Jan 202009

Today the Torch of TyrannyTM will be passed from George Bush to Barack Obama. There will be many parties, plenty of speeches and far too much pointless news coverage of both. There will also, most likely, be many questions asked.  But I have only one question: why do we need a President, anyway?

This question most typically arises after I’ve been told that “someone has to be President”.  Unfortunately, despite posing the question to dozens of people over decades I have yet to receive a decent answer.  The vast majority of the answers come down to: well, who would handle the duties of The Office if we did not have a President.  Of course, few of these people can actually list these duties.  So I’ve returned to the beginning: The United States Constitution.

Article Two of the Constitution covers the Executive Branch.  Sections one and four deal with putting people into the office and removing them from it, so all of the President’s duties are covered in sections two and three-

  • The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States…
    • In other words, the President is in charge of the military.  Since the United States military has not been used to actually defend the United States since the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, and there  are no countries that are both capable and interested in invading the United States, I don’t see why we need a military leader.
  • …he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices…
    • Since these “executive Departments” are not listed in the Constitution I don’t see why it’s vital that they all report to one person.  Why not simply let their current heads be the final word.  Besides, this clause doesn’t give him any real power over these Departments.  It only declares that they must submit a report to him whenever he so desires.
  • …and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States , except in Cases of Impeachment.
    • Why must the President be the final arbiter of pardons?  It seems the judges themselves could do this job just as easily, or some form of independent panel.  The power to pardon is, after all, widely judged to be the most abused power of the Executive branch.
  • He shall have Power, … to make Treaties, … and he shall nominate, and … shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for…
    • Considering each of the “powers” granted in this clause must be approved by Congress it certainly seems such things could be handled by an individual or committee chosen by Congress as well.
  • The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate
    • Modern communication has made this a pointless power.  Since such Vacancies would occur doing Recess there would be plenty of time for the states represented to fill these seats on their own.
  • He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient…
    • Refer above to the section on “executive Departments”. We can dissolve two “duties” with one action by having these department heads report directly to Congress.
  • …he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers;
    • So, he can call Congress into session and tell them when they can go home (assuming they can’t decide for themselves). Seems like a pretty pointless and largely ceremonial power to me.
    • And he’s the guy who “receives” foreign leaders. Ditto the ‘ceremonial power’ portion above.
  • he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.
    • I’m not even sure what this means. Doesn’t the Judicial Branch decide if laws are “faithfully executed”?
    • And since the phrase “Officers of the United States” is not used in any other article of the Constitution it seems fairly meaningless as well.

So, there you have it.  The President of the United States has a grand total of 11 duties or job responsibilities, none of which actually seem very vital.  So would anyone care to defend this “highest of offices”?  What, exactly, makes the President of the United  States the “most powerful man in the world:?

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Jan 022009

In less than three weeks we’ll be bidding adieu to King George W. Bush. And I intend to wish him a fond farewell and honor his reign as our leader in style – with the t-shirt you see pictured at left.  That is, of course, assuming that we don’t have some sort of “National Emergency” in the next few weeks that would leave us in far too unstable a position to effect a change in leadership.
I mean, he’s ignored the U.S. Constitution for the last eight years, why should he be bothered to follow it just because Barack wants to take the mantle of power? Of course, then this wonderful shirt from Crazy Dog t-shirts would still be appropriate.

But inauguration day isn’t the only event that’s covered by Crazy Dog shirts.  They’ve got something for everyone including homages to the ’90s with an extensive line of shirts inspired by the Seinfeld television show; the ’80s with their Chuck Norris line and A-Team t’s; and the ’70s with the Smurfs and a selection of breakfast cereal mascots. They’ve even got a sale going on right now with $4 shipping to help ease your own personal economic crisis.

But nothing beats good ol’ King George. In the words of America’s most popular modern philosopher, Homer Simpson: “It’s funny because it’s true.”


Nov 082008

Earlier this week roughly 21% of the population of the United States (65,340,608 out of 305,186,613) decided that Barack Obama should be the next President. I bring this up not to point out (once again) that even within the supposed Democracy it’s far from the majority that rules. No, mine is an economic question. As we all know Obama ran on a platform of “change”. Well, who thinks he’d be willing to institute a genuine change and reject his Presidential salary of $400,000? I certainly don’t expect that to happen, though it would be nice to see a “servant of the people” get compensated with more servant like numbers.

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand that the President has a tough job.  Hell, even the Constitution states that the president should be paid-

US Constitution, Article II, Section 1

The President shall, at stated times, receive for his services, a compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that period any other emolument from the United States, or any of them.

By the way, according to a legal dictionary (the Constitution is a legal document, after all) ’emolument’ means: “All wages, benefits or other benefits received as compensation for holding an office or employment“.

Now, few among us want to see the most powerful man in the world distracted from that job by worrying how he’s going to pay the power bill.  But the fact of the matter is that the President doesn’t pay his power bill.  We do.  He doesn’t even pay rent while living in the White House (which costs roughly $4 million per year to maintain).  Does that sound like emolument to you?  How about the fact that whenever he wants to go anywhere he gets in a chauffeur driven limousine (both paid for by taxpayers) and driven to the airport to board Air Force One, which cost us roughly $325 Million!  Four four years, this man pays for nothing while earning $400,000 per year.

Still think the President deserves that salary?  Well then I’ll leave you with this final note from BeyondBooks.com

Finally, the perks do not end when a President leaves the White House. It’s estimated that the minimum amount President Clinton’s pension and staff will cost U.S. taxpayers if his life span is average is $6,072,000.

