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News item: Former Attorney General and early-onset Alzheimer’s poster-boy Alberto Gonzales will be writing a tell-all book “to set the record straight about his controversial tenure as a senior official in the Bush administration.”

It will be interesting to see how he can set the record straight without putting himself at risk for a perjury conviction, given all those “I can’t recall” answers he gave during sworn testimony before various Congressional committees…

jane doe


About a week ago, I revisited an old friend of sorts. I re-read Antigone on a lazy Saturday afternoon, something I haven’t done in years. It was Paul Roche’s translation of Sophocles’ version of the tale, a battered copy, older than I am, picked up in some used book store years ago, with someone else’s notes in the margins and single words underlined here and there throughout, seemingly at random and not by me.

It’s a play I really wish someone would update and turn into a movie. I’ll spare you the plot synopsis, beyond noting that Antigone is both the daughter and half-sister of the Oedipus of Freudian fame, so her family dynamics could probably make the annual Thanksgiving dinner of the most dysfunctional family you’ve ever known seem Norman Rockwellian in comparison.

The central conflict in the play is the debate about whether it is better to obey the tyrant, who has the power to punish one in very unpleasant ways in the here and now, or to remain true to a higher law or moral principles. It’s about the choice between doing what is right and following orders.

When faced with someone in a position of authority giving orders, most people almost reflexively choose what is easy over what is right. It’s rather depressing really.

Certainly, this is the lesson history has taught us. German soldiers were only following orders when they killed millions of innocent people for the simple crime of being Jewish, or communist, or gay, or a member of some other group that a madman had designated a threat to the state. Yes, some of those orders had seemed, well, wrong, but orders were orders, so what else were they to do?

What else, indeed?

Starting around the time of the 1961 trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, a Yale social psychologist named Stanley Milgram performed a now-legendary series of experiments to assess the general willingness of members of the public to obey authority figures. The results were disturbing, to say the least.

Each volunteer who participated in the study was directed, by a man in a white lab coat with glasses and a clipboard (the scientist), to administer a series of increasingly strong shocks to another “volunteer” (the victim) every time the other person got a wrong answer on a memory task. Both the scientist and the victim were actually actors playing carefully scripted roles. The scientist remained in the room with the volunteer, while the victim went into a different room, where he could be heard but not seen by the volunteer. As the shocks increased in voltage, the volunteer heard sounds of distress from the victim, who also mentioned some sort of “heart condition.” If the volunteer continued to administer the shocks (increasing from a low of 15 volts to a high of 450 volts) long enough, the victim in the next room would eventually fall silent, not responding audibly to either questions or shocks. If the volunteer objected or tried to stop the experiment, he was told the following things, in this order:

  1. Please continue.
  2. The experiment requires that you continue.
  3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
  4. You have no other choice, you must go on.

(Prompts courtesy of Wikipedia, which also has a more detailed description of the experiments.) The volunteer was only given permission to stop if he continued to object after the fourth prompt was given.

The idea was to identify the point at which people would say, “No, I won’t do this.”

Before conducting the experiment, Milgram surveyed both his students and his professional colleagues, asking them to predict the percentage of people who would continue all the way to the 450 volt level. Everyone thought that few if any would proceed all the way through the experiment as it was to be staged, with the average being 1.2 percent. (Again, details courtesy of the Wikipedia entry.)

As I noted before, the experiment was being conducted in 1961, near the time of Eichmann’s trial. The trial certainly would have received a fair amount of press coverage at the time, so theoretically, participants should have been somewhat sensitized to the problems that can arise from just following orders. One would think, or hope, that the colleagues and students were accurate in their predictions, that most of the participants would have at some point refused to continue to administer the shocks.

In the first run of experiments, sixty-five percent of the participants went all the way up to 450 volts.

Sixty-five percent. For the sake of an experiment.

The participants weren’t happy about doing it. They made their concern about the learner’s well-being clear, for the most part. But when prompted by the serious looking man with the clipboard, they kept right on going.

When the initial study was released, it got quite a lot of attention, as you might expect. And there were some at the time who thought students should be taught to question authority, and not just blindly follow orders that were clearly wrong.

