Sunday, August 30, 2009

Schools to Prisons.

It might seem odd for a civilized society to focus more of their resources on the populations in their prisons than their schools.   However, this is the situation that the state of California finds its self in at the moment. While the whole budget fiasco of California is being resolved, there is one unnecessary inmate death a week in the system of 160, 000.  According to the Associated Press, California spend around 10 percent of its budget on the inmates of the huge system.  There have numerous proposals from all over the board to fix the growing problem; some suggest pay-as-you-go prison for the wealthier inmates, slightly laughable, or reducing the sentence on minor drug offenders, more reasonable, of who make up a large portion of the inmates. 

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting the moneys allocated to the prisons by $1.2 billion.  This proposal has been blocked by Republican lawmakers who are more worried about appealing to their supporters and financial backers by appearing hard on crime. Why is it that California spends more on the 160, 000 inmates than the 226,000 students in the University of California system? Misguided leaders and misplaced fears.  As pointes out by University of California President Mark Yudof there has been 24 new prisons built over the last 25 years while there has only been one new university built in that time.  While I, as well as anybody, know that prisons are necessary and dangerous criminals are supposed to be locked up.  The numbers of misdemeanor drug cases that cause a person to be incarcerated are unnecessary burden on the already stretched system. 

By keeping so many prisoners looked up in inadequate facilities, the health care costs of the system as a whole has doubled in the last nine to ten years.  In light of the whole proposed health care reform going on in the nation it seems odd that prisoners in the California System have some of their health care paid for.  Although, the protection they get from the rampant health problems can be minimal.  Recently, a federal court the system to reduce its population by 25 percent in the next to years, claiming the health conditions in the prisons unconstitutional. How do the republican propose to do that without decreasing the sentence of drug offenders?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Obama’s Signing Statements

While in office, former president George W. Bush issued around 700 so called signing statements.  These statements, first used regularly in the Regan administration, are written comments issued by a president at the time of signing a bill.  These statements usually take three forms.  First, they explain to those interested what the president and their administration thinks about the bill, and how the administration will react to the bill.  Second, signing statements are used by the president to guide those in the executive branch only about what he thinks the law entails.  Lastly, the president can describe when he thinks the law to be unconstitutional.  This last application is considered to be the most controversial. While campaigning, Barack Obama said he would use signing statements minimally; however, he has already issued five signing statement on various bills.

The third use of the signing statement is a way for the president to let his personal interpretation of the law become known.  It is not the president’s job to comment on the constitutionality of a law based on his personal opinion of the constitution, no matter how well educated on the subject he may be, considering Obama’s degree was in Constitutional Law.  Last time I checked, I am pretty sure it is the Supreme Court’s job.  While in office Bush used the signing statement to bypass laws in the Torture Ban and the joke of a bill, the USA Patriot Act.  A tool so misused in the Bush administration, presents Obama with a useful way to clearly explain the relevance of the bill.  However, allowing presidents to use a signing statement is giving them an easy way out. 

Rather than veto an imperfect bill, the president can issue a signing statement, pretty much saying my opinion has the last say in any bill I sign.  I propose the president not issue his opinion on the constitutionality, or in Mr. Bush’s case, grant himself unlimited power to completely ignore the bill in certain contexts, and instead veto the bill, or return it to Congress, until the two bodies of Government, the executive and the legislative are in agreement. If the question of constitutionality arises, the correct branch of government, the judiciary, can settle the issue.  That was, after all, what those grey haired guys had in mind when they wrote that oh so important document a few years back…