[President Obama] said he would take executive action on immigration by year’s end unless Republicans passed a bill. It’s certainly a bold negotiating tactic: You can do what I want, or I’ll go ahead and do what I want anyway. This is how you “negotiate” with a seven-year old, not a Senate Majority Leader.
I’m not sure that isn’t what Obama thinks he’s doing, and I’m sure many of my left-leaning readers are chuckling right now at the comparison. But Mitch McConnell is not a seven year old; he’s an adult, and he just won an election in which voters repudiated Obama and his party. (Temporarily, I am sure, but just the same: As someone once said, “Elections have consequences.”) McConnell is not the proverbial Tea Party extremist who won’t negotiate; he’s an establishment guy, known as a strategist and a tactician, not an ideologue (which is why the Tea Party isn’t that fond of him). In short, he’s someone who can make deals. Responding to McConnell’s rather gracious remarks about finding common goals by announcing that you know what the American public wants, and you’re going to give it to them no matter what their elected representatives say, seems curiously brash. It might chill the atmosphere today when he sits down with congressional leaders.
I wonder if Obama even knows how to negotiate with Republicans. It’s not as if he has a long, distinguished record of passing legislation in a mixed environment. His later years in the Illinois State Senate enjoyed a solid Democratic majority, and he jumped into the U.S. Senate at a propitious time. Soon after he arrived came the wave of 2006, when Democrats controlled both houses of congress by comfortable margins, and Senator Obama was far too junior to be negotiating with the White House. Then came the financial crisis, and another wave, and Obama spent the first two years of his presidency in a happy situation where he could get things done without needing the support of the opposition. He didn’t even negotiate with his own party; the Senate negotiated his health care bill, and Nancy Pelosi whipped it through the House.
Post 2010, of course, he also hasn’t had much practice negotiating. I’m not interested in another tedious argument about who did what to whom; whatever the cause and whoever’s fault it may be, the fact remains that the president has spent the last four years in a stalemate: Neither party can leave, and neither party can win.
It’s a little late in the president’s career to learn the fine art of making deals with people who fundamentally disagree with you, but might be willing to work on whatever small goals you might share. I suspect it feels more comfortable to go along with the strategy that has worked decently well over the last four years: hold your ground, complain about Republican intransigence, and hope that Republican legislators give you another opportunity to play long-suffering adult in the room.
Megan McArdle, “Does Obama Even Know How to Negotiate?”, Bloomberg View, 2014-11-07.
November 20, 2014
September 22, 2014
At Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson proposes a brilliant reform to a Canadian institution that has never actually had a function — the Senate.
I’ve often argued that the appointment of Senators should be done through a national lottery. All Canadian citizens would be eligible to buy a $10 ticket into what would be called The Red Chamber Sweepstakes. Each April 1st a draw would be held for 20 Senators. The 20 lucky winners would get an appointment to the upper house lasting no more than five years. If the politically correct crowd complained you could screen the winners by region and ethno-cultural background. If done properly the whole Senate could become self-financing.
Now tell me gentle readers what would be wrong with this simple idea? Would the quality of Senators decline? Nope. Would the process be more corrupt that it is at the moment? Other way around I should think. Would it generate tremendous and positive interest in the Senate? Yes. It would also mean doing away with a pricey communications budget. There would be no need to rationalize the conduct or purpose of the Senatorial class. We know how they got there and we know what they’re made of. Heck the whole exercise could be spun as an act of democratic enfranchisement. Ordinary people, not party hacks, deciding on the great questions of the day. Or at least pretending to do so.
There are those, of course, who would object and say that holding a national Senate lottery would be an embarrassing travesty for the nation. Yes it would be. But given the state of Canadian politics what else is new?
