Presidential Signing Statements

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Our Presidential Power show never materialized, despite a lot of exhortations from our loyal readership, but the issue has never gone away. Far from it. The latest outcry about a possible chink in the checks and balances system focuses on the practice of presidential “signing statements,” official addenda in which the president explains his interpretation of the bill he’s signing into law — or just outlines the parts of the law he’s chosen not to follow.

Bush isn’t the first president to tack on these legally confusing Post-It Notes, but he’s certainly been the most prolific, quietly signing more than 750 since he took office, as the Boston Globe‘s Charlie Savage reported on Sunday. That’s more than three times as many as his father, and more than five times as many as Clinton — and in opposition to a much wider range of statutes.

So, in response to Jon, we’re reviving a presidential power show, and asking: is this a wild Executive tilt in the balance of power or a constitutionally proper signal of Executive intent?

Charlie Savage

Reporter, Washington bureau, Boston Globe

Author, “Bush Challenges Hundreds of Laws,” Boston Globe, 30 April 2006

Author, “Examples of the President’s Signing Statements,” Boston Globe, 30 April 2006

Author, “Hearing Vowed on Bush’s Powers,” Boston Globe, 3 May 2006

Bruce Fein

Principal, The Lichfield Group

Associate Deputy Attorney General during the Reagan Administration

Laurence Tribe

Professor of constitutional law, Harvard Law School

Noel Francisco

Laywer, Jones Day

Associate Counsel to the President, 2001-2003

Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, Department of Justice, 2003-2005

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  • Uh! I have to work when this show airs! Listening on podcast is just not the same.

  • Jon

    Great! There were some exchanges very relevant to this topic during the Alito confirmation hearings. If you might be able to get some of that audio, or perhaps read the corresponding transcript from the hearing, I think this would provide an important discussion point during the program.

  • Potter

    Wow! Looks like a great lineup in the dugout!

  • avecfrites

    If this sort of Presidential bypass passes muster with the Supreme Court (I’m assuming we’ll see challenges), we’re on the slippery slope towards dictatorship.

    I wonder how approving conservatives will feel when a future liberal President the enhanced power.

  • jhd

    It would be nice if the Supreme Court stood up for following the rules, but the real problem is political, like it always is. The president had one “accountability moment” and we voted to let him continue. If we the people want dictatorship there’s never going to be a shortage of folks willing to give it to us.

    The slope is very slippery, for instance, I’m curious how Sen. Specter, if he got a bill through cutting off funding for domestic spying, would ever know if it had any effect? What would keep the administration from just passing their own little rule saying they could use other money?

  • Good idea for a show– I can leave the corn on the kettle for another night.

    Tonight’s show should helpfully undermine the general pile-on last night on the supposedly lazy media. Charlie Savage deserves at least as much time as Stephen Colbert. Some ROS listeners were annoyed that I wasn’t toeing the party line and recognizing Colbert as the second coming of Edward R. Murrow.

    The current Presidency may be a joke, but living with the consequences is not.

  • elevine

    I’m really glad you’re broadcasting this tonight. Open Source only broadcasts over Vermont Public Radio on Wednesday nights (rest of the time I listen via podcast or satellite radio). This means I can listen by FM radio while trial running!

    Here is the letter I just sent to the Globe and a couple of local papers:

    ————–

    To the Editor:

    I find it very disturbing that George Bush claims unilateral authority to decide whether the laws of the United States are to be enforced, and that one basis for this claim is his notion that we are “in a time of war.” (“Bush Challenges Hundreds of Laws”: Boston Globe, Sunday, April 30, 2006 and following)

    The President’s belief that he can decide “to ignore provisions in 750 bills he has signed” does not simply disrespect the congress–it destroys a fundamental aspect of our political system. Arlen Specter’s mild statement that “There is some need for some oversight by Congress” and his view that congress should defend its role “as a matter of institutional pride” trivializes the issue and marginalizes the institution. This is no mere turf battle. The president is required to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” (Constitution: Art. III, Sec. III), and he is publicly announcing his intention to ignore that duty.

    The presidency of the United States is an office of defined powers, one of which is faithful execution of the laws. The Congress alone has the power to make laws. The president can veto a law, or refuse to sign one; but once passed, the president must take care that it be faithfully executed. The administration repeatedly tells us that limitations on presidential power can be ignored anytime the president experiences an urge to do so, and the press gives his claim the authority of repetition every time he decides to re-cycle it.

    Simply reciting phrases like “in a time of war” or “wartime powers” does not bestow extra-constitutional powers on the president. Using these phrases to claim powers the office does not possess should outrage every American. Congress—only congress—has the Constitutional power to declare war. It has not done so, and this power has not been repealed, suspended, transferred or amended. The claim of wartime powers in the absence of war might be laughable if the results of our acquiescence were not so serious.

    The warmaking power was granted exclusively to the legislature (and was withheld from the executive) for good and specific reasons. It is not a technicality or an archaic legalism. Claiming that the title “commander-in-chief� gives the president authority to ignore the Constitution or circumvent it is the argument of a caudillo, not of an American president.

    The founders of our country restricted the power to declare war because they had seen what rulers—often having more power than sense, and unrestrained by the rule of law or by institutions with the ability to stop them—would do with it.

    George Bush is not relieved of his obligation to obey the Constitution and execute the laws by the recitation of magical incantations.

    Every president makes this commitment to the American people upon taking office: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

    I hope that we, the people—from whose consent our government derives its just powers—will not permit this momentary president to subvert a system that has secured our rights for two hundred years.

    Very Truly Yours,

  • jazzman

    Constitution? It’s just a goddamned piece of paper! – GWB Nov. 2005

  • Ok, I’ll admit, the ol’ MSM never gave me that quote. This is the first I’ve heard of it. But here’s the source, Doug Thompson reporting in Capitol Hill Blue. Picked up HuffPost later.

    Now, had the second coming of Edward R. Murrow– sorry, Stephen COL-BEAR– had used this line in his roast Saturday, that might have helped this little quote resurface.

  • And, in case anyone’s wondering, here’s some background on Doug Thompson, since it’s tough to find on his website.

    Since the blog is pretty quiet this evening, I was hoping Chris can ask whether any of the guests are familiar with the “goddamned piece of paper” quote.

    Also, here’s Thompson’s follow-up piece, where he added some helpful perspective that this is not unusual for U.S. Presidents. But, then again, few Presidents have flouted the law so brazenly and with less public support than this one.

    Hey– I would have traded all of Colbert’s performance for reading some of the lesser known of Bush’s quotes, and then seeing the look on his face. Angry Bush is a person few Americans know, given the popular caricature of Dopey Bush.

  • “Invertebrate Congress” – okay, we’re back to that conversation about how we choose our leaders. What we’re looking for and how we understand what they are and are not doing as our representatives.

    We need a private funder to pay for a lot of communication to the public and get people thinking about what we want and how we get it from our leaders.

  • Ga Jennings

    “I wonder how approving conservatives will feel when a future liberal President the enhanced power.”

