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Tom Cotton, YOU Don’t Understand Our Constitutional System

So I learned something new yesterday that I thought I’d share with you. Remember the stupid Tom Cotton letter? You know, the condescending one he addressed to The Islamic Public Of Iran? You know, the one that started with,

"It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system…".

The one that then goes on to say,

"Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Well, in a delicious twist of irony, it appears that nothing Tom Cotton said in his dumbass letter is true. Nothing, except maybe the spelling of his name in his signature. The president can negotiate and bind this deal without a single member of congress weighing in, and it cannot be undone by the next president. So if you’re keeping score, that would be the trifecta of wrong on the part of the whackadoodle freshman senator from Arkansas.

I learned that there are three kinds of international agreements. From the article;

"…..these forms of international agreements include: “treaties,” which receive the approval of two-thirds or more of the Senate; “congressional-executive agreements,” which receive the authorization or approval of a majority of both houses of Congress; and “sole executive agreements,” which are concluded by the President on his own constitutional authority without formal congressional or senatorial participation."

Naturally, I did some more research since one source is never going to cut it for me. I found some background information on FindLaw. The constitution doesn’t exactly make a distinction between treaties and agreements (of either flavor), but Thomas Jefferson did broach the subject in a report he prepared for George Washington while he (Jefferson) was Secretary Of State. Here are his words;

"Considering the value of the interests we have at stake and considering the smallness of difference between foreign and native tonnage on French vessels alone, it might perhaps be thought advisable to make the sacrifice asked, and especially if it can be so done as to give no title to other the most favored nations to claim it. If the act should put French vessels on the footing of those of natives, and declare it to be in consideration of the favors granted us by the arrets of December 1787, and December 7, 1788 (and perhaps this would satisfy them), no nation could then demand the same favor without offering an equivalent compensation. It might strengthen, too, the tenure by which those arrets are held, which must be precarious so long as they are gratuitous.

It is desirable in many instances to exchange mutual advantages by legislative acts rather than by treaty, because the former, though understood to be in consideration of each other, and therefore greatly respected, yet when they become too inconvenient can be dropped at the will of either party; whereas stipulations by treaty are forever irrevocable but by joint consent, let a change of circumstances render them ever so burdensome."

In the first fifty years of the US’s independence, sixty treaties were made compared to twenty-seven executive agreements. When WWII started, the count was at eight hundred treaties and twelve hundred executive agreements. For the period between 1940 and 1989, there were seven hundred and fifty-nine treaties and thirteen thousand and sixteen executive agreements. In 1989, the US was party to eight hundred and ninety treaties and five thousand one hundred and seventeen executive agreements made by Saint Ronny of Republican Mythology.

I know what you’re thinking at this point; those are just numbers so what kind of executive agreements are we talking about? Good question. The peace agreement with Vietnam in 1973 was an executive agreement. The "Destroyers for Bases Agreement of 1940" was an executive agreement that FDR signed. He gave the UK fifty overage destroyers in exchange for 99-year leases on certain British naval bases in the Atlantic. The Status Of Forces Agreement with Iraq that George W Bush made didn’t require a congressional vote, so that was an executive agreement. So these aren’t insignificant agreements.

I found a myriad of court cases that uphold the authority of executive agreements. You can find those pretty easily if you’re interested in doing some more research. The Supreme Court has upheld the validity of executive agreements several times, starting with United States v Belmont in 1937. There’s Dames & Moore v. Regan, and Weinberger v. Rossi, and several more similar SCOTUS decisions. Those are just a few of many, but you get the point.

So to recap:

  • Executive agreements have been made without the approval of congress, starting with our first president.
  • These executive agreements have been pretty substantial agreements to do everything from establishing peace, to trading arms, to defining the length of a US occupation.
  • The Supreme Court has been upholding the authority of these agreements over and over again for decades.
  • Tom Cotton and his forty-six republican peers in congress are complete idiots, who should avail themselves of the large staff they each possess to do the type of research I managed to do with just me, my computer, and my tired eyes.

