Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I Want Another Watergate Summer

It was the summer of ’73. My parents announced that the kids (there were six of us) were going to paint the house. They issued each of us a paint brush, a can of paint, and a transistor radio—which we promptly tuned to the Senate Watergate hearings.

Richard Nixon had been re-elected in a landslide over George McGovern just six months before. Two cub reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, had picked up a story off a local police scanner about a botched burglary at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate building in Washington D.C. By summertime, stories about presidential abuses of power dominated the airwaves and captivated the American public. Congress convened the Senate Select Committee on Campaign Presidential Campaign Activities to investigate the White House.

As we painted and listened to the hearings, so did the rest of America. It was something of a national media phenomenon. Some 85 percent of U.S. households watched some portion of them. On painting breaks, we’d gather around the television to watch the hearings in living color—broadcast live all day long on all three commercial network stations.

My heroes that summer became people like Senator Sam Ervin, the folksy conservative Democrat from North Carolina whose knowledge of law and respect for the Constitution made the process (and all of us who were watching it) feel deeply patriotic. I loved watching Howard Baker, the handsome blow-dried Republican Senator from Tennessee, who led what turned out to be crucial opposition from the president’s own party, as he asked witness after witness,“What did the president know and when did he know it?”

I was fascinated as White House counsel John Dean delivered devastating testimony about President Nixon’s attempts to undermine the Constitution through petty burglary, dirty tricks and lying. I was outraged when it was announced that Nixon’s secretary, Rosemary Woods, had erased 18 minutes of a wiretap that many people believed would have shown President Nixon was complicit in the cover-up.

In the end, the Senate Watergate Committee gathered enough evidence to lead to the indictment of 40 administration officials and the conviction of several of Nixon's aides for obstruction of justice and other crimes, and prompted the introduction of articles of impeachment against the President in the House of Representatives.

Now, some 30 years later, I am watching another Senate Committee in action vis-à-vis the White House. Now, as then, the battle is matched over an arguably third-rate abuse of power (the firing of US attorneys for political reasons) rather than over an increasingly unpopular and unwinnable war. Once again, the White House is resisting Congressional subpoenas with claims of executive privilege, and covering its tracks by erasing the evidence (compare Karl Rove’s email to Rosemary Wood’s tapes). I even heard a faint echo of Sam Ervin when Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy dismissed White House efforts to hide their misdeeds behind claims of executive privilege, as “more stonewalling from a White House that believes it can control the other coequal branches of government.”

Of course, the Bush/Cheney/Rove White House is far more brazen even than the Nixon White House when it comes to grabbing and abusing executive branch power. Nixon wiretapped his enemies; Bush wants to wiretap the whole country. And even Nixon didn’t openly embrace a policy of torture and indefinite detention without trials.

But perhaps the Bush administration’s assumption that the American people don’t care about the White House’s disregard for the law will be proven wrong. After all, the electorate overwhelmingly re-elected Richard Nixon in November 1972, just six months before a sleepy American public finally woke up and demanded that Congress restore the rule of law.

Watching the current showdown between the White House and the Senate Judiciary Committee, I can’t help but hope that the American public will once again wake up and demand that Congress put a check on executive branch abuses of power.

Who wouldn’t want to experience again the patriotic thrill of watching our system of checks and balances assert itself in the face of presidential abuse? I want another Watergate summer.

85 comments:

Carla said...

This is even worse than anything Richard Nixon did regarding Watergate. It may not be worse than other things that Kissinger and Nixon did--such as lying about ending the Vietnam War in the 2nd term (they had no intention of doing so) and the "side-show" that was Cambodia and helped bring on Pol Pot's slaughter of his own people.

Anonymous said...

It angers me that the president of the US, after swearing to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, is involved in one action after another to strip us, the American public, of our right to,life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, by his actions over Guantanamo, the US Attorneys, his wiretaps and his lies to involved us in Iraq and to keep us there in spite of the loss of over 3,500 young American lives with a prospect of this continuing ad nauseam. Impeach both him and Cheney. They are richly deserving of it more than Clinton with hism stupid sex acts in the Oval Office.

LMP - Massachusetts

Fenway said...

I have been bugging Mike Capuano's office about this, and got a note back yesterday saying that an investigation has to happen before he'll support the Kucinich bill - I answered back asking him what he's doing to get this investigation underway. He also said that he's "considering all the options." I asked him to take the next step, choose some options and get to work. More pressure from others might help.

