(Article changed on December 29, 2013 at 11:16)
(image by http://lisaleaks.com/category/director-of-national-intelligence/)
What champion of representative democracy wouldn't choose political impeachment, not criminal indictment, as the opening gambit against highfalutin lawbreaking? Impeachment for "high crimes and misdemeanors" sounds dreadful but, like recall elections, informs a special, extra-legal realm. Let us even suspend disbelief (in morality) to condone why presidents aren't held criminally liable despite lawless torture or assassination orders, abuses of authority, lawless invasions or drone attacks that inevitably slaughter civilians, if not wedding parties. What God hath joined, let no man put asunder, well, except for unholy drones.
No president would get out of bed if one of a million decisions landed him the slammer, alongside disreputable roommates. This second-term presidency descends beyond lame duck to sitting duck for any crackbrain, backwoods "prosecutor" out to punish this illegitimate, tyrannical anti-Christ. Who else would force diabolical Obamacare down America's inflamed throat? In short, that Tea Party mayhem would assuredly drown government.
Admittedly, no modern president escapes culpability not just for authorizing unspeakable atrocities but then vigorously defending their invaluable contribution to national security (read: national ego), perhaps election as certified "war president." Who wants Bufford Bumpkin, D.A. from Bupkis County, orchestrating a president frog-marched from the White House. Civil war, here we come, ignited by a shootout at the O.K. Oval Office.
If not Souls, Soulless Corporations?
But corporations, if not CEOs, remain nominally open to indictment and punishment, even time in the pokey for conspicuous lawbreaking. Corporate "personhood" has its downsides even when soulless. The total penalties BP Oil will fork over for its Gulf oil spill could reach $75 billion, though, alas, without banning it from domestic oil drilling (a justifiable verdict). This year alone one banking behemoth, JP Morgan, will settle fines topping $25 billion for illegal, unethical and odious banking "practices." Really, as practice makes perfect, open trials would only spotlight its re-morphing of derivatives.
In fact, the U.S. banking industry alone paid to our government over $100 billion dollars penalties since '08. Of course, this treasure is sloughed off not as real criminal sanctions but as costs of doing business: such payments are deducted under that magic rubric "necessary business expenses." So, $100 billion+ represents and misrepresents how thugs with financial howitzers hedge their bets while impoverishing millions.
Some highly defensible, certainly positive programs, from Acorn and Planned Parenthood to Food Stamps and unemployment insurance, are taken to the wood shed not for being illegal, but as targets of rightwing rancor. Jesus would weep at refusing food vouchers to our poorest, even when cheaper by the dozen (per reports this week on polygamous offspring). Nevertheless, with their own perverse accountability, both the left (full of trial lawyers) and the right understand that criminals won't cease and desist unless hard punishment is exacted. Corporations do face PR fiascos, but only the stupidest CEOs get indicted for the arrogant knavery of insider trading, sexual harassment, tax evasion, or bilking investors. Destroying the environment, not so much.
Confiscation, not Obfuscation
In this spirit, I propose any federal or state agency found by a federal judge or court to have committed illegal or unconstitutional violations should instantly have 25% of its yearly budget held in escrow until resolution. A second infraction within the year, confiscate 50% and suspend without pay the responsible leaders. In a money culture, money talks, second only to being shamed by jail (that is, for getting caught).
Now, wouldn't that provision grab the senior lapels of the suits mismanaging the NSA? Further, if officials are found to knowingly break the law, but can't be indicted, slice their salary by 50% for a year or more. That gives everyone the right and the incentive to bring deviance to light. If the motivated whistleblower is proved right, match his salary with an equal bonus, channeled from the agency penalty. So, when rogue presidents (both Bush and Obama) rely on suspect, secret legalisms to wiretap every world citizen, disclosure and debate could surface beforehand, not after damage is done. Call it "rewards for prevention" that grants future Edward Snowdens leverage BEFORE egregious policies violate law and public trust.
The alternative is what we have now: novel, roughshod abuses, inordinate delays for justice, then plenty of time for fabricating new violations. To stop what it can't abide, the public must pressure a dastardly Congress to pinpoint bad actors, then withhold funding, get passed both Houses, the president, and likely legal challenges. Identified bad conduct takes so long to repair -- or impede by court action -- that rabid abusers will busy themselves with shiny, new shenanigans.
If the NSA isn't the classic rogue agency, flush with misrepresentations, denials, lying to Congress, and judiciary slap-downs, what is? And consider other agencies are equally shielded from budget scrutiny as non-transparent "black" intelligence sites. Clearly, this bizarre Congress won't reign in NSA abuses and waiting years for this Supreme Court to deny "warriors against terrorism" is a fool's errand. Does anyone expect this president to insist forcefully on recommendations from his own judgmental president panel?
Alternative Solutions: Stop Calling, Emailing?
Alternatively, we could all stop using our phones or learn to email with indecipherable codes. Write letters talk one-to-one? Some nerd could make a mint selling cipher software that protects users from both identify threats and government intrusion. Overall, no recent revelation challenges the rivetting conclusions in Ryan Lizza's "State of Deception": the history of the intelligence community "reveals a willingness to violate the spirit and the letter of the law, even with oversight. Edward Snowden's revelations pinpoint NSA violation of the letter and spirit and the Constitution." And who but another "war president" doubts Lizza's own indictment: the NSA "inverts the crucial legal principle of probable cause: the government may not seize or inspect private property or information without evidence of a crime"?
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