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United States Government Politics

Bryson Crash Reveals Threat of Headless Government 308

Hugh Pickens writes "According to Business Week, the traffic accident that left U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson unconscious and alone in his bashed-up Lexus on June 9 raises questions about why the 10th official in line to succeed the president was left so vulnerable. It also highlights potential gaps in security for senior U.S. government officials, who receive varying levels of protection. 'They lost track of him,' says James Carafano, a terrorism scholar at the Heritage Foundation. 'Post 9/11, that's a bit of a head scratcher.' Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who are high in the line of succession and have national-security responsibilities, are provided protection 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but other federal officials, even in cabinet-level positions or other top posts, often travel without the security details that even a big-city mayor or state governor would be provided. Threats to cabinet-level officials aren't overblown, says Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, who has urged that the government revamp its succession plans and says a nuclear bomb hidden in a suitcase detonated in Washington could leave a headless government. 'The lack of interest in continuity may stem from the same reasons some smart people refuse to create wills, even though failure to do so leaves behind horrific messes for their loved ones,' writes Ornstein. 'Yet the threat is real. Our leaders' failure to establish plans to ensure that our Constitution survives is irresponsible.'"
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Bryson Crash Reveals Threat of Headless Government

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  • by Alex Belits ( 437 ) * on Friday June 22, 2012 @07:58PM (#40417757) Homepage

    Why would a psychopath or narcissist care about someone who will have his power when he is dead?

    • by lightknight ( 213164 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @10:27PM (#40418465) Homepage

      On behalf of the American people, if our congressmen are stupid enough to get us into a conflict whereby it would be necessary to swear in someone a dozen people down from the President, then they deserve to burn. Why? Because any conflict that large will have the majority of the US population dead or near death, and Americans don't believe in protecting / rewarding politicians who get us killed.

      Putting the instigators in special bunkers, while the innocent have to fend for themselves against nuclear / biological / chemical kind of sends the wrong message.

      • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @10:54PM (#40418585)

        It's a false meme to start with. Citation is from the Heritage Foundation, which might as well be the softer branch of the John Birch Society. It's a way to pronounce additional fear, embarrass the Obama Administration farther than it already is, and anchor more false paranoia.

        Summary: bad question, designed to be politically subversive to the current administration with propagandized memes.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 22, 2012 @10:27PM (#40418469)

      In a republic, the death of individual "leaders" should be unimportant. The strength and continuity of the nation, rests with the people, not the individuals that serve. Elected officials are no different than any other servant of the nation. They are expendable in a very general sense. To dedicate extraordinary efforts to their security seems unbalanced when they are so easily replaced.

  • by PNutts ( 199112 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @07:58PM (#40417759)

    It's the Secretary of Education we have to protect. So say us all.

  • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @07:59PM (#40417765) Journal

    Clearly we narrowly escaped what would have been a disaster for our entire nation. Hyperbole much? Gee wiz

    • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @08:28PM (#40417901)

      Ya really. Aside from cabinet officials, you then have members of both legislative houses, theoretically the courts etc. Even the military.

      It's not like leadership wouldn't emerge, and if enough top level people just got killed you're mostly banking on whomever takes over to actually go ahead and still have future elections and so on, regardless of how exactly succession officially works.

      If you start spending huge amounts of money protecting every member of congress, every member of the senate, every senior cabinet member every assistant cabinet secretary, the courts, and then all of their immediate families etc. etc. etc. you're starting to look at billions of spending, and you start getting into serious questions about their ability to live lives relatively normally in fear of rare events.

      Sure a nuclear bomb blowing up a capital city (london paris washington etc.) would be more than a little problematic, but in that situation you can't even assume that the 2nd person in line to the throne/presidency is going to still have their mental faculties even if they are otherwise alive and physically uninjured. In that case someone will have to improvise leadership until order can be restored, assuming such a concept is even still relevant.

      • joshua will just take over then

      • by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @08:43PM (#40418001)

        We have a ridiculously long line of succession that we shouldn't be worried.

        Speaker of the House
        President Pro Tem of the Senate
        15 cabinet secretaries, starting with the Secretary of State

        Really, you just need to protect the top 3-4, unless there's a particular threat to another one (Clinton as SoS gets special protection as a former first lady, for example). It would be nearly impossible to knock out the first 20. And if they did, the House would immediately elect a new Speaker, who would be elevated to president by being speaker. So really after that you get all the ranking members of the majority party. It's not worth worrying about.

