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04 January 2008


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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?


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.

David W

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.'


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.

john in the boro

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.

Sam Samuels

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.


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?)


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.

W. Patrick Lang


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


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.


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.


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.


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.

William R. Cumming

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.


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.


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."


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


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

john in the boro

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.


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

Babak Makkinejad

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.

Duncan Kinder

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.

William R. Cumming

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."


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.

Martin K

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.

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