Congress and State Legislatures Must Reclaim Their Prerogatives

We’ve seen some blowback in North Carolina after their legislature passed legislation to take some appointee power away from the governor following the narrow election of a liberal governor. The timing may be unseemly, but I applaud a legislature that is trying to take back its authority.  For too long, we’ve forgotten the lessons learned in the Revolution regarding strong governors with regal authority.  The first state constitutions sought to reduce the possibility of imperial rule by putting most power in the legislative hands and by limiting governors to short terms with limited veto power.  Over the years, people have gotten lazy and allowed governors longer terms and stronger veto power.  And legislatures too often have passed general legislation allowing the executive not only put the laws into effect but given them wide discretion in fleshing out the details of the laws themselves.  This led inexorably to regulatory power unchecked by the people’s representatives, effectively enacting a law that has no popular foundation.

In Alabama, for example, though the governor does have a veto, it amounts most of the time to nothing more than an advisory opinion.  Unless, the legislature has adjourned, it may easily override the governor’s veto with a simple majority. The Legislature enjoys the power to set the agenda with little interference from the governor.  And with fairly small budgets and low taxes, the legislature has managed to check the growth of the state bureaucracy.  This has been the hallmark of most of the Red states.  Unfortunately, the larger states have followed the example of our national government and created large bureaucracies that make it easier to thwart the will of the people.

Since the Great Depression, Congress has ceded more and more authority to regulate to executive agencies.  Initially, this was done to allow the president to move rapidly and to experiment in a crisis.  Over time, Congress got used to passing large pieces of popular legislation.  Keeping the laws ambiguous made it easier to forge the coalitions necessary to pass them (60 votes being necessary in the Senate).  They would then leave it up to the president’s ministers, ostensibly working with congressional committees, to work out the details.

Congress also created regulatory commissions charged with the power to oversee banking, communications, business and transportation.  Because of the great power delegated to them, the laws required  the commissioners to be bipartisan with fixed terms to shield them.  But by custom, the president is allowed to have a majority from his party on each commission.  A two-term president usually appoints a majority who share his ideology and agenda.  And so they can work his will.  For example, the FCC last year issued controversial rules on so-called favored.  The FTC, SEC, and others work in the same way. The independence of the independent regulatory commissions turns out to be more a fiction than a reality.

It is worse in the cabinet departments and federal agencies such as the EPA, HHS,  DHS, that are directed by a single administrator named by the current president.  They are free to issue regulations and exempt favored groups from those regulations.  No wonder a president believes he can work without Congress.  Short of lawsuits and impeachments, there seems little that Congress can do to rein in individual abuses.  The president’s veto power and the two-thirds’ vote needed to override him gives the president the upper hand in dealing with conflicts over policy.  This is not what the founders intended.  They wanted to make it difficult to pass laws but they expected the president to execute the law as it was passed and not to be making law himself.

When it was usual for Congress to be controlled by the same party as the president, the triangle of Congressional Committee, executive regulator and affected consumer groups could usually mitigate against overweening executive power.  But in the age of Obama, this iron triangle’s power has been reduced and Congress has proved unwilling to confront the president.  The result has been an embolden president who feels free to use his pen to circumvent the will of Congress. 

We must redress this imbalance.  This window of opportunity will pass quickly and no doubt there will be future presidents eager to circumvent Congress.  Congress must reclaim the power of the purse and use it to rein in the growth and power of the bureaucracy.  And, they must narrowly tailor laws so that agencies have less latitude for interpretation.  Major new regulations such as net neutrality or reinterpretation of law should require Congressional action.  The Courts have taken a dim view of the legislative veto so Congress must avoid its use. They should seek to limit executive authority by amending the laws that set up the agencies.  And they must ensure that new laws are written carefully so that future policies have to take into account the wishes of the people’s representatives.

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The Worst Songs of the Christmas Season

Every year I look forward to hearing the Sounds of the Season on the radio or television.  DirecTV turns the 40s channel into a Christmas channel and Magic 96 in Birmingham plays just Christmas music from early November through Christmas Day.  I appreciate the effort, but it usually leaves me flat.  It isn’t just that they don’t play enough real CHRISTmas songs.  Or that some of the “artists” they select leave one underwhelmed.  All that I expect.  There is no accounting for taste as they say. 

It’s just that way, way too many of the songs have nothing to do with the Christmas event, secular or sacred.  Many offenders are winter songs, usually something to do with snow, that can be rather jolly. Still, too many Christmas songs that might put one in a festive mood, whether they be Santa songs or songs that truly herald the birth of Jesus, end up lost in the shuffle.  I can think of a couple of inoffensive show tunes that have become seasonal standards. Toyland has nothing to do with Christmas.  It’s just a Victor Herbert song from his operetta on Mother Goose.  It is rather sad about leaving childhood where one “can never return again”.  Another new standard is My Favorite Things from the “Sound of Music”.  These are wistful and can make you think about Christmases past so that redeems them somewhat.

The truly horrible songs, however, don’t have this redeeming quality. They are just seduction songs that mix in some ice and snow.  Many are dirges about some love affair that went awry.  Here in no particular order is my preliminary playlist of the Truly Horrible Songs I’ve heard ad nauseam this Christmas.