      • by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @08:55PM (#40418075)

        Here is the trick it is a representative democracy. you can kill them all (nuke DC during the state of the union address) the states can then hold elections to repopulate the federal government.

        Which is how it was done the first time around.

        The people generally don't need the federal government. it is symbolic but isn't necessary. The police, fire , even national guard are all funded from STATE coffers. As long as every state government doesn't collapse too it wouldn't take more than a year to completely rebuild the federal government.

        • by riverat1 ( 1048260 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @09:02PM (#40418119)

          During the State of the Union address there is always at least one official fairly high in the line of succession who does not attend the speech and stays in an undisclosed location specifically because of this issue.

          • by Darth_brooks ( 180756 ) <clipper377&gmail,com> on Friday June 22, 2012 @09:26PM (#40418249) Homepage

            I remember reading (Apocryphal story alert.) that the Postmaster General (or Secretary of Veterans Affairs) was usually selected for this job, and they loved it. Usually it was an excuse to have a nice party offsite for the staff, but occasionally it meant a trip on Air Force One.

          • You mean the undisclosed location Biden blurted out the location of as being under the white house? Uh oh...
            • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @10:06PM (#40418381)

              There is a hardened bunker under the whitehouse. That's not exactly secret, but there are numerous others. There's a major centre in Pennsylvania, NORAD command etc.

              The raven rock facility (in Pennsylvania but on the border with maryland) was revealed in 2004 as where cheney spent most of the latter bit of 2001 hiding out. Blame (sort of) time magazine for that one. I'm not sure it was actually much of a secret where the facility was.

              Biden actually disclosed that there's a bunker in the vice presidents house in D.C. Which again, isn't a huge surprise. You'd have expected there to be bunkers of varying quality in official housing, and on various military bases and command and control centres.


        • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 )

          The people generally don't need the federal government. it is symbolic but isn't necessary. The police, fire , even national guard are all funded from STATE coffers. As long as every state government doesn't collapse too it wouldn't take more than a year to completely rebuild the federal government.

          Well millions of people need the federal government, to pay for social security, medicare, medicaid defence etc. But most, if not all of what the federal government does day to day is executed by civil servants and can mostly plod along on its own. Without the top echelon of federal officials you just need to replace the officials.

          The federal government in the US actually outspends all the states combined by a more than 2:1 margin ( It roughly br

    • Hyperbole much? Gee wiz

      Oh, c'mon - now you're just pissing on AEI's latest little fear party.

      Accidents! Nukes! Be Afraid! Donate here!

  • wth? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Where do you draw the line? The president and VP are protected, and normally not in the same location. I dont think we are concerned with the 9th+ people in line for presidency in the event that someone manages to pick off all of the others.

    I think the concerns are unfounded.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We would be better off if we could lose track of all those in line to succeed the president, and the president himself too.

    And, all the congress critters.

    And, the corrupt supreme court.

    Time to refactor our government. Bonus, if it can be done without bloodshed.

  • by WilliamGeorge ( 816305 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @08:02PM (#40417785)

    A book by Tom Clancy, from well before 9/11, which involved most of the US government being wiped out when a plane is crashed into the capitol building during a ceremony that put almost the entire legislative and executive branches in the same building. Was sort of interesting (horrifying?) to see that sort of attack played out a few years later, albeit without the coordination to hit that much of our government in one swoop.

    • Links with info for folks interested in the book I mentioned: [] []

      • Debt of Honor has the actual attack, but it's really only in the last several pages of the book. Executive Orders [] was the book that dealt with the aftermath.

        My favorite line from the book is that Jack Ryan is registered as an Independent--not Republican or Democrat. "That's like asking what 2+2 is and finding out the answer is 'chartreuse.'"

        I'm pretty sure that's also where the line, "The Constitution is not a suicide pact" came from.

    • Well that worked out pretty well, all things considered. We just need Jack Ryan and we're golden!

      • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )
        I would love if we had a Jack Ryan-esque candidate. I would vote for him in a heartbeat. Either him or Harrison Ford's character from Air Force One. It's a shame how fictional presidents always seem better than our real ones.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Maybe it's because they don't actually have to govern or anything.

        • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @09:29PM (#40418265)

          Depends. Early Jack Ryan, or crazy-nutso hardline-conservative Jack Ryan, from when Clancy went off his meds?

          I used to be a big Clancy reader, but I haven't really kept up. I read the newest one a few months ago, and I was shocked at how much he'd turned it into his own political fantasy. He (or his ghostwriters) pack it with strawmen and the "good guys" are just *loved* by *everyone* who isn't one of those strawmen.

          Let's just look at the story. Spoiler alerts, obviously.

          A terrorist leader who is /totally/ not Bin Laden gets captured by an illegal, unofficial special forces group (which is a whole rant in itself) and basically dropped off in front of a US jail, Batman-style. The astoundingly stupid President makes a big show out of giving him a trial; his defense attorney is an ACLU hippie woman (whose breasts Clancy devotes a few too many sentences to), and even then this entire subplot is being orchestrated by an ex-Soviet still-Communist media mogul. Jack Ryan, running to be the second president to serve non-consecutive terms, makes it a major campaign issue that he will not give not-Laden an open trial, getting a standing ovation after declaring in a debate that his first act as President would be to ship him off to Gitmo for a secret military trial.

          Meanwhile, Ryan's son is off being part of the aforementioned spec-ops group, which operates not just beyond international law, but actually completely without the knowledge or even authorization of the current US government. Let me say that again - a secret group of heavily-armed people who operate completely alone, their only connection to any sort of authority being the bank safe full of blank (but signed) presidential pardons, who fund themselves by tapping into the CIANSA data link and using the data for insider trading, and whose goals are to kill any terrorist threat to America, again, without *any* sort of oversight.

          Anyways, Junior's subplot is mainly about a rogue Pakistani general's plot to steal his own country's nuclear weapons and give them to Islamic terrorists in Unpronouncablistan - and *their* plan is to mount them on hijacked space rockets to launch at Moscow. Junior, and his fellow assassins, do this by eventually *invading* Pakistan, with running gun battles through the streets that fit Call of Duty better than Rainbow Six. Oh, and Rainbow does show up again, only to be completely incompetent because international bureaucracy fucks EVERYTHING up. That's almost an exact quote, by the way.

          The C-plot is something about Clark tracking down who's behind the A-plot (spoiler: the filthy commie goes to jail too), with the obligatory East Germany/Soviet Russia backstory. Not really anything to it.

          There are random asides about irrelevant-to-the-story-but-political-hot-topics like health care (apparently socialized health care is *terrible*, and without CAPITALISM to drive them, doctors just don't give a shit and get drunk during surgeries). That's not even relevant to some D-plot, that's just random pages of POLITICS crammed in there for no good reason.

          So yeah. The only good thing I can say is that the actual prose is as good as it ever was - the details of the story are great, the action scenes are actiony, the dialog is good, but the Rand-esque political monologues and overall plot are pretty grating.

          I'm not sure if I just didn't really pay much attention to it when I read his books earlier, or if Clancy (or, again, his co-authors) are just nuts.

          • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )
            I actually haven't read his newest yet. Personally, I consider the Campus books to be Jack Jr as opposed to Jack Ryan books. I like Jack's politics when he first becomes president though. These latest books though read to me more as straight up action thrillers rather than more political thrillers like Cardinal of the Kremlin or Hunt for Red October. His best book of course is still and probably always will be Red Storm Rising.
          • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @09:53PM (#40418339)

            I find that the politics of authors can be determined soley by their glasses. Clancy has big 80s-style aviators - a sure sign that he leans rightward. Authors with comically tiny John Lennon glasses tip toward the left.

          • Couldn't agree more. I loved reading Clancy's books in H.S. & college, but then I hit a wall and realized his later ones were blatant glorification of everything military, with at least one rant per page about how the military was underfunded (oh noes!). That was in the mid-90's, so I guess the funding issue was timely. Sad to see that the storytelling went downhill (while ramping up the propaganda) from there. I'm sure that part my dissatisfaction was my own maturing and greater awareness of politi

          • by Nimey ( 114278 )

            Sounds a lot like what Terry Goodkind ended up doing a few books into his over-long series: he started heavily smoking the Objectivist crack, having his characters make Rand-esque political screeds. One of the later ones had a section that was basically his attempt at The Speech[1] in Atlas Shrugged, something like 50-60 pages straight (I shit you not) of Richard blathering about politics.

