Friday, June 22, 2007

the case for a fourth branch

All this talk about Dick Cheney's ludicrous claim that he is both a member of the executive branch (so he can claim executive privilege for his secret energy meetings with oil and nuclear company executives) and not a member of the executive branch (so he doesn't have to comply to classified document requirements, in case he wants to oh out a covert CIA officer because her husband said true things about the case for the Iraq war) has gotten me thinking about an idea I have been kicking around for a while.

Prior to the 12th Amendment, the Electoral College runner up became Vice President. This was OK when the two men (and until at least 2009 it has always been and will always be two men) agreed on stuff, but was very awkward when they were political rivals (see John Adams vs. Thomas Jefferson). However, without this bitter rivalry, the alien and sedition acts wouldn't have been tested so early. In an age that is just as partisan and nasty as it was then (1990-2000s=1790s-1800s) I think this time it will actually work. This is especially true if the VP was to not be the president of the Senate (a default job the constitutional drafters gave him since they had no clue what to do with the VP) but rather, the head of the Justice Department.

The first attorney general was like Alberto Gonzales, aka just the president's lawyer, at first. However Edmund Randolph quickly saw that he needed to be able to intervene in cases on behalf of the US, not the president. Only one justice at the time agreed with him, James Iredell. Today, the Justice Department has grown far beyond Randolph's desk and now employs thousands of prosecutors & investigators, with broad powers.

Imagine if Bush had gotten the White House in 2000...but Al Gore was made VP/AG with a separate constitutional office and powers of his own. This would have likely prevented many of the scandals you see today, or at least drawn them out into the light of day much sooner before they became cancerous on the Administration. Such a fourth branch would have the power to check into wrongdoing not only of the executive branch, but also of the legislative branch. This also would have obviously prevented the US Attorney scandal since a bootlicker like Alberto Gonzales never would have gotten the second most electoral votes.

The current VP office can be as powerful as junior president for someone like Dick Cheney, or "not worth a bucket of warm piss" for someone like John Nance Garner. The voters don't know what power/role the president will give his vice president, which leaves the office either with little political influence or Dante's political purgatory from which they can run for the presidency or vanish into the night.

The American people deserve an independent Justice Department, and the only guarantee for that is my plan, given human nature. Americans deserve a VP who is ready to take over for the president should something terrible happen, and one who will be wholly independent of the Congress and the President.

Under the current system, someone like Cheney can create a secret shadow government, which can order civilian planes shot down (like he did on 9/11 with Lynne Cheney, and without George W. Bush) and who knows what else. After all, he doesn't want us to know.

But if we had a true fourth branch, which was separately elected from the President and Congress, we would ensure that partisanship does not go awry. After all, if the AG/VP started to investigate members of Congress/the White House for no reason, he could always be defunded/impeached.

important stuff

It seems these days lame duck executives are twiddling the time on really critical matters like these:
By Executive Order, Crocs Aren't Chic
By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 22, 2007; Page C01
Crocs have been given the presidential seal of approval but this is not necessarily a good thing.
George W. Bush was photographed recently in a pair of black Crocs -- Cayman style, $29.99 -- as he was heading out from the White House to ride his bike.

(Photo Credit: Ron Sachs via Bloomberg News Photo)
OK well maybe that was unfair to Mr. 26%, all he did was wear them. Let's beat up on Rocky instead (a favorite past time of mine)
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson hopes to make his fight against water bottles a national battle.
Anderson, along with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, will sponsor a resolution today at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Los Angeles calling for a study on the impact of bottled water on cities' budgets and waste-disposal systems.
Why so we can say that bottled water hurts the environment by contributing to global warming and polution? Any idiot can figure that out. Why don't we do a study to measure how many people Rocky has managed treat like crap (including and excluding staff)?
But as the race to replace him rages on and his days in office wane, Anderson isn't worried about being treated like a lame duck.
"I don't think it could get much worse with this council," he said. "They're very slow and very indecisive. I hate to paint with a broad brush, but the majority of the council have been extremely difficult to move toward the kinds of improvements that I think ought to be embraced in this community."
Anderson has created a list of about 100 priorities he hopes to accomplish before he leaves office. He wants to start a Sunday Farmers Market at the city's west-side Jordan Park, complete the Grant Tower rail realignment and replace the light bulbs in all city-run buildings with more efficient types. He also has broader aims, which include explaining to the general public ways to combat global warming.