September 12, 2014
In Forbes, Jacob Sullum explains the amazingly lenient rules in most states for the government to steal your property:
Three key features of civil forfeiture law give cops this license to steal:
The government does not have to charge you with a crime, let alone convict you, to take your property. Under federal law and the laws of many states, a forfeiture is justified if the government can show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it is connected to a crime, typically a drug offense. That standard, which amounts to any probability greater than 50 percent, is much easier to satisfy than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard for a criminal trial. Some states allow forfeiture based on probable cause, a standard even weaker than preponderance of the evidence.
The burden of proof is on you. Innocent owners like Mandrel Stuart have to prove their innocence, a reversal of the rule in criminal cases. Meanwhile, the government hangs onto the money, which puts financial stress on the owner and makes it harder for him to challenge the forfeiture.
Cops keep the loot. Local cops and prosecutors who pursue forfeiture under federal law, which is what happened in Stuart’s case, receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds. Some states are even more generous, but others give law enforcement agencies a smaller cut, making federal forfeiture under the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program a tempting alternative. The fact that police have a direct financial interest in forfeitures creates an incentive for pretextual traffic stops aimed at finding money or other property to seize. The Post found that “298 departments and 210 task forces have seized the equivalent of 20 percent or more of their annual budgets since 2008.”
There’s at least some awareness in the Senate that the civil forfeiture rules are being abused:
The Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in July, addresses each of these issues. The FAIR Act changes the standard of proof in federal forfeiture cases from “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.” That change does not go as far as the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that has been fighting forfeiture abuse for years, would like. I.J. argues that civil forfeiture should be abolished, meaning that a criminal conviction, based on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, would be required for the government to take property allegedly connected to a crime. But Paul’s reform would make it harder for the government to prevail if a forfeiture case goes to trial, which might deter seizures of large sums in situations where the evidence is weak.
July 28, 2014
The National Journal‘s Alex Brown talks about a federal government department facing the end of the line thanks to search engines like Google:
A little-known branch of the Commerce Department faces elimination, thanks to advances in technology and a snarkily named bill from Sens. Tom Coburn and Claire McCaskill.
The National Technical Information Service compiles federal reports, serving as a clearinghouse for the government’s scientific, technical, and business documents. The NTIS then sells copies of the documents to other agencies and the public upon request. It’s done so since 1950.
But Coburn and McCaskill say it’s hard to justify 150 employees and $66 million in taxpayer dollars when almost all of those documents are now available online for free.
Enter the Let Me Google That for You Act.
“Our goal is to eliminate you as an agency,” the famously grumpy Coburn told NTIS Director Bruce Borzino at a Wednesday hearing. Pulling no punches, Coburn suggested that any NTIS documents not already available to the public be put “in a small closet in the Department of Commerce.”
H/T to Jim Geraghty for the link. He assures us that despite any similarities to situations portrayed in his recent political novel The Weed Agency, he didn’t make this one up.
July 21, 2014
Many of you won’t even remember the heyday of Senator William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece awards: his personal choices for the worst public spending boondoggles each year. Most space enthusiasts remember him for his adamant opposition to NASA (for which he could never possibly be forgiven). As an early supporter of the space program, I thought Proxmire was a terrible man and that we’ve have had a much bigger, better space program without him. He left the senate in 1989 and died in 2005, so I’d almost completely forgotten about him until I saw this article in the latest Libertarian Enterprise by Jeff Fullerton:
The things I discover while googling for things. Such as in my efforts to substantiate that Senator Proxmire quote: Not a penny for this nutty fantasy for my previous article. Found an online version of the newsletter of the old L5 Society [PDF]; a space colony advocate group that was around back in the late 70s. Which was sort of a trip down Memory Lane. Remember seeing them on Phil Donahue’s show circa 1980. It’s kind of sad when you look at something like this on the boulevard of broken dreams. But also at times amusing.
The man space enthusiasts loved to hate like J.R. from Dallas! He was definitely the sort of villain that could grow on you!
