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Thursday, December 14, 2006

no, they have no bananas

General Augusto Pinochet of Chile cheated justice by dying last weekend, on December 10, 2006. His coup overthrowing President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973 ended over forty years of continuous democratic self-rule by the Chilean people. Chile was no banana republic. Of all the countries in Latin America, Chile probably had the longest and least interrupted tradition of parliamentary government.

I point this out because, despite seventeen years of dictatorship (1973-1990), despite the torture and killing of tens of thousands, despite the overthrow of the rule of law, Pinochet to this day has thousands of defenders and supporters in Chile. Why are people so willing to forego the rule of law and, indeed, assist the men who usurp it?

Here in the States we have a White House with as much contempt for the rule of law as any fascist dictator has ever shown. Bush and Cheney's catalogue of offenses to the Constitution and the rule of law is long and well-known: the holding of prisoners without charge, the abrogation of the Geneva Conventions, and on and on. But when it comes to the so-called Presidential Signing Statement, we have before us a mock institution whose sole purpose is to mask in the trappings of officialdom the president's pageant of tyranny and contempt for law.

This past summer the American Bar Association issued a report on the signing statements that I don't need to reinvent here. It's available online here. (Or just read the press release.)

But, basically, we know all that. The ABA report provides detail, history, and summary, but we get it. What I don't understand is why the people with the most contempt for parliamentary government and the rule of law always seem to be the most zealous to run governments. I experienced this confusion as a politically precocious kid every time I heard President Reagan say that government was the problem, not the solution. Well then why the hell did he want to be president?

In writing this blog entry, I was reminded of the strangest case of all: Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. This guy actually pioneered 'the new-style signing statement' when he was deputy assistant attorney general in 1986 under Reagan. The memo he wrote on the subject is only six pages long and worth reading.

The document speaks for itself:
'From the perspective of the Executive Branch, the issuance of interpretive signing statements would have two chief advantages. First, it would increase the power of the Executive to shape the law.'
It would increase the power of the executive to shape law? But the executive executes law; it does not make or shape it. For the executive to arrogate new powers to itself would be pure, unconstitutional tyranny. Throughout the document, Alito is clearly conscious of how 'new' his project is, yet his confidence in the ultimate success of his nutty scheme is supreme:
'On the other hand, Congress has the opportunity to shape the bills that are presented to the President, and the President's role at that point is limited to approving or disapproving.'
The President's role at this point? As opposed to the president's role after the suppression of the Constitution?

The memo also outlines a step-by-step strategy: they will begin by 'concentrating at first on a small number of bills' and working their way up. Alito's memo is really a blueprint for establishing American tyranny:
'And by concentrating on bills within our own field of responsibility and concern, we can begin without depending upon the cooperation of other departments and agencies, which may be skeptical at first. If our project is successful, cooperation may be more readily available.'

Eventually, executive tyranny would be so taken for granted that the president would not even have to explain:
'Accordingly, after the first few efforts, the President could merely state when signing the bill that his signing is based on an interpretation to be set out in detail in a statement to be issued later.'

Reader, check it out for yourself if you want to see how the Bush counter-revolution got started.

But here is the mystery that I cannot for the life of me answer: why would Alito, or anyone else, want to be the intellectual architect of someone else's tyranny? And if he has such love for the executive and contempt for the separation of powers, why would he aspire to sit on the Supreme Court? It makes sense for presidents to want to amass power for themselves, but it makes no sense for others to help them and then sit on federal courts deprived of their strength by one's own machinations. I guess I just don't understand the innumerable enablers of tyranny who share this world with us. Sometimes I think they would kill off the rest of us if only they could.


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