            That book was thrown against the wall and I've never touched Goodkind's stuff again.

            [1] For a reason which now escapes

    • More like they targeted other things. They were in it for the show, not a serious attempt to bring down the government.
      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        It's worth noting here that the Pentagon, as one of the largest buildings in the world, is easier to spot and hit than the Capitol building. I got the impression that the plane that hit the Pentagon was intended for the Capitol building, but that it got a bit lost. They might also not have had the time to line up on the Capitol, say if the passengers were getting restless or jet fighters were shadowing the plane.

        Further, even a direct hit on the Capitol building would be largely symbolic. The legislative
    • to see that sort of attack played out a few years later

      Impossible. These kinds of attacks were never anticipated. It was a failure of imagination.

  • Wait, what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 22, 2012 @08:12PM (#40417837)

    If a suitcase nuke goes off in Washington, "Government continuity" at that high a level is about #273 on our priority list.

    • If a suitcase nuke goes off in Washington, "Government continuity" at that high a level is about #273 on our priority list.

      Also: If a suitcase nuke takes out enough of DC that the first nine guys in line are gone it will no doubt take hours to figure out for sure that the tenth guy is the highest-ranking one left, even if he's NOT knocked out on the side of the road.

      • Maybe someone will nuke the AEI first? And second too? There is no such thing as a suitcase nuke and there never was. There were some semiportable 'backpack' nukes which had a whopping yield of a few tenths to at most one or to kiloton. That's not taking out DC and might not even take out the bunkers under the white house.

        • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
          There was never a "briefcase" nuke. But "suitcase" nukes are a matter of debate. The nuke from, say, Armageddon (just to pick something many people have seen) would fit in a customized trunk not much larger than military trunks I've seen shipped on US commercial flights (which I'm asserting to be the definition of "suitcase" in this context). Certainly much larger than the largest Samsonite, but still something that could make its way onto a flight as checked baggage.
    • by Fned ( 43219 )

      Priority #1: A gigantic three-day wake to celebrate the lives of those who were tragically killed in the attack.
      Priority #2: A more somber affair to mourn the passing of those who weren't politicians or lobbyists.

  • Paranoid? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gallondr00nk ( 868673 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @08:13PM (#40417839)

    Threats to cabinet-level officials aren't overblown... a nuclear bomb hidden in a suitcase detonated in Washington could leave a headless government.

    No, not overblown in the slightest.

  • I think the Constitution will survive a nuclear holocaust in D.C. just fine. It's a set of intangible ideas. What might not survive it is the One Percent's hold on government by proxy. Which makes me wonder about Ornstein's pedigree given that he would make such a misdirected statement.

    • by dpilot ( 134227 )

      Quoth Alexander Haig, "I'm in charge!"

      Quoth Kirk Douglas, and Tony Curtis, etc, etc, etc, "I am Spartacus!" (had to throw that one in)

    • I think the Constitution will survive a nuclear holocaust in D.C. just fine.

      Is that some kind of joke about cockroaches?

  • a nuclear bomb hidden in a suitcase detonated in Washington could leave a headless government

    wouldn't lying unconscious and alone in your car protect you from such an attack?

  • I'm an Afghan citizen of US descent. I'm about 450 millionth in line. Seriously.

    I live in Kabul, and I'm in great danger every day. You never know, those drones, heh. Anyway, second exit off the Kabul western highway. Take the second right and continue until you reach the camel. Then take a left and it's around a mile down. It's the yellow crack shack. Please send two CIA agents full time!

  • Not a problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @08:43PM (#40418005)

    Congress already lacks brains, ears, eyes, hearts, guts, and balls.

    I don't see how being headless would change much.

  • Right, because I forgot about all these huge "terrorist" plots to kill the 10th in line to the presidency. The idea that there are all these "terrorists" plotting to destroy the world is simply unsubstantiated.