Meanwhile we should be bugging our State Reps and Senators to pass a bill demanding impeachment proceedings from the U.S. congress - that's another way to get the ball rolling of the U.S. Congress-critters are too craven to do it themselves.

Robert said...

With this savage disregard for the constitution, and decency if Bush, Cheney and his evil retinue are not impeached, America will be a dictatorship within our lifetimes. We would deserve it but our children would not.

Anonymous said...

It is time as a nation as a whole to rise up against the powers who would blatently take our freedoms out from under us and then hide hide the fact with poorly put together speaches and loads and loads a dirty cash. I'm not saying we take up arms, I prefer a more peacful route but I'm not saying we shouldn't in the near future.

Chris Ott said...

I really love this story as a lead-in to what's happening today.

Bill W. said...

Carol...

A habeas-corpus, Geneva-Convention, CIA, DoD, 9/11, 4th- Amendment, UN-Charter, lies-told-to-Congress, conspiracy-to-subvert-gov’t-agencies (Dept. of State, Dept. of Justice, EPA, Commerce), conspiracy-(RICO-type)-to-subvert-two-national-elections, subornation-of-perjury kind of summer is devoutly to be wished for.

But at the June 26th Habeas Corpus event, I talked with one state ACLU chairperson (not you) who asked me this question: "Are there enough votes in the Senate to convict and remove?"

"Well, no, not yet," I answered.

"So, there you have it. There will be no impeachment. No point without the votes."

The Democrats fear that they will "awaken the Republic Party Beast" (they did rally around after the last impeachment, but they'd been working on that one for eight years--as a conspiracy, actually). AND the Democrats turn to the same big-money donors the Republic Party does in some cases.

I'm thinking that the only way to get around the Democrat's lack of spine--and I do think they are, with VERY few exceptions--Kucinich, Ron Paul and Waxman, house, and Leahy, maybe Harken in the senate--it'd be great if there were more!--gutless wonders. My junior senator, Kerry, is useless--I even wonder if, as a fellow "Bonesman" with Bush, he "went into the tank" in 2004. Kennedy, if he helped take on the Bushes, their fraternity pals in “Big Oil,” the CIA, the Carlyle Group (investors for the House of Saud, the binLaden Group and I don’t know what-all else), might also get shot, like JFK and RFK before him.

I haven't searched the law on the formation of state investigatory Grand Juries, but perhaps, if their writ can extend to the federal branches of government, that might be the only way to get around the Democrats and the Republicans and do this thing. It would, of course, be much better if there were a very brave U.S. attorney who would impanel such a grand jury, as Patrick Fitzgerald did for Plame-gate. And I don’t know whether citizens, on their own, can form such a grand jury. That would perhaps be a super solution, as it would be easier to find jurors not beholden directly to the formal and informal power structures.

I honor the Dems for their all-nighter Tuesday, but I think it's going to takes six- and seven-day weeks AND all-nighters for them to accomplish anything, even if they have to move their families into D.C. so they can see them. (That used to be how it was in Washington, by the way—Congressmen & women moved their whole families into the capital. Wives shared day-care. They had dinner parties, picnics, dances. They got to know one another as human beings. Their kids went to the same schools—private, of course—couldn’t subject them to the substandard schools the folks who lived in the District had. It wasn’t perfect, but there was comity.)


Ahh, but I digress.

Our congressfolk today seem to forget that every single day that goes by, about 3 US troops die, 20 or so are maimed or wounded, something like 100 Iraqis are killed, and maybe 300 maimed or wounded.

And the Iraqis have already gone through, what? Saddam’s reign from 1979 to 2003, a seven-year war with Iran, a month-and-a-half war with the US (and a “coalition”) in 1991—which started out with some “shock and awe” (that fits the definition of terrorism, by the way) on Baghdad and took out little things, like: water purification plants, sewage plants, electric plants, hospitals, a bomb shelter full of women and children (more terrorism), schools, bridges, etc. This was followed by 12 (count ‘em, 12) years of the harshest embargo of any nation in modern history (starvation is another Geneva convention no-no. It’s also called terrorism).

