Tag Archives: Bill Clinton

I Sight

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Over the past few months the dreaded “I” word has been floating across the nation: impeachment.  As in the impeachment of President Donald Trump – which sounds pretty good – because his words and actions have put the U.S. in a precarious global position – because he really wasn’t elected to the office – because he’s an obnoxious bastard.  Okay, that last one is more of a personal opinion.  And, of course, we all have a right to that!

But talk of impeaching the president of the United States is like warning Americans about visiting North Korea: don’t go there.  Forcibly removing the president from office was a rare topic of discussion – even among politicians – until the 1970s.  But, after the Watergate left a bitterly angry taste in the mouths of the American populace, impeachment has been tossed around as often as limes at a Mexican barbecue.

Since Watergate, only one sitting U.S. president has faced a concerted attempt at impeachment: Bill Clinton.  And that was only because he engaged in an eel-hunting adventure with a perky, overweight intern, which culminated in a blue dress wardrobe malfunction before anyone invented the term.

Yet, as much as I despise Trump and as little as I thought of George W. Bush, I would look at anyone who talks of impeachment with concern.  Do you realize how serious that is?  Do you understand exactly what it takes to oust such a person from the White House?  It’s almost like a military coup; the kind that occurs in third-world nations.  Think Cuba or the Philippines.  Yes, that kind.  It’s nowhere near as bloody and violent; we use pens and roll-call votes here, instead of guns and machetes.  But it remains a complex and arduous task.

Keep in mind that, aside from Clinton, only 2 other U.S. presidents have faced impeachment: Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon.  The key term here is faced impeachment.  To date, no sitting president has actually been removed from office by impeachment.  The House of Representatives has the sole power of impeaching the president, while the U.S. Senate has the sole power of trying impeachments.  This all occurs under rules of law established in the Constitution; therefore, no single branch of government possesses omniscient power to remove a sitting president.

The first step, obviously, is to identify what acts performed by the president qualify as “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”  The House votes on articles of impeachment.  If there is just one article, it requires a two-thirds majority of House members.  But, if there are two or more articles of impeachment, only one of them needs to garner a majority to induce impeachment.  Nixon came very close to actually being removed from office.  But he resigned after the House voted in August of 1974.

Second, the proceedings move to the Senate where an actual trial is held.  The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court oversees the case, as they would any other legal matter.  Here, a team of lawmakers from the House serves in a prosecutorial role, while the Senate is technically the jury.  The president has his or her own lawyers.  Once all sides have presented their arguments, the matter is handed to the Senate.  If at least two-thirds of Senators vote in favor of the articles, then the president is removed from office, and the vice-president assumes the presidency.

This isn’t punishment for being tardy.  The U.S. likes to present itself as a beacon of democracy for the world; a master of political dignity and fairness.  If we are compelled to remove our own national leader from office, what does that say about our voting system?  What does it say about the concept of democracy altogether?  Is the presidential vetting process so pathetic that we can’t identify someone with a criminal mindset beforehand?

Elizabeth Holtzman is a former U.S. congresswoman from New York.  In 1974, she was on the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach Nixon.  In a 2006 essay entitled “The Impeachment of George W. Bush,” she not only describes the arduous process of removing a sitting president from office, but also the emotional toll it took on everyone in both houses of congress at the time.

“I can still remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach during those proceedings,” she wrote, “when it became clear that the President had so systematically abused the powers of the presidency and so threatened the rule of law that he had to be removed from office.  As a Democrat who opposed many of President Nixon’s policies, I still found voting for his impeachment to be one of the most sobering and unpleasant tasks I ever had to undertake.  None of the members of the committee took pleasure in voting for impeachment; after all, Democrat or Republican, Nixon was still our President.”

Curiously, she goes on to state, “At the time, I hoped that our committee’s work would send a strong signal to future Presidents that they had to obey the rule of law.  I was wrong.”

In this regard, she was discussing the possible impeachment of George W. Bush.  I can think of no other Chief Executive in modern times who exhibited such incompetence and corruptness as our 43rd president.  That he got into office under dubious circumstances in the first place is enough to question the integrity of our electoral process.  That he managed to remain there, despite mounting evidence of war crimes, is anathema to the grander concept of democracy.  I’ve always said that, if the Democrats had at least made a concerted attempt to remove Bush from office, they wouldn’t just appear heroic in the eyes of their constituents; they also would have upheld the rule of law governing all institutions.

Remember that congressional Republicans tried to remove Bill Clinton for lying about his sexual dalliances.  It was an incredibly one-sided, vindictive assault on democracy – all because the man didn’t want the world to know he’d screwed around on his wife and because right-wing extremists didn’t like him, no matter what he happened.  You’re going to impeach him for THAT?!  Then-House leader Newt Gingrich – who was married to his third wife with whom he’d cheated on his second wife – had led the cavalcade of self-righteous Republicans.  He and his constituents paid for their hypocrisy when they lost their super-majorities in both Houses of Congress in the 1998 elections.