    I think the author of this article has been reading too many Tom Clancy novels. Of course Clinton and Panetta are going to get protection, people know who they are and they actually do stuff. How many people even know that Bryson was the secretary of commerce. Heck, does the average American even
  • ...continue the fight while civil and military survivors would adapt to the changed circumstances.

    Losing a few bureaucrats would be disruptive, but lets remember that nations can lost upwards of twenty million people (USSR-WWII) and continue to function. They can lost multiple cities to conventional bombing raids and nuclear attack, and still continue some function.

  • by NoKaOi ( 1415755 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @08:47PM (#40418039)

    If they'd had Google Maps Coordinate [] this wouldn't have happened.

  • "...nuclear bomb hidden in a suitcase detonated in Washington could leave a headless government."

    We should be so lucky.

    But seriously... ahh, no I was serious.

    And further: "Our leaders' failure to establish plans to ensure that our Constitution survives is irresponsible."

    The only "leaders" we have are statistics generated by polls which is why I made my first comment.

  • by edremy ( 36408 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @08:52PM (#40418065) Journal
    doesn't have protection, it's that mayors, assistant Governors, and the like do. Seriously, it's not necessary for a mayor to bring a multi-person security detail with them everywhere, nor is it necessary for them to get high speed police escorts where ever they need to drive. We don't live in Afghanistan. It's simply not that dangerous- there are plenty of mayors, governors and the like who *don't* have protection layered around them and there hasn't been a wave of assassination attempts on them.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You really don't get out of your mother's basement much, do you?

      There are neighborhoods in every major city where idiots with guns could, and would, threaten local civial authority without that protection, even at peacable speeches. They don't bring the guards all the time, but whack jobs with agendas happen at lots of big speeches, and a few guards to help make sure the doors open when they should and the person can get to their transportation without being tripped or shot with a tasser by a nut is basic s

      • by khipu ( 2511498 )

        Given that elected officials are responsible for those conditions and for stoking the anger, maybe not allowing them to bring a security detail would encourage them to change their rhetoric.

    • by guises ( 2423402 )
      The mayor has to have his posse, because that's the only way people will know he's a bigshot. This kind of "security" isn't really about security - it may be used a number of different ways, but none of them are there to make us safer.

      I've only ever been to Washington D.C. twice, but once was in 1994 and once was in 2008 and I was shocked at what the city had been turned into in that time. The grand facades of the public buildings, with huge staircases and entrances made to accommodate large numbers of pe
      • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

        Yup, the executive floor of my company headquarters has bulletproof glass, and the CEO travels with a contingent of guards who even clear elevators for him assuming that he didn't get on from the private parking area where the car is programmed to ensure a private ride. The secretary desks around the executive area come complete with panic buttons.

        What would the company do with a few less executives? I'm sure they live in fear for their lives on their helicopter rides home...

    • by seifried ( 12921 )
      Mayor of New York city comes to mind, population: 8.2 million, compared to countries that makes it the 96th most populated country (out of 242).
  • Suitcase? Mice Nuts! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NicknamesAreStupid ( 1040118 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @09:01PM (#40418115)
    The recent U.S. Open reminded me of the previous event at the Olympic Club, held near the end of the last millennium -- 1998. I was working for a company that was a big customer of Cadence. And Cadence put on the dog by inviting us and others to party in San Francisco to celebrate the Open (tickets, too). There were limos, a long pitch from Scott McNealy (2 minutes about Java and 20 minutes about Bill Gate's evil empire), and a performance by Stomp, but the final act was the clincher. It was a renown reporter, whose name escapes me, that was part of the White House press corp during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. He told stories about how the press did not talk about the personal lives of Presidents back then, about how Lyndon Johnson made Bill Clinton, who was being impeached, look like a choir boy, and then the big finish. He told us about a private interview with JFK where he mentioned rumors of a nuke built inside the Russian Embassy, just blocks from the Capitol. Apparently, it was smuggled in pieces using diplomatic exemptions and assembled in a lead-lined room in the top floor. Big enough to wipe out the entire metropolitan area, Kennedy responded, "You know about that, too, eh?"
  • Constitution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Curunir_wolf ( 588405 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @09:05PM (#40418133) Homepage Journal

    Yet the threat is real. Our leaders' failure to establish plans to ensure that our Constitution survives is irresponsible.'