Banned from import were such items as wheelbarrows (you could move yellow-cake uranium ore with them), candles (you could light up a bomb-manufacturing plant when the electricity went out), pencils (dual-purpose—you could write down bomb-making formulae and schematic diagrams of WMD-processing plants). Oh, and of course chlorine to purify drinking water, mechanical parts for pumps for water and sewage plants (if Iraqis were still alive, I guess, they could manufacture WMDs, so better to kill them all—but slowly, so’s no one would notice). The dreadful list goes on.

The deaths of some 50,000 (I think) kids under 5 years of age during the embargo were attributed to the unsanitary conditions and lack of food (which became a medium of exchange—there was no other with which to buy clothing and shoes for children). Madeline Albright was quoted as having said that 50,000 children was an acceptable price to pay for containing Saddam. I don’t know if she said that before or after she discovered she was Jewish, not that that is relevant, really.

And then came Shock and Awe #2—the 2003 “optional” war. Any infrastructure that had been rebuilt since 1991 was destroyed again. US troops, to eliminate hiding places for “the enemy” (which by now is just about everyone still remaining alive and in Iraq), bulldozed groves of 150-year-old date palms.

No need for Agent Orange in this war. A tree is a rare, rare thing in the desert. As the palm-tree-less date farmer shouted, his arms raised, palms turned towards the heavens, “You call this democracy?! You call this freedom?! They wouldn’t even let us harvest the dates, and just drove over them with their bulldozers!” (This from a documentary, “21 Days on the Edge of Empire.”)


We’ve bombed weddings. Shot up whole families, rousted hundreds and hundreds of devout Muslim women out of bed in their night-clothes, making them huddle in front of five or six US soldiers in their full night battle gear. And kneed their husbands’ faces into the floor to, unh, make sure they knew who was in charge (they couldn’t tell from the rifles, grenades and pistols pointed at them, because, well, I guess because they’re Aye-rabs. And they never went to school to learn English, the Designated Language of Empire).


Thank god all our troops have been through the Army’s amazingly quick and effective language school in Presidio Monterey to learn Arabic, or we’d be having REAL problems with the Iraqis. Oh, I forgot—we only sent about 60 or so gay men—or was it more?—through the language training. And then kicked them out because some senior EM (enlisted men) and officers “asked,” which is against the rules, of course.

This is NOT to say that our troops don’t have grievances. When Rumsfeld (ahh, such a sensitive man) told the troops complaining of no armor on their Humvee death-traps that “You go with the army you’ve got.” Riiiight.

But, Rummy and administration, why did and do you keep responding, when anyone criticizes your handling of the war, “You’re not supporting our troops,” and you’re not supporting them at all. In the Field. Like, In Combat. In the outpatient hospitals. In the red-tape battle. In fact, you’re trying to intimidate and bargain every wounded soldier down, so they’ll get as little pension, as low a disability rating as possible.

All in the name of “Supporting Our Troops” right? Is that why you’ve shuttered Dover AFB where the coffins come in, so the press can’t take pictures. Privacy for the dead, you explain. Do you think they care, or are going to complain?

And is that why you’ve shuttered Andrews AFB? Privacy for the maimed and wounded? They don’t even have their name-tags on, mostly. Their uniforms have been cut away so the medics and doctors can see what to do to save their lives.

Oh yeah—and when idiots like me years ago sent letters to Senators, Representatives, radio and TV news departments demanding that you get rid of all the Humvees—those deathtraps, useless against improvised explosives, and tell you to get the troops those V-hulled, bomb-deflecting armored personnel carriers that the South Africans designed, you fight about what program to put them under.

You complain you have no money—and yet you can’t account for something like $22 billion in your accounting system. You actually don’t know how much money you DO have.

Where did that $22 billion go? Did it go for weekend cabins? Trips to Vegas. Black-site prisons? Secret airplanes to move kidnapped POWs around to sample torture in as many countries as possible?

Did it go for no-bid contracts to your friends and associates? So they can wash the GI's clothes for $10 or more a bag? Charge $25 per meal, even when soldiers aren't there to eat them? Blow up trucks for want of a spare tire. Or a replacement oil filter? Pay $100,000 for a civilian clerk to assign PCs to GIs waiting to send e-mail home? Pay $150,000 for a truck mechanic when there are five idle GI mechanics who've been trained for months to do the same work?

Is there something to that “Area 51” thing, after all? Did it go for your special propaganda and fake intelligence operations? (Perhaps you’ve forgotten that “Military Intelligence” is an oxymoron.)