The name Proxmire sounds Germanic — but he was no Werner Von Braun — his mindset was typical for the down to Earth culture of the Midlands and being a Wisconsin democrat, he surely had solid connections in Madison — the regional snake pit of Progressivism. Yet he was a conservative democrat — as in fiscal conservative being he gave his “Golden Fleece Awards” to many federal projects that really were an atrocious waste of tax dollars. His disdain for the space program may have stemmed in part from populist disdain for technology — I remember SF writers like Ben Bova and others calling him a Luddite — and that sort of thing was politically fashionable in those days (often referred to as a knee-jerk reaction) so part of his reason for jumping onto the anti-space bandwagon may have been a political calculation. Some of it was probably born of a zero sum mentality that was also vogue at the time. A few space advocates wrote funny editorials about converting Proxmire to supporting space exploration and colonization by finding a way to turn butter into rocket fuel — being that the Senator’s primary constituency were Wisconsin dairy farmers!
As for William Proxmire — I can’t be too hard on him anymore. Especially when you consider all that NASA has done to thwart any hope of establishing human settlements beyond Earth. At best a lack of vision being the space agency had long ago lost its mojo and is nothing like it was in its early days when could actually meet the challenge of JFK’s vision of putting boots on the moon in a decade — as opposed to shrugging and saying “maybe in three decades”? At best they are slow walking because NASA is much like the establishment of the Republican Party that sometimes talks “small government” but is in no hurry to deliver on it. And worst of all — NASA seems to have an ideological agenda aimed at preventing the colonization of space deeply entrenched within the bureaucracy and the story is the same within most other federal agencies and institutions.
Wikipedia (not traditionally staffed by fans of small government) has this to say about Proxmire’s legislative career:
He was an early, outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. He frequently criticized Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon for their conduct of the war and foreign policy decisions. He used his seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee to spotlight wasteful military spending and was instrumental in stopping frequent military pork barrel projects. His Golden Fleece Award was created to focus media attention on projects he felt were self-serving and wasted taxpayer dollars. He was also head of the campaign to cancel the American supersonic transport. Despite his support of budgetary restraint in other areas, he normally sided with dairy interests and was a proponent of dairy price supports.
Proxmire was famous for issuing his Golden Fleece Award, which identified what he considered wasteful government spending, between 1975 and 1988. The first was awarded in 1975 to the National Science Foundation, for funding an $84,000 study on why people fall in love. Other Golden Fleece awards over the years were “awarded” to the Justice Department for conducting a study on why prisoners wanted to get out of jail, the National Institute of Mental Health to study a Peruvian brothel (“The researchers said they made repeated visits in the interests of accuracy,” reported the New York Times), and the Federal Aviation Administration, for studying “the physical measurements of 432 airline stewardesses, paying special attention to the ‘length of the buttocks.'” Proxmire stopped numerous science and academic projects which were, in his opinion, of dubious value.
Proxmire’s critics claimed that some of his awards went to basic science projects that led to important breakthroughs, such as the Aspen Movie Map (though the Aspen Movie Map project did not receive the award). For example, Proxmire was criticized in 1987 for the Aspen Movie Map incident by author Stewart Brand, who accused Proxmire of recklessly attacking legitimate research for the crass purpose of furthering his own political career, with gross indifference as to whether his assertions were true or false as well as the long-term effects on American science and technology policy. Proxmire later apologized for several of those, including SETI.
Proxmire earned the unending enmity of space advocates and science fiction fandom for his opposition to space colonization, ultimately eliminating spending on said research from NASA’s budget. In response to a segment about space colonies run by the CBS program 60 Minutes, Proxmire stated that; “it’s the best argument yet for chopping NASA’s funding to the bone …. I say not a penny for this nutty fantasy”. Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven retaliated by writing the award-winning stories Death and the Senator, Fallen Angels, and The Return of William Proxmire. In a number of circles his name has become a verb, meaning to unfairly obstruct scientific research for political gain, as in “the project has been proxmired”.
March 23, 2014
Published on 20 Mar 2014
Remy updates the Alanis Morissette hit for a certain senior senator from California.
Approximately 2 minutes.
