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January 22, 2009

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It is so amazing to have a president who really understands American values instead of one who pays lip service to them.

"Al Qaeda could never have destroyed our commitment to liberty, human rights, and the rule of law by itself. It could only hope that we would respond unthinkingly and do the dirty work ourselves. We obliged them, and in so doing did a lot more damage to ourselves than al Qaeda could ever have dreamed of doing."

So true, yet so unrecognized by so many. Al Qaeda was never the existential threat, we were to ourselves.

It's wonderful alright.

Now, can Obama next write an executive order that permanently removes from the Executive the authority to open Gitmos, approve harsh interrogation techniques, and set up parallel justice systems?

One of the maddening aspects of the Bush administration's policies in this area was that they so consistently accepted al Qaeda's terms instead of creating their own. This was not just morally repellent, but stupid: in addition to sacrificing a whole lot of good will throughout the world, it made our actions a lot more predictable, and a lot easier to take advantage of.

This was why Bush Admin. should and probably will be seen as a failure. D. Sanger was on the Daily Show last night and squeezed in, sort of under his breath, that, re: Bush's Legacy, it 'took Harry Truman a while [to rehabilitate his reputation]'. More proof that the NYT doesn't settle for unfocused mediocrity; they insist on quintessential mediocrity - people like Sanger.

Accepting - however tacitly - AQ's terms not only makes you predictable, it actually makes you hostage to them, and more like them. If Bush had been a less terrible president in other respects, this international-stage loss of nerve would still doom him as a very big failure. Presidents often rise to an occasion, whatever it is. This was a very big 'occasion', and Bush (and his party in the House of Commons) flinched. It's remarkable that the modern GOP would fall for a con like this, since in domestic politics they had understood how important it was to control the terms of 'debate'. I guess there's truth to the old saw that the easiest person to con is another con.

The Bush Doctrine and doctrines, and, to a lesser degree, the witch hunt politics of Gingrich, et. al. before them, didn't make the country 'less safe than it could be'. They made it less safe, more vulnerable, weaker, period. Loyal opposition is good. Userpation is not.

Obama gets this just right, as do plenty of conservatives and Republicans (I trust). For me, this the single most heartening thing he's said/done so far (although Lederman replacing Yoo makes me very very happy!). No more passivity. Thank god.

Now, can Obama next write an executive order that permanently removes from the Executive the authority to open Gitmos, approve harsh interrogation techniques, and set up parallel justice systems?

Sadly not. Anything done by executive order can be undone by executive order just as easily. More importantly, rights and restrictions on power can't exist solely on paper; they must be actively implemented by the government to mean anything. Restrictions on executive power won't do a bit of good without a Congress and Supreme Court willing to stand up and enforce them.


Sadly not. Anything done by executive order can be undone by executive order just as easily. More importantly, rights and restrictions on power can't exist solely on paper; they must be actively implemented by the government to mean anything. Restrictions on executive power won't do a bit of good without a Congress and Supreme Court willing to stand up and enforce them.

Ditto that, but add an informed electorate willing to hold our leaders accountable to a Congress and Supreme Court willing to stand up and enforce them.

You cannot build a castle so tall that it will stand enduring even when no one is willing to man the walls.

it's so nice to see a politician actually deliver on a campaign promise. and so quickly, too!

i'm beginning to grow fond of this Obama fellow.

Now, can Obama next write an executive order that permanently removes from the Executive the authority to open Gitmos, approve harsh interrogation techniques, and set up parallel justice systems?

And we get to the nub of what Bush/Cheney have really proven these past eight years, that a determined executive can do what almost anything he wants, in secret, defying congress and the courts, and there is precious little anyone can do about it. About the only thing that seems to have given them pause is Supreme Court rulings against them and certain immutable things in the Constitution that even John Yoo can't waive away, like serving only two terms.

Unfortunately, I think the problem is unfixable and the only that would keep it from happening again would be an informed electorate willing to not elect such people in the fist instance.

Roger Moore got that right. All three branches of government have an obligation to act constitutionally and we have seen all fail. Our chief executives act outside the constitution and sign legislation that fails any constitutional test, our legislators enact laws without regard for the Constitution and fail in their duties toward the executive, and the Supreme Court frequently astounds us with their interpretations of laws under the Constitution. What was that oath they took again? Can we do something about these people who go to Congress and live the rest of their natural lives there?

