Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Rule of Law, Revisited?

The plot thickens.
"On Wednesday, 74 days after U.S. forces joined the military operation in Libya, President Obama seemed to run out of goodwill on Capitol Hill. A group of both liberals and conservatives — defying the leaders of both parties — threw their support behind a bill to pull the U.S. military out of the Libya operation. That prospect led GOP leaders to shelve the bill before it came to a vote."
Before everyone gets all sweaty, I already assume that the usual Washington Rules - that is to say, that if the President (or Congress, or other "real" people inside the Beltway as opposed to the stinky unwashed masses in the hustings) does it, it's not illegal - will apply in the end, however.

But it's interesting to note that even in the Escurial, if you do a half-assed job of explaining why your nation needs to get involved in other people's civil wars, you might just get a sharp lecture from the other hidalgos before getting back to business as usual.

Mind you, I have full faith and confidence that the Powers that Are Along the Potomac will prevent this outbreak of lawfulness from interfering in the smooth, water-off-a-cat's-ass business of meddling abroad whilst fiddling at home, enriching those who deserve riches and empowering those who deserve power, and, besides, this nonsense is distracting us from finding out more about Tony Weiner's dick.

Greenwald has more.


  1. Unless you live in a handful of swing districts in a handful of swing states, your vote has zero effect on the makeup of government.

    Barring you donating large sums of money to the candidates of your choice, this means you have zero influence in Washington.

    Get over it.

  2. Ael:
    If you do live in a swing state (Ohio - 2004), your vote for change can be negated through the adjustment of computerized ballot boxes. Just a skosh of alteration to the counting algorithm can Dubyaeyeze the vote count. Jiffy programming, even a dolt like me can do it.

  3. Adding to the perfecta of doom we're building here, the UN Security Council is getting set to vote on intervening in Syria.

    The Brits are particularly upset by the human rights abuses in Syria and are arguing for at least a no-fly zone (heh, won't do that much good unless they rule that artillery shells are aircraft, the Syrian Air Force has never been very useful). The US has signaled that it will vote in favor of intervention. No word yet from the Russians or the Chinese but I will be surprised if they don't veto it.

    So here we are on the verge of intervening in yet another incipient Middle Eastern Civil War and we have to rely on those paragons of virtue, the Russians and the Chinese to protect us from ourselves? WASTF!!!

    Oh yes, and Yemen has finally dropped into the pot and I'm beginning to hear the usual voices beginning to clamor that we need to DO SOMETHING! Innocent lives are being lost! Hopes are being wrecked! Knees are being skinned! Exclamation points are being expended in great numbers!!!

    I've been tired of all of this since 2002 and I'm slowly turning isolationist. We've got enough problems without irritating everybody else by intervening in things we don't understand. Somebody needs to get us to look in the mirror and ask us if we like what we see.

  4. Bored with all this talk about "illegal" wars. What we have in Libya is an extended military action, short of an actual war. But I'm amused by the Rethugs who want to lecture the president about legislative roles and functions, but at the same time, refuse to take any actual action to guide the use of federal resources in this discussion. "Washington Rules," indeed.

  5. Jason: Call it an "extended military action". Call it an "expedition". Call it "two hot chicks kissing in the shower." 50 U.S.C. 1541-1548 calls it part of the executive's "War Powers", to wit: "the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, and to the continued use of such forces in hostilities or in such situations."

    It's really simple. The law of the United States says that unless it's in direct response to an armed attack or threat of attack on the U.S. or its interests, the President has 60 days and then has to get SOMEthing out of Congress.

    Now I'm perfectly willing to entertain arguments that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional, or foolish, or a Commie plot. But what I'm NOT willing to do is simply ignore it. The supposed basis of the U.S. government is that our Constitution is negotiable but not ignorable; we can amend it, dispute it, take it to court...but so long as there is at least a scintilla of evidence that a Constitutional law applies the person or persons acting in apparent contravention to that law must be brought to book.

    IMO one of the greatest single problems facing this country is the degree to which wealth and political power are again becoming shields from the uniform application of the rule of law.

    I don't kid myself; we have always been an oligarchy, or, at best, a "democracy" in the Greek and Roman sense where, as Ael points out, the slaves, plebs, freedmen, women, upper proles, and basically everyone outside the economic and sociopolitical elite are mere bystanders. But I also grew up in the period between 1929 and 1980, where there was at least a pretense towards a wider franchise and hopes for a better. We seem - and the "we" I speak of is on both Left (what there is of it) and Right - to have stopped pretending this.

    Which, in itself, is fine; many nations, and empires, have flourished as such with an elite making the decisions. But I think the critical difference here is that our "elites" are particularly prone to making stupid short-term-based decisions. So for us, a retreat from the strict rule of law into an elitist rule based on personal accountability would be a disaster.