I would just like to point out that the one guy he endorsed is in fifth place. The man is not popular and that is why he could not win unless it was Dave Buhler vs. someone else conservative...and that won't happen. Either Jenny Wilson or Ralph Becker will make it through to the next round, or both.

If that happens, it will be an embarrassment of riches.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

if you can't beat 'em make 'em join you

The old "kicked upstairs" routine. The two Board of Education attorneys that but the law above party are going to probably sucked into the vortex of the Attorney General's office, where I am sure they will have horrible jobs.
The Attorney General's Office is set to weigh whether to bring into its ranks two lawyers working at the State Office of Education who went against its opinion when the school voucher ballot question was before the Utah Supreme Court earlier this month.

Deputy Attorney General Ray Hintze on Wednesday said one of his first assignments in 2001 was to rein in "illegal in-house counsel" at state agencies by making them part of the Attorney General's Office, a move he said was supported by then-Gov. Mike Leavitt.
"We left these two (attorneys) in place thinking it was a workable situation, and until this issue came up, it has worked very well," Hintze told the legislative Education Interim Committee Wednesday.

Remember, that was the committee hearing where the Board of Education's attorney's said they wouldn't show up to, because they were worried about politicization.

Looks like someone just fired a shot across their bow. Shurtleff's Hintze-man basically told them they were going to sleep with the fishes. That is, be stuck in dead-end jobs AG jobs where no one affiliated with the Utah Republican party would dare hire them.

I don't know about you, but I am tired of the AG using his power like a bully because his power was questions and his judgment was proved false. Mark has egg all over his face but insists on terrorizing a small public agency because he won't admit he was wrong. A bully and a coward, and this man counts as a "rising star" in the Utah GOP.

EXCLUSIVE: Becker's Education proposal

Sources close to Becker for SLC Mayor campaign spoke on condition on anonymity about his education platform and plan.

The plan is a big departure from the current, hands-off approach to schooling that Rocky has made. (Who by the way, realizes his 15 minutes of fame are up and is toying with running again...gag me with a spoon) Here are some of the ideas I like the best:

  • Second-Language Proficiency: "by the time every Salt Lake City student is 18 years old, he or she will be able to pass a basic proficiency exam in a second language." This includes not just Sudanese refugees and Mexican kids, but white kids named Jensen. What better way to get a talented workforce ready for a globalized economy than having them proficient in another language? And by the way, it would make missionary language training much easier if one is called to serve in a country that speaks the language you learned in high school. I hope this will mean that not only will the next generation of Utahns know how to speak a language like Spanish, but also languages like Mandarin or Japanese.

  • Expanding Excellence in Education ("E3"): E-cubed is based on the idea that schools should not be limited to the knowledge and materials found inside their buildings. Rather, students would be encouraged to participate in "extracurricular learning opportunities" in the form of formal and informal programs with local companies, museums, researchers, etc. The real world is coming soon to a high schooler near you. They need to learn what it will take to make it in the real world without mom and dad's assistance. Maybe one of these programs will inspire a student to go to medical school, architecture school, start a business, become an artist, or dissuade them that working as a mechanic is really going to be great.

  • Public-Private Partnerships: "the city will build partnerships with local businesses to help provide opportunities for our children to learn and excel" through grants of money/equipment, as well as employees volunteering. Imagine people who work out at the refinery teaching kids chemistry.

There are several others, like appointing a senior staffer to be the "Ed Czar," monthly meetings with principals and the mayor, city employee engagement, but those are less "sexy" than the other plans in my view.