    Right. You can think of Conservatives and Liberals like two children looking at a piece of cake. Neither wants the other to control the portioning out of the cake for the other will cut the bigger piece for himself. The fair way to resove it, we all learn, is to have one child cut the cake and the other to take the first piece, ensuring an honest cut.

    However, Conservatives do not want honesty. They want the biggest piece at all times for they believe that they have a right to it. This is their main “fault” yet they do not and will not ever see that.

    Conservatives believe that they are right and everyone else is wrong and that they must be in control of everything. Sanctions, bombing, jailing, censorship, banning, zero-tolerance, no condoms, abstinance only teaching, no funding of anything remotely “liberal”, ten commandments on the walls in courtrooms where the judge can sentence people to death, etc., etc., etc. are the hallmarks of arrogant self-righteousness.

    If one truly believes that he is right and righteous and his is the one and only true moral way, then breaking or bending or bypassing laws that hinder their work is totally acceptable and even proper.

    That is the kind of men we have running this country.

  • Francisco presents the same extremes – using fear to justify means – that this administration uses all the time. Can it be that George Bush has suddenly been the only president to need to write this many signing statements.

    Oh my, did he just that this president is more candid! He’s got to be kidding. Was he candid about his role in the Plame leak?

  • Ok, I thought Noel Francisco’s testaments to the Constitution might be VERY GOOD TIME to bring up the anecdote about the “goddamned piece of paper.”

    Here’s your Colbert moment…

  • Battlefield decisions like those at Abu Ghraib?

  • I think this guy (Francisco) writes the scripts for “24”. I’ve always thought that that Fox program is propaganda for this overly hawkish administration.

  • Exactly. But the Presidential directives are just pieces of paper.

  • jfdargon

    A man such as G W Bush is not just dangerous to our Constitution and way of life, but to the world at large. He’s possesses the arogance of a man who believes he is on a mission from God. My fear is that with a rubber stamp Congress, this arrogant fool will not be satisfied with thumbing his nose at Congress and “making the judgement” as to whether or not he is obligated to “faithfully execute the laws.” My fear is that he will attempt to subvert the Constitution and have his Congressional lackeys rescind the twenty-second amendment so that he will be “voted” dictator for life. He did say that it would be easier to do what he wants if he were a dictator.

  • Nikos

    Bruce Fine’s spiel was, note for note, on song with Daniel Lazare’s thesis in The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution is Paralyzing Democracy Harcourt, Brace, & Co.; 1996) http://www.powells.com/biblio/61-0156004941-0.

    Today’s American government—especially its legislature—is not only increasingly enfeebled, it’s a fossilized legacy of 18th century government-fearers.

    Is this appropriate — or desirable — in the 21st century???

  • Nikos– interesting point about the bigger issues. Hope they get to that. After all, the Constitution is just a goddamned– oh, never mind. I try.

  • Potter

    Who is the decider?

  • Can someone please quote where in the Constitution the President is given the unchecked power to initiate military action? It was my understanding that he is Commander in Chief of the military and that he gets certain powers once war has been declared by the Congress. Am I wrong?

  • Nikos

    Jon G — you’re right (jazzman too!)

    But now Tribe is talking about the same enfeeblement of the people’s putative legislative representatives…

  • So, can Bush get a Republican to author some piece of legislation about the timing of elections – say moving it to a weekend date or something that seems benign – and then write a signing statement that he’s reserving the right to not have any more elections?

  • Our citizens can supposedly vote to make changes. But if the election system is increasingly corrupted, then what?

  • We pin our hopes on TV comedians, I suppose.

  • This segregation example is bogus: there would be a Supreme Court case filed.

  • Nikos

    Any political system wherein the legislature and executive must be of different parties in order to check and balance each other is absurd.

    It’s time to tear up that venerable old piece of paper and try it again, folks…

  • Bush has an opinion on Dred Scott, I remember. This example was fitting. But how come Francisco didn’t pull any of the 750 real examples? I like the one where scientists can speak to Congress without conferring with the administration first. Where is that in the Constitution? If we didn’t ask that this evening, we’ve wasted our time. Oh well.

  • “say congress passes a law…” THERE ARE 750 EXAMPLES CHRIS, USE ONE OF THEM!

  • BJahi

    As an average citizen who isn’t a politician, what is the best way to get involved and be heard when it seems that the Executive Branch is exercising too much power and is not representing the people?

  • Nikos

    BJahi: Demand a new constitution!

    Only furious citizens can do this!

  • BJahi

    Maybe the constitution is obselete, but what about amendments? The ability and need to amend the constitution was laid out when it was written.

  • So, are we blogging for ourselves now? Only one reference to blog comments and no callers.

  • Potter

    Jon Garfunkel- let go of last night. You were pretty much outnumbered.

  • Nikos

    BJahi: The threshold for amendments is too damned high.

    That’s the current constitution’s worst feature. If we want change, we have to generate a movement akin to those of Eastern Europe in the late ’80’s.

    I’m not, however, holding my breath. My fellow citizens are too distracted by junk like American Idol and video-games…

  • BJahi– Have no fear, the Republican leadership in Congress is once again planning to supply an amendment to prohibit flag burning, even though the SCOTUS has already ruled it unconstitional.

    Potter– goodness, gracious, move on yourself. The substance of all of posts tonight was on tonight’s show. Call it irony if you wish, but if the “majority” has deemed that Colbert is of prime importance, I can use that.

    Otherwise, fellow ideologues, it’s heartwarming to see former GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough on MSNBC blaming President Bush for the Moussaoui not being handed the death penalty.

    Waiting for the audio-feed to get posted in order to hear the last five minutes before I post my reaction to tonight’s show.

  • Antonia Bellanca

    Can’t we the people call for Noel to be tried for treason ?

    Oh yeah we’d need Congree to act…

  • Antonia Bellanca

    Congress-sorry it’s my first time submitting !

  • jackpalance

    Remember that Justice Alito supports “signing statements”as the Washington Post recorded, & the power of his appointment should not be ignored.

  • jfdargon

    Those who say the Constitution is a relic of another century have given up on the power of the People. Only those with the stomach to fight for their rights will succeed in obtaining them. Bush derives his power from an oligarchy. All such power is illusory, and sooner or later those who steal from the People will not be met with a cordial response.

  • Raymond

    For what it is worth …

    The U.S. presidential election of 2008 is scheduled to occur on November 4, 2008. The election will determine the 44th President of the United States. … The winner will be sworn in on January 20, 2009.

    Wikipedia contributors, “United States presidential election, 2008,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._presidential_election,_2008 (accessed May 3, 2006).

    And so, there are 994 days until the next president is sworn in. Actually, a little less, since the swearing in will occur earlier in the day.

  • jackpalance

    Remember that Justice Alito supports “signing statements”as the Washington Post recorded, & the power of his appointment should not be ignored.

  • jackpalance

    Sorry, my link was wrong, this is right:

    Remember that Justice Alito supports “signing statements” as the Washington Post recorded, & the power of his appointment should not be ignored.

