Alberto Gonzales’s Last Stand

I would like to think that testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee is the last appearance of Alberto Gonzales on the public scene. The bumbling idiot on the witness stand portrayed by the New York Times editorial here, who did not know people, or dates, or times, or actions, surely is not long for the political world.

Is this the same Alberto Gonzales who has been the godfather of the new presidential right to torture? The same Alberto Gonzales who has been one of the crafters of the “imperial presidency?”

There are a couple of possibilities: that this is a man who relies heavily on the ideas and work of his staff. It is his staff that has made him look menacingly intelligent, in the case of the torture/imperial presidency material, and it is his staff that has made him look like a bumbling idiot on the witness stand.

<>I did watch some of his testimony, getting the ‘Anita Hill’ treatment from Senator Arlen Specter (R Sen. Pennsylvania). As a result, I concur with the NYTimes’s assessment.

<>Alberto Gonzales seems to have thoroughly outlived his value and usefulness to the Georgy W. Bush presidency. I think he has been kept on as a screen for Karl Rove. That is, to paraphrase the NYTimes, the larger effort is to work through the information that none of the senior administrators in the Justice Department knew from where the list of federal prosecutors to be fired came.

<>Until or unless there is a way to question Karl Rove, and obtain email records of his dealings, it is deviously important to keep Alberto Gonzales in office. Although, from his testimony, Gonzales is not responsible for the firings, his Office, the Office of the Attorney General, is responsible for the unjust action in the Department of Justice.

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The Imperial Presidency

The role of President of the United States is the ultimate in the fantasy of political power.  Legislators who are frustrated and disgusted by the process of producing laws, and further frustrated by an Imperial Executive who disdains to carry out the laws and directives of the legislative branch, look at the unrestrained power of the Chief Executive and wish to gain it for themselves.  Of course, they will do different things with the power.

Others, the Arlen Specters and Ted Kennedys and Russ Feingolds and, dare I say it, Orrin Hatches, in the Senate have settled down to do what is within the power of the Senate to do. I hesitate to name members of the House of Representatives, other than Nancy Pelosi, because the frequency of scandal discourages me from endorsing particular members, lest they later be tainted by some misdeed or other.  Nominations will be taken from the floor, on this.
<>The power of the Presidency is a different thing, somewhat unwritten, somewhat written, and perhaps unwriteable. In particular, since we (probably) will not use the power to impeach,  this power can be self-defined. Because of the ambiguity in the role definition, which leads Presidents to define and redefine the Presidency, we are potentially and actually in the uncomfortable position of being citizens of a country governed by a Presidential fantasy.

<>For a further discussion of the definition of the Presidency, please see this article by Garrett Epps, in Salon.

The Clash

I wrote the following two days ago; since then I have seen two articles which use the word “clash” to describe current political events. One of them, using “clash” repeatedly, is this article from Salon by Garrett Epps. My remarks below turn the word clash into an hypostasis, a living symbolic word for the present and coming period, The Clash.

<> We are less than two years from the installation of a new President, not George Bush. In looking at the varied events of the past two weeks, which include a number of announcements of presidential campaigns, and Bush’s State of the Union Address, I foresee a period of Clash. This next period of Clash may well undermine the presidency of whomever follows George W. Bush.A mobilized Peace Movement will clash with the efforts of those who have national office, not only in the Executive Branch, but in the Legislative Branch as well.

Efforts of centrists in the Democratic party will clash with the partially out-of-power progressives, to the point that they do not talk or work out a joint agenda. Instead, they will probably pull in opposite directions.

The troop surge and its purpose of securing Baghdad and then Al Anbar province will become a Platonic ideal. What is actually not too bad an idea of exerting our responsibilities for a usable solution to the chaos WE have brought to Iraq will fail in its execution. The reason it will fail is not that it is a bad idea, but that it has been proposed by a President who no longer has the political power he may have had at one time. There is nothing he can do to bring people together behind this idea.

The political attacks on the President will clash with the laudable aim of securing Baghdad so that people can live ordinary lives in the city, obtaining food and water and electricity and fuel and educations and jobs.

