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Wake-up call

Pardon me


If the Gilgo Beach murderer had transported any victims across state lines, charged under federal statutes and convicted, the president of the United States would have the constitutional authority to supersede and annul the rule of law and justice and wipe the butcher's slate clean as though nothing happened. Only the apocryphal chance of divine retribution would remain, and that possibility is at best indistinct.

Naturally no president would ever do that. But that's not the point. Neither did anyone believe that thought would eventually be given to send the Grim Reaper away from the 9/11 terrorist mastermind. The subjective projection of what is unthinkable isn't good enough. All potential must be rooted out. There are time bombs that tick in silence.

No presidents of any party and under no circumstances should ever be able to grant absolution, except on behalf of Thanksgiving turkeys whose innocence is likely more unimpeachable than theirs. It wreaks of the omnipotent preeminence of ancient kings, which our revolution in theory discredited.

Neither should governors have similar raw and absolute executive dominion. Yet they rule over life and death in states where there is capital punishment and make decrees, sometimes during questionable emergencies, that allow them to suspend civil liberties arbitrarily, without consent, oversight or citizens' right of appeal or redress.  

Their power permits them to unilaterally determine when their enhanced power is no longer needed. 

Nor should it be within mayoral jurisdiction to proclaim a "sanctuary city,” with all the monumental complications it triggers. That should be adjudicated solely through referendum by its legal inhabitants. The author of a recent op-ed in The Chief appeared to advocate, stepping into the breach of both parties' anticipated failure to act, a general strike to prevent a Trump "coup" next year. In the context of discussion of a completely different matter, an acquaintance of mine suggested a strike over the issue of migrant proliferation. This notion of a "strike" as a Hail Mary measure in this matter is harebrained, but it's "out there.”

The concept of royal pardons, whether the sovereignty is conferred upon the House of Macbeth or an elephantine or donkeyesque American commander-in-chief, is absurd, anti-democratic and delegitimizes or courts and juries and precepts of equal justice. If a default doctrine of infallibility rests in presidential, governors' or mayoral control, then it is our so-called "social contract" that has defaulted.  

When their word is law, then they themselves are not merely above it, but become the law incarnate. 

These leaders are inherently susceptible to persuasion driven by influences other than, and often at odds with, the facts of a case. Should presidents be able to pardon crimes that they themselves may have countenanced, thereby in effect pardoning themselves?

William Henry Harrison and James Garfield were the only two presidents who never pardoned, rescinded or commuted criminal convictions while in office. That's because their tenures in office were so short, they hardly had enough time in office to put their pants on. Historically, grounds have included activism in the Whiskey Rebellion, having an overloaded boat, piracy, bootlegging, polygamy and unconsummated assassination.

"Tokyo Rose," convicted of treason during World War II, was pardoned, Eugene Debs' preposterous conviction for sedition was commuted, as was labor leader Jimmy Hoffa's sentence for fraud and bribery. After the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson "unconditionally and without reservation" declared a "full pardon and amnesty" to former Confederate soldiers.

The fact that there have been isolated instances when absolute executive power to pardon has been exercised to reverse wrongs arguably makes it more controversial. But overall, a president's pen should not be wielded as a time machine that can cancel memory and expunge crimes by making them, in effect, un-happen. Forgiveness belongs in the toolkit of debt-collectors, not symbols of officialdom.

There is a direct correlation between the exponential investment of executive power and the loss of freedom and privacy. Data collection and artificial intelligence herald a police state. 

An acquaintance recently received an American Community Survey Form from the United States Census Bureau. Although no addressee is named, there is an ominous warning that their response is required by law and penalties will be imposed for non-compliance. It is very finicky and invasive, requiring precise facts and figures including, but not limited to description of domicile, possession of computer hardware devices, nature of fuel source, educational history, languages used, marital status, military and employment background, health and other insurances held,  time and distance of commute, means of transportation and, of course, race and ethnicity.  No, I'm not a Marshall Islander.

Lord and Lady Bureaucracy have a severe and shameless case of arithmomania. Our souls, identity and value to the State are the sum total of our data points. Ah, to be in  a relationship so driven!

For my last birthday, I got a card from my insurance agent, from whom I've never heard personally except once when I was told that a perfect driving record for decades would not spare me a rate hike if I had had a single fender-bender, regardless of fault. Now I know for sure that I'm in good hands, because the card included some minutiae that is almost unique to me: how often my heart has beat since birth and my eyes have blinked and how many breaths I've drawn since my great exit from the birth canal.

True story: a mockingbird has been dive-bombing the stray cats I feed on my porch. Last week I saw it in flight eating a bug it had found. That bug has as much standing today in the memory of the universe as have us average citizens petitioning our government for policies of empathy.

Reminders of why we have cause to be disillusioned with the quality of our political leadership on every level are almost as frequent as the number of times the name "Bloomberg" is repeated on the former mayor's flagship radio station, or even the quantity of "f" bombs in the movie "Strays.” If its culpable screenwriter is on strike, a deferred settlement would be a public service.

Sorry about that. For my intemperate speech I'll seek a presidential pardon from SAG-AFTRA's Fran Drescher.

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