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Archive for the ‘ethics’ Category

Precedent, ethics and Kucinich’s articles of impeachment

Posted by Jon on 7 November, 2007

Dennis Kucinich is truly one of the few people to hold an elected office – certainly at the national level – who exhibits any character today.

Yesterday (2007-11-06) Kucinich introduced articles to impeach Dick Cheney, charging that he warped intelligence to lead us into a war. Of course, the boundary line for “sane” and “delusional” in America today ought to be whether one considers these charges to be self-evident or not.

Kucinich has apparently introduced similar articles in the past – actually just after the Democrats gained a majority in Congress – and they have languished on the House Judiciary Committee’s table since at least April. You can thank Nancy Pelosi and almost all other Democrats and Republicans in office for blocking motion on this issue.

Of course, yesterday’s articles will also probably be tabled and never truly debated. That Kucinich got to read them into the record on the House floor at all seems due to an odd circumstance wherein many Republicans ended up voting to accept the bill for debate and send it to committee, rather than tabling it without consideration. [Watch Kucinich read the articles on cspan] This may be due to the perception (and I firmly believe it is a false perception, or at least pray it is a false perception) that actually proceeding to debate on impeachment would harm the Democrats politically because Americans don’t desire impeachment. [See discussion at Daily Kos]

One of the core problems we face, however, is that the Democrats in general are no less complicit in the crimes which have been perpetrated than are the Republicans. They could, relatively easily, defund the war. They could actually choose not to confirm Attorney General nominees who waffle about the nature and legality of torture. As Arthur Silber at “Once Upon a Time…” discusses, that they do not take any such actions, even when popular sentiment supports them, is evidence that most Beltway Democrats are just as committed to the basic cause of imperial rule as the Republicans. They differ primarily in their cohesion, and in quibbling over the means of imperialism abroad and corporatist authoritarianism (i.e., fascism) at home.

The worst of it all is that impeachment will probably never happen. Even if the war is ended and things get a bit better temporarily (I’m not holding my breath), without at least impeachment and removal from office – and more preferably, removal and prosecution for war crimes – the door is open for someone with even more chutzpah than Bush & Co. to push even further. Everyone has heard of Caesar, but Caesar could not have made bid for supreme power as he did a century earlier. The checks and balances of the Roman Republic were still strong enough that a would-be tyrant would probably end up dead, exiled or otherwise broken, assuming that the more widely distributed power base of earlier centuries could have been overcome by one man.

But I’d guess that most people aren’t as familiar with Lucious Cornelious Sulla, the Roman aristocrat who ruled as dictator from 82-80 BC. Sulla led an interesting life – he was sold into slavery at one point; later, he was a very successful general. During his dictatorship he began the practice of publishing proscription lists of people he had decided were threats to the state or to himself. After his reign of terror resulted in the death or exile of virtually all opponents, he stepped down, restored constitutional government and led a generally quiet and peaceful retirement (although he still “consulted,” and his advice was generally taken as a command). Sulla himself committed many injustices, though he seems to have believed his actions necessary for the survival of Rome (don’t all tyrants?). In Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, Tom Holland describes his real legacy:

Sulla had given the Romans their first glimpse of what it might mean to be the subjects of an autocrat, and it had proved a frightening and salutary one. This was a discovery that could never be unmade. After the proscriptions, no one could doubt what the extreme consequence of the Roman appetite for competition and glory might be, not only for Rome’s enemies but for her citizens themselves. What had once been unthinkable now lurked at the back of every Roman’s mind: “Sulla could do it. Why can’t I?” [p. 106; emphasis added]

Bush is no Sulla – Sulla at least distinguished himself as a general and earned the loyalty of his troops by looking out for their interests, which was one reason they backed him. But if he is less of a leader, the precedent he sets is equally potent for future generations. Presidential candidates now debate the semantics of the word “torture”, with the implication that if they can define torture narrowly enough it is acceptable. That their “evidence” in arguing for the merits of torture is a television show simply underlines the insanity of the age. The gap between the top and the bottom in a nation the size of the United States is perhaps much greater than that in ancient Rome, where politics was a more personal matter. Most of us don’t look at Bush and realistically think we can climb to the top to rule supreme over an empire. But as the Florida “Don’t taze me bro” incident and countless others show, there are many petty little tyrants who are now inspired to rule their little turfs without shame.

To come back to Kucinich: impeachment is the minimal line in the sand. Without some tangible action to hold people at the top accountable, our society and our ethics will only fall further into the mud. If Bush & Co. retire gracefully as Sulla did, the precedent is set and the lesson that power is its own justification will be impressed into the American psyche. Only if Bush & Co. are thrown out of office (even if belatedly) and prosecuted fully can we avoid that outcome; and further, we have the opportunity to set a different precedent: that unconscionable behavior will draw opposition and that such opposition can be strong enough to prevail. Without such actions, “government of the people, by the people and for the people” has already perished from the Earth.


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Posted by Jon on 14 October, 2007

A lecture by Lawrence Lessig about his new project on corruption – worth listening to:

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Posted by Jon on 5 October, 2007

Every time I try blogging for any length of time, I end up abandoning the project. This isn’t a conscious choice; I just end up not logging in, forgetting to talk about something I wanted to discuss, then feeling guilty and avoiding it. The same happens – and I guess I actually ought to feel guilty about this – with personal correspondence, and even calling people who live in the same town, but whom I don’t have a regular habit of seeing.

This is most frustrating to me!

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Solon’s Ten Ethical Dicta

Posted by Jon on 8 July, 2007

I’d never encountered what this site is calling Solon’s Ten Commandments, but I have to say they are a much better prescription for living than is the Mosaic Decalogue.

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