The next president will inherit the results: Bush will not have let go of Iraq, the securing of Baghdad will not have been accomplished, Global Warming will not have been slowed and stopped, New Orleans will not have been rebuilt, our national debt will be out of sight, and yet there will be still greater need for spending on intelligent programs

The need to make debate points will clash with the need to govern. I don’t follow Nancy Pelosi’s day-to-day activities; I observe, on limited information, that she provides a political outburst about once every three weeks. The rest of the time she is paying attention to how to carry out the responsibility of the House of Representatives to legislate responsibly.

<>I would add that the Constitutional imperative to impeach, to remove a dangerous and lawless president, will clash with our recent experience of stalled governing during the effort to impeach Bill Clinton.

<>The effect of the Clash Period will be the expectation that a new President will lead us in a Restoration. Unless such a restoration is truly an expression of national will, beyond political posturing, the next President will go down in flames attempting to resolve the problems s/he inherited from The Clash.

Torture in the First Person

The following is a long excerpt from a guest contributor’s column on T r u t h o u t, a web site I would describe as an alternative news bureau.

The guest author is Phillip Butler, a former Navy pilot during the Viet Nam war. Here is the excerpt:

I spent eight years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, from 1965 to 1973. During that time, I and more than 90 percent of my fellow POWs were repeatedly tortured for the extortion of information to be used for political propaganda and sometimes just for retribution. We were not recognized by Vietnam as POWs, but as criminals, because the Vietnamese had not signed the 1949 “Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.”

Later, in 1975, the United Nations created the “Convention Against Torture.” Both conventions were ratified by Congress and became laws of our land. Unfortunately, Vietnam – along with numerous other countries who are still partially stuck in the 15th century – had institutionalized torture to punish and extract information from prisoners.

We received great moral and psychological strength during our incarceration from telling each other, “Our country is civilized and would never knowingly treat people like this.”

We felt we had the moral high ground and took great pride in being American, above such barbarity. Besides, we all knew from experience that torture is useless, because under torture we told our tormentors whatever we thought they wanted to hear. Whenever possible we slipped in ridiculous statements like one I used in a torture-extracted “confession,” that “only officers are allowed to use the swimming pool on the USS Midway.” Another friend wrote in a “confession” that “my commanding officer, Dick Tracy, ordered me to bomb schools and hospitals.” These are just two examples of the kind of culturally embedded nonsense people can expect to extract through torture.

I recommend reading the whole piece, which is about double the length quoted here.

Are we interested enough in reversing U.S. policy on torture to impeach George W. Bush? We would actually need to impeach Bush, Cheney, and Alberto Gonzales, the current Attorney General. In terms of salvaging the energy to govern the country in the next two years, it seems to me (reluctantly) that we will be better off riding out these rump years and prosecuting these men after they leave office.

Of course I am assuming a vigorous and successful election campaign by the Democrats, and an resulting executive branch that reverses existing policy. Is that a tenable assumption?

Clinton and Pelosi, Power and “Perky”

“Perky” is the perennial word used to describe Katie Couric.

When I was thirty or so, I suppose I might have been described as “perky.” I was in training for a professional discipline, and “perky” and “unprofessional” seemed to correlate, so I gave up being “perky.”

It struck me, over this past weekend, as I watched Hillary Rodham Clinton’s announcement of her candidacy for the Democratic nomination, that there she was, hovering around the age of 60, being perky! On further thought, this observation, of a perkiness in presenting oneself and one’s material, seemed to apply also to Nancy Pelosi, the current Speaker of the House of Representatives, who is older than Clinton. And yet I’ve seen Clinton in action in Senate committee hearings, and she is nothing if not relentless and very very smart. In her response to news programs presenting analyses of President Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address, she was quite analytic and simply smart, with little perkiness.

Pelosi’s perkiness surfaces–and gets her in trouble–when she wings it in a press conference that is somewhat about her. That is, when she needs to provide a fairly succinct response to a question about how she works as Speaker of the House to keep party members in line. To provide that succinct response, she talks about using her “mother of five” voice. That seems perfectly fine to me; I knew what she meant. But to many commentators Pelosi’s perky, even flippant, remark seemed to indicate that she was less than serious about being Speaker of the House, and third in line to the President. That is, she lacked suitable gravitas.

