Friday, April 11, 2008

The Shadow Government

Vice-Presidential Duties:

The framers also devoted scant attention to the vice president's duties, providing only that he "shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be evenly divided" (Article I, section 3). In practice, the number of times vice presidents have exercised this right has varied greatly. More than half the total number of 233 tie-breaking votes occurred before 1850, with John Adams holding the record at 29 votes, followed closely by John C. Calhoun with 28. Since the 1870s, no vice president has cast as many as 10 tie-breaking votes. While vice presidents have used their votes chiefly on legislative issues, they have also broken ties on the election of Senate officers, as well as on the appointment of committees in 1881 when the parties were evenly represented in the Senate.

The vice president's other constitutionally mandated duty was to receive from the states the tally of electoral ballots cast for president and vice president and to open the certificates "in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives," so that the total votes could be counted (Article II, section 1). Only a few happy vice presidents — John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, and George Bush — had the pleasure of announcing their own election as president. Many more were chagrined to announce the choice of some rival for the office.

Several framers ultimately refused to sign the Constitution, in part because they viewed the vice president's legislative role as a violation of the separation of powers doctrine. Elbridge Gerry, who would later serve as vice president, declared that the framers "might as well put the President himself as head of the legislature." Others thought the office unnecessary but agreed with Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman that "if the vice-President were not to be President of the Senate, he would be without employment, and some member [of the Senate, acting as presiding officer] must be deprived of his vote."

Now, contrast that understanding of the duties of the Vice President with this development:

(CBS/AP) Bush administration officials from Vice President Dick Cheney on down signed off on using harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists after asking the Justice Department to endorse their legality, The Associated Press has learned.

The officials also took care to insulate President Bush from a series of meetings where CIA interrogation methods, including waterboarding, which simulates drowning, were discussed and ultimately approved.

A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the meetings described them Thursday to the AP to confirm details first reported by ABC News on Wednesday. The intelligence official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue.

Between 2002 and 2003, the Justice Department issued several memos from its Office of Legal Counsel that justified using the interrogation tactics, including ones that critics call torture.

"If you looked at the timing of the meetings and the memos you'd see a correlation," the former intelligence official said. Those who attended the dozens of meetings agreed that "there'd need to be a legal opinion on the legality of these tactics" before using them on al Qaeda detainees, the former official said.

Note that the chain of custody starts with our very own Fourth Branch of government. It does not start at the top--it starts with the office that the Framers intended to be, well, something we no longer recognize.

Ladies and Gentlement, welcome to the Shadow Government, led by "Fourth Branch."

On the same day that the CIA announced it will soon release hundreds of pages of once-classified documents that detail some of the agency's most closely guarded — and controversial — secrets of old, it was revealed that Vice President Dick Cheney has been resisting even his own Executive Branch's efforts to find out what kind of secret material his office has been stashing away over the last four years.

Cheney's office, according to a story first reported by the Chicago Tribune, has resisted attempts by a tiny federal agency to compile information — in accordance with an executive order signed by George Bush himself — on the classified documents being held by the Vice President's operation. Cheney's office argued that the Vice President's office, because it has both executive and legislative branch duties, is exempt from the order.

Cheney's dustup with the normally non-controversial National Archives and Records Administration is the latest reminder that Cheney believes he can play by his own rules. And it probably secures for Cheney a place alongside Richard Nixon in the Washington pantheon of secret-keepers.

It is useful to tally up the ironies that are piling up outside the Veep's door. Cheney was chosen by Bush as a running mate in 2000 not because he had any visible political assets but because he had no political liabilities. He was believed to be just what Bush needed: a chief operating officer who would give great advice, based on his years of experience, and who, because he had no ambitions for his boss's job, wouldn't have his own agenda. But as it turned out, a lot of his advice, delivered privately, has been poor — and some of it (Iraq) was calamitous. His political antennae are usually furled and not very sensitive. And so rather than proving to be an asset with no liabilities, he has turned out to be a liability with hard-to-identify assets.

Just so we're clear--the day has arrived.

You know, the day.

The day when you woke up and realized you were living in a military dictatorship. The day when you realized everything HAD gone to hell in a handbasket. The day when everything ALREADY WAS well past any point of understanding. It passed like any other day, without anyone noticing. It could have been six months ago, heck, it could have been six years ago.

But the day has passed. We ARE under martial law, we ARE being watched and we ARE being led astray. Yep. It's as bad as we feared.

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