Saturday, March 15, 2014

Has Obama Committed an Impeachable Offense?

I was talking with my wife this morning about the dust-up between the CIA and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (chaired by California Senator Dianne Feinstein) that came to a head earlier this week when Feinstein, in the well of the Senate, denounced the CIA for searching her Committee's computers without a warrant to find out the source of the supposed leak of the so-called Panetta Review to her Committee.

In the process of reviewing all the developments that had taken place, I happened to mention that the McClatchy newspaper chain reported separately this past week that Obama's CIA, apparently with Obama's blessings, has withheld from the Committee over the past five years some 9,000 pages of  documents that pertain to the CIA's secret torture programs from 2001-04.  "If proven," I said, "that allegation in the McClatchy story clearly rises to the level of an impeachable offense."

The McClatchy Story

"You know," I continued, "they impeached Nixon over a lot less." I immediately corrected myself. "Well, they didn't actually impeach Nixon. Nixon resigned before the full House voted on Articles of Impeachment, because Senator Barry Goldwater told Nixon that, impeachment in the House now certain, Nixon did not retain enough support in the Senate to survive the resulting trial. Nixon  may have wanted to preserve his pension benefits by resigning."

My wife said, "Oh, I wish you would write about this so I could share it with everyone on my Facebook list."

Being a dutiful husband, I had no choice but to accede to her wishes.

Thinking about Nixon's impeachment and the long chain of events known collectively as 'Watergate' brought back some vivid memories, of Sam Ervin's Committee, of Judge John Sirica, of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox and the Saturday Night Massacre, of Deep Throat, Woodward and Bernstein, of Rosemary Woods and the missing 17-minutes of tape. And Tricky Dick himself. I had just finished my freshman year of high school and would be starting my sophomore year that coming September of 1974, so I listened to these events on the radio - my family not owning a television - with a morbid fascination, neigh obsession, that only an adolescent teenage male in a persistently rebellious state can muster.

I remember the House Judiciary Committee considered several proposed Articles of Impeachment, among them the secret and illegal bombing of Cambodia, the obstruction of justice enveloped in Nixon's instructions to his aides to use the CIA to interfere with the FBI's inquiry, the abuse of power contained in ordering Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office burglarized to try to get dirt on Ellsberg. Eventually, the House Judiciary Committee settled upon Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Justice as the principal Articles of Impeachment.

So has Obama's stiff-arm of the Senate Select Committee for the past five years risen to the level of an impeachable offense? And is it worse than what Nixon stood accused of? I must tentatively but sadly answer "yes" to both counts.

Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution provides that "The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." Historically, this has meant that the House hears the case for impeachment and votes it up or down. A vote in favor of impeachment - analogous to a grand jury indictment in criminal court - results in a subsequent trial being held in the Senate, upon the conclusion of which the impeached official is either acquitted and remains in office or convicted on a 2/3 vote and removed from office.

These procedural niceties aside, what exactly constitutes an impeachable offense? Bribery and Treason are fairly unambiguous but what does "other high Crimes and Misdemeanors" mean? For an answer to that, we should turn to then-Congressman Gerald Ford of Michigan who stated, a few years before the main events of Watergate had transpired, that "An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers [it] to be at a given moment in history.” (Ironically, Ford said this on April 15, 1970, just as Nixon, Kissinger and other goombahs were ginning up the secret land invasion of Cambodia that would lead to the tragedy of Kent State and Jackson State Universities.) Was Ford articulating the -- gasp! -- secular humanist notion of 'moral relativism'? Was the Republican Ford of the party of  'Family Values' a covert apostle of situational ethics?  Hardly. Instead, what Ford seems to be getting at is that an impeachable offense and the impeachment process is always fundamentally political in nature, relying as it does on notions of a 'majority vote' and so on (as opposed to a criminal trial where a guilty vote must be unanimous in order to convict).

So, at its most base level, Obama's decision to allow the CIA to withhold 9,000+ documents from the Senate Committee could easily be deemed an impeachable offense by any House determined to check the powers of the Executive Branch. If such is the case, then why hasn't a rabid Republican House already impeached Obama? Leaving aside the crass political consideration that House Republicans will never impeach Obama for actions they would like a Republican President to have the power to do and thus do not want to establish a precedent that could be applied to future Republican presidents, there are other reasons why the House may not have impeached Obama yet. At this point, Obama would be unlikely to be convicted in any Senate trial where Democrats have a majority, even though his alleged offense has been against the Senate. At this point in his second term, Obama is still personally liked by most Americans, even though increasing numbers are beginning to disapprove of his conduct in office. Even with that mounting disapproval, though, I suspect few Americans yet believe that Obama has committed offenses worthy of the label of 'high crimes and misdemeanors'.