Not much came of it, of course. Because the people who are running the country don’t want a bunch of citizens or soldiers or employees questioning their orders all the time. They want obedience from the masses. They want most people to do what they’re told, when they’re told to do it. And so you don’t hear a whole lot about questioning authority or thinking critically in your average high school classroom. Maybe in college. If you’re one of those liberal arts majors, or in political science, or psychology, or some other field that focuses on how people interact with each other. And even then, the focus is usually on skepticism and critical thinking, rather than outright defiance of authority.

I’ve been on a bit of a defying authority kick lately.

Actually, my mother would tell you that’s been a constant theme in my life since I was about five. Not always defying authority, but at least questioning it. The poor woman was mystified by my tendency to disagree with teachers, often rather loudly and at great length, with examples and the odd footnote thrown in. And that was just grade school. But I digress.

In addition to re-reading Antigone, I’ve also been making my way through Sebastian Haffner’s Defying Hitler, which chronicles the author’s experiences in Germany as the Nazis rose to power there. And last week I also pulled out my copy of Abbie Hoffman’s Revolution for the Hell of It, another used book store find, and have been going through that, as well.

Truth be told, my bookshelves are rather full of that sort of reading material, in one form or another. Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench GangLysistrata. Calvin & Hobbes. Dr. Seuss (that Cat in the Hat was a rebel, I tell you). Heck, even those books on Linux are related in a way, as they are part of my ongoing attempt to escape from the tyranny that is Microsoft and Apple.

But I always come back to Antigone.

She’s been my favorite ever since I read Jean Anouilh’s version of the play back in high school. His version was produced in Paris, in February of 1944, while Germany was occupying France and artists and playwrights there were forced to work under the suspicious eyes of Nazi censors. Anouilh’s version of the play was necessarily more nuanced, the ethical lines less clear than earlier versions of the story. The play never would have opened had it been otherwise, at least not before the Nazis were driven out of France. But it was clear enough to the audience what the story was about.

Antigone was the Resistance, Creon the Vichy government.

She’s a difficult character to warm up to. She’s a bit overbearing in her righteousness. And she’s also a bit defiant merely for the sake of being defiant: in the play, the second time she covers her brother’s body with dirt was unnecessary as far as the religious rites were concerned. His spirit would have already moved on. No, the second time, she buries him to make a point: that tyrants should not be obeyed when their edicts are unjust. And she is willing, even proud to sacrifice her life in order to make that point. You kind of have to think, is it really worth your life just to make a political point, when other lives aren’t hanging in the balance at that moment?

But when it comes down to standing up for one’s ideals, very few can hold a candle to her.

It’s just that I can’t help thinking how different the past few years might have been if various people in the upper echelons of our government had been a bit more in touch with their inner Antigone.

Like when Bush and Cheney were trying to start a “preemptive” war with Iraq based upon manipulated intelligence findings.

Or when someone suggested that torture should be made a part of official US policy.

Or when someone decided to run our Constitution through the shredder.

Or…well, you know, this could end up being an awful long list, now that I think about it.

On the other hand, would any one person have been able to make much of a difference at the time? It’s hard to say. Consider how more moderate voices in the executive branch were gradually forced out of their positions by the hard-liners. Or how the whole “Plame-gate” scandal got started because former Ambassador Joe Wilson spoke out publicly about his findings regarding administration claims that the Iraqis were attempting to acquire “yellowcake” uranium from sources in Africa. Or how U.S. Attorneys who refused to institute prosecutions against Democratic officials on flimsy pretenses were replaced by ones willing to take the case. Or…well, I guess this one could be a pretty long list, too.

So maybe there were plenty of people who were in touch with their inner Antigone, but they weren’t able to get the word out widely enough, or weren’t taken seriously by the media.

Our wonderful, consolidated, corporate-controlled, authoritarian-enabling mainstream media.

Where am I going with all this? I’m not really sure, to be honest.

Over the past few months or maybe years, my own inner Antigone has been reawakening. Stretching and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes after a long slumber. And I think that very soon, she’s going to be ready to take her act back out on the road.

