Sunday, October 29, 2006

November 7

On Tuesday, November 7th, Americans will once again head to the polls to exercise one of the most important rights we possess. To be able to vote and voice our agreement or disagreement with the powers that be, or to vote our dissent against all candidates, is a very important component of our democratic system. We have a chance with this election to change the course (or if you are of the mind, "stay the course") our nation is taking with so many serious issues. As one of the recent political ads have stated “The Stakes Are Important”. Indeed they are, but not for the reasons the ad provided. We have I believe, a much more important issue at hand. Should we change the control of Congress in order to better govern the Executive Branch?

Many citizens such as myself are optimistic about this November’s election because we are hoping for a change of control of Congress. I am hopeful that we will see the Democrats obtain control of at least the House of Representatives. The reason is not so much that I think the Democrats have all the answers. I do not. The reason I want the Democrats to gain control of the House is that I want to see some oversight brought to the executive branch of the government. Mr. Bush’s presidency has for but for about one year enjoyed same party congressional leadership in both houses of Congress. Mr. Bush has effectively had a rubber stamp applied to his desires by an organization that was created to be a check or a governing factor against executive imperiousness.

As a nation, we have seen the Executive branch of the government claim more and more power with little resistence from the majority party in Congress. We have seen this President show disdain for the Constitution by saying "It’s just a goddam piece of paper!", and through the use presidential signing statements that in effect allows the President to give himself the ability to interpret the law.

Article one, section eight of the Constitution states: To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.

The President can either sign the legislation, leave it unsigned, when after ten days, it is passed or he can veto the bill. The Congress can then choose to allow the veto to stand or can vote to override. If two-thirds of the Congress votes to override, then the legislation will stand.

The current occupant of the White House has found and easier way of working than complying with the Constitution. He simply ignores it. With this administration, the use of presidential signing statements has become a tool for interpreting laws as the President sees fit. He has written at least 130 signing statements issuing 750 executive challenges to the laws that he himself signed and is bound by Constitutional directive to execute.

For example, with regard to the amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill of 2005, sponsored by Senator John McCain prohibiting the inhumane treatment of detainees, the President had this to say:

"The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks."

The signing statement basically says that the President shall construe (interpret, understand, take it to mean, whatever) Title X to mean whatever they believe it means. In other words, the executive branch shall construe Title X to mean whatever they want it to mean as long as it protects the American people from further terrorist attacks. So, as Mr. Cheney has so artfully described recently when asked about "dunking detainees in water" (his term for waterboarding),he replies "No Brainer!". As Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice in Wonderland: "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

This Congress has allowed the power of the presidency to expand almost at will. Oh, there are occasional voices of disagreement that are heard. One of the few in Congress with any authority that will challenge the president is Senator Arlen Spector, but his arguments against the administrations have had little impact.

We must have oversight in Washington. Our legislature needs to govern itself better and rein in abuses of power by the executive branch. Some will say divided government will cause work to slow down and we’ll suffer “grid-lock” If the price of oversight comes in the form of grid-lock, then so be it. I do not however, believe that will be the case as history has shown us that divided government generally works well, and in some cases better than a government led by one political party.

Our nation must have a government that remains true to the principles and rules described in the Constitution. This Congress has failed in their responsibility to check the excesses of the executive branch. For that reason alone, the balance of power in Congress should shift to the Democrats this November.

Posted by Dennis at October 29, 2006 11:21 AM

Friday, October 06, 2006

Responsibility Without Accountability

“The Buck Stops Here”. This is a well known phrase coined by Harry Truman and used by just about every politician since who wants to look and sound like they will take responsibility for whatever issue causes them to use the phrase. Today, J. Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States Congress uttered those words. What exactly does Mr. Hastert mean? Will we see a change in Leadership in the House? Will Mr. Hastert resign as speaker in the wake of the cover-up of the Mark Foley incident?

In a word, No.

Mr. Hastert was duly contrite during his press conference today. He indicated that he was deeply sorry this happened and that "the bottom line is we're taking responsibilty". What exactly does this mean? What is responsibility without accountability? The Republican's today have mastered the art of responsibility without accountability. George Bush: "I take responsibility for federal failures after Katrina". Donald Rumsfeld: "Utimately the responsibility rests with me" when commenting on the torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners. Evidently there is no consequence to taking responsibility, as evidenced by the continued tenure of the President, Secretary of State, and now presumably, the Speaker of the House.

On January 8, 2005, the USS San Francisco, a Los Angeles class nuclear submarine was steaming back to Guam submerged at a depth of about 525 feet when it collided with an undersea mountain. One seaman was killed and several injured. The navigation chart being used by the crew did not show the mountain. After a review, the Navy relieved Commander Kevin Mooney, a 19-year veteran with an exemplary service record. THAT is accountability folks. In the service, it is pretty well understood that if you are in charge, you are both responsible AND accountable.

Now we have politicians being oh so very contrite and sorry, but then showing up to work the next day as if nothing happened. Regardless of the mess Messrs. Bush, Rumsfeld and Hastert have made with their jobs there will be seemingly few consequences.

Not to ignore the Democrats in this as they've pulled some whoppers in their time also. Remember Representative James Traficant? Even after being convicted of bribery in 2002, he refused to step down from his seat when asked to by House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt. Also, more recently, we have Mr. William Jefferson, he of the $90,000.00 of "cool cash" in his refigerator maintaining that he is innocent and will not step down even when there is videotape of him accepting the cash. And then whopper of all whoppers, President Bill Clinton who was "deeply sorry", but stayed put during the whole Lewinsky affair when many people had suggested he step down.

The point of this screed is that we have politicians with an acute sense of theatrical contrition and assumption fo responsibility, but then aren't honorable enough to know when the game is over and it's time to step down.

Mr. Hastert should have resigned today. It would have been the honorable thing to do. Politically, it would have been the smart thing to do as it would have given the Republicans a talking point that would have served them well during the run-up to the election. "Yes indeed, we walk the talk. We are the party of personal responsibility and sound moral values." Mr. Hastert was not planning on staying in Congress much longer anyway. He could have dramatically and gracefully fallen on his sword for the party and be seen as someone noble and forthright. By the way, it was the right thing to do from an ethical perspective. The Washington Times columnist, Tony Blankley wrote that "Although the hour is late, it is never too late to do the right thing. At this point, there is nothing left worth defending but our honor. And who knows, as an added bonus, it might also be the smart thing to do. But either way, it is the right thing."

Mr. Blankley was absolutely right. However, the geniuses in Washington won't pay heed to such good advice. The result, a continued existence of slimy, sleazy, dis-honorable politicians not only members of our Congress, but running it as well. Mr. Hastert, you could have been someone special. Now your just someone "who takes responsibility".

I'm gonna go take a Maalox now.