  • jackpalance

    Retired Justice O’Connor, 2006, has the last word:

    “it takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings”.

  • A pertinent example of why national treasures like Maureen Dowd shouldn’t be sealed off from the poorer portions of the thinking and voting public by the NYT’s ‘Times Select’:

    Divine Right Of Bushes

    By MAUREEN DOWD (NYT) 766 words

    Published: April 8, 2006

    WASHINGTON – So the aide turns out to have been loyally following his leader’s dictates, rather than going around the boss’s back to peddle secret information.

    Scooter is a “good Judas,� as it turns out, just as Judas himself was, according to a 1,700-year-old Christian manuscript found in the Egyptian desert that asserts that Jesus wanted Judas to betray him, so he entrusted his disciple with special intelligence.

    “You can see how early Christians could say, if Jesus’ death was all part of God’s plan, then Judas’s betrayal was part of God’s plan,� Dr. Karen King, a professor of the history of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, told The Times.

    Since President Bush seems to see his mission in Iraq as part of God’s plan, he must have assumed that getting Scooter Libby to leak parts of a classified document on Iraq to rebut Joe Wilson’s charge about a juiced-up casus belli was part of God’s plan.

    When other officials leak top-secret stuff – even in cases where the whistle-blowers feel they are illuminating unlawful acts – they are portrayed by the White House as traitors who should be investigated and fired.

    After The Times broke the story about the president allowing unauthorized snooping in America, W. was outraged. The F.B.I. and Justice Department were sicced on the leakers. “Revealing classified information,� W. huffed, “is illegal, alerts our enemies and endangers our country.�

    Really, W. should fire himself. He swore to look high and low for the scurrilous leaker and, lo and behold, he has himself in custody. Since the Bush administration is basically a monarchy, he should pass the crown to Jenna. She couldn’t do worse than this bunch of airheads and bullies.

    Patrick Fitzgerald filed court papers indicating that Scooter testified that in 2003, when the White House was getting rattled by the failure to find W.M.D. and by criticism from a former diplomat on the margins of the war scheme, the president authorized Dick Cheney to authorize Scooter to make a one-sided dump of classified information about Saddam’s arsenal to The Times’s Judy Miller.

    Scooter was so concerned about the propriety of the deal that he checked with the vice president’s lawyer, David Addington, before he spilled. Addington, whose politics are to the right of Louis XVI, said, go right ahead. Now Black Adder has Scooter’s job.

    Coincidence?

    The Bushies once more showed incompetence by creating this elaborate daisy-chain leak and giving it to the one person in journalism who had been roped off from writing about the prewar intelligence, while her editors sorted out problems with her past W.M.D. coverage. Judy never authored an article about what Scooter gave her, either that intelligence or the identity of the woman whom she wrote down in her notebook as “Valerie Flame.� (Stripper or spy?)

    W. subscribes to the Nixonian theory that when a president does it, it’s not illegal – or maybe it’s the divine right of kings. God has been pretty active in Republican politics lately: Tom DeLay said God told him to drop out of his re-election race.

    If the administration were seriously trying to declassify something in the national interest, wouldn’t it have President Bush explain his decision or have his Scottish terrier yip it out from the podium, rather than having Scooter whisper it in Judy’s ear?

    Instead, sounding very Lewis Carroll, the White House claims that when the president leaks something secret, it’s not secret anymore. It’s the Immaculate Declassification: intelligence is declassified by passing it on to a friendly reporter.

    “The president believes the leaking of classified information is a very serious matter,� Scott McClellan said. “And I think that’s why it’s important to draw a distinction here. Declassifying information and providing it to the public, when it is in the public interest, is one thing. But leaking classified information that could compromise our national security is something that is very serious. And there is a distinction.� And thank goodness we have a White House that gets that distinction. Democrats who don’t, he sniffed, are guilty of “crass politics.�

    If W. wants the information out, it’s good for the country to make it public. If W. doesn’t want the information out, it’s bad for the country to make it public. L’état, c’est moi.

    That’s how we got mired in the Iraq war in the first place. The administration ruthlessly held back classified information that contradicted its bogus case for war, and leaked classified information that supported it.

    The Bushies keep trying to manipulate reality, but reality bites back. That’s not only crass politics. It’s lethal politics. L’état, c’est mess.

  • 2observe4u

    Great Show, this is definitely what we need to be debating, it goes to the very heart of the great principles upon which this country has thrived.

  • In respone to Mr. Fein’s remark about “all the strength of an invertebrate.” I think I need to stick up for invertibrates here. Insects will likely outlive even presidential signing statements about them, or even a war against them by a “leader elected by a majority of Americans.”

  • Nikos

    In a post on the Colbert thread, sidewalker wrote:

    “Unfortunately, most (in the press and in politics) do the bidding of their corporate bosses, all the time denying it, which clearly shows that the corporations and not the public run the nation.�

    http://www.radioopensource.org/stephen-colbert-court-jester/#comment-10646

    Quite right.

    This, sadly, belies the belief that, under our obsolescent 18th century constitution, the People still have the power to wrest control back from the corporate oligarchy, who not only powwow with the executive for deregulation purposes, but effectively run Congress through K-Street (the new ‘Fourth Branch’ of American government).

    How so?

    Our periodic votes only select new stooges for the lobbyists.

    The economically privileged have thoroughly co-opted the politic system constituted in our venerated but experimental 18th century document.

    The experiment has run its course.

    Europe is awash in state-of-the-art parliamentary democracies: states with vibrant, multi-party political spectrums. Why can’t we have one too?

    Just because of unthinking, dogmatic veneration of dead white rich men from the 1700’s?

    Please.

  • hedczech

    The ‘ticking time-bomb’ scenario is a great argument for giving the president ‘on the battle-field powers,’ but unfortunately this sort of thing only happens in the movies.

  • joel

    I bet that every one of those complaining in this blog about their present government are paying the government personnel to do exactly what they are doing, making incredible hypocrites of themselves the complainers. Also are they fools given that income taxes are unconstitutional under the thirteenth amendment of the U.S. Constitution given that the months that they labor for the funds to pay such taxes are involuntary servitude.

    Cheers.

  • I’m going to demur again from above some of the consensus. Indeed, this was a great topic for a show. But the show could be executed better.

    I’ve made a statement before about the utility of short posts, but this is coming at the end of the thread after the show; I don’t feel I’m abusing this space, and I feel very strongly about what I’ll be saying.

    First of all, I’m at wits end about the utility of this interactive forum. It’s popularly imagined as “social media,” the goals of which are generally to win friends and influence people.

    My model is different; I’ve been calling it constructive media. What constructive media demands is that the best, most original points float to the top, and any points that requests a response gets one. This forum technology has long needed an overhaul, but if we buy into that model, we can make it work that way with a little more effort.

    I listened to all but the last five minutes of the show today (waiting for the file to hear the rest), but it seems like you missed an absolute gem. I happened to champion it which is why I’m following up here.

