Monday, May 1, 2006

The President ignoring the law?

In his Huffington Post blog, Cenk Uygur writes about The Shadow Government ... that is, he's claiming that President Bush has declared his administration will ignore over 750 of the laws that have been passed during his tenure in office. And further that we know his administration is ignoring FISA, a law passed long before his tenure in office, which raises the question of how many other laws the administration is ignoring.

Because the administration is engaging in wholesale ignoring of the laws of this country, he says the government we think we have governing us doesn't exist. In it's place is a shadow of the government we think we have.

So, what's he talking about? As always it helps to understand the facts behind the story that's being presented. Fortunately in this case we can get to them.

He's pointing to this Boston Globe article: Bush challenges hundreds of laws President cites powers of his office

That article discusses the practice known as "Signing Statement". I don't know how common signing statements were before G.W. Bush, but under Bush they are very common. The signing statement is published at the same time as when a new law is signed by the President. The law that's being signed comes from Congress, as always, but the signing statement comes from the Administration. The signing statements I've seen detail how the Administration will interpret the law the President is signing.

Unlike Cenk Uygur's hype about this, the signing statement does not commit the administration to ignoring the entirity of the law. Instead the signing statements I've seen discuss certain provisions in the law, and detail how that provision will be interpreted.

This might sound like a benign practice. After all, most laws are full of strange legalese and could stand for some interpretation help. But in actuality these signing statements are, in effect, rewriting the intent of the law in drastic ways.

This is one of the examples cited by the Boston Globe article:

March 9: Justice Department officials must give reports to Congress by certain dates on how the FBI is using the USA Patriot Act to search homes and secretly seize papers.

Bush's signing statement: The president can order Justice Department officials to withhold any information from Congress if he decides it could impair national security or executive branch operations.

The actual signing statement is on the whitehouse.gov site and is itself full of legalese. Including that troublematic "unitary executive" phrase.

In any case it's alarming that on the one hand Congress is requiring the Administration to hand over certain information, and the Administration is saying they'll decide what information they'll hand over. This is an administration which has repeatedly picked out select portions of intelligence reports, for example to "justify" the invasion of Iraq when the actual evidence to justify that invasion was nonexistant. Under their signing statement they'll be able to continue cherry-picking the data they send to Congress, to continue puffing out smoke to obscure what they're really doing.

As Cenk Uygur says: Wrong information equals wrong decisions. People can't be blamed if they don't know. It is the job of the press to let them know. The 2006 elections are the last chance to check this imperial presidency. If the press fails our democracy at this critical juncture and the electorate doesn't know what we know by the time they step into that voting booth, we will have done great damage to our country and its principles.

So, if the Administration is free to send select information to Congress, then how is Congress to have a clear picture of what's actually happening in the world? But, there's nothing new here. Wars have been launched before based on falsified evidence, the most infamous being the Gulf of Tonkin incident that led to the Vietnam War.

As I've kept coming to in my blog entries ... is this the country we want? Is this the country we thought we had? If not, then what are we going to do about this?

If we let these events continue without challenging them, then our country of freedom will become another dictatorship.