Can we do something about these people who go to Congress and live the rest of their natural lives there?

we can vote them out.

if we want to.

Why not Constitutional term limits like that on the Presidency?

Mayhaps the Obama administration will drop the phrase "War on terror" as well.

"Now, can Obama next write an executive order that permanently removes from the Executive"

By definition, of course not. Only legislation (within constitutional boundaries), or judicial decsion, can limit a president's power. Presidents can't remove their own power to change their minds, nor can they limit their successors powers, by executive power.

There is still a lot of perspective-changing to do, I think. Conversation I had today:

1: "This is good news. Torture is wrong."

2: "Torture is wrong on Americans, but these are not Americans."

1: "It's simply wrong to treat people that way."

2: "These are not people."

How can a conversation even begin with people who have embraced this mindset to thoroughly? The damage the previous 8 years have done to our values will be felt for a long time to come, I think.

Unfortunately, I think the problem is unfixable and the only that would keep it from happening again would be an informed electorate willing to not elect such people in the fist instance.

That's ... not a reliable solution.

Somebody named Garret Epps in the recent Atlantic suggested, among other things (direct election, better definition of Presidential powers) that

we divide the executive branch between two elected officials—a president, and an attorney general who would be voted in during midterm elections.

As we are learning from the ongoing scandal of the torture memos, one of the drawbacks of a single executive is that Justice Department lawyers may consider it their job to twist the law to suit the White House. But the president is not their client; the United States is. Justice Department lawyers appointed by an elected attorney general would have no motive to distort law and logic to empower the president, while the White House counsel’s office, which does represent the president, would have every incentive to monitor the Justice Department to ensure that it did not tilt too strongly against the executive branch. The watchmen would watch each other.

Wishful thinking, probably.

Anything done by executive order can be undone by executive order just as easily.

That's not quite true. The President doesn't simply rule the Executive Branch by fiat -- his instructions go through existing procedures. A later President can undo those procedures, but that undoing must go through those procedures first.

Why not Constitutional term limits like that on the Presidency?

Because it requires 2/3 of the House and Senate to approve a Constitutional Amendment, and as a general rule, members of Congress aren't in the business of limiting their own power. Also, what we've learned here in California with strict term limits in the legislature is that it severely weakens the legislature and ends up strengthening the executive because of near constant turn over. There is something to be said for having some sort of continuity in the legislature, you know someone who can stand up and say, "hey, you know, we passed a law just like this a couple years ago, we don't really need another one." Not that anyone would do that.

Why people talk about american values not torture? We boil people alive in the phillipinos after spanish-american war. We torture slaves all time. Yeah people now say slavery wrong but no one say torture slave wrong if slavery itself right. Anyway what up with boil people alive?! If i all qaeda i rather be waterboard with cold water on my face than put my whole self in boiling water.

Anyway what up with boil people alive?!

they taste better that way.

Term limits also increases the power and influence of lobbyists and senior staff relative to individual members of Congress.

Incumbency should be less of an advantage than it is, but structural reform of campaign financing (public funding, e.g.) is a much more democratic way to improve that situation than trying to limit terms.

"The President doesn't simply rule the Executive Branch by fiat -- his instructions go through existing procedures."

I think you may possibly be confusing executive regulations -- which have a lot of legislative requiremental hoops to jump through, and indeed can't be undone by whim -- with Executive Orders, which can be undone by stroke of a pen -- although certainly the affected agencies then have to change their own regulations to implement the new executive order.

"Also, what we've learned here in California with strict term limits in the legislature is that it severely weakens the legislature and ends up strengthening the executive because of near constant turn over."

And strengthening the power of unelected staff.

All the counter arguments here to term limits are cop outs. The one on knowledge is absurd since no amount of knowledge can offset stupidity, lack of principle or self-interest. Staff having more power just means those elected are weaklings or again stupid or ignorant. The observation that it requires two-thirds of Congress to initiate a constitutional amendment is correct but again enlightening that the members imagine they get more power by staying longer. I suggest that one reason people like Pelosi and Reid did not make any moves against President Bush is because they were protecting themselves.
Twelve years would be long enough for anyone and with staggered terms would not harm historical perspective (which anyone with brains can get without being there, else why did we just elect Obama).

