Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Checks and Balances - and Other Lies My Teachers Told Me

No one part can be
more powerful than any other is.
Each controls the other you see,
and that's what we call checks and balances.
"Three Ring Government" - Schoolhouse Rock

It was scary enough when he won the Electoral College vote in Florida, the final and deciding state in the election, certified by Katherine ('Tammy Faye Bakker, The Next Generation') Harris, a Republican fund-raiser and Attorney General under the President's brother Jeb. But okay, maybe it was sour grapes. We moved on (well, some of us did).

Then the war on terrorism. Without declaring war. And the WMDs that were there.. then weren't. Then were. Then of course the links between bin Laden and Hussein that weren't. Then the links between the 9/11 attack and the Iraqis (Never mind that 17 of the 19 terrorists were actually Saudi nationals, and none were Iraqi).

But most of that was gleaned from clandestine organizations, so the White House could do a "he said, he said" song and dance, and most of the "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" goings-on were at least debatable on the left and right.

The most bizarre stuff (for me at least) has happened in the last few months. Either believing the Cheney/Rove cabal, or with the "what me, worry?" of a lame duck president, Dubya has figured out a way to single-handedly turn a republic into a monarchy.

For those of you who don't remember the famous "Checks and Balances" portion of your 7th grade Government lessons, it works like this: The Executive Branch (the President) is limited by the Congress, who can create laws to regulate Presidential powers. The President is also theoretically watched over by the Judicial Branch, who interprets the laws of the land.

The problem here occurs in some of the "side benefits" of the office. For instance, the President is entitled to declare "National Emergencies" and make decisions to send troops overseas without the proper declaration of war. The words "National Defense" have become the "Simon Says" of this administration. We can apparently wiretap without the inconvenience of due process, or even judicial notification, U.S. citizens, because the National Defense is at stake.

Okay, even that I can give latitude on, because I DO understand that I DON'T understand, all the implications and complications of covert operations. But then we get this: Months ago, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales fired eight U.S. States Attorneys, allegedly for purely political reasons (in several cases, to hire more "loyal Bushies", in the words of Gonzales' former chief of staff). When the Senate and House Judiciary Committees issued a subpoena for former White House Counsel (and briefly Supreme Court nominee) Harriet Miers to testify about what role, if any, she and/or the White House had in the firings, the White House reiterated it's long standing demand that no current or former White House officials would be permitted to testify under oath, to the committees, citing 'Executive Privilege'. The interesting thing about this, should Congress hold Ms. Miers in contempt of Congress, she would still have Dubya to pardon or commute any sentence. And try as they may, I can't see a National Defense defense for Gonzales, Miers, or the White House.

Think this is an exaggeration? Two words for you: Scooter Libby. Scooter was Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff, and also served as a chief assistant to the President. Scooter was also the man convicted of one count of obstruction of justice, one count of making false statements to the FBI, and two counts of perjury to the grand jury, all during the investigation that Scooter leaked the information about a covert CIA agent's identity, then lied about it. Libby got 30 months in prison and a $250,000 fine. He could have received a maximum prison term of 25 YEARS in prison and a $1,000,000 fine. So it wasn't like he had the book thrown at him. But apparently Dubya thought it was too much anyways. Before spending a day in jail of his sentence (he was ordered jailed pending his appeal), Dubya commuted his sentence, saying in part:

"I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby's sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison."

Yeah, the portion that made all four counts convicted on punishable by up to 25 years...reduced by 90% - that portion is 'excessive', so we'll make it nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Judges? We don't need no steeenking judges... George W. Bush: Oil Magnate, Baseball team owner, Texas Governor, President of the United States, Judge, Jury, Commuter. Three Ring Government indeed.