- David Swanson is co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org
and Washington Director of Democrats.com. He's also a board member of Progressive
Democrats of America, the Backbone Campaign, and Voters for Peace as well
as a member of the legislative working group of United for Peace and Justice.
- Subtitled "Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming
A More Perfect Union, Daybreak" is Swanson's first book, a timely
and impressive account of presidential extremism, congressional complicity,
the urgency for progressive change, and how to do it.
- Swanson exposes what was wrong under George Bush and
provides a compelling prescription for real change.
- In his book "Cracks in the Constitution," Ferdinand
Lundberg explained that the supreme law of the land, the Constitution,
never deterred presidents or sitting governments from doing what they wished,
then inventing justifications for their actions. During eight years in
office, George Bush personified it and said so in his own words. In 2005,
he told congressional Republican leaders:
- "I'm the president and the commander-in chief. Do
(things) my way. Stop throwing the Constitution in my face. It's just a
goddamned piece of paper." Both parties acceded. The administration
got away with murder. Separation of powers were abandoned. Checks and balances
barely exist. Lawlessness became the new standard, and the republic took
a giant step backward toward despotism and dystopia under a culture of
violence, police state laws, and a Wall Street-run asset-stripping system
- parasitically destroying America, wrecking the economy for profit, and
forcing the public into permanent debt peonage.
- Swanson's book is a call to arms for change, an alert
about what's wrong with the nation, the urgency to restore the rule of
law, save the republic, and necessity to get engaged enough to matter.
After eight years under Bush - Cheney and Obama's early months, the government
is more than ever corrupted, imperial, and extremist. Undoing the damage
will take years of committed effort, and Swanson explains how:
- -- understand the imminent danger;
- -- replace today's media system with a more democratic
- -- develop new thoughts and actions;
- -- engage to work for change;
- -- cooperate with other nations, don't exploit them;
- -- consider eight years of damage and serious problems
built up over decades;
- -- demand accountability for wrongdoing; and
- -- "encourage the American people to take actions
that are absolutely necessary. Now."
- Presidential Power Grab and How to Repair It
- George Bush's "attorneys openly argued before a
congressional committee that the president (may) violate any law until
the Supreme Court specifically rules in favor of it." He used signing
statements to rewrite them, issued one-man rule Executive Orders, and unconstitutionally
usurped "unitary executive" powers that Chalmers Johnson called
a "bald-faced assertion of presidential supremacy....dressed up in
legalistic mumbo jumbo."
- Congress let him bypass the Constitution and do as he
pleased. Police state laws were enacted. Permanent wars are waged for world
dominance. Torture became official US policy. Government is more secretive
and intrusive than ever. Illegal spying is pervasive. Dissent is targeted.
Social decay is deepening. Democracy is eroding and dying. Incestuous ties
between favored business interests and government created a cesspool of
corruption, and America is plagued more than ever by the dynamic that doomed
earlier empires - what Chalmers Johnson calls "isolation, overstretch,
the uniting of local and global forces opposed to imperialism, and in the
end bankruptcy." Under Obama, little so far has changed as the nation
strays further toward tyranny and ruin.
- The Power of War
- Article 51 of the UN Charter authorizes the "right
of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against
a Member....until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain international
peace and security." Preemptive attacks are banned at all times with
- The Nuremberg Charter's Article VI explicitly prohibits
- -- crimes against peace;
- -- planning and waging wars of aggression;
- -- war crimes; and
- -- crimes against humanity.
- The Nuremberg Tribunal also stated that, "To initiate
a war of aggression....is not only an international crime; it is the supreme
international crime (against peace) differing only from other war crimes
in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
- The Constitution's Article I, Section 8 empowers Congress
alone to declare war, even though since 1941 it deferred unconstitutionally
to the president.
- If America is under attack or faces an imminent threat,
the November 1973 War Powers Resolution lets the president deploy US forces
for up to 60 days plus an additional 30 days for withdrawal, subject to
congressional authorization and without a declaration of war.
- Post-9/11, no threat existed, yet the Bush administration
used deception to wage illegal aggressive wars in defiance of the above
constitutional and international law standards. Republican and Democrat
Congresses acceded, and so has Barack Obama by continuing an open-ended
Iraq occupation and stepped up belligerency against Afghanistan and Pakistan,
with perhaps other nations and regions to follow.
- If it chooses, Congress can end wars by no longer funding
them. Article I, Section 7, Clause I says:
- "All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in
the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with
amendments as on other Bills."