Deaf, dumb, and blind, you just keep on pretending
That everyone's expendable and no-one has a real friend
And it seems to you the thing to do
Would be to isolate the winner
And everything done under the sun
And you believe at heart, everyone's a killer.

oh Pink Floyd, is there nothing you don't know about the world?

hey, WTF! how'd that get here?

"Al Qaeda could never have destroyed our commitment to liberty, human rights, and the rule of law by itself. It could only hope that we would respond unthinkingly and do the dirty work ourselves. We obliged them, and in so doing did a lot more damage to ourselves than al Qaeda could ever have dreamed of doing."

AQ applied classic, and well-known guerrilla strategy: commit atrocity and wait for the opponent to over-react and damage themselves, undermining their own legitimacy in the process.

It really doesn't take much of an arm-chair general to know this.

BushCo and the NeoCons did exactly what AQ hoped for. Strategery in action. It's really hard to imagine treacherous stupidity of this level is accidental. Really hard.

I'm reluctant to take this thread any more off topic than it already is, but GOB, are you talking about the Senate only (the only place where 'staggered terms' apply), or also a twelve-year maximum for House terms? Or are you advocating a two-term maximum for both chambers?

My arguments aren't a cop-out. I actually agree with you that endless incumbency has drawbacks, I just disagree strongly both that that's the big problem with Congress and that term limits are the way to tackle it even if it were.

Institutional knowledge, particularly of organizations as large as the House and as clubby and arcane as the Senate, is not something that can be easily acquired from afar, no matter how bright the newly elected member is. Relationships cannot be built from afar, period.

That first-term Representatives and Senators are at a disadvantage to long-term staffers (e.g., committee staff) and lobbyists who've been on the job for a while (many of whom have also previously served as Congressional staffers) is just a fact, one that does not reflect on their intelligence or how well- or ill-informed they might be.

"Staff having more power just means those elected are [...] ignorant."

Yes, they're ignorant of legislative history, ignorant of legislative strategy, and ignorant of legislative rules. Due to inexperience. That's one reason why term limits are a crap idea.

"he observation that it requires two-thirds of Congress to initiate a constitutional amendment is correct but again enlightening that the members imagine they get more power by staying longer."

It's called "the seniority system," and it's there's nothing whatever imaginary about it.

"(which anyone with brains can get without being there, else why did we just elect Obama)"

And yet actual history and reality refutes this theory.

There are an awful lot of things I wanted to see the Obama Administration address, but if I had had to pick, these would be the very top of the list. Adhering to the Constitution and the rule of law comes *first* -- then you can talk about health care, the frakkin' economy, and all the rest.

This hope business is a very strange sensation.

Elsewhere in executive orders:

On his first day in office, President Obama put former president Bush on notice. His administration just released an executive order that will make it difficult for Bush to shield his White House records--and those of former Vice President Dick Cheney--from public scrutiny by invoking the doctrine of executive privilege. Shortly after taking office, Bush handed down his own executive order, amending the Presidential Records Act to give current and past presidents, along with their heirs, veto power over the release of presidential records, which are considered the property of the American people.

"[Obama]'s putting former presidents on notice that if you want to continue a claim of executive privilege that [Obama] doesn't think is well-placed, you're going to have to go to court," says Anne Weismann, the chief counsel for Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW).

Don't count on the White House blog page to be updated quickly for a while.

The administration today is going better. It will be now in control and in good hands. President Obama is giving his words into action and doing his job very well. He exactly knew what are the right things to do to make the American safe and protected. President Obama will surely be a good history in America.

> All the counter arguments here to term limits are cop outs.

Sorry, anyone who considers actual experience with it to be a cop out has left the realm of rational thought.

I live in California and I concur with the post above. Term limits have screwed us royally, because it means power has moved to unelected -- and therefore unaccountable -- lobbyists and staff.

When we say term limits are antidemocratic, that idn't just a slogan. It means something. It means that representative democracy - the vesting of public power in accountable, elected officials - is undermined.

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