the end of democracy that never began

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Most Americans take for granted that the “checks and balances” they learned about in high school are sufficient to keep American democracy humming along at comfortable cruising speed. In fact, few realize the extend to which government corruption has no oversight or control.

In Government Ethical Standards Are Toothless, Unenforced, Donald G. Schweitzer illustrates myriad ways government relies on self-policing arising from “a history of federal laws”, in which “Congress has authority for ethics oversight, but ethics enforcement is self-administered and has no punitive foundation.” The resultant failure of ethical compliance leaves a government in which corruption appears to be spiraling out of control and undermining democracy itself.

We know self-policing doesn’t work. Independent investigation with enforcement power is necessary for ethical oversight, yet despite a democracy that prides itself on a separation of powers, no effectual ethical oversight exists. This may be why America seems to be spiraling downward, economically and otherwise.

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Just how bad is the government’s ability to oversee its own ethical behavior?

In the history of America up until 2004, 150 members of congress were investigated for crimes. Only 12 of those were convicted, and not a single member expelled from office.

During the 85th Congress in 1958, Congress for the first time adopted a general Code of Ethics for Government Service for officials and employees in the three branches of government. The standards in the ten-point code are still considered ethical guidance in the House and Senate, although they were adopted by Congressional resolution rather than law and are therefore not legally binding.

The document “is [neither] obeyed [n]or taken seriously by any politician”.

For the executive branch, The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) was created in 1978 to oversee all executive branch offices, of which “currently there are approximately 5,700 ethics officials working across 133 agencies“.

In the 34 years since the formation of OGE, none of the 5,700 employees working in the 133 executive agencies has found any wrongdoing to be significant enough to trigger enforcement of ethical standards. Similarly, Congressional oversight of the executive branch has ignored president/s who condone torture, assassination, imprisonment of whistleblowers they formerly encouraged, violate the Constitution at will and have been accused of war crimes by constitutional lawyers.

According to George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley in an MSNBC interview about torture, “The president refuses to allow the investigation of war crimes. It is just as bad to prevent the investigation and prosecution of a war crime as its commission because you become part of it. There’s no question about a war crime here.”

“This is the most well-defined and publicly known crime I have seen in my lifetime,” said Turley. “There is no debate about it. There is no ambiguity. It is well known.”

“The president of the United States believes that he has the power to order people killed, assassinated, in total secrecy, without any due process, without transparency or oversight of any kind,” says Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional law attorney, political and legal blogger, and Guardian columnist. “I really do believe it’s literally the most radical power that a government and a president can seize, and yet the Obama administration has seized this power and exercised it aggressively with very little controversy.”

Clearly, in many ways, such as the repression of government whistleblowers or executive power to wage internationally unlawful activities, president Obama has followed in the footsteps of George W. Bush, whose administration should be jailed for crimes against humanity as well as a myriad of felonies.

The top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, lost his job when he criticized several top Obama administration officials. McChrystal also admitted that US forces kill innocent Afghans at military checkpoints. He said, “We’ve shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.”

In June 2010, Obama fired McChrystal for ethical misbehavior.

Apparently Obama doesn’t think government officials should speak the truth publicly when it impugns the integrity of government. Firing people for blowing the whistle on crimes makes Obama complicit in the crimes he refuses to investigate. And these are not minor grievances or scandals like sleeping with an intern. These are high crimes that should provoke the highest outrage of Americans.

President Barack Obama meets with Army Lt. Gen...

“I told you NOT to tell the truth to the American people. Dismissed.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Certainly the judiciary is more adept and better equipped in matters of ethics as they pertain to law.

The Judicial Conference of the United States on April 5, 1973, adopted a code of ethics for the federal bench. The new Code of Judicial Conduct for United States’ Judges was designed to apply to all judges on the federal level except Supreme Court Justices, whose compliance would be voluntary. The 670 judges of the federal judiciary would not be obligated by law to obey the new code, due to protection afforded by constitutional guarantees of salary and of life terms. But their compliance was expected.

And you wonder why corruption continues to run rampant in government despite continual promises of reform. There is simply no reason or incentive for politicians to reform anything except their salaries.

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