Friday, January 9, 2009

Bailout Politics: Is the Constitution Now Null and Void?

Article I, Section 9, Clause 7, U.S. Constitution
No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law; and a regular statement and account of receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.
A Congressional watchdog program tasked with accounting for the hundreds of billions of dollars allocated to the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, reports that it can't get enough information on how the money is being spent.

According to ABC News:
Of the 44 questions the panel presented earlier to the Treasury Department, the department responded to 19. The report suggests that some of the answers the Treasury provided were inadequate.

"While Treasury's letter provided responses to some of the panel's questions and shed some light on Treasury's decision-making process, it did not provide complete answers to several of the questions and failed to address some of the questions at all," the report said.
Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren, who heads the congressional panel, says she's "shocked," but that it's up to Congress to do something about it.

Will anyone do something about it? After all, an accounting for government money is a requirement laid down in the Constitution. Does the Constitution mean anything anymore? Can any and all laws be broken now? Or only if you belong to the executive branch of government.

The non-accountability of government funding was established first in 1947, when the National Security Act created the CIA, and placed its budget outside the purview of Congressional oversight. In 1976, a Congressional committee investigating how the CIA spent its money concluded (as reported in the New York Times, emphasis is added):
Washington, Jan. 25 -- The House Select Committee on Intelligence has concluded following a year-long investigation that the Federal intelligence agencies, as they are currently constituted, operate in such secret ways that they are "beyond the scrutiny" of Congress, according to the panel's final report....

The expenditures of [intelligence] funds, the report said, were largely unchecked by Congress and even by the Office of Management and Budget.
This House report was written by what is known today as the Pike Committee. It was contemporaneous with the famous Church Report from the Senate. The CIA protested making the Pike report public, and as a result, it was never officially published, or made available by the government. (Maybe someone could get Obama or Pelosi to finally release it!)

Daniel Schorr (with NPR today) leaked the report and it was published in the Village Voice. However, it is unavailable online, and one would have to go to a library to find it.

We are paying today for the bargain with the devil that blithely canceled out a portion of the Constitution in the name of secrecy. Then it was the Cold War, now it is a financial crisis.

In Justice Joesph Story's famous commentaries on the U.S. Constitution, he wrote: arbitrary governments the prince levies what money he pleases from his subjects, disposes of it as he thinks proper and is beyond responsibility or reproof.... [In a republic] Congress is made the guardian of [the public treasure]; and to make their responsibility complete and perfect, a regular account of the receipts and expenditures is required to be published, that the people may know what money is expended for what purpose and by what authority. (from R. Borosage, "The Central Intelligence Agency: The King's Men and the Constitutional Order", in The CIA File, 1976, p. 134)
The cancer of secret government is spreading from the intelligence and clandestine branches to the very heart of the working government -- the Treasury Department. Congressional will and oversight are flouted and there are no consequences.

The flow of societal authority and legitimacy flows downhill. When there is lawlessness at the top, and the rule of arbitrary authority, the social contract is broken, and the menace of anarchy, fascism, and civil war rises ominously.

The press is too house-broken to take on the reality of the lawlessness by the government. They proved this already when it came to the Iraq War build-up, or on the craven attitude towards the use of torture, even today, when the truth about the abusive torture techniques in the supposedly reformist Army Field Manual is denied or hidden from view. Even the mainstream bloggers -- Glenn Greenwald, Scott Horton, Andrew Sullivan, who have reported so much on the torture issue -- have had nothing to say about the AFM issue. Nor has anyone in the U.S. press even noted that there is a Constitutional requirement that the Treasury Department report to Congress a full accounting of expenditures.

Is Congress ignorant, unable, or totally corrupted by the executive power? Probably some combination of all three. Meanwhile the average American lives in dread of a total economic collapse, or least the loss of a job and lowered wages, with very little to look forward to for the fruits of a life's labors.

Sooner or later, trust in the government will fall like the house of cards that was the bubble economy. Then, the legitimacy of all branches of government will be nil, and their power, so vaunted now, so sure of itself with its courts, and jails, and mighty army and secret police, will be like tinkling brass. But how many will suffer until then? How many generations will live and struggle and die under the rule of a lawless elite?

I'm not sure any rule of law is possible anymore. But we could start with enforcing the U.S. Constitution, including Article I, Section 9, Clause 7. That beginning would find both the U.S. Treasury and the CIA finally giving account for the taxpayers money that flows in billions and billions into their coffers.

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