What change is wanted? Part Deux

489463128_090a555097 "As often stated the "Devil is in the Details." So here goes and sorry if this seems so technical but it is necessary for democracy to prevail in our Republic. 1. Statutory caps on political appointees in Federal Departments and agencies. 2. Elimination of the central planning types that both parties seem to place in the Executive Office of the White House and OMB. In addition the current budget code systems (e.g. 800 is general government, 050 is National Defense) should be revised and explanatory materials issued for public analysis and a system for Congressional input to that system). 3. Elimination of the "Deliberative Process" exception in FOIA and its incorporation in "Executive Privilege." Let’s let the world know what the President and his subordinates are receiving in the way of advice unless appropriately classified. Maybe this would reduce incentives to "tell all" in books at the end of each administration. Also establish a Professional historian position by statute in each department and agency and have the NARA give technical advice to Congress on the funding of those agencies. 4. Enforcement of the rules with respect to "original and derivative classification" and "creation of classification guides." Further limit the ability of Executive Branch Departments and Agencies to establish "SAP" programs. 5. Revising the statutory charter of the MSPB and Office of Special Counsel to allow full disclosure of waste, fraud, and abuse. 6. Revision of 18 U.S.C. Section 568 (or perhaps its 28 USC 536)to make criminal referrals the exclusive perogative of the OIGs not the head of the departments and agencies. Also by statute designate the DOJ OIG the review authority for allegations of waste, fraud, and abuse by Executive Branch OIG personnel. Findings can then be circulated on a redacted basis to all the OIGs. 7. Allowing hearings on the record, and full disclosure of adverse decisions to grant, withdraw, or otherwise prevent one agency from deciding exclusively that persons with only its own clearance have a "need to know" with respect to programs that impact other agencies. A review board system of multi-agency personnel with appropriate expertise might be utilized. (Note that this might have prevented the 9/11 attack). 8. The Department of Justice should become the exclusive litigation arm of the Executive Branch (even if its personnel are deployed to other departments and agencies.) 9. Federal lawyers should be subject to a statutory federal ethics code as opposed to relying on the ethics codes of the 50 state bars. 10. No conversion of Non-career SESs to Career status, except after a two year waiting period outside of the federal government. 11. All career SES positions be made for a 5 year term with the possiblity of one renewal. After that pay retention but not rank-in-grade. 12. Congressional staff be limited to Citizens of the United States. 13. Governors be granted security clearances based on their election not background investigation but then have a centralized process for determining the "need to know" for Governors and Gubnatorial staff. 14. The Service Academies be turned into graduate institutions, subject to merit selection of faculty and students, and Congress eliminated from the appointment process except for flag rank officers. 15. Judicial salaries be increased to reflect their skills and responsibities. 16. the US attorneys be given 5 or 7 year terms. 17. Key White House advisors like the Advisor to the President for National Security Affairs be subject to Senate confirmation. 18. The Federal Vacancy Reform Act be strictly enforced. 19. The Anti-deficiency Act be repealed and instead a mandatory review process be established to learn how and why the deficiency occurred, who was responsible and what can be done to correct the matter and have the head of each department or agency made accountable for correction. 20.Decriminalize the federal ethics operation (OGE should centralize and review all Ethics Disclosure Forms by non-career personnel and be in charge of enforcement for those individuals) and make stringent civil penalties and restitution required and include those in the private sector that may have participated in the unethical behavior of the federal official and/or employee. Hope this is of some interest to some people.

William R. Cummings"

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47 Responses to What change is wanted? Part Deux

  1. Marcus says:

    That’s a lot of trees there William.
    Does any of this mean, if applied, that I can be relatively free from the thought of my president abducting, torturing, and imprisoning me without due process or Habeas Corpus rights?

  2. Bobo says:

    Well part Dieux certainly seems to get the Devil out of our Government. While certainly not fully understanding all the technicalities the concepts are straightforward and to the benefit of us all.
    Now lets take this further and change, alter, add, improve or dump a few of our Constitutional Amendments.
    1. Electoral College- Has to go. We saw in Bush-Gore how our constitutional process could bring this country to its knees in the future. Total Votes gets the person in.
    2. Debtor Nation- We need to institute an amendment that makes our government either break even or make a profit. No more debt, only exception would be in time of war.
    3. Do something with Two. Yup there are too many handguns in this nation killing our young. Let the NRA figure out how to do it. We are fooling ourselves thinking every man, woman and child carrying a gun will solve our problems
    Oh, I know there are many more so please add to my list.

  3. David W says:

    Lots of good, very specific points of US govt. improvement in this post that fly below the Big Picture ideas that most of us have, but which would make for very effective reforms.
    I would like to add another suggestion–opening up the US legislation process by creating an official govt. website where all pending bills can be viewed by the public. This kind of ‘crowdsourcing’ would put lots of eyeballs on proposed laws, as well as tracking the backers and beneficiaries of said bills, and force some real daylight into our supposedly ‘by the people, for the people’ governmental process.
    Unfortunately, like most of the ideas posted here, this would likely be drowned in the bathtub by the Aristos in Congress who really don’t mind ‘business as usual.’

  4. kyle says:

    1.) Disallow the use of abbreviations and acronyms for agencies,laws,rules and positions in the United States Government.Use that ink,spew those syllables.

  5. john in the boro says:

    The founding fathers warned against factions and put together a governmental system that does not work well under the control of factions. The two-party political stranglehold on the U.S. government is undermining the sovereignty of the people. Incumbents are nearly guaranteed re-election. Congressional districts are rigged. The two parties embrace the middle of the electorate and tolerate or ignore the fringes. Access to elected office is tightly regulated through the parties’ bosses or money or both. The list of obvious deficiencies is lengthy. First off, provide public finance for all national elections: states make their own decisions for their offices. Next, I think the Congress could use a good dose of personnel turbulence. Proportional representation in multimember districts would introduce some fresh faces into the House of Representatives. Such a change would provide an entry point for more political parties and would force coalitions. However, if this does not put a dent in the incumbency advantage, then impose term limits (probably necessary for the Senate). Drop the electoral college and directly elect the president and vice president. The president is the guy with the most votes and the vice president is the guy with the next highest total. This might avoid combinations like Bush-Quayle and Bush-Cheney. It also would put a little tension in the Oval Office, a check against lawlessness and power grabs. Simply, I suggest the busting up of the ruling duopoly.
    The checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution are largely checked and balanced themselves because of the two parties. The invitation to struggle has become a kubuki dance for the amusement of the public. Once struggle, not grandstanding, gets back into the system, I think the mutual graft society will lose its grip on the pay-to-play, dual-legal-system federal government. Mr. Cummins provides a good list of institutional reforms that, alas, still rely on the same two political parties. Which is why, they have a far better chance of enactment than anything I propose.