Here I must disagree. As Charles Pierce put it in a magisterial column in Esquire's The Politics Blog this past week, "By the Constitution, this isn't even a hard call. The Senate has every legal right to investigate what was done in the name of the American people during the previous decade. It has every legal right to every scrap of information relating to its investigation, and the CIA has an affirmative legal obligation to cooperate. Period." To the extent that President Obama has been ordering the CIA, or authorizing the CIA, not to comply with its obligation to cooperate with the Senate, Obama is abusing the powers of his office and obstructing justice. That, my friends, constitutes a 'high crime and misdemeanor.' That, my friends, is an impeachable offense.

The Charles Pierce column

Ah, but is it worse than what Nixon did? I would argue that it is not as evil as the secret bombing of Cambodia, one of the high crimes of which Nixon stood accused, since that crime comprised within it what the Nuremberg trials had established as the 'supreme crime against the peace.' But the secret Cambodia bombing was not an Article of Impeachment voted out of Committee. (Maybe Dems wanted their own presidents to be able to bomb other countries secretly without congressional approval or oversight? Nah, can't be, because Dems have principles. Right  . . . and if you believe that I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.) So, of the articles that were voted out of Committee, namely abuse of power and obstruction of justice, are they less serious than Obama's offense?

I think so, because Nixon abused his powers to single out another political party and individuals opposed to his policies in southeast Asia. But Obama is abusing his powers to obstruct the workings of a co-equal branch of government. Co-equal - that means that the Legislature is the equal of the Executive, not its inferior. In ordering the CIA to withhold documents from a co-equal branch with constitutionally-ordained oversight responsibilities, Obama undermines the very fabric of our constitutional order. That is a far more serious offense than anything with which Nixon was ever charged.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Grey Lady Pimps The Ukraine Crisis

It's a fun pastime among the cognoscenti to bash The New York Times for lapses in its journalistic practice or ethics. Such efforts grew more significant after Judy Miller helped Cheney's cohort pimp the war in Iraq on bogus claims that Iraq was seeking uranium yellowcake from Niger. Then there was the case of Jayson Blair, the Times reporter who fabricated stories and quotes out of whole cloth and was unmasked in the summer of 2003, around the same time Miller's journalistic treason was coming unmasked.

I had been late to that Times-bashing party and feared I might never get my chance, seeing as how the Times charges subscription fees now once one exceeds a monthly limit of story views online. With the crisis in Ukraine unfolding, I had been going to the Times'  front page each morning to see whether I needed to prepare my wife and I for impending nuclear Armageddon. For a couple days there, I was seriously sweating it. On this past Monday and Tuesday, though, my concerns had begun to abate somewhat as Crimea's de facto secesssion from Ukraine seemed on the verge of becoming de jure and, two days ahead of a scheduled referendum by Crimea's residents, all that remained was for the U.S. and its EU allies to bleat about how Crimean secession violated 'international law' or some such nonsense. (See my earlier posts.)

So it was with some dismay this morning that I saw, on the left-hand rail of the online edition of the Times, the  following:

"Obama Raises the Stakes With Russia Over Ukraine"

The one-paragraph blurb was also alarming:

In a meeting with Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, interim prime minister of Ukraine, President Obama vowed retaliation if Moscow follows through with threats to annex Crimea.

Them are pretty strong words, 'vowed' and 'retaliation' and 'threats.'

So, wondering if we needed to pack the car and start our departure from LA to less-urban climes, I decided to burn one of my free-story allotment to find out how close the nuclear clock stood to midnight.

The story proper

I was relieved upon clicking to find a far less incendiary headline above the story proper:

"Obama Makes Diplomatic Push to Defuse Crisis in Ukraine"

The first and second paragraphs of the story proper also told a much less anxiety-inducing tale:
WASHINGTON — President Obama and Ukraine’s interim prime minister opened the door on Wednesday to a political solution that could lead to more autonomy for Crimea if Russian troops withdraw, as the United States embarked on a last-ditch diplomatic effort to defuse a crisis that reignited tensions between East and West.

The tentative feeler came as Mr. Obama dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to London to meet with his Russian counterpart on Friday, two days before a Russian-supported referendum in Crimea on whether to secede from Ukraine.
The striking and obvious dis-connect between the headline and lead-in on the front page threatening war and the headline and lead-in of the story proper reporting on diplomatic efforts beg me to ask this question: is the Times hyping a story merely to drive traffic to its site? Is the Times stating that there will be U.S. "retaliation" if Russia carries through with "threats" when its own reporters are reporting no such thing?