    You had on the very laywer who was part counsel to these interpretations of law. So here was the chance to ask a question: What does the President really think about the law? Ok, we’re cynics, we don’t suppose he’d be able to tell Felix Frankfurter from Warren Burger without making a joke about cole slaw. But indulge us. We know from the debates, that, when pressed, he came down pretty solidly against the Dred Scott decision of 1857, which any high school student could point out was rendered moot by the Civil War and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. We know what sort of judges he favors — the “STAR” team of Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts. What about the the law itself? Here is the image that Francisco painted: the President is furrowing his brow, weighing the utmost matters of life and death, freedom and security, the balance of which are held by our national Constitution.

    and what does he think about this most sacred document, when it’s on the line?

    “It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”

    Not my quote, I’m just passing it along from Doug Thompson, who has this triple-sourced. You celebrate independent journalists, bloggers-or-otherwise, and you scoff at the mainstream media for ignoring them. This quote wouldn’t ever have made it into the Times or the Post; mostly because it wouldn’t fit in the context of traditional news reporting. Yet you take a pass as well here.

    And it was the perfect opportunity and the right context. The President’s former lawyer here is arguing how much he has the Constitution at heart, while he goes about executing a “sock it” veto over 750 laws that Congress passses.

    “It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”

    Let me spell it out. If the “piece of paper” doesn’t matter, why is his lawyer defending the President’s decisions based on that very document?

    Now, maybe Bush really meant it. Maybe he said that the whole of America– the people, the ideals, the interstate highway system, the freedom to be ignored and the freedom to be ignorant– is greater than a piece of paper (er, parchment, the United States Constitution is written on parchment, how ill-informed is this guy?) Of course, if that’s what he meant, that in and of itself would have been worth exploring. We’d just have to change the oath of office.

    Chris, you kept carving out hypotheticals about what sort of laws might be written next (as did Francisco, but his were antebellum). But take a look at the actual signing statements: The Congress can appropriate moneys, for research, and the findings can be censored? DoE and NRC employees are not entitled to whistleblower protection? The question needs to be pursued, as Savage did in his article: if this is happening, what is the point of Congress?

    Here’s how to atone. What we do here online is, we seek out “semiotic paperweights” to neatly organize our paper trails, and I submit this “sock-it veto” as a new one. Now, a popular national newspaper columnist might read an email from you before he reads one from me. Maybe a little pointer to this thread will inspire him to post his Sunday column about the sock-it veto and that “dammned piece of paper.” The great Decider will go from defending the Secretary of Defense, to defending what he thinks about the Constitution itself. That’ll be a leap of faith.

    And if any of this gets into a Stephen Colbert routine, I’ll do my duty as an American and laugh. Sock it to me.

  • phyzzy

    It’s scary that Mr. Bush shows such arraogance and contempt for the checks and balances set up by the Constitution. I had thought that the veto was the method whereby a President rejected a bill passed by Congress. The Presidential veto is meant to be part of a dialogue between the Exectuive and Legislative branches and part of the process of compromise. By not vetoing any bill whatsoever, Mr. Bush in shows disregard for the process a passive-aggressive stance. With Unitary Executive support of Jutice Scalito on the Supreme Court, he can rely on back up from that quarter. With a weak and passive Congress, he can roll over that branch, too. I wonder what all the fuss over the line item veto was about. We we being had with a sly wink and a chuckle? I hope that Senator Specter will have meaningful hearings to investigate this abuse of power and that impeachment will follow if warranted (no warrantless impeachment, please).

  • dlight

    Noel Francisco cited a statement by White House Counsel under Clinton as though it were law. The fact is that law is made by the Congress, enacted or vetoed by the President, and the Judiciary decides upon the consitutionality of that law. The notion that the Executive has the power to decide upon the constitutionality of bill is absurd and ignores the role of the Judiciary in our political system.

  • dlight

    what is law is that the line-item veto may not be used, as it improperly circumvents presentment to both houses of Congress (Raines v. Byrd)… this is more pertinent to the argument, and, of course, totally controverts the argument presented by Francisco…

  • What I find amusing about many of hte comments here and especially from Chris is whhen the cite Bush’s poll numbers being at ~ 33% as if that implies the the other 66% agree with thier points of view. The reason why his approval has slumped from ~ 51% (from the election) to it’s point now, is NOT that those ~ 18% of those people think that he isn’t acting like you want but as they want.

    Those 18% of the people want him to act MORE like a pres and less like he is now.

    That is the false logic that will make many surprised about the results of the next election – those 18% pluss the other 33% will be voting for politicians who will act more like GWB used to be and not what the people on this site want.

  • jfdargon

    A quick review of the Bush Administration reveals much circumstantial evidence to support impeachment of both the President and V.P. The real problem lies in the dereliction of duty of the Congress. Yes, there are a few voices in the wilderness, but they have little volume. Nothing will happen to Bush. He had his office secured by Cheney’s friendly hunting and fishing trip with Justice Scalia. The energy oligarchy had its profits insured with Cheney’s secret energy meeting. The Neo-Cons in the Senate had the opposition’s strongest voice silenced when Senator Paul Wellstone’s plane mysteriously crashed. Isn’t it both crude and obscene the lengths the neo-cons (emphasis should be on cons) went to to both denigrate and destroy Clinton when he refused to go to war in Iraq when in pursuit of Osama bin Laden? Just how close is the Bush family with the bin Ladens? How is it that Bush Sr. was distrusted by Reagan. Connecting the dots leads to conclusions, but…

  • Potter

    Goodness gracious yourself Jon Garfunkel. Count the number of times you bring up Colbert on this thread. Five times- and not constructively, but saarcastically. I bring it up once and tell you to “let go” and you hide behind “I can use that” crap.

  • Potter

    Oops! Six times forJon Garfunkel Colbert mentions NOT including the one where he scolds me ( again)!

  • Potter

    In a way “It’s just a dammed piece of paper” is right. Laws and constitutions cannot cover everything. If you do not have leaders who serve in the interest of all the people, who know what this country is (or has been, or wants to be) about, the history, the philosophy that was so revolutionary and such a point of pride: to govern “of the people” “for the people” then it IS just a dammed piece of paper and it’s in the way.

    Nikos how can any new document cover it all, set right the flaws, the corruption? We have relied on a deeper unwritten social contract all along that has as it’s skin that 18th century document that has guided us . If that social contract is going, it’s an earthquake that no new document can fix.

  • Potter

    Link (again) “Goddamned piece of paper…”

    http://www.capitolhillblue.com/artman/publish/article_7779.shtml

  • jfdargon

    Are there parallels between Bush’s disdain for the “Goddamned piece of paper,” and his claim of being ” The President and Commander in Chief. Do it my way,” and Adolph Hitler’s forcefully enacted Enabling Act of 15 March 1933? Yes. The Enabling Act allowed Hitler and his cabinet to enact legislation without the Reichstag. The Patriot Act, a needless sham foisted on the American People, is a similar grab for power. The power of the purse lies in the House of Representatives. With the indictment of, and hopefully, complete repudiation and incarceration of Tom DeLay and others of his ilk, this power can be wrested from the hands of the oligarchs. Once this is achieved a full House cleaning can be had, and a turnover in the Senate would complete the wash cycle. A President who truly has the interests of the Nation could then be voted in, and justice against these thieves and warmongers begun in earnest.

