal and be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. But sadly -- na ga ha pen.

And have there ever been a President and Vice President more deserving of impeachment? But that probably won’t happen either, and I’m not sure it would even be politically productive. If successful, it would remove Bush and Cheney from office, which of course would be a blessing. But even impeachment and conviction would not necessarily establish a clear standard as to what are and are not acceptable actions by the chief executive. And what if, as seems likely, the effort to impeach failed?

I’m agnostic about the impeachment question (except for impeaching Gonzales, which to me is a no-brainer), but I believe it’s vital for the health of our democracy that Bush and company be held accountable in some meaningful way. Otherwise their behavior in office will set a horrible new precedent – “defining deviancy down” is the phrase, I believe. And next time out those sons of bitches will push the boundaries even further.

We’ve seen it happen in our lifetime. Every two-term Republican President we’ve had from Nixon on has provoked a constitutional crisis: Watergate, Iran-contra, and now the Bush scandals. We seem to have learned nothing from any of these crises – except that the Republicans have learned to be a lot smarter about covering up their crimes. Worse, you see the same people who were discredited in previous Republican criminal regimes coming back again and again. Karl Rove, for example, got his start as a teenage dirty trickster during the Nixon administration. Even people like John Poindexter and Elliot Abrams, who were convicted of crimes connected to the Iran-contra scandal, came back to serve in high-level positions in the Bush administration!

That is seriously fucked up. And I’m sickened by the idea of these bastards once again getting away with it. It reminds me of the lines from that great Watergate-era Bob Dylan song, “Hurricane” – “All the criminals in their coats and their ties / Are free to drink martinis, and watch the sun rise.” Jesus, what a bitter and depressing image. But you just know it’s going to happen.

And the Democrats, unfortunately, are not helping things. They haven’t exactly been profiles in courage on this issue, and that’s putting it mildly. I haven’t heard a single major Democratic presidential candidate even acknowledge that the Bush regime has provoked a constitutional crisis and that we need to find a way to resolve it. They seem as if they just desperately want this problem to disappear.

There is, however, an alternative to head-in-the-sand denial on the one hand, and impeachment on the other. In a post from a few weeks back that did not get nearly the attention it deserved, Mark Schmitt made a novel suggestion as to how we should deal with this mess: transitional justice, a process that would be modeled on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Tribunal. He explains:

A post-Bush Truth Commission would have as its goal to discover as much as possible about the full range of conduct during the recent period, not only violations of law but other practices that had the effect of impeding democracy, and making recommendations about preventing them in the future, which might include everything from constitutional amendment to changes in oversight to suggestions for the press. The idea would be to find the boundaries within which democracy can work – lines which should not be crossed. The commission would not be empowered to indict anybody, but should be delegated subpoena power (this is legally complicated) along with a limited power to grant immunity to witnesses, as well as a complete commitment of cooperation from the next administration.

As they say, read the whole thing.

What do you all think? I’d be especially interested in hearing from anyone who has knowledge of or experience with transitional justice processes. What are the strengths and weaknesses of such a system? Would it be a good fit for the crimes and abuses of the Bush administration? What would the obstacles be to setting up such a commission and making sure it would be effective?

I’m dead serious about this. This is one of the most important conversations that those of us who care about the future of our democracy could be having.

August 25, 2007 in Bush Administration | Permalink

Comments

I totally support Schmidt's idea. And the reason is because I think the problems of the administration have more to do with systemic problems in our government, than were caused by the personalities of the current people in power. This notion that once we get rid of Bush and Cheney many of these problems and abuses will fade away, or that if there had been someone else in power none of these abuses wouldn't have happened, I think are a bit naive and dangerous. Granted the degree of abuses likely wouldn't have been as severe. But I think they still would have been there. Especially after 9/11 happened. And until we start looking at the systemic reasons why these abuses happen, instead of just thinking that if we get the "right" people, everything will be fine, we're just likely to have more abuses in the future. And I think the idea Schmidt would be a good start in analyzing these reasons.

As a side note, it's also why I support Obama. Because I think he gets that notion more than the other Democratic candidates, and certainly more than Hillary.

Posted by: JeffL | Aug 25, 2007 7:20:41 PM

Sure, but someone's got to be compiling the evidence. I don't see that beginning impeachment interferes with this in any way. But subpoenas have to be issued, contempt orders have to be processed. And these are just men, after all, not gods. Why shouldn't they be held accountable for their own, personal acts in a court of law, whether American or international? Secret Service should prove no barrier to a process server; the oath they take is the same as the one I took: to protect the Constitution.

