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 Day 19

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Pardon the Interruption

How the Grinch Stole the Pardons

by ELAINE CASSEL

Two years ago, the Supreme Court was the Grinch that stole Christmas, stealing the election right out of the hands of the voters and giving the gift of the presidency to their appointee, George II.

This year, it is George II himself who stole Christmas, issuing seven presidential pardons that, like most of what George II does, makes a mockery of substance and the process. Presidential pardons, a constitutional power that allows a President to demonstrate compassion and give hope to people caught in the federal government’s increasingly broad criminal injustice net, got a bad name with Clinton’s pardon of financier Marc Rich. But Clinton, at the end of his second term, made some moving pardons, including some caught in the federal government’s draconian drug laws.

But the Bush pardons say much about Bush, besides his ability to distort every Presidential act into a bad joke. The choice points out how personal and business interests drove his choices. Let’s see, he pardoned a moonshiner, no doubt feeling compassion for a fellow boozer and violator of alcohol-related laws (recall Bush’s drunk driving conviction that was swept under the rug, not to mention his own daughter’s criminal offenses related to alcohol). A man was fined, fined mind you, for making a false statement to the Social Security Administration. Well, given the way this Administration obfuscates the truth, Bush can certainly identify with a liar. He pardoned two men who stole from businesses–one who stole grain and one who stole copper wire. Well, one does not have to look far beyond Enron to see how Bush has compassion for guys who loot businesses.

And, oh yes, Bush, who escaped the onus of military service and now is so anxious to send tends of thousands of Americans to war against Iraq (and can Korea and Iran be far behind), pardoned a Jehovah’s Witnesses minister who failed to report for induction in 1957. This pardon fills two squares–Bush’s hypocrisy about military service and his “faith-based” initiative. Let’s hope our young people remember when Bush sends them to face off against hand-to-hand combat and nerve gas.

Finally, the one I like the best, is the pardon of a man for altering an odometer. I had the misfortune of catching Tim Russert slavishly courting Laura Bush on television last Sunday. She, answering the question of a young girl who wrote her asking if she and the Pres had horses at the ranch, replied that no, they did not have horses. Because, she says, my husband is a “windshield cowboy.” Meaning, of course, that he rides around the terrain in his macho pick-up truck. Then, too, altering odometers and defrauding unsuspecting purchasers falls into the wink to fraud represented by Enron, Harvey Pitt, Henry Kissinger, Cheney and Haliburton-need I go on?

In contrast, a short story in the December 25, 2002 New York Times caught my eye and really got me going on this pardon rant. A Dutch court convicted a doctor of assisting in a patient’s suicide (against the law there, in contrast to euthanasia, which is not). But the doctor received no punishment, the judge finding that he acted out of “compassion” for his patient.

I could go on about the lack of compassion among President and government for people and environment, the Congress, with the help of the Senate’s new Teflon-coated Republican leader, Bill Frist, making sure that parents whose children are rendered brain-damaged by mercury in Eli Lilly (his biggest campaign contributor) vaccines are left without legal remedy, the D.C. Court of Appeals striking down a DHHS Medicaid waiver that allowed Maine to negotiate drug discounts for its neediest citizens who are not eligible for Medicaid (a waiver approved during the Clinton administration), the announcement of rules that open up the National Parks to oil drilling and mining.

But I digress.

The Bush Administration grinches stole Christmas this year and will do so for years to come, the effects lingering long after its elves are (if ever) gone. It is up to us to (and I know it sounds corny but it is our only hope to survive what is sure to be a grim couple of years), to keep Christmas, its spirit of compassion and hope, in our hearts. Because in the near term, that is the only place it is going to be kept.

ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia. She also teaches law and psychology and is the author of Criminal Behavior (Allyn & Bacon, 2001). She is a contributer to CounterPunch. Cassel can reached at cassel@counterpunch.org.