  • Some thoughts:

    1) We know why the president has not vetoed legislation handed him by a congress overwhelmingly within his own party, but why has he not taken his prerogative to shape legislation by conferring with those in congress (his own party essentially) and “shaping” bills to his liking? This would obviate the need for “signing statements” since the laws are by definition to his liking. Or a more cynical reading is that the laws passed to the president are already to his liking and the signing statements are a mechanism for him to use to cover his ass if necessary.

    2) I was gladdened to hear the example of rightful presidential power shift from the “proper torture” argument to a constitutional separation of powers argument. I forget who is responsible for the redirection but bless them for taking the argument out of the philosophical and back into the political realm.

    3) How does a citizen gain enough standing to take an egregiously unconstitutional law before the supreme court where it can rightfully be declared thusly? Unless I misheard the program, all three scholars on the program seemed agree that private citizens have little if any chance of gaining a standing with the supreme court; attributing to them only the power to elect their representatives. But when presidential elections are decided by supreme court decisions, one has to wonder how powerful is the individual citizen?

  • Potter, your comment about the leaders echoes my comments all over this blog about leaders. I wish we’d have a serious public discussion about what a good leader is and how you know one when you see one.

    It seems to me this public needs a basic primer. Bush ran his first campaign saying that he was going to be the “CEO” president. Only his resumé as a CEO was full of dismal failures. No corporation that wanted to make money would have hired him as CEO. Yet enough people decided to hire him, that he could manipulate his way into office.

  • jmthiele

    One of your guests made a comment that I must respond to. The citizens are NOT the ultimate deciders when evidence is clear that the election system in the United States is corrupt.

  • Potter

    JMthiele: The citizens are supposed to be the ultimate deciders. I believe that is what Laurence Tribe was saying and I meant by the ( rhetorical) question.

  • nother

    Allison, I seem to recall from blog on the morality thread where you said you did not like Freud. I could very well be wrong. With that said, the NY Times magazine had a fascinating article concerning Freud’s views on the leaders we crave. “Freud and the Fundamentalist Urge” by: MARK EDMUNDSON I posted an excerpt below. I was especially interested in the end of the article where he talks about the importance of id, ego, and superego, and how they act as checks and balances. As a group we seem to look for a leader who will take to place of our superego and the checks it provides. Sometimes it can be messy but the checks and balances of our id, ego, and superego, are as important to our mental health as the checks and balances of our government are important to our group health.

    “We want a strong man with a simple doctrine that accounts for our sufferings, identifies our enemies, focuses our energies and gives us, more enduringly than wine or even love, a sense of being whole. This man, as Freud says in his great book on politics, “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego,” must appear completely masterful. He must seem to have perfect confidence, to need no one and to be entirely sufficient unto himself. Sometimes this man will evoke a god as his source of authority, sometimes not. But in whatever form he comes — whether he is called Hitler, Stalin, Mao — he will promise to deliver people from their confusion and to dispense unity and purpose where before there were only fracture and incessant anxiety. But, of course, the price is likely to be high, because the simplifications the great man offers will almost inevitably involve hatred and violence.”

  • nother
  • joel

    63. plaintext Says:

    May 4th, 2006 at 10:19 am

    Some thoughts: …..

    one has to wonder how powerful is the individual citizen?

    No need to wonder. Each individual citizen is as powerful as his share of an aggregate vote of where to put one’s money. Decide your choice and either support or boycott.

  • jazzman

    Plaintext: How does a citizen gain enough standing to take an egregiously unconstitutional law before the supreme court where it can rightfully be declared thusly? I may be mistaken but I believe that the only way to gain standing with the SCOTUS (or any court) is to be charged with a violation of the law in question or file a lawsuit to have the law overturned. The operative point is there has to be an involvement in a court case before standing is granted. In the case of ELK GROVE UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT et al. v. NEWDOW et al. where Newdow sued on behalf of his daughter to have the One nation under God clause removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. The SCOTUS ruled that because he was not the custodial parent that he had no standing to bring the suit even though the 9th Circuit Appellate Court granted him standing and overturned a lower court ruling on appeal. So I guess if people have enough money, time, and make a compelling case for the overturn of laws as unconstitutional and work their way up thru the lower courts to the SCOTUS, providing they then agree to take the case (by no means guaranteed), there is a chance for reversal.

    Nikos: When is the new Constitutional Convention going to start?

  • Nikos

    Jazzman(2:10 PM): how about right here and now?

    Potter (7:29 AM) and joel (11:55 PM): To me, your two posts reflect the same common American perceptions and close-held beliefs. As you read the rest of this (most of it published a decade ago), please consider its prescience for the topics of Tuesday and Wednesday’s ROS hours. (Bolded words are my blogitorial emphases.)

    Introducing The Frozen Republic, Daniel Lazare writes:

    (begin quote)

    America is a religious society caught up in a painful contradiction. On the one hand, its politics rest on faith in the Founding Fathers—a group of planters, merchants, and political thinkers who gathered in a stuffy tavern in Philadelphia in 1787—and the document they produced over the course of that summer, the Constitution. These are the be-all and end-all of the American system, the alpha and omega. On the other hand, the faith isn’t working. (Governing) (p)roblems are mushrooming, conflicts multiplying, and society seems (increasingly divided). As a result, Americans find themselves in the curious position of celebrating the Constitution and Founders, who comprise America’s base, yet cursing the system of politics they gave birth to. The more the roof leaks and the beans sag, the more fervent the odes to the original architects and builders seem to grow.

    This is curious but not unprecedented. In one form or another, Americans have been simultaneously praising the Constitution and cursing the government since virtually the moment George Washington took office. What is different however, is the degree. Constitution worship has never been more fervent, while dissatisfaction with constitutional politics has never been greater. Yet rather than attempting to work through the contradiction—rather than wondering, for instance, whether the fact that the house is falling down doesn’t reflect poorly on those who set it up—the general tendency over the past two decades or so has been to blame anyone and everyone except the Founders. If the original conception is pure and perfect—and it is an article of faith in America’s civic religion that it is—then the fault must lie with the subsequent generations who allowed it to be trampled in the dust. We have betrayed the legacy by permitting politicians, the media, special interests, minorities, etc., to have their way. Therefore, our duty as loyal subjects of the Constitution is to pick it up, dust it off, and somehow restore it to its original purity.

    (end quote)

    That paragraph describes much of what the show’s guests did over the hour: finger-pointing over ‘who of us has sullied, by willful misinterpretation, the sacred Constitution!’