  6. Sam Samuels says:

    And guys, I’d suggest that if there is an infraction of the rules the person who committed the infraction and the person who directed the infraction go to jail – publically and for a long time. In some circumstances – I believe public execution is warranted.

  7. matthew says:

    I’d like to see a new Constitutional Convention…I think the document produced in 1787 is out of date…It’s not the Qur’an, the Bible, (or even the Book of Mormon…)I do not believe the Constitution’s specifics are “timeless” in that theological way. Attempts to elevate Constitutional language to the level of ‘scripture’ as has been done with our present document has got to have some kind of realistic time horizon, don’t you think? 200+ years is a pretty good damn run, isn’t it? I think many of us can relate to the feeling of release when our elderly Aunt Millie, suffering from a metastasized cancer finally passes. She fought bravely and she made a good damn run of it. God Bless Her! That’s how I feel about our Constitution……(not to mention the fact that a Constitutional Convention would, I believe, by its very existence re-affirm Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison’s Spirit of ’98, wouldn’t it?)

  8. TSWittig says:

    Along the lines of David W, what about a website of all government contracts, listing awardee, award amount, contract type, awarding agency, and a 1-2 sentence description of the contract. Exceptions only for contracts that are wholly classified (i.e. not just ones that involve doing classified work).
    Maybe Google would do it for free and then losing bidders could place Google Ads on the contract pages of their successful competitors.

  9. W. Patrick Lang says:

    The Army and Navy Club of Washington was founded by Civil War vets (Union)and was there long before K Street had lobbyists.
    I would favor the idea of a new constitutional convention, but do you understand what would happen then? Each state would have to ratify the new document. pl

  10. Steve says:

    Repeal the 17th Ammendment.
    Change the Presidential term of office to one six year term.
    Term limits on the House.
    Term limits on the Senate, unless the 17th Amendment is repealed.
    Ten year term limits on the Supreme Court.
    Abolish the combatant command structure.
    The candidate who comes in second in regards to electoral votes is the Vice President.
    Fire every artillary piece, mortar, and naval gun owned by the US Government directly on K Street for 12 hours.

  11. Steve says:

    A) I’ve considered the idea of a parliamentary republic for awhile, and think it would have some advantages over our present system.
    B) Separate the roles of head of state and head of government. We could still elect the president as head of govt. every four years. The head of state could be appointed–what to call him/her? Perhaps this would minimize the propensity of the president to capitalize on the “majesty” of state to effect political ends.

  12. Grumpy says:

    Col. and Mr Cummings:
    You have opened a large can of worms. But now you given us some of the devilish details on the subject of desired changes. I might as well add some.
    1. Require a formal “Declaration of War” before committing any troops to armed conflict, NO EXCEPTIONS. With this “Declaration of War”, there SHALL be a “sunset provision.” With this “sunset”, it means we revisit the subject to be discussed by ALL ELECTED MEMBERS OF CONGRESS. Publication of the findings this review of the Declaration of War shall be decided by ALL OF THE MEMBERS OF CONGRESS at the time.
    2. NO ELECTED OR APPOINTED OFFICIAL or staff member shall become involved in the JUSTICE DEPARTMENT, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT OR INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY, SPECIFICALLY IN ANY WAY OTHER THAN STANDARD PROCEDURES. Examples would include the following: orders through chains of command or the N.I.E.. Violations would be viewed in the same way as a military crime. under the UCMJ. The violator would be tried under a military courts martial. If it is good enough for our military, it is good enough for our Nation’s leaders. The decision is final and the President has no power to pardon.
    3. Because of the importance of the issues, the penalty can and should be death.

  13. condfusedponderer says:

    Mr. Cummings,
    but that’s sooo big government! You’d need to exorcise the obsession with eliminating oversight from the republican party. There the unshakable faith has formed that oversight equals big government — which is clearly not necessary because beautifying powers of the holy market will right things all by itself.
    Thanks to that mindset, they would immediately gut oversight offices in case of finding any coming into power, much as Bush did. They would go to work in all likelihood by underfunding them and by cutting jobs – allowing for paralysis by overloading the offices with work, to then call for the total abolition because of their demonstrated failure. Think of FEMA. Their failure to react to a major disaster made imperative the outsourcing of disaster relief to privates – which is a good thing for the faithful believers in the holy market.
    As Gorge Bush is said to have remarked on why to abandon the Middle East peace process – sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. What you see as corruption and fraud are just the signs of the process in which the market improves government! */snark*
    I agree with most of what you say. I wonder about feasibility. It certainly would need a strong political wing and a solid majority to get all that through. Which is probably the core of the problem.

  14. The leading Constitutional reforms suggested by scholars seems to focus on two current provisions that were in fact “Political” compromises. The first is the allocation of two (2) senators to each state. The second is the electoral college. Interestingly there may be reforms without Constitutional amendment. First, consider allowing redrawing of state boundries by agreement of the states and ratification by Congress. For example, California could agree to become three states. Second, the specific language of the Constitution on the Electoral College process is not all that specific. Congress should conduct hearings to determine the extent that it could be statutoriy modified. Unless, a new period of visionary leaders who are familiar with Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, and the writings of the Greek philosophes were to suddenly exist, and that a secret Constitutional session of redrafting be authorized, I doubt we could come close to perfecting the current document. But who knows, 7 monkeys typing might come up with a better document given infinite time.

