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Monday, July 23, 2007

No news is no news

Updated twice below:

There doesn't seem to be much happening so far this morning, so I'm going to return to a subject I had reference to a couple of days ago -- Congress' ability to control Bush by cutting off funds for the war (or most anything else). I come back to this today because there was an opinion piece by Adam Cohen in today's NY Times entitled "Just What the Founders Feared: An Imperial President Goes to War," which relys heavily on this power as proof that Congress, not the president, has the power to start and stop wars.

Given how intent the president is on expanding his authority, it is startling to recall how the Constitution’s framers viewed presidential power. They were revolutionaries who detested kings, and their great concern when they established the United States was that they not accidentally create a kingdom. To guard against it, they sharply limited presidential authority, which Edmund Randolph, a Constitutional Convention delegate and the first attorney general, called “the foetus of monarchy.”

The founders were particularly wary of giving the president power over war. They were haunted by Europe’s history of conflicts started by self-aggrandizing kings. John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States, noted in Federalist No. 4 that “absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal.”

While Cohen is certainly correct about the founders' intent in the way the assigned the various powers between the branches of government, it is by no means clear that this President will see it that way. As I and others pointed out a couple of days ago, Congress' ability to cut off funds for the war (or for the government) in no way guarantees that funds will actually be cut off even if they try. After all, the Treasury department comes under the control of the executive branch, not the Congress. I see it as perfectly plausible that, should Congress defund the war, the President might just order the Treasury to continue providing funds under Bush's theory of the "unitary executive" in times of war (nowadays, defined as all times). How far the military would go to support this, who knows? But, it would really take a mutiny in the military to stop this.


Scarecrow, over at Firedoglake, expresses my sense of frustration at the press' unwillingness to cover these stories more eloquently than I:

As the New York Times lead editorial recognized Sunday, the Bush White House is now in complete and open defiance of all lawful Congressional efforts to hold the executive accountable for misconduct and possible crimes committed by members of the White House staff. Just as Bush claimed he had an inherent right to disregard Congressional statutes (e.g., FISA, the Geneva Conventions, signing statements) and the First, Fourth, anf Fifth Amendments, or to cover up WH complicity in crimes (via communting Scooter Libby’s prison term), the President is now claiming he can ignore any Congressional oversight of White House misconduct.

I’ve almost given up waiting for the media’s most public faces to express outrage over what is happening. The Administration has so systematically undermined the Constitution’s established checks and balances and means of accountability via Congressional and judicial oversight that there is virtually nothing left to check their lawless excesses except impeachment and removal from office. Fielding’s moves suggest that Bush and Cheney just want to “bring it on.”

The traditional media can’t seem to get their heads around how dangerously unAmerican this is and how serious a threat it poses to our constitutional framework. And there are too many in the media like the editorial writers at the Washington Post who pretend that the Administration might be more cooperative if only the Congress would be less insistent and simply offer the WH a face-saving compromise.

So I’m going to appeal to whatever remaining instincts the journalists in our media might still have as news people, and as Americans. There’s a story here, folks; a really big story. The details may be hard to follow, but the basics are simple: we are already deeply into a constitutional crises deliberately provoked by a brazenly lawless Administration, a regime that is violating the laws with impunity because it regards itself as above the law, and a regime that is openly daring Congress to impeach it. Can any of you smell a story here?

Too many in the media seem either in denial or blissfully ignorant that we are headed for a unavoidable showdown to determine whether the constitutional principle of checks and balances will survive. That’s the principle that stands between democratic government that respects the limits of government power so as to safeguard individual liberties against government encroachment, and a very different concept of government that recognizes no limits on the executive’s ability to slide into potential tyranny. In this showdown America will decide whether the rule of law applies to the executive or whether we move inexorably towards an unaccountable executive — in essence, a monarchy in which there is no meaningful check on the President’s power and no meaningful oversight of his actions while he remains in office. And if that doesn’t interest you as political news people, you’re in the wrong profession.

Hello, Tim Russert and Katie Couric! Hello Wolf Blitzer and PBS NewsHour! The biggest political story in a century is unfolding right in front of you, and you’re not reporting it; you’re missing the forest and just barely covering a few trees. Wake up and do your jobs, because we need you and it’s your country too.

Update II:

Kagro X at Daily Kos takes the research on presidential powers to fund the war without Congressional approval further. His conclusion, that although it would be illegal and unconstitutional, there's nothing that Congress could do to stop a determined president from doing whatever he wants if he's willing to put up with the opprobrium from the public. As we already know, this president has already sunk so low in the polls, he has really nothing to lose. And, since impeachment is off the table (if not because of the Dems, because nothing will ever convince the Thuglicans to go along), he's essentially a self-appointed dictator at this point.

I return to the question of the military. Is there some point to which they will refuse to follow him? I really don't know. And, even if they do refuse, what about the private military forces he's funding? Blackwater, et al. These owe their allegiance only to money.


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