Now you’re finally building those APCs. You ordered about 3,000 of them. Then Sen. Biden stepped in and made you up the order to 17,770. That’s still not enough. And of course it’s about 15,000 dead and wounded troops late.

Ahh, and lest we forget, what’s the reason there have been so many roadside bombs? Why? Because we rushed over all of the hundreds of ammo dumps scattered far and wide in Iraq looking only for the WMDs our leaders knew did not exist—the weapons inspectors had done a very thorough job.

But there were not enough soldiers to leave behind to blow up the ammo dumps or guard them from the looting that took place all over the country after Saddam’s statue was pulled down. So all of the huge artillery shells, bombs, fuzes and fuses, C4 (plastique) and other explosives, detonators, land mines, rifle grenades, rifle ammunition got spirited away and tucked in schools, maybe mosques, buried in houses, ready to be turned into devastating bombs by wrapping bunches of artillery shells together with duct tape, a little C4 on the nose of a shell in the middle, a detonator, some wire, a little hand-generator, a rolling Humvee and “BOOM.” Another tin coffin full of dead soldiers, severely brain-injured soldiers, limb-severed soldiers.

By the way, why did you bomb two Arabian news bureaus and shell the foreign journalists’ hotel with tank fire at point-blank range the day before you rolled into Baghdad officially? You killed three journalists.

Guess you wanted to make “dead sure” that they got the message to “Get out of Dodge,” hunh. Guess you don’t want anyone to see what’s going on there. It’s too bad that Mosler doesn’t make safes large enough to put the whole of Iraq in it. Then Cheney could keep the whole thing secret—in that separate and non-Constitutional office where he keeps all the other secrets of his private nation, separate and more equal than our own United States of America. Like Orwell had it in Animal Farm, as all of the Commandments were finally reduced to this last one: “All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.”

Bottom line, of course is this: It seems like ordinary US citizens, ordinary soldiers, ordinary Iraqis, don’t realize how irrelevant human life is—no, let’s make that “how irrelevant ‘innocent life’ is,” as a sop to Mr. Bush’s convenient, expedient-though-tender sensibilities—when oil hangs in the balance.

And what with the US wells, maybe the Saudi Arabian wells, Kuwaiti wells, Oman wells, etc. reaching or having already reached “Peak Oil”—that’s when the wells are half tapped-out, and output is going down the slippery slope, slowing down, more and more expensive to pump out of the ground—well, an oil-addicted nation might worry about withdrawal pangs.

Of course, you wouldn't want to disturb them with reality--you're probably convinced we citizens would want you to "do whatever it takes"--pestilence, war, famine and death riding before us in our quest for oil, right? "Just do it," and don't tell us.

I, for one, think you're wrong. Arrogant. Misguided. Agents of the Underworld, or "We'll have to go to the Dark Side," as Darth "Leave No Fingerprints" Cheney put it from the side of his mouth on one of his Sabbath Morning sotto-voce rants on Meet The Press.

But this was probably the most honest thing he's said in his life. Only thing is, it is COMPLETELY at odds with our Constitution, with the Declaration of Independence, with all that is good and holy about humankind.

Because of this belief, because of the actions taken in furtherance of this belief, the rest of the world has already, or will soon, rip the corner off a page in the Bible, make a large, black spot upon it with fire-ash and soot. And then serve it on this nation as the pirates of Treasure Island served it on Long John Silver.

And what with India and China clamoring for more oil, the US, as the most energy-profligate nation in the world, has to get to the oil first. Even if we have to kill hundreds of thousands of people doing it (also, dead people don’t drive cars).

Otherwise, the very way of life for Big Oil is threatened. Not to mention all the rest of our gas-guzzling economy. And of course our ability to control the land, sea, air and space above.

It is possible, though, that maybe 95 % of Americans and other world citizens can think of less lethal ways to deal with these issues. But that could happen only if we all lived on the same planet.

So, how are we going to impeach and remove these people from office? We must, as Acting Vice-President Bush has said so often, "Bring them to Jussss-tice." We can't afford to wait another month to start the process.

And it may be time to gather ourselves up and march on Washington. Congress just does not get it. Even the Democrats we elected last November. There is no sense of urgency. No angry “fire in the belly.” No outrage. Well, I'm outraged.

-----end of rant----
(and apologies for the awkward shifts of “voice.” I hope they’ve not been hopelessly confusing.)

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