  15. bstr says:

    Dear Mr. Cummings, your list is complex. Although I do not understand How I am certain that you have identified each reform so that in combination they would reach a desired outcome. But out of complexity new and unexpected outcomes emerge. Much like Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns your list is so comprehensive and interrelated that we cannot know the outcome. Even in a fair government not all of the changes recommended would take place near one another in time, or am I wrong? If you could identify a candidate who understands your reforms, who backs your reforms, and who can express your reforms in an energizing way to us the people name him or her. Your reforms are ambitions, but far better than a constitutional convention and the subsequent ratification process.

  16. JohnS says:

    This might be a good time to quote Jonathan Schwarz regarding his theory of the Iron Law of Institutions: “The people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution “fail” while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to “succeed” if that requires them to lose power within the institution.”

  17. Jose says:

    To all, excellent points and comments but unfortunately way to complicated for the information age, media and the American people.
    To win you need to keep your message simple, change for Obama and hope for Huckabee.
    Anything beyond that forces the KISS principle to work against you.
    Like all great countries in decline, America has embarked on Crusades against all the worlds evils to avoid painful reforms at home.
    The Crusades have only made the American hunger for change even at the expense of rationality.
    Just my two cents.
    Off topic, but there is an interesting article in The Miami Herald:
    Pay attention to the smash coconut showing the black side, I’m not a follower of Santeria but these guys have usually been right so who knows… lol

  18. JohnS says:

    One other quick note. Mark Graber over at Balkinization suggests that history teaches us that political capital/resources are not unlimited and that movements and presidents have to make choices. Thus, if the progressive movement and/or our next president were to concentrate on correcting constitutional or systemic defects, that would divert attention and resources from issues of war, economic reform, energy/environmental issues, etc. Here’s the link: http://balkin.blogspot.com/2007/12/tragic-choices-and-constitutional.html

  19. john in the boro says:

    Good discussion. If I understand the gist of this thread we fall into two camps: one camp seems to think that better people is the answer, the other thinks that better laws is the answer. I fall into the first camp for the most part although I am skeptical of the possibility of better people. Thus, I am in favor of more political parties. Not like France or Israel, but more than two. Barak Obama claims that he can restore bi-partisanship to the legislative process. I think we have too much bi-partisanship. Nothing of substance receives much of a debate let alone due diligence. Take Iraq, or FISA, or the Patriot Act, or intelligence reform, or voter reform, or the creation of the DHS, or the drug bill, most slipped through without any serious debate via the miracle of earmarks and lobby bribes errr contributions. I mean, what could be more important than the resolution recognizing the importance of Christmas? Essentially, the two wings of the U.S. ruling elite make deals with each other for their own benefit: the public good is so quaint, and public opinion so easily manipulated. The same sort of process took impeachment off the table before the 2006 mid-term elections.
    Better laws require implementation and enforcement. The current national leadership has demonstrated how not to implement or enforce laws: attach signing statements, withdraw funding, write or rewrite rules and regulations (in effect, the power to legislate within the executive branch), appoint invested industry folks to the oversight of the same industries, and, if all else fails, classify the very toilet paper in the crapper. Our elected and appointed officials know how to game the system. The two halves of the Rule America Party are comfortably ensconced in power and destroy all challengers. Occasionally, a spoiler upsets their carefully choreographed dance routine—it’s my turn to lead, but overall, they have a death grip on power and the money which derives from wielding it. Doers do what checkers check. Our doers and checkers come from the same corrupt circle of friends.

  20. rjj says:

    Thought the question was what change do we look for from a non-unitary executive, non-man-on-horseback type president.

  21. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I think that you guys are putting too much stress on changes [how ever much needed and desired] in the structure of the United States Government.
    I think, however, that the United States, as a polity, suffers from many social ills and it behooves her to concentrate on addressing those first.
    Among those ills I consider the War between Men and Women, the anatagonism among the races, the “class” struggle between the young and old, the fantasy world that much of the population lives in [liberal fantasies, relgious fantasies, conservative fantasies etc. with the conviction that US has an inexhaustible margin of error], and the shredding of the social contract for workers [socialism for the rich, capitalism for everyone else].
    I should think that US needs a leadership that truly has absorbed the lessons of that great statesman called Otto Bismarck.

  22. Duncan Kinder says:

    For complex reasons, “democracy” is not the cause, but rather the effect of human freedom.
    Government can hope for, encourage, oppose obstacles to, and promote conditions for freedom; but freedom itself ultimately arises from the human soul and from economic and similar factors that ultimately are beyond government’s ken – much less its control.
    Longfellow said it better than I can:
    Under a spreading chestnut-tree
    The village smithy stands;
    The smith, a mighty man is he,
    With large and sinewy hands;
    And the muscles of his brawny arms
    Are strong as iron bands.
    His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
    His face is like the tan;
    His brow is wet with honest sweat,
    He earns whate’er he can,
    And looks the whole world in the face,
    For he owes not any man.

    This Arcadian vision of liberty was crushed by the industrial revolution, as the story of John Henry and his hammer illustrates.
    If we follow this logic, ultimately we wind up with Orwell and 1984.
    But, for complex reasons, this crushing effect is beginning to dissipate. Basically, the regimented processes of the Industrial Revolution do not work as well as they did throughout the late 19th and the entire 20th centuries. Seam boats are superior to clipper ships for so long as they have regular and reliable fuel supplies – but not otherwise.
    One symptom of this appear in today NYT. According to the article, The Falling Down Professions, young people are not so attracted to becoming doctors and lawyers as they have been. Rather, they are seeking more creative – i.e., disruptive – careers.
    This involves greater assumption of risk, and risk can mean failure. But it also means that the 20th century tyrannies that crushed John Henry are beginning to recede as a threat.

