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Life Arts    H3'ed 6/23/09

Part Two of Interview with Activist David Swanson

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Welcome back, David. You covered a lot of ground in the first part of our interview.   Let's zero in on Obama's signing statements for a moment. I’m not sure that most readers are aware that the strategy begun under Bush is going strong under Obama.

Well, signing statements as announcements of intention to violate the very law being signed became a routine tool for Bush Jr. and were almost unheard of prior.  Signing statements prior to him were almost never used in that way.  Obama promised not to abuse signing statements in the same way (see the Boston Globe on December 20, 2007), but has done so.  Obama has written five signing statements.  (You can read them here.)

The first is not counted by some people who count only four.  The first does not say anything that Obama did not previously say publicly, but through the signing statement (if we allow this interpretation of signing statements to stand) he made part of the law his right to use the hundreds of billions of dollars appropriated in the bill in "new" and "far-reaching" ways that he "initiates," as well as the understanding that an "oversight board" created by the executive branch will -- rather than Congress -- oversee the activities of the executive branch, or as Obama calls it "the Federal Government." 

Next Obama released a memo on signing statements promising not to abuse them and committing, not to throwing out Bush's signing statements that purport to alter laws, but to reviewing each one and deciding whether he liked it or not - the same as he's doing with executive orders and decrees of all sorts.  We don't necessarily even get to know which statements are thrown out by the new emperor's review and which ones are not.  Then Obama immediately issued his second signing statement radically altering major sections of a law, [as detailed here].  After three more of these, it's safe to call it a pattern.

So, what would you suggest to a new president who seems dangerously off-course?

One idea, not to coin a phrase, would be to change a few things.  Begin by undoing the disastrous conversion of crimes into poor policy decisions.  Appoint a special prosecutor on torture, one on spying, one on electoral fraud and Hatch Act violations, one on wrongful and selective prosecution, and one on aggressive war. 

Cease to commit any of the crimes being prosecuted.  Make public all the facts about the crimes.  Revive the commitment to get out of Iraq in 16 months, but don't fudge it -- get every last soldier and mercenary out.  Similarly, get out of Afghanistan in the same time frame. 

Invest the money for bombs in aid instead.  Throw out all executive orders, decrees, and signing statements that a president does not have the constitutional power to create.  Cease using false claims of state secrets and executive privilege to cover up Bush and Cheney's crimes.  Instruct the Justice Department to enforce belatedly all outstanding subpoenas from the 110th and 111th Congresses. 

Create a commission to present possible plans for closing foreign military bases, converting them to positive functions, turning them over to the home nations, and retraining the troops brought home and discharged from the military.  Sign and urge the ratification of the many international human rights treaties on which we are a lonely hold out, beginning with the Rome treaty creating the International Criminal Court. 

Give up the hopeless idea of pleasing both the health insurance companies and human beings, and advocate for single-payer healthcare.  Lobby for the Employee Free Choice Act as hard as you have for war.  Lobby for a serious approach to global warming, and public campaign financing with free media. 

But above all, let Congress do its job, enforce its laws, and make transparent and public how that enforcement is conducted.  This should include complete transparency in the bankster bailouts, or rather in their undoing.  And it should include busting the monopolies in finance and in media.  Hoping for this sort of approach is what some would call audacious.  But everyone would agree it'd be a change.

Phew.  That's one ambitious list.  How can we push Obama towards it?

An immediate thing that people can do is to take part in rallies and marches all over the country on Thursday, June 25, 2009: Torture Accountability Action Day, including a rally at 11 a.m. at John Marshall Park in Washington, D.C., followed by a noon march to the Justice Department, where some will choose to engage in nonviolent civil resistance.  Find an event near you

Many other things that people can, and I'm tempted to say MUST, do over the coming weeks and years can be found at

Also, I've written a book on these themes that I hope people will read. (
David is referring to his upcoming book Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, by Seven Stories Press. You can pre-order it at

Got  any links for our readers?

I have a website at and an activist site focused on peace and justice at  I'm the Washington Director for and on the board of,, and  And, of course, I blog at

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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