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by Dan DeWalt
As the U.S. Congress continues to waste its time focusing on erased football tapes instead of erased torture tapes, and fighting to maintain the sanctity of a steroid free home run record, rather than the sanctity of the Constitution, citizen uprisings are now emerging across New England.
Betty Hall’s H24 impeachment resolution is scheduled for a floor fight in the New Hampshire House on March 12. On March 4, Brattleboro and Marlboro Vermont citizens passed resolutions calling on their towns’
governing bodies to issue indictments for the arrest of Bush/Cheney for the crimes that Congress refuses to prosecute. And in Kennebunkport Maine, Senate candidate Laurie Dobson has petitioned the board of selectmen to put the indictment article on their town meeting warning slated for June 2.
Two weeks ago, New Hampshire citizens made their first big push to get impeachment back on the table when close to a hundred overflowed a statehouse hearing room to testify in favor of Representative Hall’s resolution, calling for the impeachment of the President and Vice President. This resolution cites paragraph 603 in the parliamentary rules of Jefferson’s manual, which Congress still adheres to today. Jefferson recognized that there would be times when the executive and legislative branches could become corrupted and unreliable to protect the Constitution. So he made special provision for the branch of state government that is most directly related to the people - the state House of representatives - to be able to draft impeachment resolutions and send them to the U.S. Congress as a privileged motion, going directly to the floor of the Congress for debate and action. In over four hours of testimony, citizens representing every part of the political spectrum, from the John Birch Society to Code PINK, voiced their agreement that when the government abandons the Constitution and chooses to live outside of the law, it is the duty of the people, in whose hands sovereignty ultimately lies, to force the Congress to impeach and remove from office the offending administration.
The minority report which came out of that committee hearing remarked on the “multi-partisanship” of those testifying, and committee members said that they had never seen an issue that had united so many disparate points of view. Unfortunately, it was the minority report, because the majority of committee members chose to hew to the national party line of no impeachment, no matter how egregious the crimes.
As word of the hearing spread across the region and nation, thousands of citizens responded with hope and admiration. Often at a rate of one per minute, emails poured into Betty’s mailbox, voicing encouragement and offering support. Rep. Hall hopes to turn these well wishers into a citizens’ lobbying effort, asking all who wrote to contact their House reps. and urge them to consider the nation, not their party leaders when the vote comes next week.
In the meantime, concerned citizens in southern Vermont had drafted a resolution calling for their towns to issue indictments for the arrest of Bush and Cheney if they are not impeached. In spite of an initial firestorm of protest, orchestrated in part by right wing radio talking heads, the good citizens of Brattleboro and Marlboro voted decisively in favor of the resolution, and now it lies in the hands of their local governments to figure out the next plausible step in bringing these men to account. There is no manual that outlines this tactic that the Vermonters could point to for justification. Instead, they, just like our nation’s founders when faced with repeated appeals for redress being ignored by their government, crafted their own approach, trusting in the universal recognition that war crimes and crimes of a government against its own Constitution are untenable and must be remedied by any means available. Again, the general public, hearing of this initiative, responded overwhelmingly, flooding the town of Brattleboro’s email box with over 8000 responses, with a strong majority in support of the citizens’ actions. Within hours of the successful vote, organizers found themselves answering queries from people in other localities across the nation, asking how they could replicate the process in their towns.
Now it’s the turn of Kennebunkport. Although Republicans are the majority of town voters, Senate candidate Dobson is launching a petition drive get the indictment resolution on their June town meeting. She understands that Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike share a love of the Constitution and believe that no man, including the President and Vice President, are above the law.
One year ago, after forty Vermont town meetings had called for impeachment, Vermonters asked their legislature to issue a call for impeachment to the Congress. When the legislature refused to act, Vermonters responded first by overwhelming the Senate chamber with their bodies and voices, and the Senate recognized the validity of their arguments and passed an impeachment resolution. The Vermont House was more recalcitrant. Speaker Gaye Symington informed us that she would in no way take up such a resolution. In response, over 400 Vermonters flooded the golden domed House chamber, forcing Symington to reverse her stand and allow a vote. Unfortunately, she outmaneuvered the people by keeping House members in the dark about the vote until the day before, thus limiting informed debate, and the measure fell short of passage in the House.