- Either House may originate an appropriations bill although
the House claims sole authority to do it. Either may amend bills of any
kind, including revenue and appropriation ones. Congress has the power
of the purse, so it alone, if it wishes, can fund or end wars. Under George
Bush and Barack Obama, Democrats and Republicans are united to continue
- September 11 was the pretext for launching a long-planned
premeditated attack against Afghanistan - a non-belligerent country posing
no threat to America and one that sought peaceful engagement. Non-existent
weapons of mass destruction then became justification for waging preemptive
war against Iraq. Both conflicts are blatantly illegal, yet continue without
- On January 17, 2003 (ahead of the Iraq war), Law Professor
and international human rights law expert Francis Boyle introduced six
articles of impeachment against George W. Bush on charges of "high
crimes and misdemeanors," including:
- -- trying to suspend Habeas Corpus;
- -- backing the unconstitutional USA Patriot Act;
- -- the mass-rounding up and incarcerating of foreigners;
- -- conducting kangaroo tribunal proceedings;
- -- violating and subverting the Posse Comitatus Act;
- -- conducting lawless searches and seizures; and
- -- violating the First Amendment, the Third and Fourth
Geneva Conventions, US War Crimes Act, UN Convention Against Torture, and
Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- As a result, "George Walker Bush has acted in a
manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional
government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and
to the manifest injury of the people of the United States." So far,
Barack Obama shares equal guilt under US and international law.
- On June 10, 2008, Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced
35 Articles of Impeachment against George W. Bush, citing among other charges:
- -- "Creating a Secret Propaganda Campaign to Manufacture
a False Case for War Against Iraq;"
- -- lying to Congress and the public about weapons of
mass destruction and calling Iraq a security threat;
- -- violating the Constitution and UN Charter;
- -- "Initiating a War Against Iraq for Control of
That Nation's Natural Resources;"
- -- "illegally misspen(ding) funds to begin a war
in secret prior to any congressional authorization;"
- -- authorizing torture and extraordinary renditions to
secret "black sites;"
- -- threatening to attack Iran;
- -- illegally spying on Americans; and
- -- obstructing investigations about the 9/11 attacks.
- No action was taken, so George Bush, Dick Cheney and
other high officials in their administration faced no charges in office
and still don't today.
- The Power of Money
- As explained above, only Congress has "the power
of the purse" to spend or not spend as it chooses and also how much.
Under constitutional and statutory law, "it is illegal to use government
funds for anything other than what Congress appropriates them for."
Yet lawless spending occurs regularly, including through unaccountable
black budgets, and Congress does nothing to stop it.
- Through a signing statement, George Bush empowered himself
to transfer funds from authorized programs to secret ones. It was one of
Kucinich's impeachment charges against him.
- Then in 2008, the Bush administration began looting the
federal Treasury to reward criminal bankers for their crimes and accelerated
the process of transferring public wealth to Wall Street. Obama greatly
stepped up the practice, and on July 20, 2009, AP reported that:
- "The federal government has devoted $4.7 trillion
to help the financial sector through its crisis, a watchdog report said
Monday," referring to Neil Barofsky, the Special Treasury Department's
Inspector General in charge of overseeing the Troubled Assets Relief Program
- "Under the worst of circumstances, the report said,
the government's maximum exposure could total nearly $24 trillion, or (an)
$80,000 (liability) for every American."
- On March 31, Bloomberg reported that the Treasury and
Fed "spent, lent or committed $12.8 trillion," an amount approaching
America's 2008 $14 trillion GDP. Currently, the number at least matches
and may exceed it.
- At the same time, the economic crisis is worsening. Credit
remains frozen. The worst housing and commercial real estate slump since
the Great Depression continues. Foreclosures threaten millions. Job losses
keep mounting. True unemployment, according to economist John Williams
(with all uncounted categories included), approaches 21% and is rising.
Savings have greatly eroded. Government debt levels are unparalleled during
peacetime. Major banks are effectively insolvent. Households are too over-extended
to spend or borrow more, and the administration offered little relief to
them or states unable to meet their budget commitments, so they adjust
by slashing essential social services, including health care, education,
and everything for the most needy.
- Power of the Judiciary
- For years and especially under George Bush, the federal
judiciary has been stacked with judges from or affiliated with the extremist
Federalist Society. It advocates rolling back civil liberties; ending New
Deal social policies; opposing reproductive choice, government regulations
(except industry approved ones), labor rights and environmental protections;
and subverting justice in defense of privilege.
