Saturday, January 31, 2015

Don't Smile (A Lullaby)

Don't smile, little feet, don't smile,
Hold onto that frown a while;
The covers are taken away;
The night did not last all day;
And who should be moved from rest,
By sweet at a milky breast?
So wail, little feet, and scream,
And never give way to a dream!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Speak Honestly (A Sonnet)

From women like yourself a gentle word
Can make me feel that I am built of lead;
Like scotch, your compliments are full of guile,
Smooth going down, but rushing to the head;
Then drowsily the thought of you takes flight
To where I see myself in cape and hood;
Admiring thus, in faerie shades of light,
I cannot see by you aught else but good.
So fleeting loves will flitter to the clouds,
And drunken dreams goad drunks to jealousy,
But hung at rosy-fingered dawn their vows
Are blown away like mists of fantasy.
    Your honest speech which baser minds disdain
    Is all my hope to honestly remain.

             -Clayton Orr

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Presidential Veto Amendment - A Proposal to Restore the Three Branches

Everybody learns in school that our government is composed of three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. They also learn that these three supposedly "distinct" and "independent" branches are given a system of complex checks and balances that is meant to insure that one branch does not try to become too powerful and upset the system. Thus, for example, the judicial branch has the power to overrule unconstitutional laws passed by the legislature, the legislature can impeach and remove any of the other branches, and the president has the veto power over the legislature, which they can overcome by a mere 2/3 vote in both houses of Congress. Moreover, all money spent by the executive must be approved by law in the Congress.

Of course, as the recent immigration debacle has demonstrated, checks and balances cease to be actual checks or balances when a President commands enough of his party members to prevent the Congress from checking him. (For the record, I agree with the President on immigration and would have liked to see Congress pass a law that did legally what he did illegally. The problem is that the President as EXECUTIVE is not meant to execute merely the laws that he likes.) Thus, for example, when a President acts in a way contrary to the will of Congress, Congress indeed has the power to prevent him from doing so, but only with the force of legislation, which he can then proceed to veto, protected by a significant minority in either House. The President becomes the only politician in government who is able to actually effect his will, meanwhile controlling judiciary appointments and prosecutions, setting the agenda on the legislative branch using his extensive veto powers, and exercising his commander-in-chief functions almost without limitation by the people who are supposed to represent us.

Of course, this would be of no consequence if Congress would ever actually stick up for itself. But a President, endowed with such powers to govern the direction of the country, can hardly be blamed for making it a priority to ensure that party discipline protects his agenda, which he perceives (quite wrongly, as it turns out) as being a mandate of the people. People do not very often elect agendas, particularly in our system. They elect people. And the people that elect are, more often than not, specifically elected to either implement or prevent the President's agenda, which makes him legislator-in-chief as much as commander-in-chief.

I have given this lecture numerous times to my students, which I usually start with, "If the President is the Chief Executive, why are all the candidates, even the so-called constitutionalist or libertarian ones, running on a legislative agenda?" And of course, they generally have no answer, except to conclude with me that the three-branch system is a sham which, presently, is used to shift blame between different branches of government for not responding to the actual will of those who elected them.

By the way, I agree with having separate branches with checks and balances on one another. But a check and a balance is supposed to cause thought, discussion, and compromise, not deadlock. Otherwise, the party that is most decisive will always be the winner, and, in general, a President is more decisive and effective than the Congress, while the Congress can hardly get a two-thirds majority to agree on the day of the month, much less their legislative priority.

So that is why I argue for two overriding checks on the federal government: first, a system of direct democracy, so that the states and people can bypass federal deadlock and enact laws for their good, whatever the cost to a politician's political capital; second, the reduction of the threshold needed to override the President's veto to a simple majority, such as is had in a large number of state governments. What follows is how I would word such a text.

The Presidential Veto Amendment

Article I
Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on the Journal and proceed to reconsider it. If after such consideration a majority of the whole number of members of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House by which it shall likewise be considered, and if approved by a majority of the whole number of members of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sundays and federal holidays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law, in like manner as if he had signed it, unless Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not become a law.

Article II
Every Order, Resolution or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take effect shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be passed again by a majority of the whole number of members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

Article III
Congress shall have power to enforce this Amendment by necessary and proper legislation.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Pretty Things (A Sonnet)

Most working days the solitude obscures
My view on life- not sad and not depressed,
But hidden. Then some ray of beauty lures
My thoughts to open spaces with the rest--
Unbuckles me from safety like a coat;
Then cold desire, that biting draft, attacks
And makes me feel what had been so remote,
For thoughtful men can hide from painful facts.
Then as your light retreats again from view--
My sun, my eastern star--I hate the light
Which makes me miss its warmth the more, and you
Who made my swollen eyes recall lost sight.

O beauty changing peace to thoughtless rage,
Remain, and all my lonely wounds assuage.