Monday, September 29, 2008

The power of the presidency for good or bad

By Carol Gee

How much power does our current president (OCP) have to calm the credit market crisis? If we look at the current POTUS and the potential POTII (Obama and McCain), many would say that the three men have not had the most influence over the problem solving process. In this case it is probably to the good. The plan for solving economic crisis on Wall Street has been worked out between Congressional leaders and the combined efforts of Treasury Secretary Paulson and Fed Chairman Bernanke. President Bush will certainly have to sign the legislation, but because he is in full lame duck mode, he did not exercise much power in the deal making.

Nor did either Senator running for president preside over the deal that has emerged. We do not yet know the full story of how much power to influence either candidate exercised. Senator Obama preferred to generally observe a line between the Political campaign and the negotiations. Senator McCain tried to interject himself into the process to gain political points, not because of any economic expertise he could bring to the table. McCain claims expertise in foreign policy, but it will always seen through a neocon/terrorism/fight the enemy lens identical to OCP. It is easy to see when the two issues get conflated as in this example from my daily newsletter, Congressional Quarterly Homeland Security -- Behind the Lines (9/23/08). Except for the Tom Head piece in the next paragraph, all the following quotes are from the CQ newsletter by David C. Morrison (dates in parentheses). To quote:

“The financial terrorism thing to me has to be put on the table just because the regular short sellers are not doing this. They’re not doing this,” The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum quotes CNBC’s Jim Cramer on last week’s market madness — and see TheStreet’s Dan Freed, as well, on “the specter of financial terrorism.”

"The Power of the Presidency" was written by Tom Head under the Issues and Views section in Civil Liberties/ He says that the exercise of presidential power is the most dangerous, packing the most potential to be bad for the country. Head explores the problem:

The federal government is made up of the executive branch (led by the president), the legislative branch (Congress), and the judicial branch (led by the Supreme Court). While all branches have at times abused their roles, the executive branch is by far the most dangerous of the three.

OCP, our current president, has been misguided in his use of power from the beginning of his tenure. He misused his power by raising our fears of terrorism. His kind of attitude led to the 2001 power grabs. The power wielding style of OCP illustrates what a bad example the U.S. has been. See this similar style in our close ally, Australia. We see it alive and well in "Talking Terror" (9/23/08). To quote:

“Contrary to opinion in some quarters, bleeding-heart naivete and soft-headed stupidity are not virtues, especially in terror prevention,” an Australian editorial asserts in the wake of a massive terror trial.

"Over there" is from 9/24/08. Exercising power through bullying words and patronizing ignorance is destructive to our place of moral leadership in the eyes of the world. To quote:

In his valedictory U.N. General Assembly address, President Bush accused Syria and Iran of sponsoring terrorism, which he said “has no place in the modern world,” Agence France-Presse reports. “Yemeni people by nature are kind and friendly. Most foreigners who have visited Yemen would agree to this. If so, then how come the same nation is said to be a haven for terrorism?” The Yemen Times muses.

This kind of rhetoric is not helpful. Because presidential words have such power, these attitudes are evidently communicable. They morph into religious intolerance, muddy foreign relations waters, and surely alienate moderate Muslims. These links from 9/25/08 are examples. To quote:

Holy Wars: “I am beyond ashamed of all the ‘Christian’ groups who have hosted [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York] and are placating and talking peace with this living piece of trash and evil!” a Canadian Free Press contributor condemns.

Unfettered presidential power is at its worst when it is clearly unconstitutional -- The Constitution was careful to say that the military must not act as domestic law enforcement agents, except in case of a temporary emergency, such as a natural disaster. The newsletter has a current "bad for the country" example, from 9/25/08. To quote:

Having spent 35 of the last 60 months in Iraq patrolling in full battle rattle, a 3rd Infantry Division brigade will spend the next year at home as an on-call federal response force for emergencies, including terrorist attacks, The Army TimesGina Cavallaro recounts. This deployment inside the United States“ for purely domestic law enforcement purposes is the fruit of the Congressional elimination of the longstanding prohibitions in Posse Comitatus,” Salon’s Glenn Greenwald growls.
There are little signs that the Constitution continues to have some small influence over the Executive. It happens when an official resigns out of conscience, when a judge expresses reluctance to rule for OCP, or when the FBI pays more attention to their constitutional responsibilities. The newsletter on 9/25/08 illustrates:
Courts and rights: A military prosecutor at Guantanamo is stepping down after a disagreement with his superiors described as a dispute over the ethical handling of a war crimes case, The New York Times tells. . . . A U.S. judge has “reluctantly” agreed to a request from Washington to delay appeals brought by some 250 Guantanamo detainees challenging the legality of their detention, Agence France-Presse recounts. In a nod to concerns that Americans could be investigated in terrorism cases without evidence of wrongdoing, Justice says it will tweak still-tentative rules governing FBI national security cases before they are issued, AP says.

EU does it right -- (9/24/08) The European Parliament yesterday underlined freedom of speech and the protection of privacy in E.U. legislation on the fight against terrorism, Xinhua says.

Presidential power should be exercised for the good of the nation and world peace. My newsletter of 9/25/08 notes, "The next president should call for better relations with the Muslim world in his inaugural address and pursue an Israeli-Palestinian accord within three months of taking office, AP has 34 ex-U.S. officials saying in a report released yesterday." Unfortunately OCP seems to know nothing other than military intervention. And terrorism has not been eradicated as a result of this bias towards kinetic power. CQ (9/23/08) has this: “Military operations do not provide safety from terrorism. On the contrary, the rule is that bombing attacks multiply in reaction to military offensives,” Deutsche Welle's Thomas Baerthlein propounds." And here is the really good CQ news about the power of nonviolence. “Global terrorism is now drawing more and more youngsters to study the Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy,” The Times of India’s Bharat Yagnik surveys.

The presidential powers granted under the U.S. Constitution can be wielded for the good or for bad of the nation. Thirty-six days from now the last of the 2008 election votes will be cast. Then we will have a new president. I hope it will be Barack Obama, by far our best chance for a fresh start. OCP has 112 days left in office. Please join me as the countdown continues.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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