I’m going to be making a few big changes in my life over the next few weeks, so my posting here will be a bit erratic for a while. I’ve decided to take fall semester off from my graduate studies, get out of Redstatesville for a while, and see what kind of trouble I can get myself into in the last few months before the November election.

It should be fun. Or at least interesting, which is often nearly as good as fun, and sometimes even better.

I’ll keep you posted, my dear non-existent readers (and also the one or two of you who have been leaving comments lately), when my plans are a bit clearer. For now, however, I have a six-year-old’s birthday party to attend one state over, so I need to be hitting the road.

And lest there be any doubt in the matter, I still think Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached.

jane doe

* I used the masculine pronoun throughout my description of Milgram’s experiment instead of making it gender-neutral because back in the days when the study was being conducted, nearly all human psychological research used only white males as study participants.

For many years, the field of psychology, like the field of medicine, treated white males as the norm for the entire population, and everybody else who was not a white male was considered merely a deviation from the norm. The fact that most of the early psychological and medical research was also being conducted almost exclusively by white males is probably just a coincidence.

This lead to a lot of situations where the psychologists and doctors trying to apply the results of research to their patients found that the treatment or intervention (whether psychological or medical) did not work as advertised when dealing with patients who were not white males. This was particularly problematic on the medical side of things, as there were patients who actually died or suffered serious complications because their bodies did not respond the way a white male’s body would to the medications or dosages their doctors prescribed.

Often the most dangerous assumptions are the ones we don’t even realize we’re making.

What does this have to do with the rest of the post? Nothing, really. I just thought I’d mention it.


Sorry for the tired metaphor, but Gonzo is gone! That’s the happy news I woke up to this morning. According to the New York Times, Gonzales submitted his resignation to the president by telephone on Friday, thus saving Congress the effort of impeaching his sorry ass (though of course they remain free to consider criminal charges given his apparent perjury in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year).

I’m going to be all smiles at work this morning. The guy who thinks that spying on Americans without a warrant is okay and that the Geneva Conventions are “quaint” and who apparently can’t remember anything but his own name is leaving the Department of Justice! Have a great day everyone!

And of course, it goes without saying that I still think that Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached.

jane doe


So it seems Alberto Gonzales has vowed to stay at the Justice Department to “repair its broken image.” Can someone please take the poor, deluded man aside and explain to him that the fastest and most effective way for him to repair the image of the Department of Justice would be to leave it? Pretty please?

And as you know, I really think that Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached.

jane doe


Well, if it were anyone else testifying before Congress, this would be the point were I would start jumping up and down saying, “See! See! I told you so!” Back in May, when Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I noted that the way he was tap-dancing around exactly what secret spying program was at the heart of his race to beat Alberto Gonzalez to John Ashcroft’s hospital bedside made me suspect that maybe there was another program we didn’t know about yet. So you don’t have to go searching through my old posts, here’s what I said at the time:

Several sources I have read that commented on the Comey testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee seem to take it as a given that he is talking about the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. A careful listen to the actual testimony – at least the clip that Crooks and Liars has posted – makes it clear that Comey is going to great pains not to identify the specific nature of what he and Ashcroft were analyzing and objecting to. Now, it is possible, even probable, that the gentlemen in question were talking about the warrantless wiretapping program. The apparent timing of the conversation and the events Comey spoke of certainly makes that a possibility.

I want to raise another possibility for your consideration, my dear non-existent readers – one that I have not yet seen mentioned in the blogosphere: perhaps they were talking about some other program or activity then under consideration by the current administration – something we, as members of the general public, are not yet aware of. After all, if they were talking about the warrantless wiretapping program, why the careful dancing around the specifics of the discussion? The alleged president has already admitted that it is happening, so there would be no real need for so much reticence on Comey’s part.

Now today, in his most recent Congressional testimony, Gonzo is making just that suggestion — that the race to Ashcroft’s hospital bedside was about something else. Except, well, this is Gonzo, and I don’t believe anything that comes out of his mouth any more. Plus, as I noted in an addendum to my earlier post, other stuff at the time made it appear more likely than not that Comey was talking about the warrantless wiretapping program after all. So now I don’t know what to think.