Written by Remy. Video and animation by Meredith Bragg. Music performed, produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by Ben Karlstrom.
For full text, links, downloadable versions and more, go to: http://reason.com/reasontv/2014/03/20/remy-isnt-it-ironic.
A Senator lady
Got the news one day
The country’s being spied on
by the NSA
So she went out defending
on each TV set
but when she found out she’d been snooped on
she got all upset
And isn’t it ironic?
I mean, don’t you think?
It’s like you’re at Chris Brown’s
and there’s punch in the fridge
or if The Bachelor
passed a geography quiz
Learning Ted Kennedy
happened to be good at bridge.
And who would have thought?
Senator, this may surprise you
and the irony bites
but Congresspeople ain’t the only ones
with 4th Amendment rights
It’s like a minimalist
who does their laundry
or if Woody Allen liked to watch
Kids in the Hall
it’s like FDR
got locked in a Honda Accord
a cheap healthcare plan
that you just can’t afford
If Oscar Pistorius
really hated The Doors
and who would have thought?
I heard the government
is sneaking up on you.
Life has a funny, funny way
of calling you out
calling you out.
March 12, 2014
In Mother Jones, David Corn shows the state of play between the Central Intelligence Agency and the senate committee that is responsible for oversight of the CIA:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, took to the Senate floor and accused the CIA of spying on committee investigators tasked with probing the agency’s past use of harsh interrogation techniques (a.k.a. torture) and detention. Feinstein was responding to recent media stories reporting that the CIA had accessed computers used by intelligence committee staffers working on the committee’s investigation. The computers were set up by the CIA in a locked room in a secure facility separate from its headquarters, and CIA documents relevant to the inquiry were placed on these computers for the Senate investigators. But, it turns out, the Senate sleuths had also uncovered an internal CIA memo reviewing the interrogation program that had not been turned over by the agency. This document was far more critical of the interrogation program than the CIA’s official rebuttal to a still-classified, 6,300-page Senate intelligence committee report that slams it, and the CIA wanted to find out how the Senate investigators had gotten their mitts on this damaging memo.
The CIA’s infiltration of the Senate’s torture probe was a possible constitutional violation and perhaps a criminal one, too. The agency’s inspector general and the Justice Department have begun inquiries. And as the story recently broke, CIA sources — no names, please — told reporters that the real issue was whether the Senate investigators had hacked the CIA to obtain the internal review. Readers of the few newspaper stories on all this did not have to peer too far between the lines to discern a classic Washington battle was under way between Langley and Capitol Hill.
So here we have the person assigned the duty of guaranteeing that the intelligence establishment functions effectively and appropriately, and she cannot get information about how the CIA meddled in one of her own investigations. This is a serious breakdown. And by the way, Feinstein has still not succeeded in forcing the CIA to declassify her committee’s massive report on the interrogation and detention program.
Here is how she summed up the current state of play:
If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted. But, Mr. President, the recent actions that I have just laid out make this a defining moment for the oversight of our intelligence committee. How Congress and how this will be resolved will show whether the intelligence committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.
What Feinstein didn’t say — but it’s surely implied — is that without effective monitoring, secret government cannot be justified in a democracy. This is indeed a defining moment. It’s a big deal for President Barack Obama, who, as is often noted in these situations, once upon a time taught constitutional law. Feinstein has ripped open a scab to reveal a deep wound that has been festering for decades. The president needs to respond in a way that demonstrates he is serious about making the system work and restoring faith in the oversight of the intelligence establishment. This is more than a spies-versus-pols DC turf battle. It is a constitutional crisis.
January 29, 2014
Anyone clear on what is going on within the federal Liberals at this moment? Here’s Paul Wells reporting on this morning’s contretemps:
The reporters lined up outside a meeting room in the basement of Parliament’s Centre Block were confused. I mean, maybe more than usual.