This stupid letter of Tim Cotton’s is going to do the opposite of what he intended for it to do. Instead of derailing these talks with Iran and humiliating President Obama, he has strengthened the resolve of both our president and the Iranians who have been publicly mocking Cotton. And he is once and for all going to prove the "three dimensional chess" credit that Obama has been getting getting for six years now.      

 

 

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Not So Much With The Nuclear

So the headline today is that the senate “invoked the nuclear option” and made a rules change that would limit the endless filibustering.

Not so fast. Using the term “nuclear” makes it sound ginormous, when it’s really not. To be clear, what the senate did today was to ensure that a majority vote on executive branch and non-Supreme Court judicial nominations. That’s it. They eliminated the “super majority” nonsense only on executive branch nominees. Nothing else. The minority in the senate can still filibuster everything else. So we’re still stuck in super majority hell for any other bill.

Why such a limited “nuclear” strike, when they could have effectively eviscerated the filibuster? The standard argument is that democrats understand that they will one day be in the minority, and are therefore not interested in neutering minority rights. Nonsense. The senate changed the rules today. They can change the rules tomorrow, and every day after that. And if democrats in the senate don’t think that republicans won’t go ahead and eviscerate the rights of the minority if they ever take over, they haven’t been paying attention to GOP tactics. Republicans went “nuclear” when they launched an unprecedented number of filibusters on the duly elected majority. I’m not buying the “looking ahead at future ramifications” horseshit argument.

No, I think that democrats limited the radius of the nuclear strike because they want the cover that having recalcitrant republicans give them. The blue dogs and the corporatists like being able to avoid taking votes on many of the issues that republicans filibuster. Not voting on those issues allows them to keep both their “blue dog” and their “democrat” cred. This enables certain democrats (like Dianne Feinstein, for example) to not cast votes that may jeopardize their seats. I mention Dianne Feinstein specifically, because I really believe she would be in trouble in California if she had to let her blue dog freak flag fly. Most of the blue dog senators would probably be safe because they legitimately represent states whose views are blue doggedy. But the corporatists would be in trouble.

This “nuclear” vote wasn’t about making government run much more smoothly. It was limited for a reason. I suspect that Harry Reid was worried about protecting “democratic” seats. I think he’s mostly wrong. I think that if a corporatist democrat gets ousted for being too corporatist, they’re more likely going to be replaced by a more democraty candidate, than they are by a republican. Limiting the “simple majority” to executive branch nominees isn’t going to have much impact on elections, since most people don’t pay much attention to judicial nominees.

While it may seem like Harry Reid took a giant step forward to restore democracy, it’s really just a tiny little baby step. Don’t everyone get too excited over this.

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There Used To Be A Time In America

When people felt shame over having done something shameful. I don’t know when those days left us, but they’re long gone.

Shamefulness has become a source of revenue, not to mention hubris.

Take this jackass radiovangelist that has failed to predict the rapture twice. Now one would think that he would quietly slink off into hiding but no, he’s back with a lame ass explanation that he got the math a little wrong. And does he feel bad that his idiotic devotees gave away all of their possessions and (some) killed their pets? Of course not! Because you see, he never instructed them to do that. Shameful! And an asshole. And you know what? He’s going to continue to get donations.

Then there’s disgraced former Speaker Of The House, Newt Gingrich. This is a guy that has no shortage of shit to be ashamed of. Let’s set aside his personal life for a moment. He was forced to resign the speakership by his own party. What part of “forced to resign from the last position I was elected to”, says , “I should definitely pursue a much higher office”? What kind of sociopathology leads one to make this conclusion?

Now on to his personal life; what kind of asshole has three wives, two of whom started off as mistresses, and still finds the audacity to say shit about family values? Are you fucking kidding me? You would think that he was Ms Manners! He was banging the current wife while the last wife was being treated for cancer. Shameful! And tacky!

And he’s an idiot. We found out last week, that he has a revolving credit line of half a million dollars at Tiffany’s. He’s an idiot because for that kind of money, he’s either having another affair, or he’s spending it on his wife. Hey Newt, you don’t need to buy expensive jewelry to keep a woman that was willing to blow you in the parking lot of the hospital where your wife was receiving chemotherapy treatments! She’s a cheap whore! Cheap whores don’t need Tiffany’s kind of maintenance.