Sep 222008

It seems I can’t click more than three links in the blogosphere lately without reading about Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s email being hacked (which is 1.5 more than I can go without reading about Palin herself, but that’sa different rant). And yet, I’ve not come across any blog posts or news articles outlining the real tragedy highlighted by these events. The complete loss of privacy in the new millennium. I’m not talking about the loss of Sarah Palin’s privacy. She was fool enough to use some of the weakest “protection” available. No, I’m talking about the (so-called) hacker’s privacy.

You see, this college kid went to the “trouble” of using a proxy service called ctunnel to try and hide what he was doing.  Why did he use ctunnel?  I have no idea, but a quick look at their website gives the following reasons one might want to take advantage of their service-

This can be done to evade website blocking by schools, corporations, or governments, to access websites that would normally be blocked. It can also be done to protect your anonymity, so that the website you are visiting does not know who you are.

Because our visitors value their privacy, it is not in our interests to spy on you, lest we lose traffic and advertising revenue. Because government subpenoa could require us to hand over our server access logs, access logs are regularly deleted to protect your privacy. In short, we value your browsing experience as well as your anonymity, and would not do anything to break your trust in us.

Definitely gives one a “warm and fuzzy” feeling about their privacy, does it not? Unfortunately a closer look at their terms of service leads us to this-

We take user’s privacy very seriously, and normally will not knowingly disclose confidential information to anyone. However, we reserve the right to cooperate with law enforcement agencies who are investigating criminal activities undertaken by users of our service. In logging access to this service, we try to balance our need to have access to useful site performance data and the need to be able to cooperate with criminal investigations with our user’s needs for privacy. Currently our goal is to log only that information which is necessary to comply with legitimate law enforcement inquiries for a period of 7 days from the date of access. This logging policy is a goal and not a mandate.

In other words if you, like the kid who broke into Palin’s email account, want actual privacy, you need to look elsewhere. And how, exactly do I know it was a college kid that broke into Palin’s Yahoo! email? Well, that’s simple. From a recent Threat Level article

As reported here last week, Gabriel Ramuglia, owner of the internet proxy service Ctunnel.com, which Palin’s intruder used to access her account and obscure his IP address, was examining his logs for the FBI to trace the intruder’s IP address. Ramuglia told Portfolio that the FBI asked him about only one IP address, which he declined to disclose but said he had matched the address to web activity “consistent with what websites the hacker was expected to have visited through (the Ctunnel) service.”

Yep, aside from the kid being essentially an idiot when it comes to covering your tracks on the internet (by all accounts), he would have been given up by Ctunnel anyway. And, if there is ever a prosecution then their records will be used against him.

Lessons learned? Don’t trust anyone with your privacy!

Sep 132008

Not surprisingly, the Morgan Hill Police Department wants more money. And they’ve decided the best way to get it is to pass a 2% tax “on the use of gas, electric, water, sewer, garbage, telecommunications and video/CATV services.”  According to the full color (read: expensive) flier I (and probably you) received in my mailbox today if Measure G does not pass “the City will not likely be in a position to add new positions such as additional police officers,”which elicited a resounding “good” from me, but may not have from you.  So let’s review-

  • In 2004 the people of Morgan hill spent roughly $10,000,000 on a new police station.
  • In June 2008 Morgan Hill Police Chief Bruce Cumming reported that “[t]he department had a productive year, [in 2007]. Among the accomplishments, Cumming told council members, is the creation of a regional SWAT team with the Gilroy Police Department and the implementation of the anti-gang GREAT program in Morgan Hill schools.”
  • At the same time Chief Cumming announced that “[s]ome of the goals for the new year, which begins July 1, include reinstating the department’s K-9 program with funding from community donations and implementing a city-wide telephone notification system.  Cumming also hopes to increase the department’s 36 sworn officers with seven more sworn officers and two more multi-service officers.”
  • In July 2008, the Morgan Hill Police Department added five new officers.
  • In August 2008, the department “hired” Pax, an 18 month old German Shepherd, thus successfully “reinstating the department’s K-9 program.”

So why, exactly do the people of Morgan Hill need to supply the police with another $1,800,000?  They seem to be doing just fine without it and have already met the majority of their goals for 2008 in just a few months!

Again, returning to the flier, here’s the section on responsibility-

Q) What controls are there that Measure G funds will be spent responsibly?

A) The UUT Ordinance includes extraordinary accountability measures.  Every two years, the City Council is required to make findings that the tax is necessary for the City’s financial health or the tax expires.  It requires two-thirds vote (i.e. four of five Council members) to continue the tax.

Excuse me?  You call this “extraordinary accountability measures”? All this means is that every two years the council needs to rubber stamp the continuation of the tax.  They’ll ask themselves the question: “do we need this money?” For government, the answer to that question is always yes.  Nothing in this measure even requires that the money be spent on the police department!  It just goes in to the general fund to be used for whatever purpose the (then current) council deems appropriate.  And it’s not exactly difficult to make the case that the police don’t need the money…

Q) Why doesn’t the City reduce services in other areas such as recreation to enhance other City services such as police?A) Public Safety is currently the City Council’s highest priority as indicated by the fact the City spends 83% of all discretionary dollars on police and fire.  Over the past several years, the City has cut back on less critical service levels and eliminated positions from Park Maintenance, Human Resources and other administrative functions.

{emphasis added}

Again, that’s from the flier. Do not be fooled, this is not a “police funding” tax, or even a “public safety” tax.  It’s simply another way for the City Council to sugar coat their latest money grab.