Monday, September 22, 2008

$700 Billion Deja Vu!

The current situation crisis in the U.S. financial markets has produced what looks like a 2008 version of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that the Bush Administration sought and obtained from Congress one week after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Remember how after 9/11, Attorney General Ashcroft and President Bush demanded fast congressional action in the name of "keeping the homeland safe." Recall how Congress slavishly passed a joint resolution authorizing the President to "use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorst attacks: or "harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent future acts of international terrorism."

We should recall that history now as well as its known and yet unfolding consequences. Based on the AUMF, President Bush committed the U.S. military to invade Iraq based on intelligence that was inaccurate, if not knowingly falsified. Based on the AUMF, the Bush Administration countenanced warrantless detention and torture of persons deemed "enemy combatants" at the unchecked will of the Secretary of Defense. Based on the AUMF, more than 4000 U.S. military personnel have died and tens of thousands more have been maimed and psychologically scarred. Estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths range into the hundreds of thousands. Based on the AUMF, the United States has spent more than half a trillion dollars in the Iraq misadventure. Hundreds of people remain detained at the Guantanamo Bay naval base used to hold persons designated enemy combatants. Seven years after 9/11, the nation finds itself bogged in Iraq militarily because of the AUMF.

The present financial markets crisis now finds the Bush Administration demand once again that it be given quick and essentially unfettered discretion. In the present instance, the federal cabinet agency involved is the Treasury Department. Now, as after 9/11, members of Congress from both major political parties appear eager to enact something to show that they are effective, not engaging in partisan obstructionism, and to avoid adverse political consequences during the upcoming federal elections to Congress and the White House.

Perhaps it is naive to expect most Americans to resist being bullied, bossed, and brainwashed into believing that the complex financial markets crisis can be fixed with a two-page plan. Even so, it should not be too much to ask of elected officials to demand a closer and much more rigorous look at the plan proposed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. To use a sporting comparison, this problem was not caused by one play, nor will it be corrected by one play. In sports and in policy-making, rushed judgments are usually the least reliable.

Another reason why Americans should encourage their elected officials in Congress to look under the hood and kick the tires of the financial markets bail-out plan that is being so urgently pushed by the Bush Administration is that the U.S. Constitution demands such oversight by Congress of executive action affecting commerce. The Constitution does not authorize the executive branch to influence monetary policy free from congressional oversight and judicial review. President Franklin Roosevelt was so frustrated by having the courts review the validity of his New Deal measures to overcome the effects of the Great Depression that he attempted to expand the Supreme Court to as many as fifteen members. That was a controversial move, but nowhere close to the astounding notion advanced by President Bush that Congress enact legislation to address the financial market situation which prevents congressional oversight and judicial review of what executive branch officials do to bailout the financial markets.

However politically unpopular or incorrect it may be, Americans and their elected officials in Congress should remember that the Bush Administration now seeks totalitarian-like powers over the financial markets mess like it asserted the unfettered right to disregard due process and other civil liberties in the so-called "war on terror" the week after 9/11. The history of the past seven years demonstrates the folly of granting such power to this or any other administration. Even if that history was different, elected officials in Congress from all political parties should reject the latest Bush Administration demand for blank check authority out of respect for the Constitution and separation of powers.

At some point, love of democracy should trump expediency, political or otherwise. That is what patriotism means.

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