Friday, December 18, 1998

Life in the Styx, vol. VI, no. 12 (Old Styx)

Life in the Styx, vol. VI, no. 12

  1. Mazel Tovs
  2. Random Trifles
    1.  Web Pictures
    2.  A Light in the Distance
    3.  Web-Puzzle
    4.  Professor Sean Wilentz
  4. Wag the Dog
  5. Three Stooges
  6. Wag the Dog 2
  7. The Players
  8. The Coup
  9. Postscript
  10. 2013 Update


1. Mazel Tov to [names redacted] on the birth of a son, yesterday, Thursday, December 17.  Some Hanukkah names that haven't been used yet are:
    (a) Mattathias
    (b) Maccabee
    (c) Elephant  (what the Syrian-Greeks used against the Maccabees)
    (d) Elazar (who learned just what it was like to be under a Syrian-Greek elephant)

2-6. [Names redacted]

7. Mazel Tov to [names redacted] on the upshirin of their son, [name redacted].  I for one felt bittersweet at the upshirin for while it was happy to see him reach the halakhicly significant milestone of 3 years old and begin formal education, I was sad to see his hair cut and lose that "Thor" look we loved so much.  One recommendation for others who do the upshirin thang: instead of putting honey on the letters for the boy to lick, have chocolate syrup instead.  Firstly because I think kids like chocolate more, and secondly it also hides the letters so the licking will both be a treat of food and discovery.


Before we get down to the serious bidness of war and insurrection I should mention a bunch of trifles.


I believe that there is a major communication purpose in having a web-page.  And that can be summed up by: baby pictures.  Many of my friends, who have very cute children, have no web-pages of their own to display these babies and thus people are being denied this public good.  I volunteer to post any of ya'll's baby pictures on my webpage until ya'll get your own.  Please make sure the picture isn't too big (~ 30K) -- if so, I'll have to shrink it (and maybe cut off body parts)


First of all, I found out Wednesday just when my next final exam for Yoreh Deah is (two weeks).  The immense amount of shtick in this class -- which, again, is the core class of my rabbinic training -- is both insulting and bewildering.  But, on that Wednesday, we also were told that the next subject we would be studying is "Basar v'halav" - the laws of (not) cooking milk & meat.  At last!  A *real* subject!  Talking with my class members afterwards, we all agreed it was as if a weight was lifted from our shoulders...


For those who like puzzles, try to figure out how this web-site works: It stymied me for a bit (and boy did I feel dumb): [link inoperable]


Princeton Professor Sean Wilentz was called to testify in front of the impeachment tribunal on December 7th.  I didn't hear his testimony but all reports say that he was "arrogant" and any number of negative statements.  I took Prof. Wilentz in Spring semester 1992 for History 280, "Intro To American History."  It was one of the best courses I've ever taken; Prof. Wilentz has a unique way of teaching: we were given solely primary documents to study and all of our discussions and our papers needed to have rock solid evidence from the primary documents.  Our written work were forests of footnotes because Wilentz demanded the highest of standards; he insisted that the academic study of history was  the process of attribution of fact, not conjecture and allegations.  And I believe that once a professor has developed such rigorous intellectual standards, he should be allowed to act arrogant in front of a Congress who will be remembered without fondness in the future annals of history.


First of all, I am sending out as a public resource copies of the articles of impeachment for both President Richard M. Nixon and for President William J. Clinton.  Soon, I'll post them on my page.

Anyway, I am listening to the Impeachment Hearings now (it's local news, as I'm down here in [Maryland] visiting my parents on the one day off I get for the next few months) and *boy* is this great fun!  I'm finding it difficult to concentrate and write, though.  The hearings are actually very informative and important and I feel unfit to talk about the Impeachment arguments (I was prepared to argue everything point by point).  So I may have to wait...


OK.  The day that we were supposed to have the debate on impeachment, the president launches long over-due airstrikes against Iraq.  This would be troublesome enough except that he did the exact same thing a few months ago: he launched missiles against two random terrorist targets just 2 days after his disastrous Public Address after he was cross examined by the Independent prosecutor's goon squad.

The wagdogness of the situation is highlighted further by the fact that Clinton has normally been following the flaccid Jimmy Carteresque view of foreign policy (keep up diplomacy against your enemies because all your aggression is directed against your *allies*).  So why suddenly change tune now?

Except that who does wagdogging fool?  Do you know anyone who doesn't know about this ploy?

The current over-use of the term "Wag The Dog" comes from the recent movie (1997) about this very same topic: a president in trouble because of a sex scandal launches a phony war in order to distract the public.   You should see the movie just to know how offensive it is.  It is a perfect example of how Hollywood has scant understanding about how politics works.  And, more importantly, it demonstrates a contempt for the public that so characterizes the current Clinton scandal.