- Bush's Justice Department was just as corrupted by putting
politics ahead of the rule of law, hiring and firing prosecutors and other
employees based on their loyalty to the Republican party, targeting the
innocent opportunistically, waging war on Islam and Latino immigrants,
creating justifications for administration crimes, then turning a blind
eye to them.
- For eight years, waging illegal wars, committing crimes
of war and against humanity, violating constitutional and international
laws, legalizing torture as official US policy, sanctioning police state
laws, spying illegally on Americans, permitting government and corporate
fraud, criminalizing dissent, and creating "a justice system stripped
of all justice," became federal policy under George Bush and remains
so under Obama.
- Treaty and Appointment Powers
- US presidents may make treaties with the advice and consent
of two-thirds of the Senate. However, Status of Forces Agreements (or SOFAs)
require only the approval of host countries or enough pressure applied
to get it. To legitimize America's occupation, the Iraq SOFA illustrates
- Chalmers Johnson calls all of them "foreign military
enclaves....completely beyond the jurisdiction of the occupied nation,"
a modern day version of 19th century China's "extraterritoriality"
granting foreigners charged with crimes the "right" to be tried
by his or her own government under his or her own laws.
- Iraq's SOFA legitimizes permanent occupation and continued
war beyond control of Congress or Iraqi officials. Nominally a 2011 withdrawal
date was set, but given the impotency of the Iraqi government and the way
past agreements were manipulated, US forces will remain indefinitely on
dozens of bases, at least five super ones, and perhaps others yet to be
built. No change is envisioned under Obama despite rhetoric claiming otherwise.
- Federal appointees as ambassadors, ministers, consuls,
judges, and others must be approved by the Senate, yet presidents may fill
vacancies when the body is in recess. Bush took full advantage in appointing
John Bolton UN ambassador over Senate objections. Yet most often, the Senate
acquiesced to some of his most egregious nominees, including to the federal
- Executive Power
- US presidents are the most powerful officials anywhere
under our system of government. Regardless of the occupant, the office
is inherently imperial as one man can exploit it to his advantage, effectively
becoming a dictator if he wishes. The Constitution's Article II, Section
1 grants him near-limitless power in a single innocuous sentence stating:
"The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United
States of America."
- Article II, Section 3 adds: "The President shall
take care that the laws be faithfully executed" without saying that
Presidents may make as well as execute laws, even though nothing in the
Constitution permits it, and Article I, Section 1 reads: "All legislative
powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States."
- However, executive power is key in the hands of presidents
to exploit as it's concentrated in one (party bosses selected) man, chosen
by an Electoral College that can subvert the popular vote if it wishes.
- In times of war, presidents as military commander-in-chief
are effective tyrants, and even though Article I, Section 8 grants only
Congress the right to declare it, since 1941, all presidents did solely
on their own authority.
- They can also grant commutations or pardons freely except
in cases of impeachment, make treaties with the advice and consent (not
ratification) of the Senate, terminate them as well, and can rule by decree
through executive agreements with foreign governments.
- With rare opposition, they can appoint or discharge officials,
veto congressional legislation, and nearly always be sustained. While only
Congress has appropriating authority, they can release or not release funds
for executive branch spending.
- A huge bureaucracy is at their disposal, including powerful
officials like the Secretaries of Defense, State, Treasury, and Homeland
Security, and the Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department.
- They can make one-man laws through Executive Orders and
signing statements, powers easily abused as George Bush proved. He usurped
"unitary executive" power to declare the law is what he said
it was and got no congressional or judicial opposition to stop him.
- Bush and earlier presidents, including Franklin Roosevelt
during WW II, showed that presidents are unencumbered by constitutional
restraints and can effectively rule as a sovereign, easily circumventing
Congress and the courts to render the separation of powers neutralized.
- Presidents also have their own private army through the
Department of Homeland Security, the vast US intelligence apparatus, and
much more. The CIA comprises one part. It functions as a praetorian guard
operating freely outside the law and backed by a $50 billion + black budget
with greater amounts available if requested.
- In theory, presidents must obey the law, but can creatively
interpret it to get away with murder unless Congress and the courts stop
them. Rarely does it happen and never for George Bush. As for impeaching
and convicting presidents for malfeasance, John Adams said it would take
a national convulsion to do it, and Article II, Section 4 states it can
only be for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
Based on the historical record, it's near-impossible to do as no president
was ever removed this way and only two were ever impeached, both unjustly.
Nixon resigned on his own volition, but might, in fact, have been removed
if he hadn't.
