Two Presidents

With Bush being the lamest of lame ducks, WaPo columnist Eugene Robinson is getting concerned:

Bush could and should do it — he is still president, and preventing economic collapse is part of the job description. But he won’t. It’s ironic that after being so aggressive and proactive in other areas, the Decider is so indecisive and passive about the economy. He has limited his role to signing off on whatever Paulson says is necessary — most recently, $20 billion in cash and $306 billion in guarantees for Citigroup, a move that Bush apparently approved during his flight home from Peru.

In part, Bush’s inaction stems from ideology. If the free market is always right, it ought to correct itself and get back on course. All the government really needs to do is take care of a few emergencies such as Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, IndyMac, AIG, Wachovia, Citigroup . . . and, of course, whatever comes next. Not the auto companies, however: In Bushworld, the firms that created the toxic mortgage-backed securities that threaten to bring down the global financial system are somehow morally superior to the companies that created the Mustang, the Malibu and the minivan.

I don’t think ideology explains it all, though. Even if he wanted to make a real run at righting the economy, at this point Bush has neither the energy nor the credibility to make it happen.

With Obama legally without authority, Robinson sees very little recourse except to hope that Paulson can keep juggling.

Update: McClatchy also had an article addressing the point:

Paul Light, a government professor at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, said the rapidly deteriorating economy is forcing Obama to become the nation’s Booster-in-Chief before he becomes president.

“The markets are saying that George Bush is irrelevant to the economic future of the country, and they want to hear from Obama,” Light said. “Obama doesn’t have much choice but to reassure the markets as best he can. The ball is in his court whether he likes it or not.”

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Pardon Pool

The folks at ProPublica speculate on who Bush will pardon on the way out. Michael Milken and Scooter Libby top the handicapping. They do not touch on the possibility of a blanket pardon.

G-20, Assessed

The Economist offers its first cut on the weekend G-20 summit:

Whatever the tactical reasons, the success of this weekend’s gathering has permanently changed the machinery of international economic co-operation. The centre of global economic summitry has shifted from the G7 (the rich countries’ club) to a broader group. A follow-up meeting has been scheduled for April 30th 2009. Even in areas that primarily affect them alone, such as the regulation of the most sophisticated financial instruments, rich countries will no longer set the agenda on their own.

Read the whole thing. Meanwhile, Tom Barnett is not impressed:

Simply put, the agenda right now is too vast and there are two many competing great powers for any one solution to apply. So expect a boom market for new rules over the next few years, but no one great pact. Viewed in this light, you take the meager results of the recent summit in stride.

Newsweek: Bush Might Be Reluctant To Pardon

Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball play the on-one-hand, on-the-other hand game regarding speculation about pardons:

Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, whose prison sentence for lying in the CIA leak case was commuted by Bush last year, has not submitted a pardon request to Justice. But speculation is rampant that Libby’s allies will press Bush for one. There is also talk that Bush will be asked to grant prospective pardons for CIA officers and others who played a part in the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques in the war on terror. According to one legal source, who asked not to be identified because of the issue’s sensitive nature, White House counsel Fred Fielding has warned applicants the president is likely to frown on “political pardons.” But another Washington lawyer, who also asked not to be identified because he represents a pardon applicant, said Bush might be more open to considering pardons for CIA officers because they were executing his policies.

G-20 Summit Results

Bush or no, there’s consensus among the leaders of the world’s most important powers on the causes of the meltdown:

3. During a period of strong global growth, growing capital flows, and prolonged stability earlier this decade, market participants sought higher yields without an adequate appreciation of the risks and failed to exercise proper due diligence. At the same time, weak underwriting standards, unsound risk management practices, increasingly complex and opaque financial products, and consequent excessive leverage combined to create vulnerabilities in the system. Policy-makers, regulators and supervisors, in some advanced countries, did not adequately appreciate and address the risks building up in financial markets, keep pace with financial innovation, or take into account the systemic ramifications of domestic regulatory actions.

4. Major underlying factors to the current situation were, among others, inconsistent and insufficiently coordinated macroeconomic policies, inadequate structural reforms, which led to unsustainable global macroeconomic outcomes. These developments, together, contributed to excesses and ultimately resulted in severe market disruption.

The summit communique can be found at the NYT. There’s also agreement on the need for cross-border regulation:

Supervisors should collaborate to establish supervisory colleges for all major cross-border financial institutions, as part of efforts to strengthen the surveillance of cross-border firms. Major global banks should meet regularly with their supervisory college for comprehensive discussions of the firm’s activities and assessment of the risks it faces.

The Washington Post offers a good summary of the outcome. Sarkozy is happy.

Turley on Blanket Pardons

Law prof Jonathan Turley, I see from my referrer log, agrees with me that a blanket pardon for Bush administration officials involved in torture is a Constitutionally dubious idea:

A “blanket pardon” would raise serious constitutional and criminal questions, though there is some precedent in the Kennedy and Carter administrations. A traditional pardon is a public document naming individuals who are pardoned for specific crimes. One possibility being discussed is the use of a blanket pardon that would not individually name people but cover anyone associated with the unlawful programs. It would be a terrible precedent, if upheld. A president could pardon the world at the end of an Administration — gutting any accountability for criminal acts.

One of his commenters suggests this needs to be addressed through a Constitutional amendment:

I have thought about this since the Scooter Libby disaster, and would propose one that would be something like “A president may not pardon or commute any one in his/her administration for crimes committed during the administration.”

I agree — and think a blanket pardon would touch off a massive, world-wide controversy with unforeseen political costs for the US. It would invite third-country prosecutions of the Pinochet variety.

Blanket Pardon?

Mark Benjamin at Salon thinks Bush is planning a wide-ranging pardon of all in his administration who might’ve been involved in torture. That’s certainly been a possibility all along, and the president’s pardon power is wide-ranging. But I should think it’s at least arguable that it has to be exercised on behalf of specific, named individuals. That makes a long-shot court challenge to an all-encompassing pardon for a class of individuals at least theoretically possible, if someone can be found who has standing. That’s probably a bigger uncertainty than the actual merits.