The idea in the movie is that the American public is (a) distracted by war, and (b) has no idea how to figure out that a war is phony.  The proof for this is that De Niro's character (a Lee Atwater-Dick Morris type political mercenary) claims that people were convinced about the Gulf War even though the precision cruise missile images were produced in his Hollywood soundstage.  So they invent a war with Albania and this helps the president avoid disaster.

To create their magic they enlist thousands of people to create this ruse.  And, get this, nobody leaks. Except that the whole scandal started because of a leak from the person the president had his dalliance with.  Hmmm.

Why am I pointing out this discrepancy?  While I hate when people take apart movies based on insignificant details, the very premise of the movie is undermined by that inconsistency -- that if you were undone by a leak you will get one in the future.

But its more than that -- I'm attacking the movie because of its essential misanthropy.  Because it assumes that Americans are that stupid.  We didn't think there was a gulf war because of CNN; we knew there was a Gulf War because 100,000's of Americans were involved in the invasion! 

No, the Hollywood myth has been proven wrong by recent events.  Ever since the Clinton scandal went into frenzy mode back in January, the American People (in capitals, naturally) knew that it was all partisan pong.  They have (rather, We have) stayed the only reliable player in this whole enterprise.

[2013 note: Oh boy, what 15 years shows.  The missile launch was against Al Queda.  Who knew that would matter?  Then of course there's the 'wag the dog' attempt of Bush, which kinda worked, but not for long.  I think what we learn is that dogwagging will work if you are actually attacked]


I compare the current situation to when the dowager hires the three stooges to paint her boudoir.  The stooges spend more time whacking each other with ladders than actually doing what they were hired to do.

Our politicians are our representatives in government; they are there not because they are better people, or even better suited for governance; but because *somebody* has to run the government while the rest of us are busy making money and being regular citizens.  Representative government is based on the premise that not only aren't politicians better people, they are, if anything, better trained at being persuasive and being re-elected.

The press are also our representatives.  They are established by the constitution to be the mechanism that the People can monitor our elected representatives.  But, again, since we have to be the doctors, teachers, and rabbis we need others to be our watchdogs.

So these two groups of representatives have been doing a great disservice for our country.  We hired them, respectively, to run the country and keep tabs on how its run.  Instead Congress has turned its attentions to personal vendettas, the Press has decided to entertain (and make money money money) rather than inform and deserve their constitutional privilege.


But even if Clinton did launch the strikes against Iraq to distract the public from impeachment; then is that any more of a "wag the dog" than what is going on in Congress?  Wag the Dog means a form of indirection and subterfuge, where you orchestrate an action so that you can guarantee something as a "reaction" even though that's what you wanted in the first place.

Except that we *should* have attacked Iraq.  The fact that congress is orchestrating an impeachment just to ouster a person who's POLITICAL philosophies they disagree with, and making grandiose moral claims about it, is a classic case of subterfuge.


Can congress really claim the high ground?  Let's take a look at the players:

    (1) ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) :

Who ran the country's opposition from 1994-1998 and who can be held responsible for driving the political rhetoric into the gutter of extremism and uncompromising partisanship.  Gingrich polarized all issues; he resigned because he was so inflexible that he couldn't bear actually doing the job of the American legislature which is to compromise and haggle among the myriad different interests.  Instead, Gingrich led a revolution of aggressive adolescents who weren't interested in the posterity, they wanted change immediately and with extreme prejudice.
    So Gingrich, who (according to Al Franken's book) has admitted to having many oral-sex encounters with employees, was brought up on ethics charges by the House for misappropriating government funds to fund a college course which he turned into a book for which he received a few million dollars from a private company. He later lied to the Ethics Committee.  He was reprimanded for his behavior and issued a (gasp) fine.

    (2) acting-Speaker Bob Livingston (R-La.):

In the words of the AP Wire story (12-17-98, 10:57 pm, "Rep. Livingston Admits Affairs"):
Incoming House speaker Bob Livingston acknowledged Thursday night he had been unfaithful to his wife, telling stunned fellow Republicans he had "on occasion strayed from my marriage. ....
The sensational disclosure came on the eve of the House's impeachment debate involving the sexual conduct of President Clinton. Livingston sought in a statement to draw a distinction from Clinton's conduct, saying "These indiscretions were not with employees on my staff, and I have never been asked to testify under oath about them.''
Hey Bob!  Give us a chance!