Posted by: terry in az | Aug 25, 2007 7:22:28 PM

This kind of stuff tends to fester, so I'd support a commission as well.

Democracy and the rule of law are like a carefully tended garden. If you let a couple yahoos in ATVs drive all over it, pretty soon you have a mudpit suitable only for wrasslin' pigs.

Posted by: stm177 | Aug 25, 2007 7:32:50 PM

We already have an alternative between impeachment and nothing: US courts. If the Administration is breaking the law, it can be taken to court. It has been several times, winning some and losing some. Congress has the option to take Gonzales to court right now for not honoring their subpoenas. Chances are they would lose, which is probably one reason it isn't happening.

An ad hoc commission of the kind suggested would be a colossal undertaking only supported by Democrats, thus shot through with politics, not trusted any more than the Congress that set it up.

One thing I feel certain we ought to do is to impeach this assclown ASAP. I see no political downside to that one whatsoever.

If you mean Congress couldn't get any less popular, that may be true.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 25, 2007 7:52:51 PM

I can't speak for the other things raised here, but as anyone with a basic Con Law background can tell you,t he courts are ill suited for this. Many of these issues are about battles between branches of govt, and the Courts have traditionally tried to stay out of it, and give a great deal of latitude to the other branches under the theory that the Courts are the least Democratic of our federal branches. whether that will change going forward- I can't say. I just know expecting some real check from it just institutionally is unlikely even if there were not all the political packing of the court by the right.

Posted by: akaison | Aug 25, 2007 8:08:23 PM

Do you want to destroy the hold that corporations have over congress and the president? Simple. Organize and Demand progressive legislation from some of these corporations and do not buy from them until they get the GOP to get congress to enact this legislation.

If you want to put an end to the Republiklan party, then

Send this letter to the Republican party now! Also put this on your web page so others can see it.

Copy and paste the letter below and email it directly to info@gop.com the Republican Party and get 2 friends to send this letter and have those 2 friends get 2 friends to send it and so on. Thank you. Drop me a message to info@dmocrats.org with the subject Done after you have sent the email.

Hello

Get your Republican party to end the war in Iraq, with Bush and Cheney resigning, and until you do we stop buying televisions, refrigerators, stoves, ovens, dishwashers, dvd players, stereo equipment, light bulbs from one of your party's major contributors and War contractors General Electric Corporation ( 203 373 2211 ) who cannot afford to lose a large sector of the publics business and money.

Get your Republican party to remove the FICA taxable income cap and tax all of a person's income for social security purposes and enact HR 676 Single payer universal health care into law and repeal Medicare Part D and place the prescription drug benefit in Medicare Part B covering 80 percent of all medication with no extra premiums, no extra deductibles, no means tests, no coverage gaps, and completely remove the means test to Medicare Part B and until you do, we will not buy consumer products and prescription drugs from one of the biggest pharmacy chains and GOP contributors in the country, Rite Aid, who cannot afford to lose a large sector of the publics business and money.

Get your Republican party to enact a $10 an hour minimum wage, and until you do, we will not go to the following restaurants and GOP contributors Wendy's, Outback Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Dominos Pizza who cannot afford to lose a large sector of the publics business and money.

Get your Republican party to enact into law Universal vote by mail with paper ballots counted by civil servants with civil servants registering voters and keeping track of registrations, and until you do, we will not buy any GOP contributor Dell computers or monitors or go to the following restaurants and GOP contributors Wendy's, Outback Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Dominos Pizza who cannot afford to lose a large sector of the publics business and money.

Get your Republican party to get congress to pass and enact a law legalizing abortions from conception to six months, and to nine months when the life of the mother appears threatened, and until you do we stop doing business with two of your biggest contributors Dominos Pizza and Curves for Women Health Clubs.

Signed,


Posted by: www.dmocrats.org | Aug 25, 2007 8:11:17 PM

The courts are fine for cases where the Administration is alleged to have broken the law. The courts will rule on constitutional issues if necessary; they've ruled in the past on congressional subpoenas of the Executive, for example. The Administration has already been taken to court over FISA in various cases, Guantanamo, and other matters that need to be settled. As for Katrina, there are congressional committees with oversight that ought to be following up on that. The issues that can't be settled in one of these ways are political in nature, and a commission won't settle those.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 25, 2007 8:27:05 PM

The truth & reconciliation process won't work here. Or rather, it will work only if impeachment will also work. At least, that's my understanding from study of the South African experience (including comments from friends who helped out with it in minor administrative roles).