    More:

    (begin quote)

    This is the way religious societies think—when confronted with the problems of the modern world, their first instinct is to retreat into some long-lost Eden, where everything was good and clean and honest. This book, however, is here to say it ain’t necessarily so, that Eden was never what it was cracked up to be, and that the Founders were never as far-seeing and all-wise as their followers allege. The problem with American politics, it argues, is not that they are the flawed expression of a perfect plan, but that they are the all too faithful expression of a flawed Constitution. Where the document devised in Philadelphia in 1787 neatly fit the needs of American society at the time, it proved woefully inadequate to the needs of American society in subsequent decades. In 1861, he constitutional system fairly disintegrated under the pressure of seventy years of pent-up change, unleashing one of the worst military conflicts of the entire nineteenth century. For approximately the next three quarters of a century, it proved to be a political straitjacket, in which even the mildest social reform was prohibited on the grounds that it would interfere with the minority rights of bankers and industrialists; then, following a brief golden age after World War II, it has resulted in crippling gridlock and paralysis. The Constitution has performed this way not despite of the Founders, but because of them. They created a system in which the three branches of government were suspended in almost perfect equipoise so that a move by one element in any one direction would be almost immediately offset by a countermove by one or both of the others in the opposite direction. The result was a counter-democratic system dedicated to the virtues of staying put in the face of rising popular pressure. The more the system refused to budge, the more the constitutional sages praised its immobility.

    The problem with the Constitution lies not with any single clause or paragraph, but rather with the concepts of balance and immutability, indeed with the very idea of a holy, all-powerful Constitution…

    …There are times when society needs to fly away and leave the past behind—to cast off old assumptions, to adopt new theories, to forge new frameworks of politics and government. This is precisely what the Madisonian Constitution was designed to prevent and something it has succeed all to well in doing. As a result, U.S. society is laboring under what is at best an eighteenth-century mode of government as it (enters) the twenty-first century.

    America…has never seemed more unequal to the task (of appropriate change and sensible evolution). Society has never been more fragmented, politics have never been narrower or more shortsighted, while the extended constitutional priesthood—judges, eminent professors of constitutional law, op-ed columnists, and so forth—has never been more dogmatic…

    (end quote)

    Yesterday’s show, for all its illuminating qualities, was nevertheless yet another exercise of the sort evoked in that last quoted sentence. (The quotes, btw, are from pages 1-5 of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution is Paralyzing Democracy Harcourt, Brace, & Co.; 1996) http://www.powells.com/biblio/61-0156004941-0.

    Lazare goes on to point out that in parliamentary systems, the government isn’t viewed as a sovereign ‘adversary’ the People must either obey or fight to control – but the implementer of the People’s will.

    So my question to joel, who doesn’t like the federal income tax, is this: are you on your own willing to finance the Environmental Protection Agency, or National Parks, or even public education and road-repair? Are you willing on your own to volunteer your hard-earned money for the common good?

    Or isn’t that what we elect representatives to do on our collective behalf?

    And if our elected representatives are corrupted by the culture fostered within the cocoon of our 18th century Constitution, ought we not frankly discuss the ancient system’s virtues and flaws, instead of naively scrying for answers within the document spawning all the problems?

    Is government the enemy, or is it us?

    And if it isn’t us any longer, ain’t it high time to make a big change or two?

    Lastly (for now), the Constitution laudably purports to protect minority rights – yet in practice, the only minority its constitutionally-created government toils to protect is the top 1% of the population.

    A constitutionally protected oligarchy. (Although guttersnipes like me would prefer to call it by its more accurate name: ‘kleptocracy’.)

    Who is ‘the People’ of ‘We the People’?

    Who, exactly, is sovereign?

  • Nikos

    First a correction: the quotes above were from pages 1-3, not 1-5, of The Frozen Republic Harcourt, Brace, & Co.; 1996) http://www.powells.com/biblio/61-0156004941-0 .

    And I’d like to continue with most of page 4:

    (begin quote)

    The outlook for (constitutional and governmental) reform seems grim…which only makes it all the more necessary. What Americans need is less faith and more thought, less willingness to put their trust in a bygone political order and a greater realization that they, living, are the only ones capable of maneuvering society through the storm. Instead of beginning with the Constitution as the essential building block, they should realize that there are no givens in this world and that all assumptions, beginning with the most basic, must constantly be examined and tested.

    This must seem very strange to readers who have been trained from childhood to think of the Constitution as America’s rock and foundation, without which it would disintegrate into an unthinking mob. Yet constitutional faith is a form of thoughtlessness, since it means relying on the thought of others rather than on one’s own. The alternative is to emancipate oneself from the past, to wake up to the realization that two centuries of struggling and fighting have not been for naught and that we know a few things that the founders didn’t as a consequence. Rather than continually deferring to their judgment, it means understanding that we are fully competent to make our way through the modern world on our own. This is not to say that we should ignore, Madison, Jefferson, et al., merely that there is no reason we should feel bound by their precepts.

    In a sense, America has to fight what Jonathan Swift called “The Battle of the Books,� a half-forgotten intellectual war that erupted in the 1690’s between those who argued that ancient authorities were superior because they were ancient and those who contended that, thanks to progress and advancement, modern scholars know more than the ancient ones ever imagined and that there was no reason therefore to bow to their example. The argument raged for half a century, and if the ancients were not completely toppled in the end, at least they were dented. Latter-day Americans have got to take up arms as well against the eighteenth-century philosophes who wrote The Federalist Papers and created the Constitution and have been posthumously lording it over the United States ever since.

    The alternative is continuing breakdown and decay. Government in America doesn’t work because it’s not supposed to work. In their infinite wisdom, the Founders created a deliberately unresponsive system in order to narrow the governmental options and force us to seek alternative routes. Politics were dangerous; therefore, politics had to be limited and constrained. But America cannot expect to survive (indefinitely) with a government that is inefficient and none too democratic by design. It is impossible to forge ahead in the (twenty-first) century using governmental machinery dating from the late eighteenth… Politics will grow more irrational and self-defeating, while the price of the good life—that is, a nice home, good schools, a quiet street in a safe neighborhood—can continue its upward climb beyond the reach of all but the most affluent. Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, and other demagogues of the airwaves will continue to make out like bandits, while millions of people who listen to them will only grow angrier and more depressed. Eventually, every other society caught up in such a bind had snapped. Sooner or later, the United States will as well. They stays have already begun to fray.

    (end quote)

    Now then, if this seems overly alarmist, please see jasonfg’s show suggestion on ‘blue state independence’ – http://www.radioopensource.org/suggest-a-show-march-2006/#comment-10403 — and note too that many citizens in the Northwest (at least) began muttering and mumbling about ‘blue state secession’ the day after the last presidential election: you know, the one that ratified by plebiscite the Bush monarchy.

    The very same monarchy this ROS show was dedicated to examining.

    The very same thoughtless slide into authoritarianism that Sandra Day O’Connor warned about as soon as she fled her constitutional role as Justice.

    That monarchy.

    The one being born from the rotting republic given us in the old, cracking and fading Constitution.

    The Constitution that, for all intents and purposes, is much too difficult to amend.

    The 18th century Constitution.

    The one that no longer serves We the People, but only our economic overlords.

    Right. The ‘sacred’ one.