  23. If there was a theme in the orginal comment it was to insist that the possibility of reform to strengthen our system does exist, and that is to provide more information rather than less to the interested public. Senator Daniel Moniyhan’s book “Secrecy” provides an excellent background. To take FISA for example, in a way it was to accommodate the skill, judgement, and expertise of Mary Lawton, Esq. (long deceased) of the Department of Justice with an understandable and legal system. Also, Court Rulings such as that prohibiting under FRCP Rule 6(e) the review of Grand Jury transcripts by civil division attorneys in the Department of Justice led to the chinese wall ruling identified by the 9/11 Commission as a problem. Jamie Gorelick’s excellent memorandum was later castigated by some but did accurately reflect the law. Of course you needed to read and understand it fully and its consequences for utilization of the Intelligence Community which few did. Thus, the 1993 WTC attack was not even accessible for its kernals of info to the CIA and others.
    The Court is partly at fault because of its shoddy scholarship also. In its 1982 ruling Buckley v. Valero, the Court granted free speech rights to corporations in the form of political monetary donations. Actually, as most students of history know, the corporate form was really invented and utilized to limit liability for the loss of shipping in the North Atlantic and elsewhere by the financiers of the coffee houses of London, not to create corporate citizens. As some point, only the Dred Scott decision issued in 1857 and dealing with escaped slaves will be considered to be as infamous. To rest my point, and certainly not to have the last word, reform is possible if those entrusted with power wish to make it happen, even if contrary to their immediate financial interests. Let’s not abandon hope for reform. Conceptually, that is at least one reason why this country is the “City of Light on a Hill.”

  24. ISL says:

    While a switch to a multiparty/parliamentary system would be far more democratic (you get to vote for candidates/parties whose views more closely approximate your own, and hopefully they are less likely to speak out of both sides of their mouths), any system can be gamed some or most of the time (e.g., certain S. European countries).
    Although much could be fixed in a constitutional convention, my fear is that the public would not stand up for a more democratic system, instead of watching Hollywood Star News while the protections enshrined in the constitution (which should be enforced) are lost…
    Bottom line: Why would a unitary executive pay any attention to a new constitution (compared to the current piece of paper).
    Change: Lets take the money out of the electoral system, it is hard to see how things will be fixed – some (!) politicians start out as good and well meaning; however, they generally must sell their (principles – i.e., soul) to get elected.

  25. Martin K says:

    As an Ot aside, I found out that I am registered in an international policeregister called SIRENE today. It is a policeoperation in Schengen to collect extra info oon suspects of differing thoughts. Wich explains why I have ben stopped 2 times outside my house. So to all the people at PST, merry new year.

  26. Fred says:

    “Congressional staff be limited to Citizens of the United States.” Which members of congress currently have non-citizen staff members?
    I agree wholeheartedly with item two. It would be good to know just what goes into the budget and have some actual material to review rather than just political talking points.
    Your proposed reform of the service academies, where would the junior officer ranks then be filled from -ROTC, direct commissioning? I doubt you’d get much congressional support for that one.

  27. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I would certainly want to limit congrssional staff to those who are exclusively citizens of the US.
    As For West Point, in spite of having taught there I think the place should be made into a post graduate school for officers. At present it has become a system of patronage for congressmen as well as a “legacy” institution. It costs too much as a way of producing careeer officers. pl

  28. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Someone referred to Hilary Clinton as the AIPAC candidate.
    As opposed to whom? pl

  29. condfusedponderer says:

    Someone referred to Hilary Clinton as the AIPAC candidate.
    As opposed to whom? pl

    Heh, good point. AIPAC has donated to her campaign. I guess, they have donated to everybody’s campaigns, except for perhaps Gravel’s, Kuchinich’s and Ron Paul’s.

  30. I second ISL’s point:
    Let’s take the money out of the electoral system…
    Until we do that, as well as reduce the campaign season to 3-4 months, nothing of substance will happen as long as the “average” American isn’t dragged into the process, demanding changes, due to some social catastrophe. And by that I mean another Great Depression or wholesale civil rights abuses by the Government. Put another way, we Americans haven’t felt enough pain for awhile to really pay attention to what has been happening in our country.
    I’ve long played around with the idea of publicly funded elections, although I’ve never done any real research on the matter. Here’s what I think would be the pro’s of using public money for Federal elections:
    1. Opens elections to everyone, not just the rich and well-connected “elite.”
    2. Allows elected officials to concentrate on their jobs rather than endlessly fundraising for their next campaign.
    3. Reduces the influence of “special-interest” groups during elections. These organizations will still have their lobbyists. (More on lobbyists below)
    4. Hopefully, would force the media to focus on the candidate’s issues just a weentzy-teentzy bit more since they cannot spend all their time talking about how much money Candidate ‘X’ has raised.
    And here are some con’s:
    1. Every crackpot Tom, Dick and Harriett can sign up to run for office, cluttering the field. There would have to be some way to weed out the weakest candidates. Hate to admit it, but forcing these people through hoops to raise cash on their own is a natural selection of the fittest. That actually is one semi-good thing about today’s system: only the strong survive. As much as we hate a lot of these people they aren’t Casper Milquetoasts without some following behind them.
    2. Takes away a simple method for showing support to particular candidates. Right now, if I like a certain candidate but don’t have time to volunteer, I can send in a check as support. That is important to a lot of people. I know I feel like I’m making a difference in today’s system when I send some of my cash to people and organizations I care about.
    Now to the point of lobbyists. They actually serve a function. They *can be* nothing more than intermediaries. (You Catholics out there understand that concept very well!) Not all of them are mega-wealthy revolving-door sleazebags. If you are a nonprofit organization of crunchy environmentalists, without the means to have an HQ in the metro DC area, and want to get access to influential Congresscritters, then you need a lobbyist for *practical* reasons. Someone in town, who knows politicians personally, and who can promote your position face-to-face on a routine basis. The problem is when these guys are hired only for their influence and they start giving away freebies and boondoggles. And worse yet, are actually writing legislation themselves. We can eliminate those problems while keeping lobbyists around as intermediaries.
    Money will always influence people. Every government has corruption problems – just like every organization. All we can hope for is to lessen its influence so our representatives can concentrate on our laundry list of changes.