- Above all others, Bush and Cheney deserved impeachment,
but efforts to do it failed because few in Congress had the courage of
Dennis Kucinich. As a result, they were unrestrained, even though this
isn't what the framers had in mind. Short of a constitutional re-make,
other executives will be similarly empowered and as able to take full advantage.
George Bush wasn't the first. He won't be the last, and others ahead may
be worse as America hurtles recklessly toward tyranny because no constraints
are in place to stop it.
- Pardoning Power
- As explained above, presidents can grant clemency and
pardons, except in cases of impeachment. Often the power is abused, and
most presidents are guilty, though some far more than others. Cases in
point: Ford pardoning Nixon and GHW Bush pardoning six Iran-Contra criminals,
including former Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger, former National
Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, and former Assistant Secretary of State
for Inter-American Affairs Elliott Abrams. GW Bush commuted I. Lewis (Scooter)
Libby's sentence for having obstructed justice by blocking the investigation
of a crime.
- It remains to be seen if a president can pardon his officials
for crimes he authorized and perhaps even himself. Nothing in the Constitution
prevents it, so creative lawyers may find a way, and what's in place to
- The Cheney Branch
- No vice president matched Cheney's power, his abuse of
office, the secret government he ran, the damage he caused, and the weakening
of democratic rule of law on his watch. Vice presidents also preside over
the Senate, have the final say in case of tie votes, and are first in the
presidential line of succession should the executive die, resign, or be
- As the nation's strongest ever vice president and most
ruthless, Cheney directed US national security policies, sidestepped George
Bush on major issues, put his top loyalists in key posts, including Rumsfeld
and Wolfowitz, stacked the bureaucracy with neocon extremists like himself,
and held out for eight years despite repeated calls for his removal.
- He justified seizing unconstitutional powers "because
the world is dangerous (and) because I say we have that obligation."
He was the power behind National and Homeland Security Presidential Directives
like NSPD-51/HSPD-20 to establish "Continuity of Government (COG)"
procedures under a "Catastrophic Emergency" defined as:
- -- "any incident (such as a terrorist attack), regardless
of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage,
or disruption severely affecting the US population, infrastructure, environment,
economy, or government functions."
- COG is "a coordinated effort within the Federal
Government's executive branch to ensure that National Essential Functions
continue to be performed during a Catastrophic Emergency."
- These directives give presidents and powerful vice presidents
unprecedented authority free from constitutional constraints. Martial law
without congressional approval can be declared in case of a "national
emergency," so both can rule with dictatorial powers under police
state laws. Bush and Cheney took full advantage. So can future executives.
- Congressional Collapse
- The Democrat-controlled 111th Congress is just the latest
in more recent failed ones and that of government overall. The electoral
process bears much of the blame. It's scripted and corrupted. Secrecy and
back room deals substitute for a free, fair, and open process. Candidates
are pre-selected. Big money owns them. Both parties share equal guilt.
The major media play a dominant role. Favored candidates have a distinct
advantage. Alternative ones are marginalized. Horse race journalism substitutes
for real debate, while the public interest is nowhere in sight.
- Democrats and Republicans comprise two wings of one party
representing privilege, not the greater good, and therein lies the problem.
On Capitol Hill, democracy is rhetoric, not real. Profiles in courage are
as rare as mild Chicago winters, and as Harry Truman famously said, "If
you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."
- Influence peddling is a way of life. What "payola"
is to the music industry, "pay-to-play" is to Washington, and
the more anted up, the more favors curried, but the "price of admission"
keeps rising. Changing things requires major reform starting with a total
electoral process makeover.
- Get big money out of it and replace it with publicly
funded elections. End corporate run electronic voting. Mandate verifiable
hand-counting by nonpartisan civil servants. Adopt proportional representation
over winner-take-all. Institute instant runoff voting (IRV). Automatically
enfranchise all US citizens at birth under one uniform national law. Prohibit
paid political advertising and require broadcasters to provide free air
time to all candidates equally over over a shorter electoral cycle. Make
democracy in America real, not the best kind money can buy.
- Make the impeachment and conviction process work by using
them against presidents and others having no place in honest government.
End the idea that "We Won't Impeach (or Convict) You No Matter What."
Get oversight back into the system. Make abuse of office a crime and hold
offenders accountable. Hold public hearings. Demand vital documents. Issue
binding subpoenas. Make not showing up criminal. Jail those refusing to
cooperate. Make it apply to top officials, including the president and
vice president. Use independent special prosecutors freely, fully empowered
by their mandate. Put teeth back into the rule of law.