Watching the Trump presidency collapse around the real estate magnate-turned-reality-TV-star is almost laughable.  But it’s not that funny.  His behavioral quirks and fetish for name-calling are hallmarks of social ineptitude and, perhaps, mental instability.  As with George W. Bush, that Trump actually made it into the White House is an insult to the core of the institution of democracy.  Growing evidence shows that Russia interfered with the 2016 U.S. elections.  Exactly how they did it has yet to be discovered – or revealed.  But I honestly believe the Trump presidency is a fluke.

In his novel, “Shibumi,” author Trevanian (Rodney William Whitaker) relays the incredible tale of Nicholai Hel, a Shanghai-born spy of Russian – German heritage who is the world’s most accomplished assassin.  After surviving the carnage of the Hiroshima bombing, Hel retreats to a lavish and isolated mountain citadel with his beautiful Eurasian mistress.  But he’s coaxed back into the netherworld of international espionage by a young woman.  Hel soon learns, however, that he’s being tracked by a mysterious and omnipotent global entity known simply as the “Mother Company.”  The “Company” is a composite of corporate giants that installs leaders in key nations – even those in the developed world – manipulates the markets for such necessities as food and oil and incites wars whenever it deems appropriate.  The conflict between Hel and the “Mother Company” becomes something akin to a board game, where millions of lives are used as toys for the benefit of a few powerful elitists.

I keep thinking we’re already dealing with that type of set-up; that Bush, Jr., was placed into office, so we could go to war in Iraq and gain access to their oil reserves, and that Trump was planted in the White House for whatever machinations the Russian government has underway.

But I still want everyone to be careful with the “I” word.  It really is just a small step from undergoing the lengthy route of impeaching a president to rigging his limousine with explosives – like they do in those unstable third-world societies.  Democracy is a difficult political state to establish.  It’s even more difficult to maintain.  It doesn’t function on its own; it simply can’t.

This mess we’re in may provide great material for standup comics.  But it also presents us with an ethical dilemma.  Again, I ask, do we truly understand how serious this talk of impeachment is?

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Happy Birthday Bill Clinton!

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President Bill Clinton was born on this day in 1946. Here are some of my favorite quotes from him:

 

“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right in America.”

“If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But, if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.”

“Sometimes when people are under stress, they hate to think, and it’s the time when they most need to think.”

“It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics, because discrimination, poverty and ignorance restrict growth, while investments in education, infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase it, creating more good jobs and new wealth for all of us.”

“Let us all take more responsibility, not only for ourselves and our families but for our communities and our country.”

“Character is a journey, not a destination.”

“Work is about more than making a living, as vital as that is. It’s fundamental to human dignity, to our sense of self-worth as useful, independent, free people.”

“When times are tough, constant conflict may be good politics but in the real world, cooperation works better. After all, nobody’s right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day.”

“Strength and wisdom are not opposing values.”

“When I think about the world I would like to leave to my daughter and the grandchildren I hope to have, it is a world that moves away from unequal, unstable, unsustainable interdependence to integrated communities – locally, nationally and globally – that share the characteristics of all successful communities.”

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The Worst Legacy

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This past April marked twenty years since the death of President Richard M. Nixon, which came nearly two decades after he became the first Chief Executive in U.S. history to resign from office. That ignominious fortieth anniversary is coming up next month. It’s not something to be celebrated. The Watergate affair that brought him down has left an indelible stain on both American politics and the soul of the American people. Those of us in the 50 and under crowd have pretty much grown up in a world suspicious and even hostile towards all levels of government. The over 50 crowd helped build and fuel that distrust after a brutal sense of betrayal for a nation that set itself up more than two centuries ago as a beacon of democracy and freedom.

I’ve always said Watergate burned whatever bridges of faith and trust the American public had in their elected officials. But, the wicked uncertainty actually began the moment President John F. Kennedy had his head blown apart by an assassin’s bullets and Jacqueline Kennedy clambered onto the trunk of the presidential limousine in Dallas on November 22, 1963. The ensuing Warren Commission Report hoped to quell doubts that the murder was anything but the act of one deranged ex-Marine with delusions of grandeur. Yet, people saw it for what it really was: a rush to judgment. Americans weren’t so gullible anymore. The quagmire in Vietnam; the various energy crises of the 1970s; and the absolute failures of the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter Administrations (the latter burdened by the ineptness of the Iran hostage ordeal) only sealed the fate of Americans’ general distrust of their government.

Ronald Reagan fed off that fear like a lion gorging on a sick zebra and metamorphosed it into two successful political campaigns. One of his most popular statements, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help’,” resonated strongly with the frustrated masses. Indeed, he had a point. But, Reagan’s own professional disconnect and ineffectiveness – Iran-contra, covert U.S. involvement in Central American conflicts, ignoring the AIDS epidemic, a pathetic war on pornography – placed him in the same pantheon of “Them.”