The Liberal Senate Caucus, as it then was, had walked into the room earlier this morning. Then Justin Trudeau had walked out to say he had ejected the lot of them from the Liberal Caucus. “There are no more Liberal senators,” Trudeau, who theoretically should know whether such a thing is true, had told reporters.
The (ex?-)Liberal Senate Caucus continued to meet long after Trudeau’s departure, then long after their weekly meeting’s scheduled end. Not that this was a problem, suddenly, because the normal reason for such a meeting’s end — Senators must troop upstairs to the slightly-later weekly meeting of the National Liberal Caucus — was now moot. From inside the black box of their meeting, little escaped.
I spotted a staffer for one of the senators. Did you have any advance word on this, I asked? “Nobody had a f—kin’ clue!” she said cheerfully.
December 1, 2013
At Outside the Beltway, James Joyner calls this “justification” for restoring the draft the dumbest argument yet:
While I oppose bringing back military conscription, there are respectable arguments for doing so. The all-volunteer force allows the sons and daughters of the wealthy and powerful to avoid the burden of fighting our wars. It also makes sending young Americans into harm’s way easier.
But Dana Milbank offers a nonsensical reason for denying our youth the freedom to choose their own path:
There is no better explanation for what has gone wrong in Washington in recent years than the tabulation done every two years of how many members of Congress served in the military.
A Congressional Quarterly count of the current Congress finds that just 86 of the 435 members of the House are veterans, as are only 17 of 100 senators, which puts the overall rate at 19 percent. This is the lowest percentage of veterans in Congress since World War II, down from a high of 77 percent in 1977-78, according to the American Legion. For the past 21 years, the presidency has been occupied by men who didn’t serve or, in the case of George W. Bush, served in a capacity designed to avoid combat.
It’s no coincidence that this same period has seen the gradual collapse of our ability to govern ourselves: a loss of control over the nation’s debt, legislative stalemate and a disabling partisanship. It’s no coincidence, either, that Americans’ approval of Congress has dropped to just 9 percent, the lowest since Gallup began asking the question 39 years ago.
Because so few serving in politics have worn their country’s uniform, they have collectively forgotten how to put country before party and self-interest. They have forgotten a “cause greater than self,” and they have lost the knowledge of how to make compromises for the good of the country. Without a history of sacrifice and service, they’ve turned politics into war.
That few in Congress have served in the military is lamentable for many reasons, the most obvious of which is that it not only makes them less intimately familiar with the demands of combat but also tends to undermine civil-military relations by making our civilian leaders afraid to challenge our military brass. But the notion that having worn a military uniform somehow makes one immune from partisanship and foolishness is absurd.
November 7, 2013
In Maclean’s, Paul Wells explains why Stephen Harper decided not to say anything substantive about the senate scandal in his big speech at the Conservative convention. In short, it would be all drawbacks and no benefits to say any more than he did:
Some commentators hoped Harper would use his speech to the Conservatives to explain why any of this makes sense. Perhaps we should not be surprised that Harper decided not to rise to that challenge.
The Prime Minister’s twists and turns on the Senate affair would break a snake’s back. There is no explaining them. In the insane hypothesis that Harper had tried to explain them in Calgary, the first question we would have asked afterward is why he waited from May until November to do it. So essaying an explanation now would not really have helped. It’s just a mess, a sinkhole of judgment whose radius is very much larger than the distance between Harper’s office and the one Wright used to occupy. As another former Harper spokesman once said, more than a decade ago and in very different circumstances, “This turd won’t polish.”
So why bother? For a man whose goal is to endure as prime minister long enough to change the country, this question would have occurred to Harper very early. One can imagine him thinking something like this:
“I could try to explain away the behaviour of my appointees and the zigzags in my own response to it. I could spend the next few months talking about the terrible judgment of my plutocrat fixer-in-chief and my TV-star Senate appointee. I could air, in public, questions that will probably be tried in courts of law later, and make spotting the contradictions a national parlour game.
“Or I could talk about some other stuff.”