Well, it makes sense. I've heard stories, make that "internet gossip," that the Times is in grievous financial shape, losing money and flirting with bankruptcy protection. Its readership has declined substantially, part of the larger shift in audience preferences that has killed off the traditional newspaper industry in my lifetime. But perhaps part also of a general distaste for the shoddy journalistic practices of a vehicle that would give the lies of Judy Miller front-page prominence, that would allow a new reporter to sling along its entire editorial staff for so many months on utter air and trifles and that, now, apparently, will publish inflammatory headlines bearing very little connection to the stories it itself publishes. Is the Times really that desperate for readers? Is the Times so lacking in editors who can write headlines and paraphrase accurately a story's contents?

To all readers of the Times, I say 'beware.'

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Ukraine: When the Imperial Mask Slips

 You have to give it to the New York Times' writers. Only they could write a paragraph that seemingly cancels itself out within the very paragraph itself.
Although President Obama has made it clear that the United States does not want to escalate the Crimean crisis, the Pentagon stepped up training operations in Poland and sent fighter jets to patrol the skies over Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, three former Soviet republics with sizable populations of ethnic Russians.
New York Times article

Let me make sure I've got this straight. At the same time that Obama is making it clear that the U.S. does not want to escalate the 'Crimean crisis,' he's escalating the Crimean crisis!

And how exactly has Obama 'made it clear'? With clarity like this, one hopes that Obama never seeks to 'muddy the waters.'

The article goes on to report that those dastardly Russkies may suspend provisions of the START treaty calling for a regime of live, on-site verifications. All to retaliate against the U.S. for its imposition of sanctions. Of course, no mention is made anywhere in the article that the U.S. had previously promised NOT TO EXPAND NATO's SPHERE OF INFLUENCE EASTWARD.

Yeah, that's right. Back when the USSR was dissolving, U.S. President George H.W. Bush promised Soviet Premier Gorbachev that there would be no eastward expansion if Gorby allowed the USSR to dissolve peacefully, a promise we promptly proceeded to break starting with Clinton's administration and proceeding steadily thereafter.

I really don't know why anyone takes anything the U.S. government says seriously any longer. Aside from the very real fact that the lunatic NeoCons and Russo-phobes have control of a huge thermonuclear arsenal and would no doubt use it were their grip on power to face existential threat.

All I can do is say that I support fully President Putin, Prime Minister Medvedev and the DUMA on this matter. Putin should only use his nuclear arsenal if the existence of the Russian Federation itself is threatened. But President Putin should take no other option off the table in this tit-for-tat war of escalation.

I'm so angry about the Times' prevaricating and propagandist coverage that I am not going to quote it further. Instead, here's Reuters' rather dry reportage of the Russian riposte.

Russia may suspend nuclear arms inspections set down in a treaty with the United States in reaction to Western sanctions over Ukraine, Russian news agencies quoted an unnamed defence ministry source on Saturday as saying.
The source said the ministry was studying the possibility of suspending on-site inspections agreed in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between Moscow and Washington.
 Reuters article

Friday, March 7, 2014

Crimea, Ukraine, Obama and International Law

So yesterday, according to the McClatchy newspaper chain's reportage, Obama bleated from the White House briefing room that the Crimean parliament's near-unanimous vote -- 8 abstentions but no, repeat ZERO, votes "Nyet" -- to secede from Ukraine violated Ukraine's constitution and 'international law.'

McClatchy Story

If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, as noted 18th-century wit Samuel Johnson had it, then one could also say that 'international law' is the last refuge of a charlatan. Obama remained somewhat vague on exactly which statute of international law Crimea was in violation. And well he should, since international law, such as it is, gives mixed messages about the rights of regions within nation states to secede. Recent precedent reveals that Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia back in 1991, following a path remarkably similar to that being pursued by Crimea -- legislative approval followed by popular referendum. And while France and the UK screeched then about how Croatia was violating international law, Germany approved secession and recognized the newly independent Croatia. In a crowning fit of historical irony, one of the first nations to recognize Croatia was . . .. you guessed it . . . . Ukraine! (You can't make this shit up.)