  • Nikos

    Two corrections for the post above:

    1. What Americans need is less faith and more thought, less willingness to put their trust in a bygone political order and a greater realization that they, the living, are the only ones capable of maneuvering society through the storm.

    2. Politics will grow more irrational and self-defeating, while the price of the good life—that is, a nice home, good schools, a quiet street in a safe neighborhood—can only continue its upward climb beyond the reach of all but the most affluent.

    Apologies to Daniel Lazare.

  • Potter

    Thanks Nikos. I think we have lost “government as implementer of the people’s will”. Moreover “we the people” is or seems very divided. ( perhaps is’t superficial and played up too much). But the majority ( people on both sides of the divide) are not happy with how they are being governed.

    With the advancing years, “modern life”, all sorts of holes in the Constitution became evident whereby the corrupt side of human nature could flourish and laws and lawmakers could not or would not keep up to put a lid on it. So though the Constitution designed our government to evolve, that rested on the assumption that those who represented the people actually worked in their best interest, not their own, or their friends, or their particular party’s interest.

    Lately I have been admiring the parliamentary form of government over ours. I watch Israel in particular with envy. It seems to me they have more of a democracy. There are other such parliamentary systems, the British first off and for instance, but I am not as tuned in to the Brits. It seems to me that Israel really has a vibrant democracy with many parties, almost too many parties, a critical press and very involved citizens.

    Perhaps we are too big. When the constitution was created we were a much smaller country, much less diverse. People needed each other and knew that they needed each other. Not that we do not need each other now perhaps just as much or more, it’s just that our “interconnectednes” (if that is a word) is not apparent or recognized as such.

    I would welcome the dicusssion about a constitutional convention or a new constitution. I have very little hope that this will happen for as you./Lazare point out the Constitution is sacred. We are very nostalgic about it.

  • Potter

    I meant to say that maybe our current divisions which seem profound are played up too much.

  • Nikos

    Potter wrote (7:29 PM): “I think we have lost ‘government as implementer of the people’s will’.”

    (First, you’re welcome.) To your opening point: perhaps the problem is that ‘The People’ made sovereign in 1789 were white men of property only. They created a republic, not a democracy, and feared that commoners might insinuate their way into the corridors of power.

    The government they created is still very nicely implementing the will of the elites.

    Has it ever implemented the will of the rest of us? That’s a fair question…

    Maybe, once, in a time long past – but isn’t that why the legacy of FDR’s New Deal is such ‘poison’ to the aptly named Republicans?

    Next:

    “Moreover ‘we the people’ is or seems very divided. (Perhaps it’s superficial and played up too much).�

    Perhaps. But this much is certain: the Two Party State is in its very nature polarized and polarizing.

    The Two Party State doesn’t merely fight for the collective mind of the body-politic:

    The Two Party State divides the body-politic, even while limiting the national political debate to a dialogue instead of allowing a thoughtful and diverse communal conversation.

    I can think of no better reason to amend the national legislature into a parliament whose seats are awarded not to individuals but to party slates.

    The founders feared parties and hoped to obviate their development. This was naïve; and the result is the unintended Two Party State, because individuals aren’t and can’t be expected to contend for high political office without some organizational assistance.

    So, since parties are unavoidable realities, it’s well past time to constitutionally acknowledge it.

    We need more than two parties.

    And have for decades, if not for the better part of two centuries.

    Next:

    “But the majority (people on both sides of the divide) are not happy with how they are being governed.�

    That’s in part because the Two Party State makes half of into ‘losers’ every four years.

    The Two Party State can’t very easily countenance anything like a European or Israeli ‘National Unity Government,’ because not enough separate parties exist to set aside their differences and agree to compromise for the common good and common wealth.

    (Especially considering the current generation of vermin Elephants.)

    The Two Party State must inevitably fail.

    Its polarizing effect on the People will eventually split the Union, or cause it to collapse into its own corrupted, porcine excrement. (In this option, our Winston’s famous glee over the ineptness of the Donkeys will be fully justified, since the Dems will continue to diminish while the Elephants fatten: continuing to fall prey to the corruption made inevitable by an unchecked grip on all three branches of the rotten ol’ Republic.)

    In the second option, Bush’s successors will doubtlessly continue the expansion of executive power, while the shocking campaign finance system and its attendant swarm of corruptive lobbyists carry on the enfeeblement of our bizarrely twinned national legislatures.

    Or, we can choose: to retire the Two Party Dinosaur voluntarily, in favor of a state-of-the-art parliamentary democracy.

    Or will we instead choose to waste our time watching the Daily Show, FOX Faux-News, and American Idol?

    Whatever…

  • Pendleton Frisk

    Noel Francisco’s argument is utter hogwash. Has everyone forgotten that the SUPREME COURT is the arbiter of what is constitutional and what is unconstitutional? The president has not the power nor the authority to unilaterally declare something unconstitional. It would be helpful if Francisco could point out where in the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent he thinks it is stated that the President has this “phantom” power. What the hell is Francisco smoking?

    I was missing this piece of the puzzle throughout the entire show until Lawrence Tribe finally got around to it at the end.

  • All of this is to seems to provide more reasons to decentralize power, and give it back to local governments.

  • Vijtable

    First… Potter, I think people mis-heard Mr. Bush. I think he said, “I’m the divider.”

    Second… Nikos, Jazzman. I’m all for for the next Constitutional Convention. Some of my several ideas:

    1) Membership in international criminal tribunals.

    2) First Amendment. (Since it didn’t work the first time)

    3) Healthcare and education as human/civil right rights.

    4) Non-local federal districts (virtual federal districts for national decision-making).

    5) Borda count election system

    I like the Constitution, in its construction as a frame for government, but it is inappropriate for several aspects of modern life.

  • Nikos

    Chuckmeister (2:43 AM) – “All of this is to seems to provide more reasons to decentralize power, and give it back to local governments� – that’s the argument of the right.

    But I believe it’s wrong, and here’s why:

    This country has never had 1) a strong Federal government that 2) whose administration was comprised of representatives elected by politically diverse and well-informed electorate.

    The American constitutional separation of Executive from Legislature means that the only members elected to the Executive are the President and Vice-President (the Decider and the Senate Tie-Breaker). Yet the Executive is by far the biggest and most influential branch of the three. Hundreds of appointees populate this titanic yet indispensable branch – bureaucrats not directly accountable to the People.

    This, of course, gives the right much of the gist for their ‘anti-government’ spiel-mill.

    However, in parliamentary systems, the heads of the various Executive ministries are elected members of their countries’ parliaments – overseers directly accountable to the People. Overseers who can be replaced by ‘unscheduled’ parliamentary elections – whenever enough of the People’s representatives in the legislature vote ‘no confidence’. The smaller entities of multi-party parliaments tend to watch one another very, very carefully for improprieties – because it’s in their interests.

    If you’re a member of the government, yet from the parliament’s second or third largest party, it’s in your interest to bust the biggest party at malfeasance – even if this party is the titular head of your coalition government. (This is another nuance of parliamentary political ethics utterly lacking in the American system – and so much so that Americans are hopelessly unaware of it.)