Anyway, feel free to talk about the merits of these ideas or suggest your own, I am sure Ralph would love to hear them. And it seems his staff read my blog.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Who's the boss

(photo credit: Television Heaven UK)

Remember that crappy 80's sitcom, where it was so funny that a woman could be in charge of men? And that men were stupid (Tony Danza only played characters with the name of "Tony" so he wouldn't get confused) Well it seems to be back in syndication up on Salt Lake's Capitol Hill.
"Although Superintendent (of Public Instruction Patti) Harrington initially may have indicated some availability to attend the Education Interim Committee meeting this coming Wednesday, after due deliberation, I, representing the State Board of Education, respectfully decline to send a representative to that gathering," State Board of Education chairman Kim Burningham wrote in a letter to Education Interim Committee co-chairman Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.
"It is unclear what role the committee has in relation to what essentially is business to be conducted confidentially, if at all, between the Attorney General and the state board. It is clear, however, that any further politicization of the relationship between the Attorney General and the state board is unwelcome to the board, if not to (Attorney General Mark) Shurtleff, and would be ill-advised in any event."
The letter sent a ripple through legislative leadership Tuesday.
"The State Board of Education cannot refuse to talk to us," said Senate President John L. Valentine, R-Orem, following a meeting Tuesday afternoon of top-level legislative bosses — the Executive Appropriations Committee.

Valentine went to my law school, but he seems to forget attorney client privilege and that his duty is to the people of the state of Utah, not Mark Shurtleff or the executive committee of the Utah Republican Party. [By the way, don't you think it is funny that when they had a choice, they chose a lobbyist? And the lobbyist said that lobbyist are an important part of the GOP coalition?]

Shurtleff was pissed that they didn't follow his advise, claiming they had to. No state agency has to follow the AG's advice, but if they guess wrong and are sued, there will be no immunity. In this case, the state board guessed right, as the Utah Supremes voted unanimously that Shurtleff was completely full of sh!t. But that didn't stop legislators from doing his bidding
After that decision, the education interim committee changed its agenda for today's meeting. The committee had originally planned to discuss the board's decision no to offer vouchers. But a revised agenda released Monday had replaced that item with a discussion of the AG's duties.

All hail partisan hack Mark "Tony Danza" Shurtleff. Who's the boss now, legislature?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Becker gets Ashdown's support

But will it matter? Pete Ashdown got about the same (about 31%) as former State Sen. Scott Howell got in 2000 against Hatch. Pete's walloping was least bad in Salt Lake County, where he got 91,601 votes to Hatch's 109,201. Of course, Salt Lake City is the biggest city in the County and probably the source of the bulk of those 91,601.

But Ralph Becker isn't the only guy with endorsements. Jenny Wilson got Peter Corroon's who actually won Salt Lake County (albeit only the plurality) and will likely win in a landslide reelection next year. All things considered Jenny's endorsement is probably worth more than Ralph's.

people as props

Today's post is on how the media and campaigns use groups of people to make a point and thus to dehumanize them. First up, LDS families:
The Becerras live in Sandy. He is a financial adviser and a stake president who has done voluntary work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' public affairs department. Because of the latter connection, he got a call from church headquarters asking if he would allow his family to be observed by Sharpton while they held a family home evening.
So the Becerras did what they do every Monday night, or most of them anyway. With Sharpton and his assistants watching, along with an LDS Church official, they sang a hymn and prayed. Daughter Rachael sang a church hymn solo, and Debbie gave a lesson on the Prodigal Son. Sharpton sat quiet until he was asked to read a passage from the Bible.
Then three weeks later, the church sent another visitor to the Becerra household. This time it was an "NBC Nightly News" crew, headed by reporter Ron Allen. They showed up on a Monday night to observe another family home evening. With cameras rolling and the crew observing, the Becerras sang a hymn and then prayed. Jorge gave a lesson. They ate Popsicles. They played croquet in the yard. The kids, distracted at first by the large TV cameras leaning in for close-up shots, eventually ignored the audience, and it was business as usual.
After a pause, Jorge [Becerras] added, "We felt like we were under a microscope, but we welcome any interest."
Ready or not, it's coming anyway. CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Time magazine and newspapers from around the country have all come calling in recent weeks, and more will follow in the months ahead. They all want to know the same thing: What, exactly, is a Mormon?

In both cases, TV cameras, famous African-Americans from New York, and church officials took the "family" out of family home evening, one of the most universally appealing practices of Mormons.