Easy to see why he decided to talk about other stuff.
The other big talking point of the convention was how the Conservatives kept the press cordoned off from pretty much any opportunity to talk to delegates or cover any of the events. The press collectively found themselves held in the same contempt that so many of them express for the Tories in general and Harper in particular:
Reporters were cooped up in a filing room without potable water or free WiFi. Three of the convention’s four halls were closed to reporters for the duration, and when we ventured past an imaginary line on the floor of the fourth, volunteers in blue pushed us back. After his speech, Harper and his band played classic-rock hits at a casino next to the convention centre; reporters were barred.
In its details, this cheerful contempt was an extension and refinement of the treatment Harper used to reserve for the press corps. As late as 2011, I could walk around on the floor of a Conservative party convention at leisure and unharassed. The Conservative party had meetings to decide how much further to tighten the cordon sanitaire, appointed staffers to enforce it who might have been given other tasks. A few Harper supporters will be delighted to hear we were denied our “perks,” as if water and freedom of association are luxuries. Here again, Harper was just being Harper. It’s worked for him for nearly a decade. He won’t stop now.
November 2, 2013
Walter Olson explains why the proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), even if passed, would not do much to help the people it’s supposedly designed to protect:
The U.S. Senate is expected to vote Monday on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill to “prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity” that’s been proposed in one form or another for nearly 40 years. It will be a symbolic vote at many different levels. First, the bill stands little chance of passage in the GOP-controlled House; the point of giving it prolonged attention now is more to inflict political damage on Republicans for resisting a popular measure than to get a bill on President Obama’s desk. Second, it seeks to ratify (and take political credit for) a social change that has already occurred through nearly all the country, including even very conservative locales. Most larger employers are now on record with policies against discriminating against gay employees, and even smaller employers without formal policies mostly hew to the same path in practice, for many good reasons that include not wanting to lose the talents of employees from any demographic.
ENDA is a less salient bill than it looks in a second way as well; statistics from the many states and municipalities that have passed similar bills (“mini-ENDAs”) indicate that they do not serve in practice as a basis for litigation as often as one might expect. This may arise from the simple circumstance that most employees with other options prefer to move on rather than sue when an employment relationship turns unsatisfactory, all the more so if suing might require rehashing details of their personal life in a grueling, protracted, and public process. The forbidden group categories that tend more to drive HR managers crazy are things like age, disability, and criminal record consideration, where the law regularly tries to forbid behavior that in fact is perfectly rational for employers to engage in.
On a level of sheer entertainment, the bill has certainly furnished more than one way for some conservatives and Republicans to make themselves appear ridiculous. Some GOP supporters in Congress, for example, seem to be tempted by ENDA as an “easy,” crowd-pleasing vote to show they’re not always on the anti-gay side. But consider the implication: lawmakers who take this path come across as willing to sacrifice the freedom of private actors — as libertarians recognize, every expansion of laws against private discrimination shrinks the freedom of association of the governed — even as they go to the mat to preserve disparate treatment by the government itself in the recognition of family relationships. Sorry, but that’s upside-down. A classical liberal stance can reasonably ask the government itself to behave neutrally among different citizens with their differing values and aspirations, but should not attempt to enforce neutrality on private citizens themselves.
September 9, 2013
Our Constitution can accurately be described as the envy of the world, but then again the world doesn’t really get to see us gawking at each other in open-mouthed confusion over embarrassing gaps like this one. The key features of the 1982 Constitution were hammered out in smoke-filled hotel rooms by men who intentionally refused to record their discussions and who have never ceased arguing about exactly how they went. The various Canadian governments built the frame in haste, were late to begin talking to each other, never involved the public, and left the structure consciously half-finished. It’s a wonder it hasn’t yet come down on our heads.
Colby Cosh, “Mind the constitutional gap”, Maclean’s, 2013-09-09
June 27, 2013
In all the news from the US yesterday, this little civil liberties tidbit got pushed off the front page:
As I write this I am still only being updated by text message on the proceedings in the Senate chamber but I am told Bill C-304 has passed third reading and will receive Royal Assent tonight making it law.