  31. Andy says:

    I think you lay out some of the issues well. Like you, I haven’t researched public funding in great detail, but I’m compelled by the concept.
    I might suggest a hybrid system where candidates would receive a significant base of funding that would allow them to be competitive but still allow funding from individuals within reasonable limits. No $10k a plate dinners, for example, but checks from average Americans who want to support a candidate. This would give the best candidates an advantage while still allowing all candidates to compete.
    Choosing which candidates qualify could be a problem, but it might be solved through a good old petition process. There are a variety of ways this might work.
    You’re also right to point out that lobbyists will always be there. It’s one reason I suggested in the previous thread that the Legislative branch needs transparency just as much as the executive. The problem for me is not so much that lobbyists buy influence, it’s the lack of transparency that keeps such activity hidden. Exposing lobbyist connections would do a lot to diminish their influence imo.

  32. Babak Makkinejad says:

    CWZ and Andy:
    I think you are trying to address issues that have reached that status – of being an issue – due to the size of the United States Government. If I am correct in this assessment, then the way to proceed will be to cut down the size of that government; as R.N. observed shortly before his death.
    My question is the extent to which the size of the US Government is necessitated by the role that US plays in the world. In other words, are these issues not the “wages of the Empire”?
    Can the United States, with a much smaller US Government in terms of size and revenue, continue to play the same role in the world as she currently does?
    I know that this can be studied quantitatively – I wonder if there are any results publicly available.
    Until and unless one has quantitative results I do not think one can make sound judgments.
    In fact, is not torture needed to get information retrieved and communicated rapidly in a body whose size is so large that rapid communication becomes now a necessity?

  33. Charles I says:

    All this is well and good, arthurdecco’s post below and Part Deux above the ideal paradigms. But tha’s all they are.
    Lets face it. Politics as usual will not turn on a dime in January 2009. To do most of the things most of the posters posit, there must be the POWER to do them, starting, lets say, with overturning the 60 vote rule in the Senate. Hope there’s 61 votes to do it!
    Before any changes can, really take hold, our putative Democratic President, and the supine Democratic majorities will have to purge or neutralize the thousands and thousands of PNAC’ers, flatheads, religious whackos, and fellow travellers that have been salted into the government. Good luck with The Supremes.
    Think of this zealous(at first I wrote “treasonous”) anti-democratic fifth column as the GOP/Fascist Strategic Reserve of Oily Operators – from the lowliest receptionist to the top of the Dept. of Justice. Long before the election, these Reserves will be drawn down to “bridge the gap’ between production(Flathead political power) and consumption(Flathead political ends.)
    These people are at war with the Constitution, human nature in general, and the citizens of your great country in particular. They will not go quietly into that good night – that is their plan for their opponents, who fight by the old rules. No absurdity, criminality hypocrisy or cognitive dissonance troubles these stalwarts. They are driven, clever, and have a much longer attention span than one might credit the average westerner. Huge numbers of them are on a Mission from God. The hundreds of thousands of sympathetic, fearful, indignant, hypocritical and honest preachers are a network that no disparate community of bloggers can match.
    They will Jimmy Carterize Obama like shooting a fish in a barrel. Lets recall that this a Republican specialty: illegal supra-Constitutional foreign policy calculated to deliver domestic power.
    So the change I would like to see, and the change I consider a condition precedent to change – whatever that means – and that is at least possible, is that the Democrats become warriors of the caliber requisite to diffuse the power that these groups have marshaled, and restore the power of the Constitution and the rule of law.
    America is at war, and your Presidential elections are a billion dollar blood sport. Best play to win, because there may not be another chance to take back your government.
    I see Hillary as a lot better prepared, seasoned, and God knows acutely personally motivated, for this type of campaign(and I don’t mean the election) than Obama.
    In any event, by 2015 America will be embroiled in a series of resource wars – and pathetic hand wringing recriminations about who lost the “American Way of Life – singular daily auto trips totaling about 4 TRILLION miles @ 24 mpg max, according to 2001 statistics. What do you think that gigantic base outside of Doha, Qatar (home of the third largest gas reserves in one field, albeit one that recently bore its first dry hole, indicating that the field may be less contiguous, and hence less voluminous, than reserve statements suggest)is for, plunked down astride that friendly field, amidst Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Hydrogen will never fuel that excess, whatever Arnie’s pipe dream of a Californian hydrogen highway amounts to.
    If you don’t get your constitution back before then, you’ll never notice its missing.
    Plus la change. . . .

  34. Cieran says:

    I also agree with ISL on the need to reform the funding side of our political process, but for a different reason, namely that our republic is in serious danger of failing financially because of the massive debt this country has accumulated. Our current administration has already doubled the size of the national debt, and still has a year to add more red ink to the bill that we, the people, will eventually have to pay.
    Probably the best way to deduce how a candidate would manage limited public financial resources if elected would be to force them to account for limited public financial resources during the campaign. Some candidates will demonstrate that they can’t operate under such fiscal constraints, and the populace can learn of such fiduciary woes before candidates get elected, instead of after.
    But with plutocrats like Romney running for president (or Bloomberg waiting in the wings), all we are learning now is how politicians accustomed to having money to burn can find new ways to burn our money.

  35. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    How ’bout this for change? Getting rid of traitors who work for the USG, including at the Pentagon and the State Department.
    Sibel Edmonds is starting to divulge details. (Hat tip awc). If what she claims is true, then it ain’t pretty.

  36. David Habakkuk says:

    Sidney Smith:
    There is what looks like a balanced assessment of the evidence to date on this by Larry Johnson over at the No Quarter blog:
    ‘Former FBI translator and muzzled whistleblower, Sibel Edmonds, is getting her story out, finally. The Times of London does a tantalizing front page piece detailing her testimony that Turkey and Israeli intelligence officers used money and politicians to get access to U.S. nuclear secrets that ultimately found their way to Pakistan. The story is more complicated, but that is the gist.
    ‘Sibel has said that several the American officials and politicians named in those recordings. Other bloggers have fingered several folks for allegedly being involved in this affair. These include former speaker of the house, Denny Hastert and former State Department official, Marc Grossman. I have heard second hand that both men strongly deny having any role in these matters. The role that foreign money and intelligence officers have played in U.S. politics is not a Sibel Edmonds fantasy. The woman is simply trying to tell folks what she heard. This matter needs to be investigated. I do not believe that Sibel is making up what she heard.’
    A comprehensive round-up of the claims being made, with links to the relevant bloggers, is at The Brad Blog (see http://www.bradblog.com/?p=5518&print=1); also worth reading is Justin Raimondo’s piece at http://www.antiwar.com/justin/?articleid=12166. But then of course, this also happened with Mearsheimer and Walt’s original article on the influence of the Israeli lobby on U.S. foreign policy.