It's another whole level of irony for Obama to cite international law to chide any nation or peoples. Because, you see, prior to March 20, 2003, the supreme international law was the U.N. Charter. You know that pesky little agreement we helped draft and to which we were original signatories back in 1947, the document that says that, absent an imminent threat, only the U.N. Security Council can authorize military action. Well, on March 20, 2003, the U.S. decided it was no longer bound by international law and invaded and occupied the sovereign nation of Iraq without the prior approval of the U.N. On March 20, 2003, the U.S. stuck a knife in the back of 'international law' and all that remains of that heretofore glorious institution now is a rotting corpse, fit to intone hollow hypocritical obsequies over but not much else. That the lawyer Obama now cites 'international law' introduces a whole new level of hilarity into the discussion. Where did he get his law degree, out of some Cracker Jack box?

This whole kerfuffle over Crimea's desire to secede from an anti-Russian fascist Ukraine reminds me of a debate my father - a died-in-the-wool Jarhead -- and I - a rebellious teenage punk at the time -- used to have.

"The South had a right to secede from the Union," I would announce rebelliously.

"Of course they had a right," my father would reply, "provided they had the military force to back it up!"

In this case, bleating about 'international law' -- dead and in the funeral home since at least March 20, 2003 -- is a false canard. Does Crimea have the military or allies sufficient to enforce its right to secede? Of course it does. Is there any 'international law' that prevents Crimea from seceding. Of course not, and Obama would do well to stop citing it, lest his obvious hypocrisy make him the utter laughing stock of the entire civilized community of nations.

If there's any law at play now, it's the 'law of the jungle,' a jungle in which Russia is a tiger, Ukraine a weak gazelle waiting to be culled from the herd but still stomping its hooves in one last futile, defiant gesture, and Obama and the U.S. little more than paper tigers.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ukraine: Should Progressives (Socialists) Support Russian Military Intervention?

Another day, another fascinating debate on Being A Socialist which has rapidly become my favorite FB hangout, a page I check in on regularly to test my own thoughts, feeling and knowledge against the larger socialist community. Nothing like a good old-fashioned sectarian slug-fest between Marxist-Leninists, Trotskyists and Maoists to get the brain cells firing on all cylinders and the blood pumping at hyper speed. And yet the stakes could not be higher for Ukraine and for workers worldwide.

So yesterday one of the site's administrators posted a provocative thread:

Anyone who supports the idea that Russia invading Ukraine would be a good thing and would, "stop Fascism" has no idea what Fascism even is, nor how to fight it.

"I will take the most simple and obvious example. In Brazil there now reigns a semifascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of the conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally—in this case I will be on the side of “fascist” Brazil against “democratic” Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat. Truly, one must have an empty head to reduce world antagonisms and military conflicts to the struggle between fascism and democracy. Under all masks one must know how to distinguish exploiters, slave-owners, and robbers!" -Leon Trotsky

You dont fight Fascism by tailing Imperialists, all you will have to show for that is, a new Fascist. You fight Fascism by making Socialist Revolution.
The poster (a site administrator named 'Ben') believes that only workers organized amongst and by themselves can move socialism and a socialist revolution forward.

A few words about context for my readers who have not been following developments in Ukraine closely. (A word to the wise: in my opinion, developments in Ukraine constitute a story you should be following closely, as though your very lives and futures depend upon it.)  Last weekend, the democratically elected Ukrainian government of President Yanukovych was overthrown by an uprising spearheaded by fascist militia and irregulars. Yanukovych subsequently fled to regions unknown (probably eastern Ukraine or Crimea), whence he issued a video denouncing what he termed a 'coup' as the product of 'bandits' and 'fascists.' Yanukovych headed a party called "The Party of Regions" and its parliamentary members also fled Ukraine's capital Kiev in complete and utter disarray.

Following the overthrow of Yanukovych and the flight of Party of Regions deputies, the remnants of Ukraine's parliament proceeded to rule by decree, naming leading Fatherland Party dignitary Turchinov acting president, releasing jailed Fatherland Party figure and former PM Tymoshenko from a prison hospital where, various groups alleged, she was being held as a political prisoner, and formally impeaching Yanukovych and issuing 'arrest warrants' for him and other high-ranking members of his administration.

As the weekend turned into the week, though, questions began to be raised about various figures behind the overthrow (which I'm going to call a 'Putsch,' given its unconstitutional nature), specifically the gun-toting and Molotov Cocktail-throwing forces that had battled with Ukraine's gendarmerie in the days and weeks before Yanukovych was deposed. During those battles, some 100 protesters were killed by police but the Ukrainian police were targets of armed assault by members of Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) and members of far-right party Svoboda. Reports began to emerge of attacks by members of these extreme right militia on Ukraine's 300,000 Jews, its independent trade unionists and, most importantly, its ethnic Russian minority population.