The spectacle makes LDS families seem either like an ants in an ant farm, or nostalgic '50s throwbacks.

Next up, homosexuals
The vote taken by Bay State lawmakers showcases the state's ultra-liberalism and gives the former Massachusetts governor another reason to kick Massachusetts around.
Beyond that, it fires up opponents of same-sex marriage, who constitute a fierce conservative base. They are already expressing fears about what happens now that Massachusetts is the only state where same-sex marriage is legal: Gay couples will travel here, obtain a marriage license, then sue to strike down laws banning same-sex marriage in other states.

First off, Romney and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed that only Massachusetts residence can get marriage licenses, applying a 1918 law narrowly. This eliminated gay marriage tourism and probably hurt the economy slightly, and made these conservative fears unfounded.

Second, I am glad to see that Romney's people acknowledge they are using gay people to burnish Multiple Choice Mitt's conservative credentials ("It helps Mitt," a Romney adviser said.)

Here's more on his flip flopping
Romney committed himself to pro-choice policies and miscellaneous moderate social stands in order to run for office in Massachusetts, and with good political reason. It would be hard to imagine a pro-life, anti-gay rights social conservative winning a Massachusetts governor's race. Once elected, Romney used Massachusetts as the launchpad he intended from the start. He began the dramatic political retooling that he hopes will win him the Republican nomination, then the presidency.
In that regard, gay rights and the gay marriage issue hold similar peril for Romney. When he was running against Edward M. Kennedy, Romney said he would be a stronger advocate for gay rights than the liberal senator. Conservative critics also charge that as governor, he unnecessarily implemented same-sex marriage after the state's highest court declared that gay couples have a right to marry. In a compilation entitled, "The Mitt Romney Deception," Romney critic Brian Camenker holds Romney accountable for gay marriage in Massachusetts on the grounds that he "jumped the gun and needlessly advanced the homosexual agenda by granting marriage rights without a fight."

And in Romney's defense, he at least rhetorically fought the results. He even tried to campaign for GOPers in 2004 and 2006 in Massachusetts and their power actually decreased in Mass.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Mitt Romney is today's Aaron Burr

(Sorry, I don't have Photoshop so this ghetto mashup of Romney and the third Vice President of the United States is brought to you by Microsoft Paint. )

Anyway, as you probably know, in 1800, Thomas Jefferson overwhelming won the popular vote against John Adams. However, the idiots selected to be electors cast their votes for both Jefferson and Aaron Burr in such a fashion that both had a tie in the Electoral College.

As a result, the election was thrown to the House of Representatives, which was for the moment still controlled by Federalists (but would become overwhelmingly Jeffersonian in a matter of weeks). Rather than be happy with being VP Burr saw an opportunity for power indirectly asked the Federalist to vote him into the presidency in exchange for power in his administration.

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist party chief (and ancestor of yours truly), had a tough choice. He hated Jefferson's ideas, believing he would be a disaster. He hated Burr personally, because as a fellow New Yorker and banker, had seen how loathsome Burr was as a human being. After tortuous deliberation, Hamilton decided "Jefferson is to be preferred. He is by far not so dangerous a man and he has pretensions to character."

By contrast Burr's "private character is not defended by his most partial friends... His public principles have no other spring or aim than his own aggrandizement... If he can he will certainly disturb our institutions to secure himself permanent power and with it wealth..." As V. Lowry Snow put it "Hamilton recognized that Burr was dangerous not because he took a strong stand for what he believed in, but precisely because he took no stand and believed in nothing but himself."

Is it just me, or was the first Treasury Secretary and the author of our national economy describing the former Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? Mitt's views on everything have changed to suit his electorate--Abortion, Stem Cell research, Guns, Gays, pardons, taxes, even the articles his own faith.

When Burr ran for Vice President, Hamilton said: "Mr. Burr is determined, as I conceive, to climb to the highest honors of the state. He is bold, enterprising, and intriguing, and I feel it is a religious duty to oppose his career." Likewise, I feel honor bound to oppose Romney's rise to the Oval Office.