In the South African system, people accused of crimes and misdeeds under the old administration could be granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for complete cooperation, and any effort at perjury or other concealment would revoke the immunity and leave them again liable under regular law. But our problem is precisely that the people who would need to enforce such a rule won't. We can't even get major perjury proceedings going, let alone anything more thorough. Without the prosecutorial will to, well, prosecute, a commission would be the perfect instrument of cover-up, abused exactly as the administration's officials now abuse testimony to Congress. And a legislature willing to hew to a standard of punishing deceivers would also be a legislature capable of conducting an impeachment.

I respect Mr. Schmitt's work a lot. I just think that in this case he missed a crucial step.

Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Aug 25, 2007 9:30:26 PM

You should make a correction, they didn't fire Attorneys General. Those are state wide elected offices. They fired US Attorney's

Posted by: TRM | Aug 25, 2007 9:40:29 PM

It's not that I don't find any of this concerning - I do, though I know others here will disagree that I do, or do enough - but the reality, thus far, is that not much is likely to happen between now and the end of President's term; majorities in Congress are too slim and partisan differences too pronounced to seriously put together a commission, and I tend to agree with akaison that the courts are unlikely too want to take up disputes between the other two branches (which is why the executive privilege debate has been mostly saber rattling with neither sie really wanting to pull the trigger - no one really knows, or wants to know, how that might play out). It's possible that with a Dem in the White House and bigger majorities after 2008, there might be some will to launch new investigations or commissions; but there too, the traditions of Washington to protect one another for "the good of the institutions" and general beaurocratic inertia argue against the kind of justice Kathy and others are looking for. My own sense is that history, in the long run, will be the judge and not be kind, that many people's careers are more in tatters than we realize just yet, and their long term credibility won't look good. That last one, I admit, is mostly hopeful; lord knows bad pennies turn up all over the place. I do, though, doubt that Bush's ex-Presidency will be full of uplift and good deeds, and that his rep in a badly damaged GOP will be pretty low for a good long time. Cheney, though, I suspect gets to retreat into his wealth and his crony connections, at least until that ticker gives out. That, and you can always believe that karma gets you in the end. That's my belief, anyway.

Posted by: weboy | Aug 25, 2007 10:01:33 PM

Extraordinary rendition to countries with extranational war crimes statutes. I want Bush to wake in a narcotic haze in a Dutch field, wearing only his Jockeys.

But, what Bruce said. The constitution provides the solution. If the GOP belittles it as inoculation, and the inoculation succeeds, then Bush serves as a further inoculation, as any subsequent Republican can be only marginally less atrocious than Bush and cite the Forty-Turd president as the reason to keep his job. (Of course, any subsequent Democrat will be impeached as soon as the GOP obtains a House majority.)

The people who created the Constitution wanted impeachment to be used to get rid of presidents who shat over the office. If they didn't, they wouldn't have put it in there.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Aug 25, 2007 10:09:20 PM

TRM, thanks for the correction. I've made the change.

Posted by: Kathy G. | Aug 25, 2007 10:21:09 PM

I would support a Truth and Reconciliation Process with everything I've got, for two reasons. The first is that I think it is an approach that could reach the rabid right base. They'll stop processing and retreat to their beliefs. A process that included their own describing what happened might have a chance.

The other reason is that I think a lot of the systemic damage they did to the agencies won't ever be exposed any other way. It is too low level and too mundane to make the target of impeachment, but the effects of stuff like arbitrary Timber Harvest Plans and dropping regulations on arsenic and inspections for lead paint will cause environmental damage and sickness for decades. I'd rather know what agency decisions were sold, so they can be re-examined, than punish someone.

(I would trust Jimmy Carter to run it.)

Posted by: Megan | Aug 25, 2007 10:55:15 PM

They'll stop processing and retreat to their beliefs ... if they see a hostile impeachment.

Posted by: Megan | Aug 25, 2007 10:56:15 PM

Great post Kathy, excellent discussion in here too

Posted by: TRM | Aug 25, 2007 10:56:52 PM

I don't think this will work. In the South African (and Guatemalan) examples, there was buy-in from just about every institution in society and the vast, vast majority of the populace. There was a consensus in these societies that the very national soul was broken, and had to be recalibrated for the nation to basically even survive. There is obviously no such consensus in America. There will always be that hard 28 percent who believe not merely that the Bushies did nothing wrong, but consider US the criminals. Right or wrong (and of course it's wrong), them's the facts.

It also wouldn't work institutionally. Among the parties that bought in to the process were THE CRIMINALS RESPONSIBLE. Basically the deal they were offered by Truth and Reconciliation Commissions was that, if they came clean about their crimes, they would get amnesty. The national decision was: "truth and reconciliation" was more important than punishment.