And then there are members of the Bush administration. Those shameful assholes have the audacity to go on television and give their opinions about the assassination of Bin Laden that they failed to accomplish? Unfuckingbelievable! If your opinions had any credibility you would have gotten the job done. Why aren’t these people ashamed? One failed war, one failed occupation, a failed assassination, and no shame? How is that possible? The only person that seems to have a modicum of decency here is George W Bush (yeah, I didn’t see that coming either). At least he’s got the decency to shut the fuck up and hide in shame.

Why is this happening? Because we so want to be right in our ideology, that we’re willing to go the distance to defend it. We’re willing to go far beyond the point that reason and logic should allow us to go. It’s easy to see this in other people, but seems to be virtually impossible to see in ourselves. Sure, the rapture whackadoodles are easy to mock, but if you think about it, they’re just desperately clinging onto something to believe in and they refuse to be deterred.

Republicans are the most effective defenders of their party. How did that turn out for them? Not a single accomplishment they can point to since Nixon opened up trade with China, and the worst president in US history, by every measure of a failed presidency. And yet, some of them are still hoping that the brother of the worst president in history will ride into the race on a white horse to save the day.

And for democrats, it’s easy to see where republicans went wrong. But it’s impossible to see where they’re going wrong. I hear Stephanie Miller and Randi Rhodes defend, and take up the mantle of apologists for Obama every single day. They never talk about the torture of Bradley Manning, or the extension of the patriot act. They don’t lie about it, but they don’t bring it up either. If they don’t inform their listeners, they damage Obama because it’s up to a politicians’ constituents to keep them honest. If those constituents don’t know what’s going on, they can’t do that. And pretty soon, they will find themselves defending shameless people without even realizing what’s happening to them.

Our politicians and celebrities are shameless because we encourage them to be. It’s like our collective self esteem relies on being right at all costs. Well, I say that the cost is getting too expensive. It’s time to step back and adjust our opinions based on the facts at hand. Molding the facts to fit our opinions isn’t working for us. We’re just making shameless people really fucking rich. And we’re encouraging more shamelessness.

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Why The Sixty Vote Requirement is Bullshit

I’ve been listening to this crap about a requirement of sixty votes to pass anything in the senate for a year now and I’m over it.

I hear it from republicans, democrats, news anchors, and pundits. I have no idea why they’re all trying to force this stupidity down my throat, but I’m having none of it.

I’m going to dispel this myth once and for all. I’m going to do it in a way that’s so easy, that even the most determined party loyalist can’t argue with it. And I’m going to do it in a few short sentences.

Ready?

Section 3.4 of Article One of the constitution takes care of this on one sentence;
“The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.”

Sixty votes does not, a divided senate make.

See, the founding fathers envisioned a senate that would be closely divided so they spelled out a provision to break ties. They did NOT envision a senate that filibusters in perpetuity, therefore requiring a supermajority to pass ANYTHING.

See how easy that was to shoot down? You know what I had to do to get here? I launched the US Constitution app on my iPhone! Maybe we can save our government by starting a fund to buy all of our senators iPhones? It’s a thought. At least someone is having one!

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Reconciliation

President Obama came out today and finally called for an up or down vote on health reform.

My first thought was, “It’s about fucking time.” Seriously, you’ve let the centerpiece of your legislative goals drag on for 14 months. Get it done, already!

But let me throw in a positive aspect to this before I continue the rest of my bitching. This is actually pretty bold for Obama. Seriously, I think that he may have found the big boy pants he had on when he took down Hillary. I’m a bit of a fashion whore and I have to say, I’m a big fan of Obama’s big boy pants. I hope he plans on wearing them more often.

Why is this bold for Obama? Because what he is supporting when he says “up or down vote” is reconciliation. This is bold because republicans have done a fairly good job at attaching negative connotations to passing this bill through reconciliation. They’ve mostly done this by lying about what reconciliation is. FOX has been referring to it as “the nuclear” option, in an effort to further confuse and scare. Let’s clear this up once and for all.