    The majority of those leaders are a bigger threat to the survival of the Constitution where they are than if they are gone.

  • Are the biggest danger to the Constitution.

  • by rrossman2 ( 844318 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @09:35PM (#40418279)

    For example, the president. Before they are anything, they are a normal citizen like the rest of us. They run for the position and get elected it. Every 4 years they are possibly replaced with a new person. So I ask, if something happened to them, why would we care any more than if something happened to a relative, friend, etc? Why is it really do important to protect them and others "in office". They get replaced all the time (well should anyhow instead of sitting in congress/senate forever). The older I get the more I question the need for all that.. Why they should be protected than any other citizen.

    • I don't think it's so much about the individual person that's holding the office. But that it would be an affront to the *office* that people would be shocked by the attack. And it would be a ginormous PITA to replace them.

      Well, that's my wishful thinking, anyway. ;-)

  • by Alien Being ( 18488 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @09:48PM (#40418323)

    The U.S. Commerce secretary is driving a foreign car? Nice.

  • The best laid plans go out the window In an emergency. Herd mentality kicks in and people follow whoever can stand up and say with confidence that they're taking charge of things. In 1981, when Reagan was shot, it was Alexander Haig, despite being fourth in line of succession.

  • As long a the top top are protected for assassination then we should be fine, if someone has killed this guy I am sure everything would of continued as normal.
    And it would not matter how many security guards he had if someone detonated a nuke in Washington.
    Also if the government was nuked I would hope that the military was prepared and ready to protect the country in such a state. And let not give the government too much credit, it would not take that long to regrow the head stronger then ever. Ether that t

  • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @10:13PM (#40418405)

    politicians are as disposable and replaceable as toilet paper, this is not remotely a concern. 99% are just a bunch of power and money grubbing scum in the pockets of mega-corporations, their lives and actions are only a detriment to society and mankind

  • no no no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ralph Spoilsport ( 673134 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @10:15PM (#40418417) Journal
    If a nuke took out DC, the military would take over in about... 15 minutes. Maybe 20. The "chain of command" bullshit is just window dressing for the naive. The banks and the military industrial complex run the USA. Period, end of story. The civilian government is maintained because it give people the illusion they have some political agency. They don't. So if a nuke ever took out DC, the next ruler of the USA would likely be the highest ranking general or admiral available and willing to step up and be the object of disgust. The first thing would be a "calm down, we're fixing this" statement to america, followed by a "we will set up new elections as soon as we can" statement, so the military industrial complex and the banking industry can go back to doing what they do best - looting the treasury in secret.
  • Members not seats (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @11:05PM (#40418637)

    From the article;

    Each house needs half of its members to be present for a quorum to do any official business. The House of Representatives can replace deceased members only by special elections that take, on average, four months. The Senate, under the 17th Amendment, allows states (usually governors) to appoint replacements to fill vacancies, but neither house has a mechanism for replacing incapacitated members.

    Members do not need to be replaced. Here is a quote from the Office of the Clerk of the US House of Representatives [].

    A quorum in the House of Representatives is when a majority of the Members are present. When there are no vacancies in the membership, a quorum is 218. When one or more seats are vacant, because of deaths or resignations, the quorum is reduced accordingly. Because of Members' other duties, a quorum often is not present on the House floor. But any Member may insist that a quorum must participate in any vote that takes place in the House. If a Member makes a point of order that a quorum is not present, and the Speaker agrees, a series of bells ring on the House side of the Capitol and in the House office buildings to alert Members to come to the Chamber and record their presence.

    Here are a few points that are important;
    1. Quorum is calculated relative to the number of sitting live Representatives and not the number of seats. A dead Representative is considered a vacancy and is not counted toward quorum. If all but three of the Representatives were killed than 2 would constitute a quorum.
    2. Quorum does not need to be present for a vote unless at least one Representative asks for one. In an emergency I doubt and Representative would make such a request.
    3. As for incapacitated members, the House can declare a seat vacant by vote (Note: Unless a member requests a quorum is not required for a vote).
    The same standards are present for the Senate [].

    A straightforward reading of the Constitution’s quorum requirement would seem to require a simple majority of Senators, or a minimum of 51 if there are no vacancies in the body, to be present on the floor whenever the Senate conducts business.