By the end of the work-week, most people on the Left had begun to concede that the Putsch was brought about by fascist (Sovboda) and neo-Nazi (Right Sector) forces, although the degree of popular support for the Putsch remained an item of hot contention.

Enough context. Ukraine for reasons of history dating back before the USSR's creation but extending into its post-Stalin days, consists of a Ukrainian-speaking segment in Western Ukraine and a predominantly Russian-speaking minority in Eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula. The Putschists have on numerous occasions declared their enmity to Russia and to the Russian people. On numerous occasions they have loudly declared their enmity to Ukraine's Jewish population (currently some 300,000) and to the Jewish faith in general. Finally, they have declared their enmity to trade unions and trade unionists.

Russia is no longer a great force for socialist change or revolution. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia (and the larger Russian Federation) has reverted to a fairly primitive form of state capitalism epitomized on one hand by the creation of these immensely wealthy Russian oligarchs and on the other hand a citizenry that has faced enormous poverty and privation at the same time. Let's be clear. Russia is no workers' paradise. At the same time, however, Russia has faced catastrophic internal conflict (in Chechnya and other Muslim areas) and an increasingly aggressive EU and NATO who constantly seek to expand eastward, even into core provinces like Georgia and, now, Ukraine. Because behind this Putsch stood a gaggle of EU and US interests egging on the protesters, failing to denounce the fascists and even threatening Russia with grave consequences should it intervene.

So the issue as framed by Being a Socialist is that Russian military intervention in Ukraine would not defeat the fascist forces ascendant there but merely usher in another fascist ("a new Fascist").

I disagree.

Russia is capitalist and may, under Putin, even harbor some imperial ambitions. But Russia, under Putin, is not fascist by any stretch of the imagination. There is no one-party rule in Russia's Duma, there are no coordinated race- and gender-based attacks in Russian society (although homophobia has been and remains a pressing human rights issue). There is no coordinated attack upon Jews in Russia, no coordinated attack upon workers, upon the very idea of democracy.

But in the Ukrainian Putschists' ranks these ideas are dominant, starting with vile anti-semitism and virulent Russo-phobia. Certain figures among the Putschists have uttered vile attacks against Western liberal ideas AND against Soviet and Russian egalitarian ideas, asserting instead some idea of Ukrainian racial superiority as a counter to both. In short, the Putschists are fascist and even (in the case of Right Sector) neo-Nazi.

The Facebook post that got this ball rolling uses Trotsky's example of the UK intervention in Brazil a century earlier to assers that both sides (the EU\US Axis  and the Russian Federation) are equally bad and thus to rely on Russian military intervention to smash Ukraine's fascist spearhead will not produce any benefits and will merely replicate the existing order under new foreign leadership. Instead, this post argues, the focus should be on building a Socialist revolution from purely Ukrainian proletariat resources.

Leaving aside the relevant question of whether it is fair to equate Ukraine with Brazil and Russia with the 19th-century UK, this Trotskyist position ignores the fact that the crisis is happening now and that there currently exists no organized left in Ukraine around which a purely Ukrainian resistance could organize. It also leaves aside the fact that the Russian and Jewish minorities in Ukraine have legitimate fears, based on Ukraine's past and the behavior of some of its current actors and that no other external power is prepared to come to their assistance. In other words, Russia is all they've got.

No one except sadists and war fetishists ever thinks war is a 'good thing'. But sometimes one must reluctantly support war (or, in this case, Russian military intervention) against a greater evil, in this case the  resurgence of European fascism and the further eastward expansion of the NATO\US empire. Russia has very legitimate national security concerns rooted in its distant and not-so-distant past and has an obligation to defend those interests against a NATO\US proxy on its very doorstep. As I have argued elsewhere on this blog, the U.S. Civil War was a horrible, barbarous affair and yet logic and simple human decency require us to support the alliance between North and West against the South, even as we simultaneously acknowledge that war's barbarity and horror.

Already today, reports are surfacing that Russian troops (or Crimean militia in tune with the Russian military) have occupied two airports in the Crimea. Additional reports have surfaced that Russian forces from the naval base at the Crimean Black Sea port of Sevastopol are patrolling that city's streets. Boom! And so begins the distant and faint drumbeat of war, a percussive echo that harkens back 100 years to another clash of imperialist powers on the European land mass. If was is to come, let it be swift and its outcome - the smashing of Svoboda and Right Sector - certain. If war comes, let its victor (almost certainly the Russian Federation) show mercy to the non-fascist vanquished. And let us hope that workers use this war as an occasion to make further gains against the ravages of global capitalism-imperialism.