Monday, January 16, 2006

Bush quietly undercuts laws with bill-signing statement: "President Bush agreed with great fanfare last month to accept a ban on torture, but he later quietly reserved the right to ignore it, even as he signed it into law.

"Acting from the seclusion of his Texas ranch at the start of New Year's weekend, Bush said he would interpret the new law in keeping with his expansive view of presidential power. He did it by issuing a bill-signing statement -- a little-noticed device that has become a favorite tool of presidential power in the Bush White House."

"``It's nothing short of breathtaking,'' said Phillip Cooper, a professor of public administration at Portland State University. ``In every case, the White House has interpreted presidential authority as broadly as possible, interpreted legislative authority as narrowly as possible and pre-empted the judiciary.''"

Bush and his administration give every intent of taking their 'Fuhrer principle' of Presidential leadership seriously - basically the President can do anything he wants in a 'time of war'. He is above the law. He can choose to set aside or ignore congressional law if he wishes. He will sign bills that come from Congress, but at the same time declare that he will ignore them if he so decides.

This has always seemed to me a weakness of the US Constitution and its explicit 'separation of powers' particularly between the legislature and executive. The only real way you could get the executive to be accountable to the assembly is if the head of government is appointed (and removed) by the assembly itself, as in the Westminster system, or board and council systems. Otherwise you will inevitably have an executive arrogation of powers and ultimately an 'elected military monarchy' such as Bush himself. The US replaced the King with a President and ended up with Bush. In England, parliament fought with the King for years to rein him in and establish the principle of parliamentary supremacy. In the US Constitution this is one notable case where the lesson of freedom was not properly learnt.

Canyon News discusses the issue, clarifying what a 'signing statement' is, and says that "this makes a mockery of the anti-torture legislation.... The only thing missing is for George W to appoint his favorite horse as a Senator." And this of course leads to the issue of Supreme Court appointments. Bush and the rightwing generally have been on a campaign to appoint Justices who support and agree with the extremist rightwing agenda, such as virtually unlimited Presidential authority. Day after day, month after month, the US seems to slide steadily into a pseudo-fascist dictatorship. If you are looking for signs of checking, restraint and reversal, they are practically impossible to detect. A supine Congress, subordinated judiciary, compliant media - as if nothing was happening at all. There is enormous concern in the blogosphere and among dissidents, but it does not seem to disturb the surface. If a virtual dictatorship is established in the US, it will come as an astonishing surprise not only to many Americans but much of the rest of the world as well.

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