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Baby, it’s cold outside.  I was horrified a few years ago to hear this Esther Williams seduction number had been turned into a holiday song.  It’s not even really cold outside as the scene takes place in LA and Esther is swimming outside most of the time in her signature bathing suits.  I don’t revile it at all for what it is and the PC crowd’s silly sniveling about it being a date rape song makes me want to like it even more.  But, it is NOT a Christmas song.  Christmas isn’t even portrayed in the movie.  Ricardo Montalbán is in town to play polo, and it is sunny and warm as usual.

Snow.  This Rosemary Clooney song also comes from a movie, “White Christmas”, so at least it has a Christmas theme.  But the entire song is about snow and how soon they will see it and can go skiing.  She is so enthralled with the white stuff that she wants to wash her face and hair with it.  Even up north snow usually doesn’t arrive until after Christmas.  You have to go to the mountains to get it beforehand.  Snow just leaves me cold.  We got it Christmas Eve exactly once in my lifetime, in 1985.  I guess it was nice.  I worried about making it to Christmas dinner the next day, but of course, it melted away immediately.  Thank Goodness!

Let it Snow.  I guess you are getting the theme now.  Yep, it is another seduction, possibly post seduction song about how it is starting to snow or may snow so there’s no need to hurry out into it, and Dino and friend can spend some quality time popping corn and snuggling by the fire.  Nothing wrong in any of that except that it has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with Christmas.  Christmas isn’t mentioned at all in the song. Ostensibly it’s February and it’s really COLD outside (not LA). So by all means, cuddle by the fire, do some snogging, drink some hot cocoa, but don’t play this song at Christmas.  Thank you very much.

Frosty the Snowman.  Ok, I admit I hate including this song, because it is jolly, and there are children in it playing with a magical snowman who came to life one day, probably AFTER Christmas.  Again Christmas isn’t mentioned in the song.  True, they turned it into a Christmas themed cartoon narrated by Jimmy Durante.  He led them down the streets of town right to a traffic cop.  Hey, don’t you cry, he’ll be back again next year. So, white lives do matter.  It is charming in a heavy hammy way, but I hate songs about snow.  So enough said.

Blue Christmas.  Ok, it mentions Christmas, but that isn’t enough or at least it isn’t Christmassy enough.  I love the King of Rock-and-Roll as much or as little as the next guy, but the song is a downer.  It is a post love affair gone south (unfortunately not south enough as he still mentions the white stuff).  It will be a blue Christmas without her and cold too no doubt.  She’ll be doing alright with her Christmas of white but he’ll have a blue, blue, blue, BLUE Christmas.  Where’s my Prozac?  Thanks man for destroying the Christmas mood.  And happy new year to you too.

So this is Christmas. OMG, where do I start with this shrug of a song?  Ho hum, SO this is Christmas.  This is the modern version of “Bah! Humbug!”.  What have we done?  I suppose you will want the WHOLE day off?  Can’t you Bob Cratchits do something meaningful to save the world?  What a waste of carbon credits! Don’t you dare squander any more coal! Stop populating the world with tiny Tims.  It’s the Earth, stupid.  Why isn’t it titled Just Imagine There’s No Christmas? It would make the cheerless thought complete.

Winter Wonderland.  I know, I know.  It is so popular and upbeat, and it is ubiquitous.  And it sounds Christmassy. At least, the seduction is headed somewhere since they do want Parson Brown to marry them as soon as he’s in town.  Old Rev. Brown must get around.  It’s so quaint that she’s holding out for the ring.  Until then, they frolic and play in the Eskimo way while pretending that the snowman they built is a circus clown.  Well, that just turned creepy.  Let’s move on.

Jingle Bells.  This song was written by the uncle of J.P. Morgan.  Morgan must have been so proud. JP made his money financing huge corporations but his uncle was one of the first to make it big in advertising.  This jolly song has nothing to do with Christmas either unless, of course, you are in the market for a new sleigh.  It has a different take on seduction. Just think what a stud you will be when you pull up to Fanny Bright’s house in your spanking new 1857 Pierpont Sleigh LX Deluxe.  She’ll love the Metallic Crimson paint job.  Oh no, they fall into a snowdrift and get upsot.  He wrecked it the very first day and hadn’t even made the first payment.

Last Christmas. He gave her his heart and the very next day, she gave it away.  Sigh, well that’s life.  It’s a Christmas song because this happened to him somewhere around Christmas last year. Pathetic.  This is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. It’s all about “me” and the bad choices “I” made last year.  This year, he’ll give his heart to someone SPECIAL.  Well, let’s hope he chooses more wisely. He’s known her two weeks this time.  Remember, just because they meet under the mistletoe doesn’t mean it’s true love.  But hey, thanks for sharing.  Thanks for taking the magic out of the season.  In other words, thanks for nothing.

Feel free to send me your nominations.  Perhaps,  I’ll do a list of honorable mentions next Christmas.  I’ll blog them to someone special.  Merry Christmas and God bless us everyone!