The nuclear option and reconciliation are not the same thing. The nuclear option would eliminate the filibuster as an option in the senate once and for all. I understand how this may sound appealing right about now, but it’s a really bad idea. The filibuster is the one mechanism that the minority party that ensures that they can’t get shut out of a debate entirely. We need to preserve the rights of the minority party. I personally believe that the best bills are the ones that are fought and negotiated vigorously by opposing sides. What we’re left with is better than what we get when one side with one ideology creates a bill. Republicans threatened to trigger the nuclear option when they had a slight majority in the senate. Democrats backed down in order to preserve the filibuster.

Reconciliation is something entirely different. Reconciliation would allow a straight up or down vote on this bill without demolishing the filibuster. Historically, reconciliation was only used to pass through bills that would lower the deficit. The Byrd rule prohibited the use of reconciliation on measures that would increase the deficit beyond 10 years (of the passing of the measure). Republicans, being the fiscal conservatives that they are, blew the Byrd amendment out of the water 3 times over. They used it to pass all 3 of Bush’s tax cuts which were not budgeted for. Those tax cuts were 100% deficit spending. It was the least “conservative” thing that the republican party could have done, which is why it’s a little a little hard to listen to the same exact group of shitbags now crow about the deficit. But I digress.

COBRA was passed by reconciliation. It’s right there in the name; Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act. I bring up COBRA because it shoots down a number of the republican talking points in one fell swoop. First, it demonstrates that reconciliation is not a scary, government demolishing procedure that will leave us all rocking back and forth in the fetal position from the trauma if it all. Second, it blows away that whole, “no major piece of legislation has ever been passed through reconciliation” horseshit.

Now I know that democrats perpetually feel the need to educate the public on how things work. Shit, I’m here trying to educate the public on how things work. I have to say that I think that education is the wrong path to take to combat republican misdirection. I think that democrats should educate the American people on the only thing that they need to understand. Republicans are breaking filibuster records (previously set by republicans) at an astonishing rate. Democrats need to let the American people know that one simple fact. Then, they need to add, “So we’re going to have to use reconciliation repeatedly, relentlessly, and in ways that we never imagined having to use it in order to get the people’s work done”. Period. No scholarly tutorials on parliamentary procedure, no seminars on the origin of reconciliation, and most importantly, no acquiescing the point that using reconciliation is dirty. They should have none of that.

This one simple, straight forward approach serves two very important purposes. First, it shoves this petulant perpetual filibustering tactic right back down the republican’s throats. Maybe Mitch McConnell will think twice next time he lets someone like Jim Bunning cut unemployment benefits off for millions of people. Second, it prepares the American people for the possibility that there’s more of this to come. And if this ever comes up again, it establishes that republicans gave them no choice.

Remember how I promised you more bitching about Obama? Well here it is – if they’re going to pass this bill through reconciliation, they should go for the gold. They should go for the version that reduces the deficit the most. They should go for the version that covers the most number of people and offers the maximum amount of choices. They should go for the version that has a public option in it. They claim that they don’t have the votes to pass a bill with the public option in it. I say SHOW ME.

Cenk Uygur recently blogged about this here:

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/27044

I agree with him. Take the damned vote and show me who’s against it. I want to know which representative, that gets government run health care on my dime is against my right to the same options that they have. Take the damned vote and show me whether the problem is that there’s a lack of will to get this accomplished, or whether there’s simply a lack of leadership. Until you do that, I just remain bitter about the whole damned thing. I’m pissed off at the idea that you’re going to force me to buy insurance from the same companies that have been fucking me for years. I’m pissed off that you’re naïve enough to believe that they’re going to stop fucking me unless you step in and FORCE them to stop fucking me. Take the vote and show me what the problem is so that I can help you.

President Obama, I’m the vote that you’re trying to buy with all of that Goldman Sachs money you’re courting. You could cut out the middle man if you did what the American people elected you to do. There’s no need for the piles and piles of lobbyist money if you keep our votes.

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