    (3) Chair of the Impeachment Committee, Representative Henry Hyde (R-Il.):

OK, so we already know about his long standing affair with a married mother of four.  And his dismissal of it.  But we also find out that (according to the 12-28-98 New Republic, "Mister Hyde" by Ryan Lizza, pp. 14-17):
  1. During the Iran-Contra scandal Hyde was the chief Republican defender of "the Reagan administration, denying it broke any laws by selling weapons to Iran to fund the Nicaraguan contras. .... As the Los Angeles Times reported on December 4, Hyde praised Oliver North and John Poindexter as heroes, bashed those who 'sermonized about how terrible lying is' and explained that 'it just seems to me too simplistic' to condemn all lying.  Hyde, the man who keeps insisting today that 'lying must have consequences' fought tirelessly for a presidential pardon of both men." (p.16)
  2. "... in 1983, when Congress considered censuring Illinois Republican Daniel Crane because he'd had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old congressional page, Hyde took to the house floor and pleaded with his colleagues for even lesser punishment -- a reprimand." (p. 16)
  3. "Hyde gained the distinction of becoming the only sitting member of Congress to be sued for gross negligence by the Resolution Trust Corporation, the federal agency set up to clean up the S&L mess."


So does  this leaves us is with a picture of moral paragons going after the sinner?  No, its how the aggression minded congressional republicans have determined they can upset the balance of powers in their favor.  It's like a European parliamentary no-confidence vote mixed with a good ol' South American junta.  Except that we have evangelical Protestants leading the crusade.   I've heard them say that they won't censure him "because that's just what he wants!"  No, what he wants is nothing.  But since they can't go for crucifixion ("because that's what he wants") so impeachment is the viable option!

But I am glad that it's finally out of the hands of the special prosecutor and into the hands of the Congress. Because that *is* finally the rule of law.  Instead of having Clinton pilloried in the press and calumnied by Starr, he's being tried by the method established by the founding fathers.  And that's the most secure forum we have for this type of non-military revolution.  It's very exciting to watch.

Styx :]


Here are some notes I was typing while listening to the debates.  I thought it was worth broadcasting:

  1. Boy is it funny to hear Democrats declaring their support for the attack on Iraq; I wonder how many of them supported the Gulf War?
  2. It's very clear that the Republicans are trying to get even with their democratic colleagues, and the history books, for the impeaching of Nixon.  Thank Gd I have more faith in History than these fickle and fragile men.
  3. And I say "men" because of the disproportionate gender imbalance of the GOP is very clear in this debate; all female voices that I hear are Democrats (except for Mary Bono, who wouldn't be in House if her drug-addled husband hadn't run into a tree while skiing).  The female voices, and the African-American voices, are all Democrats.
  4. The Republicans would be convincing if it weren't for the fact that they haven't been looking at the evidence.  I.e. they are claiming that the president has committed crimes that he, from the evidence, hasn't committed; and because they will it to be, they are accepting  the allegations as true.  But, in a way, that's what congress is supposed to do.
  5. Unfortunately I am a sucker for rule of law.  I do believe the president should be tried by congress.  Why? Because he was already tried by the Press and my the rogue special prosecutor.  Those methods of judgment were wholly wrong; they were against his 6th Amendment rights of fair trial.  The Special Prosecutor, in a wrongful manner, has entrapped the president, but, like the mice in my Cheerioes, he was caught by the trap.
  6. Who are they trying to convince?  I guess people like me because they sure ain't convincing each other.
  7. This is yet again Parliament versus Democracy.
  8. Some GOP Rep. (from a Southern state! What a surprise!) is saying that he can "no longer trust Clinton" When did he start?
  9. "Sexual harassment isn't about sex"  How dare they use sex-harassment as their issue?
  10. If we held this standard for all presidents?  If we maintained this standard for Newt Gingrich he'd have been impeached.
  11. Blatant abuse of the GOP to not allow even a vote on censure
  12. The main GOP arguments: (a) rule of law, (b) president lies a whole bunch, (c) president's lying was in a sexual harassment case and that was against a private citizen, therefore he committed a bad thing, (d) respect for the presidency, (e) no one is above the law
  13. Has Clinton degraded the presidency more than they have?  Clinton is a tawdry man.  I recall that when the Starr report was sent out, I heard people say "How can the president drag us through this!?" except that, duh, that Congress is the body that broadcast what should have been private grand jury testimony to the public (wasn't that an abuse of the president's rights? Eh, who cares)
  14. Why isn't censure strong enough? Oh, because they *want* to impeach him.  Otherwise, you should at least allow a vote on it.  Well, that means that this is unfair!  Oh.  It is.
  15. I wasn't cognizant around the time of Watergate, perhaps it was as torn with vendetta (because, lord knows, democrats hated Nixon more than the GOP hate Clinton).  But the whole process was treated differently.
  16. "Censure doesn't affect the behavior of the president" sez GOP.
  17. "Impeachment is to protect the country; not to punish the president" sez Democrat
2013 Postscript
This wasn't in the original sent Styx, but was in my notes. I kind of re-wrote it above:

So, were the current air-strikes done to distract the country from the Impeachemnt trial? Lord, yes. Does that mean we shouldn't have done it?  Of course not. I for one am hoping the impeachement trial drags for months so Clinton will mop the floor with Iraqi ass.

The cynical nature of the Republicans is being mached by the cynical wag the dog.