    This tends to keep all those elected Ministers minding their ethical and moral p’s and q’s.

    Did you ever read Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Where Zaphod Beeblebrox was President of the Galaxy not because he was qualified, but because his personal outrageousness was perfect for the true (and secret) purpose of the office of Galactic Presidency: that of distracting the attentions of the citizens away from the true locus of power in the Galaxy?

    Doesn’t this seem perhaps satirically prescient?

    In our 18th century system, we focus on the Prez (and, as a sideshow, on the Senate Tie-Breaker too), while hardly knowing what the various and sundry Secretaries of (Your Favorite Department Here) are doing. Hell, we hardly know who they are!

    Those nearly anonymous Secretaries are accountable only to a President who is constitutionally protected from recall. Our only chance to throw the buggers out lies in our antiquated quadrennial electoral system. And four years, IMHO, is too damned long a term if your Executive is incompetent or corrupt.

    Impeachment, as we have repeatedly learned, is no reliable tool for removing incompetent Executives. (Not even corrupted Executives when the bizzarely Twinned Legislature is dominated by the Executive’s totemic animal of the Two Party State.)

    A strong Federal government, whose Executive is drawn from the legislature – i.e., whose members are elected directly by the People is the modern, state-of-the-art antidote to the ‘anti-big-government’ singspiel of the Right’s propagandists.

    Our problem in this archaic system is that we do it ass-backwards.

    And besides (to name but one indispensable function of a strong Federal government), would we want our Louisianas and Floridas to deal with the rising tide of super-hurricanes without a nationally funded federal response system? (Keep in mind that FEMA was considered a crack organization under the Clinton-Donkey officials – people who, unlike Brownie and his ilk, did not despise the very government they were appointed to serve!)

  • I hear you Nikos. I more frequent over turn of executives would solve the problem and a multi-party system would be great. I just do not see that happening simply because people do not care enough to demand a change. That is why I feel that taking away the federal government’s power and giving it to people who know what their constituents want is a way to force the issue. I have a very deep mistrust of government being born in Nigeria and I suppose I will never change.

    Unless, those changes you mentioned happen.

  • def1ant

    It is truly scary what this guy thinks he can get away with. One suggestion I have is to introduce 8 year term limits for everyone in the house and senate. Maybe then they will stand up and complain because they wont be afraid to attack the white house.

  • jazzman

    Nikos: Should we start from scratch or attempt to amend the present constitution? Ideas on this anyone?

  • Nikos

    Here’s an homegrown ROS example that aptly illustrates the deficiencies of our ineffective-by-design dinosaur government.

    http://www.radioopensource.org/suggest-a-show-march-2006/#comment-10777

    It’s a suggestion from Jake Sterling (a terrific one at that), which concludes:

    “We are hearing a lot about the not very edifying attempts of Congress to deal rising gas prices and global warming. Skip all that. Those guys don’t have a clue. I would like to hear more discussion of realistic and humane solutions. Isn’t there some saying like, “If the people lead, the leaders will follow?� If there isn’t, there should be.�

    In parliamentary systems, the people don’t have to lead the government by the nose (or to the woodshed) – because the multiple parties, in their competition for the biggest chunks of votes, devote time to policy innovation, not to sandbagging and to the artful deceits we’re coming to call ‘truthiness’.

    Jake, a responsible American citizen, must search for sensible policy innovations from parties of foreign countries.

    Our own pols, both Elephantine and Jackass, are irredeemably intellectually bankrupt.

    They deserve to be shown not more campaign funds, but the door.

  • Nikos

    Jazzman: how about each of us lists the things we like in our current Constitution (like the Bills of Rights!) and the stuff we don’t like (like the arbitrary separation of Executive from Legislature and the de facto Two Party State). Add to that the stuff we like in the constitutions of admirable democracies abroad, and the stuff from abroad we’d prefer to avoid.

    Blend for ten minutes, pour over ice, and taste for palatability?

    Modify as necessary?

    (Allison might make a great moderator, if one of us can sweet-talk her into it! I nominate you or Potter…)

  • I wish I had your vigor and optimism Nikos.

  • Nikos

    Chuckmeister (1:51 AM): Imagine being born into a society wherein some 200 years ago, the Founders believed the new land they had settled made them prone to oversleeping. Hardworking puritans that they were, they innovated an ingenious remedy: a steel helmet with spikes. Now, these spikes weren’t on the outside (ala WWI Germans), but on the helmet’s inside. Lo and behold: wearing the helmet helped reduce their sleep!

    For generations after, all school-children in this society were (and still are) fitted with their own helmets, which, as the person’s head grows, effectively shrinks, thus ensuring a lifetime of sleeplessness, increasing pain, blood-soaked hair, and pussy infections. Yet none dare complain, because, after all, the revered Founders innovated the helmet, and, what’s more, it works!

    Instead of complaint, the Founders’ descendants invent headache remedies, blood coagulants, and antibiotics. All this invention is wildly successful for economic purposes, making the country famously wealthy, yet no one’s health ever truly improves.

    Meanwhile, polite visitors from foreign countries compliment the helmet-wearers for their economy and faithful willingness to adhere to their society’s founding myths.

    And some of the helmet-wearers travel abroad and discover that the non-helmet-wearing outside world sleeps fine: not too much but just enough.

    I’m one of the guys who’s traveled abroad, and who now lives without my helmet.

    And now I’m back home, shouting: WE DON’T NEED TO WEAR THE HELMETS! THE HELMETS ARE CAUSING OUR HEADACHES, BLOOD-LOSS, AND INFECTIONS! WE OUGHT TO STOP WEARING THE HELMETS AND JUST WEAR HATS INSTEAD! LIKE THE REST OF THE WORLD!

    Oddly, some of those whose political ideas match mine agree, but only quietly, and while saying (politely): “We can’t stop wearing the helmets. It’s too ingrained – we can’t change it. And, I have to tell you pal: it’s a pretty weird idea too. Life in America without helmets? Come on! I like you Nikos, but whenever you yell bad things about our helmets, you kinda make us all edgy.

    “By the way, Nikos, have you heard any new ideas for headache remedy lately?�

    And that’s when I get a headache.

  • Nikos

    Oh, I forgot to mention that one reason the foreign world is so polite to us is that our headaches make us real darn ornery: we keep a big military and often threaten to take out our frustrations on the outside world. Plus, a bunch of helmet-worshipping billionaires have figured out that if the country ever wakes to the fact that the helmets are the cause of the national headaches, blood los, and infections, they’ll probably lose their fortunes.

    Thus they spend small tithings of their fortunes on a propaganda machine meant to browbeat us all into proper helmet-reverence. Those of us who take off the cursed things are investigated (and sometimes prosecuted) as seditionists.

    That, however, is in my opinion no good reason to accept life with the same endless and crushing headache.

  • I agree … I think …

  • Potter

    Charlie Savage was interviewed by Terri Gross. I recommend listening:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5392733

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