Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Presidential Power

Hail, Caesar !

There are two big problems with the war in Libya. The first is that the president will not call it a war, despite the fact that American armed forces are using deadly force to kill the citizens of another country that did not attack the United States.

The second is that it is his war.

Defending his war, Obama said, "We had a responsibility to act." But "we' did not act. There was no deliberation in Congress and "we the people" were not consulted. Obama decided on his own to risk American lives, kill citizens in another nation and spend a lot of money that, we are told, we do not have.

Over the past decades, power in American government has been steadily concentrated in the federal authority and Washington, and most especially in the executive branch, the presidents.

In the 1993 movie "Dave," Kevin Klein plays the owner of a temporary employment agency who is a near perfect look-alike of the president. The Secret Service hires him to "stand-in" for the president at non-speaking functions.

When the president has a massive stroke, Dave needs to get "up to speed" for the job. Two scheming aides sit him in front of a big organizational chart of the American government. At the top is a box labeled "Me" (the president) with arrows of authority pointing down to the Congress, Supreme Court and other federal departments.

The moment I saw it, I thought, "You idiots."

Everybody knows the U.S. Constitution established a separation of powers, and that the presidency, Congress and Supreme Court are "co-equal," and each takes its authority from the people.

Or so I thought. But it turns out that whoever dreamed up that scene knew what was going on. And today, a great many of this nation's governing establishment think an autocratic president is the way the U.S. government should work.

They just can't be bothered with what the Constitution says or the people might think.

Perhaps you missed it, but among the presidential powers that Obama and his administration claim is the authority to order the execution of American citizens.

No evidence put before a judge, no charges, no trial, jury or any kind of due process, just a "finding" by some intelligence or national security bureaucrat that someone is a "threat," and killers can be dispatched on the president's say so to murder that person.

Not only does the administration claim this power, it has used it, according to the New York Times and other international publications.

Others who also claim to understand the U.S. Constitution have challenged this assertion of unaccountable presidential power in the federal courts.

In response, the U.S. Justice Department has argued for the administration that the authority to order secret executions, independent of any review, accountability, evidence or due process is one of "the very core powers of the president as commander in chief."

Wow. That's some power.

Call me old fashioned, but I object to the idea of an American president acting like a Roman emperor, with a Praetorian Guard killing whom they will on his authority.

The very idea is repugnant to all that America stands for, or once did. But times change, and unaccountability is now the federal fashion.

The Federal Reserve, elected by no one and answering to no elected authority rescues the modern robber barons on Wall Street and condemns tens of millions of Americans to economic serfdom.

The Supreme Court says it is perfectly all right for anonymous citizens to spend as much money as they want to buy federal elections, and that the American people have no right to know who they are.

And a Congress that forgot to whom it is accountable threw in the towel.

During the Bush II administration, the White House chief of staff and a former White House counsel were found in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas and cooperate with a congressional investigation into the firings of eight US attorneys.

The then attorney general told the speaker of the House that members of the executive branch are not accountable to the Congress, the elected representatives of the people.

The attorney general said, "The contempt of Congress statute was not intended to apply and could not constitutionally be applied to an executive branch official who asserts the president's claim of executive privilege."

There were calls for impeachment - the weapon the Constitution gives the Congress to demand presidential accountability - but House Speaker Pelosi lacked the stomach for the fight and caved to the president. She announced that an impeachment proceeding was "off the table."

As one commentator observed at the time, "This declaration by the Speaker of the House has effectively released the Bush (Administration) from any accountability, just as the Enabling Act released Hitler from any accountability to the Reichstag, the German constitution, or statutory law."

Now this president also thinks it within his power to launch American attacks abroad without so much as a courtesy call to Congress.

You wonder if the president plans to stand for re-election, or just declare himself the winner.

Another "core power?"

Hail, Caesar!