  37. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    David Habakkuk:
    The Edmonds story has the potential to be one of the biggest stories in the post 9-11 era — one that could cause a seismic quake in the political global village.
    And War Eagle was on the story from the get go. I am talking about Auburn University’s Justin Raimondo. He’s pointing to Sibel Edmond’s recent interview like a south Alabama bird dog.
    War Eagle references a videotape interview of the most courageous and attractive Edmonds. Highly worthwhile to determine the credibility of Edmonds. Who dares to say that immigrants cannot be American heroes? And watch American’s finest — a former FBI agent and CIA agent — stand up on her behalf, as if she were an American Joan of Arc. If she is right, then all of American should stand up for her. Talking about a patriot…wow. Same with Cole and Giraldi.
    People can say what they want about Justin Raimondo — and I most definitely disagree with his “anarcho-capitalism”, among other things — but War Eagle can flat out write. I started reading his “screeds” a few years ago and decided that, one, he has extraordinary moral courage or, two, he is writing from the dark side of the moon. I have believed for a good while now that it is the former. So credit where credit is due.
    War Eagle’s writing style is unique, to say the least. As a contrast, Sy Hersh’s style is very urbane. A master of understatement, his sentences have the precise cutting edge of a surgeon’s knife. But reading a War Eagle screed is like watching someone throw a glass mug against the wall. You pause, think about it, and then you sometimes can’t help but laugh. At least I laugh.
    Raimondo is a brilliant and prolific American writer and, well, funny in his own way… an inverted David Frum and surely a nightmare for the neoconservative clan. As I say, I don’t agree with some of his underlying assumptions, but more power to him, at least at this time in our nation’s history. If it were 1935, we may have differences but, as a judge may say, the issue at moot.

  38. David Habakkuk says:

    Sidney Smith:
    I inadvertently left out a line: The end should have read:
    ‘It seems scandalous that the claims made by Sibel Edmonds should finally be appearing in the mainstream media in a British paper, rather than an American. But then of course, this also happened with Mearsheimer and Walt’s original article on the influence of the Israeli lobby on U.S. foreign policy.’
    The picture Edmonds draws — to quote Raimondo — of ‘a three-sided alliance consisting of Turkish, Pakistani, and Israeli agents who coordinated efforts to milk U.S. nuclear secrets and technology, funneling the intelligence stream to the black market nuclear network set up by the Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan’ sounds quite weird. The suggestion of some element of collaboration, even if indirect, between Pakistanis — an obvious potential source of access to nukes for jihadists — and Israelis seems particularly bizarre.
    But it would seem we face an either/or: either Sibel Edmonds is lying through her back teeth, or we are indeed living — as Raimondo suggested in one of his best jokes — in a kind of ‘Bizarro World’. As Larry Johnson notes, the former possibility seems unlikely. The fact that the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times is running the story makes it seem more unlikely still. So it seems — ‘Bizarro World’ really is the more likely possibility.
    All this also bears upon another issue which I think deserves more attention than it has got — that of the security of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Last November Bruce Blair, one of the world’s leading experts on nuclear command and control, described the account of the U.S. nuclear posture given by the U.S. permanent representative to the UN Conference on Disarmament, Christine Rocca, as ‘highly inaccurate’. (See http://www.cdi.org/program/issue/index.cfm?ProgramID=32&issueid=110 for this and other material by Blair.)
    Among his claims was that her suggestion that ‘multiple, rigorous procedural and technical safeguards exist to guard against accidental or unauthorized launch’ was questionable. According to Blair, there is ‘reason to believe that state and non-state actors, including terrorists, may be able to exploit weaknesses in these systems of control by physical or informational means, heightening the risks of unauthorized or accidental launch.’
    If in fact the kind of infiltration of the U.S. nuclear industry Edmonds has described has happened, and if in addition the reaction of the authorities and the media is not to do something about the problem but to cover up: how can one have confidence about assurances from people like Rocca that the command and control of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is secure?
    As to Raimondo — I feel about him an odd mixture of exasperation, admiration, and (I have to admit!) just plain envy. I think that the ‘anarcho-capitalists’ are, as it were, trying to bring back a utopia that has gone. And I think if the reaction against the absurd fantasy that the United States either can or needs to be remodel the world in its own image were to produce a retreat into isolationism, we would be out of the frying pan into the fire.
    But a great deal of what he says on specific issues — going back to when Antiwar.com was founded in response to the Bosnian war — seems to me to hit the nail on the head. And, as you say, the man really can ‘flat out write’. He has developed a style which, as a weapon for puncturing hot air balloons put out by pompous windbags, has few equals. His demolition job on David Aaronovitch — the former communist activist who became one of the leading British cheerleaders for the war in Iraq — is wildly funny (see http://www.antiwar.com/justin/?articleid=4092.) I don’t agree with all of it, by any means. But he catches an arrogant pomposity characteristic of much of our New Labour establishment perfectly — and as an old hack by training, I cannot but envy his skill in coining a whiplash phrase!

  39. Andy says:


    But it would seem we face an either/or: either Sibel Edmonds is lying through her back teeth, or we are indeed living — as Raimondo suggested in one of his best jokes — in a kind of ‘Bizarro World’

    There may be a third possibility here. For the past several years we’ve heard reports in the news about attempts by terrorist and other groups that were caught attempting to procure nuclear-related material and expertise. In almost every case, these individuals and groups were talking the whole time with government agents (of various nations). These sting operations seem similar in methodology to operations targeting online child predators where they advertise and then string-along and ultimately bust those interested. Similarly, there are operations specifically targeting those who want to sell such materials and technology where law enforcement plays the role of a criminal or terrorist enterprise.
    My speculation is that perhaps what Edmonds saw in her translation duties was one or more of these operations. I suspect that such sting operations would be highly compartmentalized so it’s unlikely she would know if the traffic she was seeing was a real deal or not, though I would think that once Edmonds began making waves someone would have clued her in. There could also be some mix of real nefarious activity as well as law-enforcement sting operations. It’s only speculation, to be sure, but a possibility nonetheless.
    You’re right that it’s Bizarro world and in these cases of he-said, she-said it’s exceedingly difficult to find the truth given the shortage of objective evidence.
    BTW, did you get my email with the Slusky/Schmitt article and have you had any luck finding the 1996 paper?

