Column Date 2006-08-19

Take the law and shove it

Once again, President Bush is leading America in an exciting new direction, and we should all take notice.

This time, it’s about the rule of law: the President has decided that he has the power to ignore any part of a Congressional law he doesn’t happen to agree with.

In other words, when Congress sends President Bush a bill to sign, he often adds something called a “Signing Statement” – which basically says that he disagrees with some things in the bill and won’t pay any attention to them.

Almost every President has issued a few of signing statements – usually to explain how he will interpret and enforce a new law. Often, they’re more like cheerleading: “This is a great step forward,” “All working men and women should rejoice in this bill,” etc.

But Bush has already issued over 800 signing statements – more than all the other Presidents put together. (Until Ronald Reagan became President, only 75 signing statements had been written in the history of the USA!)

And in some of President Bush’s statements, he flatly refuses to enforce specific parts of the law – including bills he signed on torture, the Patriot Act and whistle-blower programs.

This is a breathtaking change in our democracy.

Rather than get angry, I think we should all take advantage of it. After all, the President is just another citizen, elected by all of us. And what’s good for the goose, etc.

So I propose we all use our own “Signing Statements” whenever we disagree with the law.

Let’s start with credit card contracts – acres of tiny type filled with unfathomable words and phrases.

Do you like the part that basically says “the credit card company may change their interest rate and fees anytime they wish“? I don’t.

So I have added a statement that says “Mr. Tannen interprets the phrase ‘anytime they wish’ to mean that the credit card company must give him six (6) months notice of any changes in interest rates, or increases in fees, or new fees, to allow him to cancel the credit card without penalty and find a more reasonable credit card company that cares about people, too, not just profits.”

I’m also not happy with airline ticket rules.

On overseas flights, for example, the airlines have all decided that they will pay a maximum of $634.90 if they lose or destroy my bag!

Have the airline people seen the price of good luggage recently? And if I have to pack my laptop with my clothing, shoes, toiletries and gifts for friends, I figure they could owe me well in excess of $5,000.

For my wife, who likes to pack an outfit for every possible temperature change, $634.90 is not only an outrage, but an insult to her good taste.

So I have attached a signing statement to my ticket that says “In Mr. and Mrs. Tannen’s judgment, the $634.90 refers to the bag only, since the contents, in today’s inflated economy, are worth considerably more. If your people screw things up, you pay to replace the bag and its contents. Fair is fair.”

One thing more: in case you don’t think you have the legal authority to add signing statements like this to your personal contracts, many constitutional experts (as well as the American Bar Association) don’t think the President has, either.

Just thought you ought to know.

©2006 Peter Tannen