November 29th, 2011

It's Just A Bill

Over the past three or four days at least a dozen UK or Canadian people on my friends list have posted an entry about a Senate bill that would allow the president to indefinitely detain pretty much anyone.

What everyone seems to be missing is that this means nothing. Even if passed by the Senate it would mean nothing. The American system is much, much more complex when it comes to law making than parliamentary systems.

Here's how a bill becomes law in the United States:

1. It get discussed in one of the committees of either the Senate or the House of Representatives. If and only if that committee approves it does it go to vote in that house of Congress.

2. Should it pass that house of congress it is still nowhere near a law. It then has to be sent to the other other house of congress for their committee to vote on it and decide if that house of congress will pass the bill as well. (And let me tell you, the current House of Representatives is in no rush to give the current president more power.)

3. Should it pass the second house of congress it's still not done yet. Because minor changes will have been made in it along the way, it then has to get voted on by a joint committee composed of members of both houses of congress.

4. Next, it then has to be voted on another time by both houses of congress. At this point it is still not a law.

5. Now it has to be signed by the president - who is not likely to sign a controversial law like this during election season. But, even at this point, the process is still not over.

6. Finally, anyone can ask a federal judge to look at the law. If any one of the federal judges doesn't like the law he or she can implement a permanent injunction against the law - in effect stopping it in its tracks. Federal judges are lifetime appointments and have few, if any, political ties.

7. Should any judge issue an injunction against the law that can only be overturned by the Supreme Court, which hears a very, very limited number of cases a year.

Because of these endless numbers of checks and balances people in both houses of congress put together ridiculous bills just to score political points - knowing that there is no way in hell they will ever become law.

So, really, don't worry too much about this one. But, do watch this video that they show American schoolchildren to explain the process, because it's a really, really fun video.

Berlin Bites

Putting Rome Girl on the train to Berlin this morning reminds me of the last time I put a girl in Montpellier on a train there.

This was back in 1989, and the cold war was still on. The girl was a fellow student here and a total partier to the point where we were worried she'd sleep in and miss the early morning train.

So, we stayed up with her all night at the after hours student disco and then walked her onto the train where she promptly passed out.

The next day I get a call from her at my host family's house. She was hungover and confused.

"Don't they use our alphabet in Germany," she asked me.

"Um, yeah," I said. "Why?"

"Because I'm in the train station and the signs and stuff are using letters I've never seen before," she said. "It's weird."

"Um, you are using your family's AT&T card to call me, right," I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"Ok," I responded. "Do me a favor. Hang up, go outside the train station and look at the sign above it and then call me back and tell me what it says."

"Ok," she said.

About 10 minutes later she called me back.

"It says 'Warszawa,", she replied.

"Holy fuck," was all I could respond.

We never did find out why no conductors or border guards bothered to wake her up before she got there.