  40. Shrike58 says:

    I’d just like to say Col. that I like your taste in devils.
    More substantively, I’d like to see a better election process than we have now; the reforms have become the problem. That will be the doing of the governors though, particularly in those states that are effectively being sidelined by the current insanity.
    As for those folks who want a constitutional congress, again, write your governor.

  41. Cieran says:

    There may be a third possibility here.
    There are infinitely many possibilities, and the one you suggest is certainly plausible. But Occam’s Razor suggests that the “bizarro world” explanation is the preferred one for now, as it is the most parsimonious alternative that fits the observed data. Hence it is our current best-fit hypothesis (subject, of course, to the unfortunate fact that there’s not all that much data out there available to fit!).
    The other alternatives (including your third) do involve a fair amount of razor stubble remaining on the narrative. For example, I do believe that we’d see a lot more vocal protests from the accused parties if there were no substance to these accusations, e.g., recall how Richard Perle threatened to sue Sy Hersh for merely alleging conflicts of interest during Perle’s tenure in the Bush administration.
    Perle never carried through on his libel threat , but he’s demonstrated his willingness to rattle the saber of legal action when he feels his reputation has been sullied. But what Sibel Edmonds asserts is infinitely more serious than a mere conflict of interest, so where are the lawsuits and the public outcry? The only loud assertions of innocence showing up lately are from pitching ace Roger Clemens, and no one has accused him of anything even remotely close to treason!
    And other observations neatly fit into the bizarro world hypothesis, including Hastert’s sudden departure from a leadership post in the House. Unlike Trent Lott, he isn’t off to serve as a lobbyist, and he’s not returning to his former career as a high school wresting coach. So why did he leave the Congress? We’ll see…
    Edmonds’ story is certainly among the most provocative we’ve heard in a long time. It is going to be quite the show watching how this set of revelations unfolds!

  42. Andy says:

    Good points all, but I think a case could be made that Hastert stepped down because of the drubbing the GoP took last election cycle.
    Regardless, it certainly is an interesting situation and one that bears close watching to see what develops.

  43. David Habakkuk says:

    Certainly you are right that one should not rule out the possibility that a sting operation is involved in this somewhere, at this stage.
    Actually this is a story I had not really taken great note of, until the Sunday Times article. The fact that it was carried in that paper was a major reason why I am, like Cieran, inclined to think that the ‘Bizarro World’ hypothesis is — at the moment — looking distinctly plausible.
    Two paragraphs in the Sunday Times story struck me:
    ‘Her story shows [note the choice of word, implying an endorsement of the claims Edmonds makes] just how much the West was infiltrated by foreign states seeking nuclear secrets. It illustrates how western government officials turned a blind eye to, or were even helping, countries such as Pakistan acquire bomb technology.
    ‘The wider nuclear network has been monitored for many years by a joint Anglo-American intelligence effort. But rather than shut it down, investigations by law enforcement bodies such as the FBI and Britain’s Revenue & Customs have been aborted to preserve diplomatic relations.’
    Some background on the British newspaper scene may be to the point. Despite the departure of Lord Black and some of his hard core neocon associates, the neocon influence at the Telegraph group is still very strong: Con Coughlin, Britain’s answer to Judy Miller, is still for instance reprocessing disinformation coming out of the intelligence services.
    There is a very strong neocon presence in the Times group, but Murdoch does allow a latitude that Black did not — in contrast to others of his news outlets. Good stories from sources in the bureaucracy are sometimes carried, even if they go against neocon agendas — the classic example, of course, being the Downing Street memoranda. But before running a story like this, the paper is likely to have checked it out extensively, not simply with the unnamed CIA and FBI sources quoted in the report, but with their intelligence contacts on this side, which are extensive.
    Of course, intelligence agencies often work at cross purposes, which leaves open the possibility of some kind of ‘sting’ operation. But the fact that the ST is prepared to make the very strong claim implicit in the phrase ‘her story shows’ suggests to me that an awful lot of people in the intelligence world on both sides of the Atlantic think her claims are essentially accurate. For one thing, the story will have been gone through by the lawyers with a fine toothcomb — particularly as Marc Grossman is clearly identifiable to any curious reader as the senior State Department official.
    I did get your email and the Schmitt and Shulsky article — many thanks. Unfortunately, a combination of an over-full intray and builders in the house has meant I have not yet got round to reading it, or indeed chasing up the 1996 Future of Intelligence paper (beyond emailing the Consortium for the Study of Intelligence, who told me that had checked their inventory and did not have any copies for sale — hardly to my surprise!) As I said before, if you could help me access a copy, I would be grateful.

  44. After a lifetime involved with government secrecy I am still not sure if the US efforts at secrecy or lack thereof promote our national interests. One thing is certain, however, proliferation, intentional or unintentional, is leading down the road to a very nasty future for someone. If the US loses it standing as the “Last best hope” for financial and personal security and liberty in the form of personal freedom then we have truly blown the heritage received from the founding fathers.

