Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"There was once a dream that was Rome..."

Jack Balkin, writing in the Guardian, has a good summary of the issue that, for me, will be the litnus test of how seriously we can take all the Obama administration's "change" talk:

Will Obama unload some of the massive quantites of executive power that the Bush administration has been accumulating over the past eight years?

The basic point is that the office of PoUS allows the holder to a lot more than it used to; we know about a lot of nasty powers - mostly relating to the president's ability to incarcerate, torture or spy on people - that Bush accumulated in the name of National Security, and there's also a whole lot of stuff we don't know about.

In theory, you'd expect the Republicans to be all in favour of this sort of thing, for reasons that are best explained here. But, as Balkin points out, giving up powers requires him to know what those powers actually are - and when we discover that Dick Cheney amassed special kidnapping rights to himself so as to further indugle his taste for bathing in the blood of young virgins (just an example...), there is at least some potential for this to turn into the kind of partisan fight that Obama was promising to avoid. And even putting that aside, cynics might be inclined to wonder why a man who'd campaigned so hard for the office of World's Most Powerful Man would be in the business of devolving power from himself.

On the flip-side, Obama's a constitutional law scholar who, as far as anyone can tell, at least used to take roughly the same position as Balkin on where the proper limits of presidential authority lie. It's not like he can pull Bush's local-yokel act and pretend he thinks that this is all entirely appropriate. And this is something that, with sufficient political will, he can do something about.
So for all those curious to know whether Barack can walk the walk, this seems to me to be the one to watch.

Update: Made some corrections. Yup, more proof-reading after posting. So sue me.
Update 2: It's probably worth noting that the indications so far have hardly encouraged optimism.


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