- Undoing the Imperial Presidency and the Wars They Wage
- America's imperial presence is everywhere through a global
network of bases able to strike any nation perceived as a threat and intimidate
others into submission. Host country populations perceive us as intrusive,
hostile, and detrimental to their own interests with good reason.
- They reflect empire and an aim to dominate everywhere,
not security, at the expense of appropriated public land, environmental
pollution and destruction, unacceptable noise, and human rights abuses
by abusive troops committing crimes that include murder and rape.
- They control trade, resources, local cheap labor, and
political, economic, and social life in host countries. They force compliance
with America's will through the Pentagon's might and freewheeling use of
it. They've made America a global pariah, and they're illegal and oppressive
as unwelcome occupiers.
- Respecting International Treaties
- Under the Constitution's Article VI, "....all treaties
made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States,
shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall
be bound thereby..."
- As explained above, presidents can make treaties with
the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate, and can terminate them
by executive edict as George Bush did in renouncing the ABM Treaty with
Russia. They can also violate them freely with impunity, including the
UN Charter, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and Chemical and Biological
Weapons Conventions, among others. They can block ratifying ones like Kyoto,
the Comprehensive Test Ban and Landmine Treaties, PAROS to prevent an arms
race in space, and the ICC. They can approve harmful ones like the WTO
and NAFTA. They can hurt or harm with a stroke of a pen or do nothing by
- They and Congress can enact real change by allocating
public dollars equitably for essential social needs, including universal
health care and education. They can end imperial wars and occupations,
downsize the military, close global bases, produce fewer weapons, become
a good neighbor, not a menacing one. They can end corporate welfare and
other giveaways, rebuild essential infrastructure, put people back to work,
reindustrialize the country, end Wall Street's dominance, nationalize or
abolish the Federal Reserve, and let government be of, for, and by the
people the way Lincoln envisioned. They can do all that and more but won't.
- Forming a More Perfect Union
- We can restore the Bill of Rights and add new ones, revoke
illegal laws like the USA Patriot Act, and enforce all constitutional,
statutory, and international ones. We can reinvent democracy and make it
real. We can make social equity and equal justice the law of the land.
We can be good neighbors, not intimidating ones.
- We can protect against "arbitrary arrest, detention,
exile, or enforced disappearance, and from all forms of slavery and forced
labor, with criminal penalties for violators and compensation for victims."
We can ban torture, illegal surveillance, political witch-hunts, and corporate
personhood. We can protect, not wreck the environment, prohibit unsafe
foods and drugs, enforce collective bargaining and human and civil rights.
We can guarantee safety net protections for the needy, end homelessness
and hunger, elevate living standards, and make corporations and the rich
pay their fair share.
- We can take the power of money out of politics, convene
a second constitutional convention, redo the document Michael Parenti said
protected "a rising bourgeoisie('s freedom to) invest, speculate,
trade, and accumulate" to assure that people who own the country run
it. We get it right this time, but grassroots pressure is needed to do
it. We can discover that organized people can beat organized money with
- We no longer need tolerate extreme inequalities of wealth,
lost civil liberties, human rights abuses, destructive foreign wars, the
American dream turned nightmare, and politics more corrupted than ever
regardless of the party in power. Ideas for change abound. Free and open
debate are needed to pick the best, then organize for change and work to
enact them for the fundamental goal of equity and justice for all in a
nation again to be proud of.
- Citizen Power
- People are crying for change, but only grassroots activism
can bring it. In his call to arms, Swanson says:
- "We have reached a critical moment, at great expense,
but with great possibility. Things have gotten bad enough in the minds
of enough Americans that there is an opening for creating a mass movement
for real change, and that movement is already growing all around us."
After eight years under Bush - Cheney and a complicit Congress, "What
is needed in US civil society is a revolution," a non-violent one.
- But "Throughout history, the most powerful movements
have (been met by) the most powerful suppressive reactions....Our own power
and potential for greater power lies in the coalition we can build of activist
groups focused on domestic and international issues, in organizing and
training, in funding, in media of our own creation, in leaders, in sympathetic
and organized government employees, in protection we can offer to whistleblowers
and resisters, in our international allies, in local and state governments,
and possibly even in the Congress or the Supreme Court resisting the abuses
of the White House in the interests of a balance of powers."
- Short of effective real change, odds are "our future
will take us from bad to worse," and produce a government even more
harmful to the public interest. "The choice belongs (collectively)
to all of us together" to prevent it and work for the America we want.
But wishing won't make it so.
- Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre
for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Monday
- Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished
guests on world and national issues. All programs are archived for easy