It seems to me that all three women become perky as a mode of self-presentation that suits particular circumstances. As women used to become coy, and Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer still do, “perky” is turning out to be a working mode of self-presentation for women of any age.

Consider:

<>
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  • <><>”Perky” is not flirtatious, so both men and women listen with little threat.
  • <>The “perky” woman has a wide range of “adapted child” observations available that say smart things while at the same time disowning them or their full impact, which may be a good way to present some material. Think of the incredible number of interviews that Katie Couric did on the Today Show.
  • “Perky” projects energy and healthiness and a noncomplaining personality. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s complaint about a “vast right-wing conspiracy” was definitely not perky!<>
  • <>”Perky” projects denial of that one aches or hurts or fees “hormonal.” That is, one is female without being “a female.”
  • “Perky” is the next mode down from gravitas, a shift of tone from always being somber.

There are some other points: “Perky” works better for shorter women. Fortunately this applies to Clinton and Pelosi — and me. It did not apply to Geena Davis, the actor who portrayed the President in the short-lived TV show “Commander in Chief.” She is much taller than Clinton, Pelosi, and me.

I fear that “perky” will become identified with official falseness and political insincerity–I like you as long as you go along with me/vote my way, but if you don’t, remember the “hormonal” woman.

That is, because “perky” has built-in denial of realness and aches and pains, it has falseness written into it, which can backfire.

<>Couric began her Today Show hosting in 1990 at the age of 33; being perky in the morning worked for her for a very long time, until she needed the gravitas of a news anchor. As it turns out, she can do both. I mostly can’t, related to professional and academic training.

Press Freedom

In lieu of a year-end review, I want to call attention to two articles. The first is in Slate, not quite midyear, early May of 2006. The author, Jack Shafer, reviews the press-suppression tools used by the presidency of George W. Bush. He encourages reporters and editors to continue to seek out information from leakers inside and outside the administration.

Read Shafer’s article.

At a similar time, the Columbia Journalism Review published an examination of the military’s clash between the need to create disinformation, and the need to communicate a clear understanding of events on the ground. In both cases the press becomes an instrument.

Read Schulman’s CJR article, “Mind Games.”

This sentence in the CJR article tells me a lot about how to read the press on Iraq and Afghanistan:

Information warriors often formulate what they call “truth-based” messages — information that is often vague and one-dimensional, sometimes misleading, and frequently includes statements that are subtly derogatory.

So as soon as I notice that vague feeling that comes when reading a piece that is short on details, I should stop, and go find the details.

The relevant Year-End Review

My hat-tip goes to Dahlia Lithwick’s opinion piece, “The Bill of Wrongs,” for calling attention to Jack Shafer’s Slate article, which sent me on to the CJR article, and some musing about what is happening in the war.

Dealing with Managed Information

1. Too vague to verify.

2. Too specifically favorable to a country, an individual, an organization, to be credible.

3. Attempt to understand the sourcing.

4. Develop a sense of regional and global background, beyond Borat . . . Kazakhstan.

Chance to have input

The web site democrats.com has a straw poll on the issues of most concern to those who have registered with their site. The site is not the official site of the Democratic Party, but is one affiliate of a loose conglomerate that includes / began with the afterdowningstreet.org site.

I am impressed that the top vote-getter of the many choices is restoring the powers involved in using a writ of habeas corpus in the United States Courts. The next most frequently endorsed is establishing a higher minimum wage. Also in the top four is ending the war in Iraq.

Otherwise, I have to say, this straw poll, with its legitimate choices, is a device of the “impeach George Bush and Dick Cheney” element, not those in newly elected congressional Democrats who are dedicating their efforts to governing the country.

This list does provide an assemblage of priorities that would be helpful to use in a letter to your congressperson, and to the new leadership of Congress. I am not assuming that you are a committed Democrat; some very important issues cross party lines and are of concern to conservatives as well as liberals.

I am also not completely disavowing the effort to impeach Bush and Cheney; I look at this long list as a potential agenda that can be delayed or even swamped by an impeachment circus. Both justice and governance are necessary and desirable. Governance looks to be the more politically possible.