The cowardice and ineptitude of our politicians have allowed the nation to now reach a point where the lawless and unconstitutional actions of the administration are more brazen than ever. The occupation of Iraq is entering its sixth year. One million Iraqis have perished, as well as over 4000 Americans, with many tens of thousands injured, traumatized and facing a bleak future of surviving as wounded souls, with little or no assistance from the government that lied to them and used them as fodder.
These citizens movements that are demanding impeachment action by our Congress, and, barring that, taking it upon themselves to instruct their municipalities to take the necessary actions to hold our “leaders” accountable are just the tip of the iceberg. We cannot wait for one more year of criminality, torture and murder to pass unchecked.
Each time we see that our efforts for redress are ignored, be they letters to representatives, protest marches at home and in Washington D. C., or lobbying at our statehouse, we will escalate our efforts, devise new approaches, and make such a noise unto the land that the undeserving and cowardly government currently in power will have to give way, making room for a new order that trumpets not American hegemony, but American principles grounded in universal law and human rights.
If ever there was a Democrat who should quit his party, it’s my congressman, John Larson, of Connecticut. He made an appearance in West Hartford yesterday before an audience of about 35, in which he invoked the wisdom of 20th Century statesman George Kennan to lament his subordination to the moral ambiguities of leadership. Questions of accountability dominated the discussion. Accountability for the breakdown of the economy. Accountability for the state of foreign relations. Accountability for war. Accountability for crime.
Larson began with a ten-minute speech. First came a discussion of the economic “stimulus” that the leaders are currently prescribing. Conceding that it will probably be ineffective, he said it was a starting point. He seems to realize (but didn’t say) that a cash infusion from a government that’s already deeply in debt can bring only temporary relief and will probably be injurious over the long term. The “stimulus” won’t reach the neediest of the needy and won’t cover more than a single payment on a delinquent mortgage. Larson tried to hide his feeling of powerlessness over the situation, but he was unsuccessful, at least from where I sat.
There was some discussion in the speech of the war and Larson’s opposition to it, but no detailed discussion of the plight of the soldiers and their families. He expressed the popular view that resources being spent on war could more profitably be applied to the public infrastructure–roads, bridges, schools–now in a state of abject disrepair. He spoke briefly about accountability and how many hearings were being held in the various committees, but he couldn’t bring himself to utter the word “impeachment.”
I looked at the clock and glanced around the room when the microphone got passed to the audience, and there was more than an hour and half, with only a fourth of the chairs occupied. I’d definitely get to ask a question and maybe two. Yeah, right.
Either by force of habit or as a means of limiting discussion of controversial topics, Larson never gives an answer less than five minutes long, and most are much longer. He never answers directly, but, schoolteacher that he is, brings in quotes and anecdotes, along with digressions and personal observations, sometimes leaving the interlocuter wondering whether he actually heard the question.
The first question from the audience, on why Larson should support impeachment as a means of ending the war, elicited a ten-minute reply. To make a long story short, the member is waiting for guidance from on high. Committees are engaged, including John Conyers’ judiciary committee, which is where impeachment must start, and Conyers, Larson, Pelosi, and the rest don’t want to get tripped up. Larson admits that he and Conyers are fearful of the political consequences if they confront Bush and lose, and so they’re proceeding slowly.
The subject turned repeatedly from impeachment, when audience members spoke about public access TV, the death of Suharto, the strain on the armed forces, and Bush’s notorious signing statements, but it kept coming back to the crimes of Bush and Cheney. One persistent questioner used the word “spineless” to describe Nancy Pelosi, House speaker, and Larson hollered at her. He apologized later, but he brooks no criticism of his long-time ally.
He had to take some flak for his endorsement of Barack Obama, including barbs from a constituent who doesn’t believe Obama can win. Larson polled the audience, and 80 percent said they were voting for Obama. He mentioned, as a reason for his endorsement, Obama’s willingness to use the armed forces as tool of diplomacy, giving the audience something to think about, but in almost the same breath, he expressed approval of the British approach to military affairs, in which the broad international consequences of various strategies are taken into account.
