Friday Talking Points [61] -- Pardon Me?

Friday Talking Points [61] -- Pardon Me?
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"I am not a number. I am a free man!"

-- Patrick McGoohan, "The Prisoner"

What a strange week it was. In the waning days of President Bush's term in office, we lost -- in one week -- talented artists from Patrick McGoohan to Ricardo Montalban to Andrew Wyeth. Planes are landing in rivers. The Associated Press put out one of the most bizarre articles I've ever seen, unearthing the "lazy black" stereotype from the grave of history, where it rightfully belongs (the article's title: "Some blacks choose Obama inauguration over work"). George Bush is still delusionally happy in his bubble. And Washington, D.C. is preparing for a siege of Obamamaniacs.

Taking that last one first, the status in Washington is fast approaching Officially Freaking Out (in the tradition of acronym-crazy D.C., I will refer to this from now on as "OFO") as they contemplate the city being overrun by Inauguration visitors. To put this in perspective, Washington's population is around 600,000 people. Estimates of the crowd which has even now begun descending on the city range from one million up to three million. Three million people is five times the population of the city. For comparison, take the population of the town or city you live in and multiply it by five. Now picture that many out-of-towners arriving for an event. It's like Woodstock descending on a small town, in other words. Or, if you prefer, a Medieval siege. No word yet on where to park the catapults and trebuchets.

During all of this OFO, George Bush has one last curveball he's planning on throwing across the plate -- hopefully (for him) while nobody's paying any attention. I speak of Bush's final pardons. Because they're coming. The only question Bush refused to answer during his final press conference was about what pardons he's planning on issuing. Meaning there are some doozies, assumably. Will he issue a blanket pardon ("I pardon everyone who worked for me from any laws whatsoever during my entire term in office"), or name names? And when will the announcement come?

So, if you'll pardon me...

OK, I apologize for that, but I just couldn't resist. When will Bush's pardons hit the airwaves? I'm calling for one last round of bets on when the pardons will be announced. Tonight? Fridays are the traditional "take out the trash" day for burying political announcements. Saturday? Sunday, when the Inauguration festivities kick off? Monday, on Martin Luther King Day? Or will he wait until the very last minute and issue them Tuesday morning, hoping nobody will notice?

Place your bets (in quatloos, our usual imaginary currency) in the comments section.

Oh, and one final public service announcement before we begin the awards. Karl Rove apparently has a Twitter account. Who knew? The reason I mention this is because of the extraordinary message which appeared there, asking citizens to send their farewell message to President Bush. So, if you should feel inclined, here is his message (as reported in the War Room column over at Salon):

Send a farewell letter to President Bush--Email [no attachments] and I'll give him your note on January 20.

So, if you've ever wanted to send a message to George W. Bush, you have one final chance to do so. Make of it what you will.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. wins this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, even though he started this effort a few weeks back. Because Conyers seems to be the only Democratic leader in Congress who is interested in investigating the outgoing Bush administration for what it has been doing in our name.

Conyers introduced a bill, H.R.104, which begins with the following proposal:

There is established the National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties (hereinafter in this Act referred to as the "Commission") to investigate the broad range of policies of the Administration of President George W. Bush that were undertaken under claims of unreviewable war powers, including detention by the United States Armed Forces and the intelligence community, the use by the United States Armed Forces or the intelligence community of enhanced interrogation techniques or interrogation techniques not authorized by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, "ghosting" or other policies intended to conceal the fact that an individual has been captured or detained, extraordinary rendition, domestic warrantless electronic surveillance, and other policies that the Commission may determine to be relevant to its investigation (hereinafter in this Act referred to as "the activities").

He followed this effort up by releasing a massive (486 page) report entitled "Reining in the Imperial Presidency: Lessons and Recommendations Relating to the presidency of George W. Bush." If you've got a lot of time on your hands, you can download the full report from the House Judiciary website.

And just today, Conyers penned an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, which sums up and defends his arguments. This op-ed will be the sole talking point this week, because it is that important, and because for all the effort Conyers is putting into this issue, not very much attention is being paid by either the media or the public.

Conyers has, to date, gotten only 14 co-sponsors for H.R.104, from over 250 fellow House Democrats. That is pathetic. Rather than congratulating Conyers on winning the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, please instead read the full story and contact your own House member if they're not already on the list. They are listening. Since I first wrote about H.R.104, three more House members have signed on. So, please, do your part to convince yours to do the same.

This one comes with a heaping side dish of irony.

The man Barack Obama wants as Secretary of the Treasury -- who will be in charge of the Internal Revenue Service as a result -- couldn't figure out his own taxes.

Now, Timothy Geithner has admitted his mistake and paid up (with interest), and his reputation of all-around-smart-guy means he's going to be confirmed by the Senate. They (tastefully) moved his confirmation after Obama's swearing-in, so as not to distract from the festivities, and the Washington conventional wisdom is that he faces no real problems getting confirmed.

But, when you think about it, it's pretty instructive. Our federal income tax system is so unbelievably complicated that the guy who is smarter than anyone else on the economy cannot manage to figure out how much he owes. The tax code, to be blunt, is written to such a level of complexity both as job security for accountants and to disguise the massive loopholes which individual businesses or industries manage to strong-arm (or bribe) Congress into writing for them.

Sigh. So while the "most disappointing" thing is the tax code itself, for his mini-scandal with the unpaid taxes, Timothy Geithner wins the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

To receive your award, Mr. Geithner, simply fill out form "FTP-2009/MDDOTW/rev.4" and file it (in triplicate), and your award will be in the mail soon after. No, I'm sorry we don't have a blank form for you. No, it's not available online, sorry. When we get your form, you'll get your award, how's that?

Volume 61 (1/16/09)

All of our Friday Talking Points this week are excerpts from John Conyers' op-ed article in today's Washington Post. This article seems to have undergone a title change, as my browser window's title says "Learning the Lessons of the Bush Imperial Presidency," but now the article itself seems to have the new, less-controversial title "Why We Have to Look Back."

But whatever you call it, Conyers has admirably laid out his case for why we must not simply sweep the Bush presidency -- and what they did in our name -- under the rug of history. Read the full article from the above link, or read my additional comments below, but either way I strongly recommend every citizen read what Conyers has written.

The Imperial Presidency of George Bush

That word -- "imperial" -- is not used lightly by Conyers, which he explains up front. By framing the issue in this manner, it is obvious why it cannot be ignored. The issue is not Bush or Cheney. The issue is the presidency itself.

This week, I released "Reining in the Imperial Presidency," a 486-page report detailing the abuses and excesses of the Bush administration and recommending steps to address them. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. popularized the term "imperial presidency" in the 1970s to describe an executive who had assumed more power than the Constitution allows and circumvented the checks and balances fundamental to our three-branch system of government. Until recently, the Nixon administration seemed to represent a singular embodiment of the idea. Unfortunately, it is clear that the threat of the imperial presidency lives on and, indeed, reached new heights under George W. Bush.

Laws were broken

Conyers lays out the case against Bush admirably. We went to war. We were lied to. The intelligence was stovepiped. Politics was more important than justice. Laws were broken. The veil of secrecy must be lifted. Straight talk of this nature is fairly rare in Washington, which is why it deserves a spotlight when it happens.

As this report documents, there was the administration's contrived drive to a needless war of aggression with Iraq, based on manipulated intelligence and facts that were "fixed around the policy." There was its politicization of the Justice Department; unconscionable and possibly illegal policies on detention, interrogation and extraordinary rendition; warrantless wiretaps of American citizens; the ravaging of our regulatory system and the use of signing statements to override the laws of the land; and the intimidation and silencing of critics and whistle-blowers who dared to tell fellow citizens what was being done in their name. And all of this was hidden behind an unprecedented veil of secrecy and outlandish claims of privilege.

Just moving on is not an option

Conyers then attacks the most pervasive reasoning being used against what he is proposing -- which is coming from a lot of Democrats, media types, and other inside-the-Beltway critters.

I understand that many feel we should just move on. They worry that addressing these actions by the Bush administration will divert precious energy from the serious challenges facing our nation. I understand the power of that impulse. Indeed, I want to move on as well -- there are so many things that I would rather work on than further review of Bush's presidency. But in my view it would not be responsible to start our journey forward without first knowing exactly where we are.

Continue current congressional investigations

Conyers then lays out three goals he wants to see accomplished. The first can be summed up as "don't drop the ball" on things Congress is already looking into. Just because the Bush people will be out of power is no excuse to just give up. The powers of these two branches of government hang in the balance.

First, Congress should continue to pursue its document requests and subpoenas that were stonewalled under President Bush. Doing so will make clear that no executive can forever hide its misdeeds from the public.

Appoint an independent commission

A "truth commission" is needed to find out exactly what went on in our name. It should be independent and bipartisan, much like the 9/11 commission. Oh, and (he doesn't say this here, but he does elsewhere) it needs to have subpoena power.

Second, Congress should create an independent blue-ribbon panel or similar body to investigate a host of previously unreviewable activities of the Bush administration, including its detention, interrogation and surveillance programs. Only by chronicling and confronting the past in a comprehensive, bipartisan fashion can we reclaim our moral authority and establish a credible path forward to meet the complex challenges of a post-Sept. 11 world.

Appoint a special prosecutor, if needed

His last goal is that the incoming Justice Department look into what laws may have been broken, and what to do about it.

Third, the new administration should conduct an independent criminal probe into whether any laws were broken in connection with these activities. Just this week, in the pages of this newspaper, a Guantanamo Bay official acknowledged that a suspect there had been "tortured" -- her exact word -- in apparent violation of the law. The law is the law, and, if criminal conduct occurred, those responsible -- particularly those who ordered and approved the violations -- must be held accountable.

It's not about the past -- it's about the future

And finally, Conyers ends with the core reason why this needs doing (and why this may be the last chance we ever have to find out what exactly was done by Bush and company). It's not about the past. It's not about Bush and Cheney. It's about whether we should ever allow this sort of thing to happen, ever again. And how to prevent it. It's the separation of powers between two branches of our government. And every single elected official swears an oath to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America." Meaning it is an obligation which cannot be ignored, shirked, or "moved on" from.

Some day, there is bound to be another national security crisis in America. A future president will face the same fear and uncertainty that we did after Sept. 11, 2001, and will feel the same temptation to believe that the ends justify the means -- temptation that drew our nation over to the "dark side" under the leadership of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. If those temptations are to be resisted -- if we are to face new threats in a manner that keeps faith with our values and strengthens rather than diminishes our authority around the world -- we must fully learn the lessons of our recent past.

Chris Weigant blogs at:

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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground

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