  6. Chief,
    Fear trumps all.
    We the people still believe the hype put out by GWB et al and stoked by the Obomba crew. So that's a get outta jail free card.
    It's all so predictable.
    And tiring.

  7. Maybe you guys are right -- the current rash of interventions in the Middle East is illegal, arrogant and doomed to failure. But, maybe, just maybe, we are seeing the birth of an idea that crimes of a certain magnitude cannot be tolerated, where ever they might occur. There comes a time when national borders and claims of cultural differences no longer provide immunity. Globalization, whatever its real shortcomings, diminishes the mystic of the state and reenforces our intuition that we share a common humanity. The arrest of Amina Affaf in Damascus the other day has been felt by millions. Amina was, in a real sense, our neighbor. And now, God or NATO help her.

    Podunk Paul

  8. Personally, I think the War Powers Act is a tool for political posturing and is pretty much irrelevant as a practical matter. If a President engages in a war that Congress opposes, the Congress has the means to stop the war either by neglecting to fund the operation or specifically passing legislation forbidding funding it and, if necessary, overriding any Presidential veto. They can also impeach the President. These are Congress' options with or without the war powers act - it's not like Congress has any additional power (ie. it can't "arrest" the President for violating this law) under this law that it doesn't already.

    In my opinion, this is just another way for Congress to express displeasure regarding Presidential policies without actually having to do anything of substance. Therefore, it's more of a political weapon than anything else IMO.

  9. Andy: OK, so...there's this law, see. And this law says that you can't cross the street against the light. And you do. In front of a cop. And the cop sits there munching a donut and nodding. And this is...nothing more than a mild disagreement between friends? A "political weapon"?


    It's REAL simple. The War Powers Act is a law. a public law, in the U.S. Code. It may be a "political weapon". It may be a "way for Congress to express displeasure regarding Presidential policies without actually having to do anything of substance". It may be a glazed donut.

    But the moment we, as a nation, begin simply ignoring public laws we find inconvenient, or "political weapons", or "ways to express displeasure"...well, where do we stop?

    Should we stop indicting and prosecuting people who break laws because they're wealthy? Because they are powerful? Because they might not like it? Should we choose only to enforce the laws when we like them, or when the people who would suffer are poor, or powerless, or not well connected?

    I mean - we DO all that, and have for generations - but we've always publicly pretended we didn't. All that "a nation of laws" horseshit. And now it seems that, in this instance, we can't even be bothered to fake it anymore.

    We're not friggin Zimbabwe yet. But, honestly! Can't we all at LEAST agree that there is SOMETHING worth calling bullshit on, even if it's no more than a rhetorical exercise?

    I mean, here's Paul claiming that "certain crimes cannot be tolerated" while here you are saying "Enh. Law, schmaw. Who really gives a flying fuck?"

    I give up. Honestly. I'm gonna stop posting on this subject, since even amongst this tiny group there's no uniformity of opinion on a subject as simple as "this is a law, and breaking it is illegal". Clearly, I'm wasting my goddamn time here.

  10. Chief,

    Who is the cop in this situation? If "this is the law, and breaking it is illegal" then who is going to go up to the White House and arrest the President or issue him a citation?

    The "cop," in this case, is the Congress itself. If the President is really breaking the law then its incumbent on Congress to do something about it and it has two options: Impeachment, or cut funding for this war and override the President's presumptive veto. Or the Congress could just zero-out any funding for Libya in the next budget in which case the war will end October 1st.

    But you and I both know Congress isn't going to do either of those things and the reasons why have nothing to do with noble notions of adherence to the law and everything to do with politics and the never-ending struggle over separation-of-powers. That's why I think the WPA is irrelevant - no court is going to rule on its constitutionality and Congress already has the power and authority to restrict Presidential/cabinet wars should it choose to without the WPA.

    Finally, I think your "law, schmaw. Who really gives a flying fuck" characterization of my opinion is pretty uncharitable. This is ultimately a separation of powers issue (the WPA is, after all, a law directed solely at one branch of government and not the citizens of the United States) and so it is quite a bit different than simple question of whether or not it's legal to cross a street.

  11. Chief,
    I joke and yank your chain every now and again, and you return fire, but i want to be deadly serious here.
    You need to back off a few clicks and reset your compass.All i know of you is electronic and i'm concerned with you recent negativity. Or should i say something worse?
    In short, i'd suggest that you consider counseling, or take a break.
    No bullshit here- only concern. There's a strain running thru your writings lately that reflects something that i really can't get a grip on.
    In friendship.

  12. Podunk Paul, we just saw we don't know how many people gunned down in Bahrain, with US forces sitting at anchor and doing Jack Sh*t. Because of oil. It still comes down to the same thing - any dictator who sells us the oil is Our Authoritarian Friend.

    Frankly, you should have figured out such lies after Iraq Liberation Week turned into a festering dungheap.