    As the House and Senate would still be functioning after such a disaster, the House could elect a Speaker or the Senate elect a President pro tempore and the line of succession would be restored.
    The article misrepresents the quorum issue. Basically, as long as there is one member of the House or Senate alive and not incapacitated an acting President will be legally found.

    • by khipu ( 2511498 )

      3. As for incapacitated members, the House can declare a seat vacant by vote (Note: Unless a member requests a quorum is not required for a vote).

      I can't find this provision. What mechanism prevents the majority party from simply declaring all opposing seats vacant?

      • From this article []:

        Benson said a vacancy for Giffords' 8th District congressional seat could be declared only by the U.S. House of Representatives and "not the state of Arizona."

        Here is another article [] not so supportive of the idea. It states as follows;

        However, no such precedent exists for a sitting Member of either House who has taken the oath of office, and a vacancy with respect to such a sitting Member would generally exist only by virtue of resignation, death, acceptance of an incompatible office, or expulsion.

        Note that it does not say it can not be done but that it has not been done. In emergency conditions it may have to be done.

        What mechanism prevents the majority party from simply declaring all opposing seats vacant?

        1. A vote would have to be held for every removal. Unless the majority party had 2/3 majority they could not stop debate and the minority party could filibuster till the next election.
        2. Any party who tried this would get zero seats in the next election. No party is going to do this to gain two

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @03:22AM (#40419383) Homepage

    Back in 1947, the present rules of presidential succession were set up. The present line of succession has 18 people. That ought to be enough.

    When this is a real worry, a few of those people should be in a bunker. During presidential inaugurations and presidential speeches to Congress, that's actually done; at least one person in the line of succession is in a safe place far away. It's usually someone far down the list, but in 2001 Dick Cheney (VP) was sent to the "undisclosed location", and in 2003, Ashcroft (AG) got bunker duty. In 2005, 2006, and 2007, the president pro tem of the Senate went to the bunker. In 2009, Holder (the AG) got the duty. Since then, after most of a decade with no significant terrorist attacks, it's back to the low-rankers.

    In terms of actual threat, nobody in the US presidential line of succession has ever been assassinated.

    This is a problem for which a solution was implemented long ago, back when a major war looked like a likely possibility.

  • reveals? (Score:4, Funny)

    by khipu ( 2511498 ) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @04:02AM (#40419477)

    Seems to me we have been experimenting with "headless government" pretty frequently for the past two centuries.

  • by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @07:27AM (#40420057)

    One of the great things about a democracy is it's impossible to decapitate. You kill the top guy, or even the top 20 guys, and we'll just promote their subordinates for a few months, hold a special election, and we're back in business. It's a self-repairing system. There is no need to protect *anybody* in power: they're all expendable. As a practical matter, it's nice to have a secret service to protect the president, but that's just because replacing him every time he gets killed would be inconvenient.

    The paranoid hyper-protectivism pushed by the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation reflects the fact that they don't actually believe in democracy. They believe that the man running the country is more important than the ideas he was elected to represent -- in short, they're fascists. They're such fascists, that they believe this even when they guy running the country is someone they hate. And one of the many, many problems with fascism is that fascists are really easy to terrorize. Just threaten the Supreme Leader, and they're in the palm of your hand.

    In contrast, a true democracy is difficult to terrorize. You can threaten individual citizens, but there is no one person, no symbol or place of power, that you can destroy to bring it to its knees.

  • Oh stfu (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Internetuser1248 ( 1787630 ) on Saturday June 23, 2012 @10:33AM (#40420763)
    "a nuclear bomb hidden in a suitcase detonated in Washington could leave a headless government. "

    Oh shut the fuck up no one cares about your FUD mindless fear mongering doomsday scenarios. Extra bodyguards on mindless government drone #10 wouldn't prevent that anyway.

    Just a suggestion though, if you are going to base your population control on the Machiavellian ideals of fear and an iron fist, biological attacks are far more likely, realistic and effective. They are virtually impossible to prevent or control (FUD++) and could do a lot more damage than just killing off your useless overfed government. If you are going to make up bullshit to keep folks in line at least have some imagination ffs.

"There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain