Bending the Third Rail
Because We Should, We Can, We Do
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Good Questions
If you've been reading this, and many other blogs, you are fully aware of Bush's "signing statements". These signings are his disagreements with legislation that he is signing, legislation passed by both houses of Congress. Signing statements are not new by any stretch. But Bush has had more of them by far than anyone else.

Given the influence of Edgar Bergen, and given Bush's behavioral history, there is much suspicion that the puppet President is using the statements to ignore the legislation (aka, a dictatorship). This is all old news that has apparently finally come to the attention of Two-Faced-Spectre and some in the media. In today's column, Dan Froomkin asks the key questions:
It's still not really clear what Bush's signing statements amount to. Are they just a bunch of harmless boilerplate inserted into the Federal Register, as the White House is increasingly arguing -- or are they a sign of a massive encroachment on the separation of powers, as critics increasingly fear?

I've put together a pretty extensive review of what we know -- and more significantly, what we don't know and should know -- about signing statements over at my other Web site,

Yesterday's Judiciary Committee hearing on the subject -- a wee glimmer of oversight from an otherwise submissive Congress -- shed a tiny bit of light on the topic.

But for all of Bush's talk of government transparency, the White House is keeping this issue intentionally murky.

That, and the media's coverage of the actual workings of the executive branch pretty much stinks. So much attention is focused on the White House and its nonstop media events and nonanswers -- or on the occasional executive-branch crisis -- that the actual mechanisms of government, and the effect that Bush's tenure has had on them, has gone dramatically undercovered.

Consider, for instance, how little you've read about the effect on the federal government of incompetent political appointees. See Princeton University Professor David Lewis on NiemanWatchdog.

Similarly, how the agencies actually execute -- or fail to execute -- the laws passed by Congress is a bit of a mystery these days.

Is Bush using signing statements simply to record his reservations about the constitutionality of certain provisions -- while enforcing them, nonetheless? Or is he in fact using them to unilaterally ignore laws he doesn't like?

This is discoverable -- through reporting.

But the only attempt I've seen thus far, by Brian Friel in the National Journal, was inconclusive.
Froomkin highlights a classic example of the vacuum left by the media. Through corporatization, layoffs and a bottom-line mentality, journalists simply don't do the kind of reporting that is necessary to maintain a democracy.

Yet, these same journalists become cheesed-off when citizens do it. I've not written of it, but the shit has been flying between "journalists" and various bloggers over their roles, with journalist claiming that accurate investigative reporting is their domain. One of the larger criticisms by bloggers is that the mainstream media has abandoned investigative reporting, so they'll do it.

So it's not surprising that, right right on cue, here's the beginnings of a real investigation on Bush's signing statements. And it's being done by Joyce Green of Oklahoma. From Eric Alterman's blog:
Patriot, Joyce Green of Oklahoma writes me:
Mr. Alterman:

I have been reading media and legal materials (including your piece, “Think Again: Signing the Constitution Away,” at the Center for American Progress), here, about the unitary executive and the Bush administration’s use of presidential signing statements. I think this is an important topic.

Therefore, I have collected all presidential signing statements from January 19, 2001, through June 12, 2006, and posted a temporary webpage that provides full text of all the bill signing statements issued by President George W. Bush. By setting out the full text of the signing statements, this Web page should remedy complaints that the statements are difficult to find. To help readers verify text, the Web site also provides links to the full text of the same documents at the White House and Government Printing Office (GPO) Web sites.

The Web site also provides links to the full text of the laws that are the subject of signing statements.

I am contacting law schools, scholars, attorneys, and commentators, hoping to find a permanent home for this Web page. Please feel free to pass the URLs to others who may be interested in either: (1) giving this information a permanent home on the Web, or (2) using the information (including stealing and distributing it).

The main URLS are:

* Full Annotated Text of all PSSs
* Full Unannotated Text of All PSSs
* Index to PSSs

I hope that the Web site will: (1) help scholars and commentators write intelligently and authoritatively about presidential signing statements and the unitary executive, and (2) save attorneys a great deal of time rooting these statements (and the laws to which they apply) out of the GPO and White House websites.

The site is not pretty, but it is useful.

In sum, I want to give this information to someone else. My offer is free to any taker.

Thank you for your time. I enjoyed your article and have linked to it on my site. I appreciate your writing well on such an important topic.

This, not from the WaPo or NY Times or even the Wall Street Journal, but from Joyce Green of Oklahoma. And given the megaphone of Eric Alterman, I suspect that bloggers will now be combing the information for clues.

Maybe nothing comes of it. That's the case with a whole lot of investigative reporting. But the fact that it's being done is crucial to the checks on government control. And it's high time that journalists get off their high horses and either a) do the work or b) get off the back of those who are doing the work.