Almost from the moment Bill Clinton announced his candidacy for president, Republicans took retribution against their Democratic counterparts over Watergate by targeting Clinton every chance they could. They dissected the Whitewater deal and found – nothing. So, they turned to First Lady Hillary Clinton and manufactured something called “Travelgate.” When that didn’t work, they pounced on the events surrounding the suicide of Vince Foster; dragging the memory of a man who may have had severe emotional problems into their cesspool of arrogance and striving fruitlessly to twist it into an evil political plot. Alas, in 1998, they zeroed in on something totally unrelated to politics: the Monica Lewinsky affair and tried to impeach Clinton over a tawdry sexual indiscretion. The final report by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr read like a soft-core porn novel. I remember looking at that mess and thinking, “They want to impeach a U.S. president over that?! A blowjob?!”

We see that stubbornness now with the likes of House Speaker John Boehner and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. They complain that President Obama has no viable plans to help the U.S. economy, for example, but stand in their buckets of ideological cement and won’t budge. Thus, Obama (slowly growing some semblance of a backbone) has been forced to invoke executive privileges to get the work done. Now, Boehner is threatening to sue him because of it! I remember Boehner repeatedly asking, “Where are the jobs?” But, when Obama wanted the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans to expire at the end of 2010, Republicans balked and threatened to block extension of unemployment benefits, which were also set to expire at the end of that year; thus holding struggling Americans hostage. Obama relented, and the wealthiest citizens continued to see their after-tax incomes grow, while average Americans continued to lose their jobs and their homes.

The administration of George W. Bush solidified, in my mind, the corruptness and intransigence of the U.S. government. The 09/11 horror compelled many Americans to question what our government officials know and what they’re doing about it. That the Bush Administration then tied the 09/11 affair to Iraq’s alleged development of nuclear and / or chemical weapons convinced so many of us that our government is willing to go to extreme lengths to obfuscate and mislead just to embolden its own agenda. They tap-danced on the dead bodies of the innocent people who hurtled themselves from the World Trade Center’s burning Twin Towers and merely wiped the blood of soldiers from the millions of dollars they earned from oil revenue.

Bush was a puppet president; a doll adorned in designer business suits and propped up with ersatz ‘Mission Accomplished’ bravado. I almost feel sorry for him. Even he said, after leaving the White House, that he felt “liberated.”

Obama hasn’t done much better. At least he’s more verbally adept than Bush. But, I wish he’d make the time to rummage through his wife’s cache of designer handbags for his gonads before telling John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, “Fuck you. I’m president of the United States. I run this shit here – not you guys.”

It bothers me, for example, that we’re still entrenched in Afghanistan. I feel we should have bombed the crap out of them twelve years ago – damn their civilians, including the children and women, because they didn’t care about ours – and then leave. Maybe airdrop a few high-protein biscuits and bottled water into the mountainside, just to show we’re not complete assholes and go about our own business.

But, it bothers me even more that Obama hasn’t empowered Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the causes of the near-total economic collapse in 2008. The worst financial downturn since the 1930s didn’t happen because someone on the Dow Jones trading floor accidentally unplugged a computer before the end of the business day because they needed to do a software upgrade. It resulted from a multitude of events; such as hefty tax cuts for that “job-creating” 1%; extreme deregulation of the housing and banking industries; and the billions of dollars on the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Except for a handful of notable exceptions – Bernie Madoff, Mark Dreier – no one has been held accountable for the “Great Recession.” But, if I walk into a local convenience store with a toy gun and rob the Pakistani clerk of fifty bucks, I could spend thirty years in prison. I believe there were other more diabolical machinations in play, beginning in 2001, that caused the economic downturn. Yes, economies endure cycles of bull and bear markets. But, this fiasco wasn’t just cyclical, like rainfall. Somebody did something, and it wasn’t by accident.

In February 2012, Maine Senator Olympia Snowe stunned her constituents by announcing that she wouldn’t seek reelection that year. She didn’t hesitate to explain why: the level of hostility and unwillingness to compromise in the U.S. Congress had become unbearable. To her, I guess, it wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. It was a shame. Snowe was one of the most level-headed politicians in Washington, regardless of party affiliation. She was willing to listen to and work with all of her colleagues. But, many of them just didn’t seem to share the same ethic.

I still say it all goes back to Watergate. Nixon and his band of henchmen were determined to keep the president in power, as the 1972 elections neared. Nixon had a modest tenure as Vice-President under Dwight Eisenhower, but suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the upstart Kennedy in 1960. When he lost the California governor’s race in 1962, he vowed to exit public life altogether, loudly proclaiming, “You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore.” But, he just couldn’t stay away. He loved the political game and desperately wanted the presidency. His dogged ambition put him in the White House six years after the California debacle – and forced him back out six years later.

Things have never been the same since. And, we still can’t bring ourselves to trust anyone in government.

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Quote of the Day

“Nobody has seen a communist in over a decade.”

– Former President Bill “Puff Daddy” Clinton, mocking Republicans for failing to reprimand Rep. Allen West, R-FL, when he charged that as many as 80 Democrats in Congress are members of the Communist Party.

I have to agree.  I haven’t seen a communist since I got laid off from a major bank in 2001.

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