I’ve been away for a few days, so I haven’t said it recently: I really think that Bush and Cheney (and Gonzales) ought to be impeached.

jane doe


As this is the 231st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the document that started our removal of a tyrant from power over the United States, I thought I would go through that grand old document and catalog which of the crimes of England’s King George have been committed by our own current (in his own mind, anyway) King George. I was only going to include the applicable ones in this post, but since that turned out to be the majority of them, anyway, I just left in all of them. Happy reading!

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

The first Iraq financing bill this year, which would have set real benchmarks and started the process of bringing our troops home. Stem cell research. There probably would have been more, but since he had a rubberstamp congress for much of his administration, there have been relatively few vetoes.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

Not really. Though should we consider his “signing statements” a failure to pass laws, in that he is denying the laws should apply to him, the answer to this one could change.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

No, though prior to the current term of Congress, members of the Republican party forced their opposition to hold hearings that were unfavorable to his administration (to the extent they could hold them at all) in a cramped basement room rather than a regular hearing room.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

Not yet. Give him time. For now, he just ignores them.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

See above. Also, consider his use of “temporary” appointments of U.S. Attorneys in the wake of the firings last December, to avoid having to seek Senate confirmation of same. Not strictly on point, but more or less the functional equivalent.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

Well, not exactly, but heaven knows immigration is a mess at the moment.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

No, but he has of course endeavored to stack federal courts, and particularly the U.S. Supreme Court, with justices favorable to his point of view, and then whined that the Democratic Party was being obstructionist on those few occasions when they attempted to block his less qualified or more appalling nominations.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

No, but change judges to United States Attorneys and you would have something here. Clearly, he has tried to subvert the ability of courts to hear matters within their purview – e.g., by gutting habeas corpus.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

Department of Homeland Security, NSA (okay, that’s not really new), TSA, anyone? Also, let us not forget his (often successful) attempts to politicize the ways that various agencies carry out their duties and/or use those agencies to further the election of Republican Party candidates, in blatant violation of the Hatch Act.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

Well, he hasn’t done this here, since obviously we have consented to the maintenance of a standing military, but I imagine people in other parts of the world might have something to say about this one.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

Hello, Military Commissions Act, goodbye, habeas corpus.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

Some might point to the WTO, though that predates Bush. So, no, not really. However, he has repeatedly subverted provisions of our Constitution and our laws, so I think that counts as a practical equivalent.

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

Well, this is more a complaint among the various countries we are occupying…still, he hasn’t done this here.

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

Okay, this doesn’t involve troops, and there was a real trial by jury, but I would argue that his commutation of Scooter Libby’s sentence is the moral equivalent of this.

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

How about destroying our country’s reputation in all parts of the world – does that count?

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

Does running up a huge national debt that we will eventually have to pay off through our taxes in order to pay for the war he lied to get us into count? I’d call that one close enough.

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

Hello, we have a winner! See the Military Commissions Act, and Guantanamo.

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

What do you think happened in the case of most of those people locked up in Guantanamo – it now appears that the vast majority of them didn’t really do anything that would justify locking them up for five years without trial, then creating some sort of mockery of a judicial process to avoid having them tried in U.S. courts where there are procedural safeguards.

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

Um, well, okay, this one he hasn’t done yet. Though he has gone a country with a functioning if oppressive government – a country which we now know and should then have known was not a threat to us – and overthrown that government and introduced a system of chaos, death and destruction. I think that’s probably close enough on the whole scale of moral wrongs.

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

I think the gradual destruction of our civil rights under the U.S. Constitution, as well as his expansion of presidential authority outside the bounds of Constitutional authority, his hobbling of congressional oversight capabilities, and his institution of the infamous “signing statements” that purport to excuse him from violations of the laws passed by Congress all qualify under this grievance, don’t you?