Remember the South African torturers describing how they would "necklace" RNC members? How the state security apparatus worked? Etc., etc.?

Can you imagine Cheney, let alone his lowest acolytes, doing something like that? But that is what this remedy would require.

Posted by: Rick Perlstein | Aug 25, 2007 11:25:07 PM

I think a truth and reconciliation commission could be effective at some point, but in order to have one there first has to be a fairly broad consensus in the political system that grave abuses have been committed and that the entire system needs a cleansing in order to move forward. From limited knowledge of the history of truth commissions, they have generally emerged in societies such as South Africa, El Salvador, and Chile coming out of period of grave human rights abuses where there was a general consensus that a serious change in course was needed and that the first step in changing course was for a full airing of the past crimes to take place.
In order for a commission like this to be successful in the US, there would have to be a broader consensus that serious violations of basic constitutuional and human rights have taken place in the past 7 years. In addition, such a commission would have to have participation by the supposedly respectable element of the Republican Party in order to have credibility. Unfortunately, I don't see enough evidence of a consensus that what has taken place in the past seven years is a radical departure from a long tradition of constitutional rights and foreign policy, so I think such a commission would probably not be very effective at this point, especially when a significant number of Democrats were on board with the most recent surrender of civil liberties. In some sense I think the interest in a truth commission represents a wish that there were more of a consensus and that there were some less acrimonious way to hold the Bush administration accountable for its crimes other than impeachment.

Posted by: frankg | Aug 25, 2007 11:29:46 PM

The ONLY thing Bush has done thats different than any other president is the lies/perpetration of the Iraq War.

All the crap about cronyism, political spying, backroom deals to support military industry, is done by every president, democrat or republican.

If you are going to impeach him over the war, then by all means I'm for that. But if your threshold for impeachment is all that other bullshit then every president for he last 100 years should have been impeached.

Posted by: joe blow | Aug 25, 2007 11:58:30 PM

Impeachment and a Commission of some sort are not a solution with a Congress that doesn't have substantial (2/3rds) majorities of the same party accompanied by resolute party discipline. We don't have that, and may never have that again.

Bush/Cheney/Rove didn't invent the modern executive with near dictatory powers in foreign policy and national security, but they sure pushed the boundaries and invented some twists and doubletalk.

But, the genie is out of the bottle and Congress is not co-equal in any sense as long as a loyal minority will support the President, of whatever party.

We really have a choice for the future: (1) hope for a more accomodating president, but accept whatever comes down the road - until like Rome, we have only an Emperor and the Republic is gone; (2) structural reform done by Constitutional Amendment or Constitutional Convention.

Post-Civil war, it was realized that the Constitution was inadequate to guarantee the outcomes that the majority who won the war demanded, so we as a country extended the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights to applicability to the states - a really fundamental change.

I'm not sanguine that we can repair our torn democracy, but if it is to be restored, it will not be done by triming the edges, but only by major reform that reduces the Presidency's powers.

A bill of indictments of where the Bush/Cheney group has taken us past the tolerable to the undemocratic and intolerable would be a good place to start, perhaps as a first step toward impeachment or toward a set of constitutional amendments. It would be a bloody battle, but like the civil war, we shouldn't just look away because the blood is spurting everywhere.

Ben Franklin's remark about to a citizen who asked what kind of government the Constitutional Convention has brought America is pertinent again. He answered by saying "A Republic, if we can keep it".

Our Republic based on democracy, rule of law, fidelity to the founding documents, and adherence to oaths is more than in danger, it is slipping away like iceburgs from arctic glaciers. We we reverse that decades-old trend, or is it already too late?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Aug 26, 2007 2:49:20 AM

What constitutional amendments would you like to see, Jim?

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 26, 2007 2:06:11 PM

If you mean Congress couldn't get any less popular, that may be true.

They are serious, though, you've got to give them that. Just read the Wiki on Nancy Pelosi if you don't believe me.

Posted by: Exile on Ericsson St. | Aug 27, 2007 12:29:02 AM

This is one of the most important conversations that those of us who care about the future of our democracy could be having.

You're delusional! You're wrong! Impeachment would be terrible for the country! Why are you posting here--shouldn't you be writing at Daily Kos along with all the other lunatics?

Oh wait, nevermind...you're not litbrit.

Posted by: litbrit | Aug 27, 2007 10:52:01 AM

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Posted by: judy | Oct 11, 2007 7:07:10 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.