What does this bill do?
There are a number of amendments to the act that help limit abuse but the main one is this:
2. Section 13 of the Act is repealed.
To put it bluntly, the means you can’t take someone through the federal human rights apparatus over hurt feelings via a blog post or a Facebook comment.
Now the bill is passed and will become law but like many acts of Parliament it will not come into force for a year.
Still after a long hard battle to restore free speech in Canada, this is a victory.
June 25, 2013
“You cannot have a functioning democratic republic when the laws are so voluminous no one can know what the law is”
I really did think they were kidding about needing to pass the law to be able to find out what was in it, but this appears to be the way US laws are made nowadays:
When a bill is amended in a sneaky manner, as this one has been, no responsible senator could just read 100 new pages. The amendments are interspersed thoughout the bill — it’s not like you could sit and read them as a unit, even if you had the time. Since the proponents are clearly trying to pull a fast one, prudence, as Senator Cruz pointed out, would dictate rereading every line of text, old and new, to search for insertions — and, indeed, news reports indicate that numerous new buy-offs and pot-sweeteners have been inserted.
But there is a larger point: no “important legislation” should be 100 pages long, much less 1,200 (or the even more mind-boggling girth of monstrosities like Obamacare). The United States Constitution is about 4,500 words long — outfits like Cato and Heritage publish it in small pamphlets that can be read in a few minutes. Nowadays, not only are the bills so gargantuan that no one could conceivably master them and predict their consequences; each page produces even more pages of regulations. They can’t even be lifted, much less digested.
You cannot have a functioning democratic republic when the laws are so voluminous no one can know what the law is. And that is especially the case when (a) the rationale for passing new laws — according to “reform” proponents like Senator Marco Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan — is that we don’t enforce the laws currently on the books; (b) key parts of legislation consist of commitments to do what previously enacted law already commands; and (c) the president, notwithstanding his oath to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, claims the power to refrain from enforcing whatever laws he disapproves of. Washington has made a farce of the legislative process and of the once proud boast that we are ”a nation of laws not men.”
May 30, 2013
Colby Cosh suspects we may be on the receiving end of a massive distraction attempt:
I’m starting to half-believe the theory that the Senate expense scandal was cooked up to cover other problems for the Conservative Party of Canada. The broad main effect of the Senate fracas so far has been to exasperate the hell out of everybody. Mike Duffy’s bad behaviour presents the public with the frustrating conundrum that only the Senate can make rules for or punish errant senators, and that the major features of the Constitution (including that one) are probably immune from formal amendment for the next hundred years or so. Stephen Harper’s statutory end-run proposals for permitting Senate elections and tightening term limits are currently awaiting scrutiny by the Supreme Court; if the court rejects his measures, he can argue that they represented at least a fillip of attainable accountability, which they do, and that it is not his fault they were bounced.
In modern history, providing convenient excuses for inaction by elected politicians is about 45 per cent of the court’s function. And, at that, maybe it is okay to notice that the court, now crowded with Harper appointees, is as much an audience for Duffy’s antics as the rest of us. On top of all this, the whole mess invited Justin Trudeau, following cues like a good drama teacher, to plunge headlong into the trap of not only defending the Senate, but defending it on the specific grounds that Quebec is beneficially overrepresented therein.
If people are pulling faces at the Senate, that’s a win for the Conservative party. But perhaps more importantly, it’s a boost for the New Democrats, who have a clear “dynamite it” position on the Senate that they have advocated pretty consistently for half a century. Keeping the seat counts of the NDP and the Liberals roughly level with each other is the paramount strategic axiom for the Tories from now until (at least) 2015.
Most Canadians over the age of 40 would rather do almost anything other than watch another attempt at constitutional wrangling … we saw what happened the last couple of times the feds and the provinces tried re-rigging things to their preference.