Archive for January, 2008

Streetscape

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

There was a photo in a recent edition of my local paper, The Hartford Courant, that’s worth a look. Here’s the link: http://www.courant.com/media/photo/2008-01/34806412.jpg (I asked for permission to insert the picture in this article, but the paper wouldn’t give it to me [last time I checked on 2/8, the pic was gone.  It showed what looked like three heavily armed soldiers in camouflage fatigues accompanying a handcuffed man in his twenties.  The man wore an undershirt.  There was snow on the ground.  One of the soldiers was masked.  All carried automatic rifles and wore military helmets.]).

The photo isn’t a picture of Iraq or Afghanistan, and the men with the assault rifles are not soldiers. They are officers of the Hartford Police Department and they are effecting an arrest for possession of marijuana. Clearly, the shirtless offender is on parade for the camera.

If you don’t live in a neighborhood like the one in the picture, you probably don’t have storm troopers on your streets, but to the children, parents, and grandparents who populate such neighborhoods, this isn’t an unfamiliar sight. They (and we) are under occupation by a heavily armed paramilitary force, and our leaders want us all to know that.

Notice the similarity between the helmets worn by the men in the picture and the helmets worn by the Nazi troopers of 70 years ago. Notice also that they are in camouflage fatigues, a transparent intimidation tactic, since jungle camouflage doesn’t work on urban streets. One is masked. A shooter without an identity. Even the Gestapo showed their faces.

And this is the face of my city. It depicts a scene of martial law, in brazen violation of fundamental principles of republican government. Do our leaders fancy themselves stronger because they can order this sort of thing on a whim?

I’m sure this scene is repeated in cities across the country. Citizens would almost certainly rise up in protest if they didn’t believe they could be shot for it. We should get rid of the petty dictators who preside over this before they roll in the artillery pieces and armored vehicles.

Scribblers in the Dumps

Friday, January 11th, 2008

It will be a miracle if the writers’ strike actually gains the workers anything. They’re pathetic. Their signs are pathetic. Picketers used to carry big signs saying, “Colt Firearms: Unfair” They’d have a fire in a barrel on the street, and they were rugged and resolved. This group is an orderly queue of delicate white guys with diminutive paper signs proclaiming “WGAE on Strike” Against whom? Over what? Who cares? You want to say you’re striking Disney or Saturday Night Live, you have to scribble it in with your marker, where there’s no room for it. Writers’ union, indeed.

In the meantime, strikebreakers like Letterman, bearing some special dispensation that the rank and file are compelled to recognize, cross the picket line in full view of the general public. The news writers, who have the same job, are allowed to cross the line without interference, so that Today can go on but Tonight can’t. Who decided to bend the union over like that? Who decided to edit out the names of the employers from picketers’ signs? Union leaders? The networks? You call this a strike? Is there a writer out there who’s as riled by all this as I am?

Too Late for Justice?

Friday, January 11th, 2008

Most people seem to be pretty much satisfied that the current president and vice-president have acted criminally, but the citizenry doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to do anything about it. Some say that with just a year left in their term of office, it’s too late for justice for these guys. Impeachment would take forever, they argue, and nothing else would get done, and when it’s over, Bush wins, because Bush always wins. That’s my congressman’s view, anyway. I know because I asked him.

Is it really too late?  What sort of groundwork would have to be laid? What processes would kick in, how long would they take, and what might be pushed aside? What consequences might be anticipated?

The groundwork has already been laid. The charges against the executive have been fleshed out in meetings and conferences across the country. They have been presented to political committees, town meetings, and state and local governing bodies, and they have been summed up in articles of impeachment now pending against Richard Cheney.

To proceed on the articles now pending in the House, the Judiciary Committee would have to convene a hearing of some kind. In Connecticut, when we impeached our governor a few years back, we had evidence on the record before the corresponding state legislative committee. The House committee can dispense with that step because it has an ample public record, including sworn testimony in court and before Congress. For the top ten crimes committed by this executive, there is no need for additional testimony. The evidence is on the record, and it could be presented in narrative form by the committee’s chief counsel, presenting the work of two lawyers working hard for two weeks. In the House, it’s an accusation, remember, and not a trial.

There is little question that the committee would establish criminal liability in connection with the stated rationale for war, the politicization of federal prosecutions, spying on Americans, torturing prisoners, holding prisoners without trial, malfeasance as commander-in-chief, and any of the dozens of other crimes committed openly and brazenly by our chief executive officers. I would expect a unanimous vote, since the evidence is overwhelming.

This could all be accomplished quickly. A few committee staffers would be occupied for a few short weeks putting together an iron-clad indictment, using evidence on the public record. The committee would hear the evidence in the form of a narrative for a day or two and vote. Most likely, on a vote of the committee that the articles against Cheney should be considered by the full House, the articles would be amended to include Bush. If Cheney is impeached, Bush has to be impeached on the same grounds, since there can be no doubt that Bush had full knowledge of Cheney’s activities and sanctioned them.

The full House would schedule a few days of debate, with Judiciary Committee members leading the debate for and against the indictment, and the House would vote on the articles. Each article that received a majority vote of the full House would go to the Senate for trial. Members of the Judiciary Committee would form the prosecution team in the Senate. The Chief Justice presides as judge over a trial in the Senate, and the trial takes as long as it takes to make the case on each article. The president and vice-president would have an opportunity to rebut and defend. The evidence would be presented much as it was in the House, except that it might be reverified by live witnesses. Figure a couple of weeks.

A few congressmen would be occupied full-time for some weeks putting a coherent and compelling presentation together, but the rest of the House could go back to other business, having spent a grand total of three or four days on this. Nothing would have to be pushed aside to make way for impeachment. As for the senators, they could busy themselves with other matters in advance of the trial. They would be acting as a jury, and there’s nothing for them to do until they get the evidence. Not long after the trial starts, it ends, and the Senate votes. Two-thirds to convict. On the line is the rule of law itself, and politics takes a back seat. Would the stock market go down? Maybe. Would foreigners lose faith in the dollar? Maybe they’d get it back.

On conviction, the president and vice-president are removed, but the Senate could suspend their removal until shortly before the expiration of their term to ensure an orderly succession. It’s win-win. In Connecticut, we spent a summer impeaching our governor, and it was worth it. He actually went to jail. He must be seething now–he was removed and prosecuted for taking gifts from state contractors. The guv had to do time for something a thousand times less serious than what these thugs have done, and they’re walking around free.

What are the consequences of doing nothing and allowing Bush and Cheney to serve out their term? A strong precedent would be established to exempt the president from all law. The next president will almost certainly claim a privilege to imprison people without trial if this president is allowed to get away with doing just that. By compelling logic, a future president who wished to extend the privilege to shooting people down in the street could cite the license accorded by the House to the Bush administration in our time, exempting the president from the criminal laws.

Your congressman would be happy if he or she were not the sole prosecuting authority in the case of crimes committed by the president. It’s true that a federal prosecutor could bring criminal charges against the president and vice president, but the president happens to be in charge of all the prosecutors, and prosecutors don’t often prosecute their bosses. There could be an independent prosecutor, but the president can fire that officer, too, as Nixon proved the last time we removed a president.

And so it’s left to the House to prosecute, and the House won’t do it. My member won’t, and he wants me to think it’s too late, so I’ll stop pestering him. It’s not, and I won’t.