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

Again, I would say the signing statements amount to a presidential grab of Congressional authority.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

Not quite, but I would argue that his repeated violations of the civil rights of American citizens qualifies as the substantive equivalent to waging a covert war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

Hmm – plundered our seas? Check. Ravaged our coasts? Katrina is close enough – he ravaged New Orleans by inaction (and recent reports suggest he and his buddies are getting set to ravage its ruins for oil). Burnt our towns? No, he did that to the Iraqis. Destroyed the lives of our people? Hmm, how many U.S. Soldiers dead in Iraq as of today? Also, if destroying the livelihoods counts, then consider the whole Valerie Plame fiasco which has happened on his watch.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

Ding ding ding! We have another winner! Well, foreign to the Iraqis, anyway. Can you say, Blackwater?

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

Um, give me a few minutes, I’m sure I can think of something here…okay, maybe not.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

No, all the insurrections he has incited against him are foreign in nature…so far. Though of course the Iraq war has increased the terrorist threat against us beyond what it was at the time of 9/11, so we’ll call this one a “yes”, too, shall we? And let’s also not forget his party’s tactic of accusing anyone who disagrees with Bush of treason, whipping up hatred against Democrats and liberals.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Ding ding ding! We have another winner!

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred. to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence.

Replace “British” with “White House” and you have another winner, see the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, the parade of civil rights violations at the White House’s direction, and various other high crimes and misdemeanors.

For all these reasons, and for others perhaps not stated herein, I really think that Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone! Do something really patriotic: go out and protest this administration’s actions!

jane doe


Several sources I have read that commented on the Comey testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee seem to take it as a given that he is talking about the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. A careful listen to the actual testimony – at least the clip that Crooks and Liars has posted – makes it clear that Comey is going to great pains not to identify the specific nature of what he and Ashcroft were analyzing and objecting to. Now, it is possible, even probable, that the gentlemen in question were talking about the warrantless wiretapping program. The apparent timing of the conversation and the events Comey spoke of certainly makes that a possibility.

I want to raise another possibility for your consideration, my dear non-existent readers – one that I have not yet seen mentioned in the blogosphere: perhaps they were talking about some other program or activity then under consideration by the current administration – something we, as members of the general public, are not yet aware of. After all, if they were talking about the warrantless wiretapping program, why the careful dancing around the specifics of the discussion? The alleged president has already admitted that it is happening, so there would be no real need for so much reticence on Comey’s part.

Questions? Comments?

jane doe

6/7/07 Addendum: Well, it appears that subsequent Comey testimony makes it clear that he really was talking about the warrantless surveillance program when he talked about the race to Ashcroft’s bedside, which is something of a relief. I mean, really, do we need another White House/Justice Department scandal right now? We have enough of those on our plate at the moment. –jd


If you haven’t already seen former Deputy Attorney General James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Crooks and Liars has the video posted here. It is definitely worth watching — get yourself some popcorn first. It actually forced me to reconsider (slightly) my opinions about Former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Seriously. When someone makes the inevitable movie about the catastrofuck this administration has become, the scene Comey describes will feature prominently in it. Go watch it. Now.

jane doe


Okay, I didn’t get my act together in time to come up with an “Alberto Gonzales Congressional Testimony Drinking Game,” but let’s face it, those hearings started way too early in the day, and ran way too long, to be good drinking game material, anyway. I mean, just saying, “Take one sip whenever Gonzo says ‘I can’t recall’” would have had everyone snot-slinging drunk before noon, and the hearings went until, what, 5:00 pm EST?

Here’s one thing that struck me, though. As someone in the audience at the Senate hearings pointed out (audible over the C-Span microphones), how did Alberto get through law school if his memory is really that bad? In law school, you really need to be able to remember a lot of information to pass your courses – fifty- to eighty-page study outlines by the end of the semester are probably the norm. So how did someone who apparently can’t remember whether he attended meetings or participated in discussions just a couple of months ago manage to graduate from Harvard Law School?

Occam’s razor answer: He is lying about what he can and can’t remember, and he’s doing it to cover for individuals in the Bush administration. Is he covering for The Decider, Rove, or someone else? Don’t know, and don’t really care, at this point, as it ultimately comes down to the President.

I’m just saying…

jane doe

 

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