  45. Cieran says:

    The Sibel Edmonds story sheds some light on one very important aspect of the information security characteristics of nuclear weapons, namely that of all forms of intelligence information, this one has the longest shelf life.
    Information on an adversary’s troop movements provides an advantage that is useful for days or weeks. Information about palace intrigues may be useful for months or even years, but all such information eventually becomes stale and hence becomes more within the province of historians than of analysts.
    Not so for weapons design information… the laws of physics do not evolve over time, so the practical know-how required to make a bomb in 1960 is the same know-how required in 2010, so this information has to be protected forever. That means we must take the information security requirements a whole lot more seriously than we might for other classes of “state secrets”.
    One important subtext of this line of thought that does not get enough mention in public discourse is that the leading-edge nuclear powers do not build simple fission weapons like we might expect from a rogue nation of today. We build thermonuclear weapons instead, and the range of destructive powers of such devices strains the imagination.
    These designs simply cannot be allowed to be misappropriated without humanity being forced to make some serious changes to how we view our world, because once this kind of information proliferates, there is little chance of going back, and our entire concept of civilization begins to break down .
    Atomic know-how is inherently dangerous. Thermonuclear know-how is insanely dangerous, and if we let that particular genie out of the bottle, the world will become an infinitely more dangerous and depressing place.
    And that’s why I’m closely watching the Sibel Edmonds story. If what she says about LANL is true, or if some of the side assertions being made (e.g., connections to the recent W80 “accidental” misplacement) turn out to be valid, then we may be moving to a very insecure and unfortunate future.

  46. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    David Habakkuk and William R. Cumming:
    More analysis re: Sibel Edmonds.
    Here’s an intriguing quote from the essay: [e]ven a former high ranking CIA officer offered to byline the article with me if that would help sell a broadcaster/publication on running the story. No one was interested.”
    When contemplating the Edmonds case, I would like to offer for your consideration an investigative technique. It is one that I believe is relevant to this case. You may already be familiar with it.
    But before I tell you about this investigative technique, I would like to tell you about its source, with the hopes of adding to its credibility. I did not learn this from reading or academic study. Not at all. By a strange, yet certainly fortuitous, set of circumstances, I had the opportunity to work and become friends with a former Atlanta homicide detective. Former SWAT. Former part time secret service. Trained with all the special ops, particularly in prep for the Atlanta Olympics. He is a second generation American but his lineage is most definitely Russian. Amazing chess player. It’s safe to say he knows the streets — and in ‘hotlanta that’s saying something — yet he is a very intelligent guy. I read some of his incident reports and, in my opinion, they were as well written as anything by the FBI, perhaps better when you factor in the circumstances in which they were written.
    And, in essence, here’s what I learned from him. When investigating a crime, sure, follow the money. But, just as importantly, follow the fear. Look for fear and then let it become a path to follow.
    And I see a lot of fear in this Edmonds case. At least from what I can tell so far, the Edmonds case reeks of fear. It is everywhere. The fear is so great that it has attempted to invert reality to try to hide something. As an example, the purported reason for quashing the investigation into determining the veracity of Ms. Edmonds’ claims is “national security” concerns. But the exact opposite is true. “National security ” concerns demand that this case receive the absolute highest priority by all governments of the West.
    Does probable cause exist to open this case? Under Cheney’s operating principle of the “one percent doctrine”, one does not need probable cause. Regardless, when looking at the videotape interview of Edmonds, the testimony of Senator Grassley, FBI agent John Cole, and CIA agent Giraldi appear credible. I saw no unconscious clues that Edmonds was engaging in deceit.
    True, many questions arise when looking at the Edmonds case. One of the greater surprises is that Murdoch ran the story at all. Another facet: some of the legal proceedings have been before Judge Walton — a USDC judge I respect. He heard the Libby case. So it is reasonable to presume that he would have ruled in ways that would have favored Edmonds. Such is not the case.
    When looked at objectively, the Edmonds case is a marketing goldmine for a newspaper editor. It has all the ingredients of a great read. An attractive woman displaying extraordinary courage. Patriotism. Treason. Espionage. Nuclear proliferation (fear sells, I presume, and this fear is not manufactured). It is a story that has “legs”. In many ways, the Edmonds case is the greatest post 9-11 story never told, which is saying a lot. Yet nothing of significance in the mainstream media.
    But most of all, I fail to understand why more people within the USG are not stepping forward on her behalf, particularly when you consider the repercussions of ignoring her claim. We are talking about much more than espionage and treason, which in an of itself is enough. We are talking about the very real possibility that civilians are at tremendous risk of a nuclear attack based upon information provided by some within the USG.
    A couple of “if’s”. If Ms. Edmonds is correct and if the West experiences a nuclear terrorist attack based upon information provided by US officials to the Turkish operatives, then odds are reasonable that post facto knowledge will bring the collapse of the USG and chaos will ensue. Seen in that light, this case should receive the highest priority both within the media and within the intelligence community, in my opinion. Until Ms. Edmonds is proven wrong, this case is the most important in the world.

  47. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Reporters at the UK Sunday Times continue to investigate the Edmonds story (hat tip: The Quarter).
    Just a few days ago, on January 8, Steve Clemmons wrote that he remained skeptical of her claims and further pronounced that it was not a newsworthy event. It gave me pause.
    However, with the Sunday Times follow up story, it looks like such is not the case. And since Larry Johnson at No Quarter is allowing posts about the Edmonds story, then I think reasonable suspicion is justified and an investigation into the veracity of Edmonds’ claims is warranted if not demanded.
    If Edmonds did overhear parts of a highly compartmentalized “sting” operation, then it greatly behooves the USG to declare such publicly as soon as possible, imo. The fact it hasn’t already done so only increases suspicion and harms the USG. The fastest way to put an end to this story is to announce publicly she overheard bits and pieces of a “sting” operation where bogus information was disseminated.
    However, if there was not a sting operation and there indeed is a FBI/USG cover up — and I hope there isn’t — then fear is at work and leaving a trail. In my opinion, best to follow the trail and reveal the truth sooner rather than later. The stakes simply are too high. If a terrorist attack occurs and then it subsequently is learned that the weaponry used in the attack was based on technical information provided from sources within the USG, then a constitutional crisis will occur, the likes of which we have never seen before. Put simply: there will be hell to pay.
    One would hope that those working within the FBI and the USG would see the tremendous risk here, as the Edmonds story could cause irreparable damage to the USG, not to mention endangering millions of people.
    Lots of questions remain of course, such as why Murdoch, of all people, is allowing reporters at the UK Sunday Times to investigate further the Edmonds case. One wonders about the political ramification as well because if Edmonds’ claims are valid, then we would see a seismic shift in the political landscape in the US.
    “Brad’s Blog” offers analysis of the more recent UK article.

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