Larson strikes me as a man with an assigned place in a heirarchy, and he’s limited by it, rather than empowered. He’s limited in what he can advocate and in what he can say. He knows but can’t say aloud that the president and vice president are thugs. He’s plagued by moral ambiguities, but he can’t discuss them in detail. When asked whether he believes it was a crime to send soldiers into combat on a pretext, he couldn’t say. His audience didn’t see any moral ambiguity here–war based on lies is murder–but John Larson is reserving judgment until the heirarchy moves. He’s willing to call Iraq the greatest foreign policy blunder in our history, but he won’t say it’s criminal. Like a cop in a corrupt town, he’s not going to accuse well-placed wrongdoers unless he’s sure he can make something stick. It’s not a bold or principled approach to law enforcement, but there’s ample precedent for it. There was a time when Democrats could point to principle as a unifying force, but that time is long past, and the person who lives inside Congressman John Larson is paying a high price for the transformation.
Congressman John B. Larson, Connecticut Democrat, was presented yesterday with a set of pointed questions challenging his stated position on the impeachment of the President of the United States. Larson has told local impeachment advocates that the Congress has more important things to do and that it’s too late to hold the executive branch accountable.
The questions, twelve in all, originated with a group calling itself “Greater Hartford Impeach.” In a document signed on-line by 27 additional petitioners, 12 of whom vote in Larson’s 1st district, the group challenges Larson to acknowledge (or refuse to acknowledge) that it’s a crime to lie to Congress, to hold prisoners without legal process, to torture captives in the course of interrogation, to apply pressure to federal prosecutors over prosecutorial decisions, and to instruct federal employees to ignore federal laws, among other acts of presidential misconduct enumerated by the group.
Larson is asked to acknowledge that the House of Representatives has sole law enforcement authority over crimes committed by a president and malfeasance by the commander-in-chief. He is challenged to answer whether his failure to hold this president accountable will set a precedent for lawlessness in future administrations, and he is asked explicitly whether it is his intention by his inaction to create a presidency that is above the law.
The spokesman for Greater Hartford Impeach, Hartford lawyer Stephen Fournier, had asked twice for a brief personal audience with the congressman, but staff members who promised to reply never called back. Fournier left the 12 questions with aides in Larson’s Hartford office Monday afternoon.
“It appears that big-d Democrats are more interested in the outcome of the next presidential election than in the future of the presidency, the Congress, and our small-d democratic system,” said Fournier. “My congressman must be held accountable for refusing to discharge his constitutional duties. To this end, I am forming a political action committee whose purpose will be to remind John Larson of his responsibilities and replace him if necessary.”
Fournier says he is making himself available as a candidate for Larson’s seat, but only tentatively. “There are more qualified people than me who haven’t considered the possibility of taking on Larson. This move might empower somebody,” said Fournier. “I want Larson to face the strongest possible opponent who will confront the racketeers that now control Congress. I’ll do it if nobody else will.”
Fournier–former Democrat, former Republican, now Green–made himself a write-in candidate for Larson’s seat in 2006, receiving fewer than 100 votes. Fournier vows that, “in 2008, Larson will face an opponent who is an articulate and passionate advocate of the rule of law and whose name will appear on the ballot. In the last election, Larson could blame the Republican majority, but that excuse evaporated a year ago. Our political action committee will mount a frontal attack on Larson’s performance in office, and we will warn voters in the district about the dire consequences to our nation if we continue on the course Larson and his party have been following.”
A staffer in Nancy Pelosi’s Washington, DC, office denies reports circulating on the Internet that she will put impeachment back on the table if she receives 10,000 handwritten letters demanding it.
The aide told me by telephone that members of Pelosi’s staff are aware of the report, which says that Pelosi made the statement in response to a question, but the aide wouldn’t confirm that the Speaker herself was aware of it. He said the report is ”baseless” and that she never made such a statement.
The aide wouldn’t say whether the staff would count the letters received, but he assured me that every letter gets opened, and if 10,000 letters show up, they’re not going to just toss them in the basket. So don’t feel used if you sent such a letter (as I did). In fact, Pelosi’s response may be another good reason to send a letter if you haven’t already, even knowing she won’t heed it.
I’m trying to arrange a face-to-face meeting with John Larson, member of Congress from my district, to ask him a dozen questions. (more…)