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Smithsonian: the Vice Presidents that time forgot

For all you Presidential historians out there, the Smithsonian has a funny/sad/strange article about the history of the vice-presidency — a job that John Adams, the first vice-president, described as “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived” and John Nance Garner, the 32nd VP from 1933-1941, said “wasn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.” Read on. It may make you want to visit Huntington, Indiana and the Quayle Vice Presidential Learning Center (yes THAT Quayle :-)).

Read more:The Vice Presidents That History Forgot: The U.S. vice presidency has been filled by a rogues gallery of mediocrities, criminals and even corpses. Tony Horwitz. Smithsonian magazine, July-August 2012

The Constitution also failed to specify the powers and status of vice presidents who assumed the top office. In fact, the second job was such an afterthought that no provision was made for replacing VPs who died or departed before finishing their terms. As a result, the office has been vacant for almost 38 years in the nation’s history.

Until recently, no one much cared. When William R.D. King died in 1853, just 25 days after his swearing-in (last words: “Take the pillow from under my head”), President Pierce gave a speech addressing other matters before concluding “with a brief allusion” to the vice president’s death. Other number-twos were alive but absentee, preferring their own homes or pursuits to an inconsequential role in Washington, where most VPs lived in boardinghouses (they had no official residence until the 1970s). Thomas Jefferson regarded his vice presidency as a “tranquil and unoffending station,” and spent much of it at Monticello. George Dallas (who called his wife “Mrs. Vice”) maintained a lucrative law practice, writing of his official post: “Where is he to go? What has he to do?—no where, nothing.” Daniel Tompkins, a drunken embezzler described as a “degraded sot,” paid so little heed to his duties that Congress docked his salary.

[HT to BoingBoing!]

NARA invokes emergency plan to deal with deluge of White House data

The New York Times reports today on the problems the National Archives faces in acquiring, organizing, managing, preserving and making available the records of the Bush White House.

The National Archives has put into effect an emergency plan to handle electronic records from the Bush White House amid growing doubts about whether its new $144 million computer system can cope with the vast quantities of digital data it will receive when President Bush leaves office on Jan. 20.

Among the problems NARA faces? Volume: NARA anticipates getting 100 terabytes of data 50 times the what they got from the Clinton White House. This is the equivalent of five times the contents of all 20 million catalogued books in the Library of Congress.

Cooperation: “Millions of White House e-mail messages created from 2003 to 2005 appear to be missing and may not be recoverable. And in September 2007, the top lawyer at the National Archives wrote in a memorandum that he had ‘made almost zero progress’ planning the transition because the White House had ignored repeated requests for information about the volume and formats of electronic records.” In addition, Vice-President Cheney’s lawyers claimed in a court filing that neither NARA nor the court “may supervise the vice president or his office” for compliance with the Presidential Records Act.

Formats: NARA says that there are a large numbers of White House records created with proprietary commercial software.

Access: Paul Brachfeld, the archives’ inspector general, said “The electronic records archives system may be able to take in a tremendous amount of e-mail and other records…. But just because you ingest the data does not mean that people can locate, identify, recover and use the records they need.”

Bush E-Mails May Be Secret a Bit Longer, Cheney asserts sole right of review of his records

Bush E-Mails May Be Secret a Bit Longer, by R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, December 21, 2008; A01.

Legal Battles, Technical Difficulties Delay Required Transfer to Archives…

The required transfer in four weeks of all of the Bush White House’s electronic mail messages and documents to the National Archives has been imperiled by a combination of technical glitches, lawsuits and lagging computer forensic work, according to government officials, historians and lawyers.

…The risks that the transfer may be incomplete are also pointed up by a continuing legal battle between a coalition of historians and nonprofit groups over access to Vice President Cheney’s records. The coalition is contesting the administration’s assertion in federal court this month that he “alone may determine what constitutes vice presidential records or personal records” and “how his records will be created, maintained, managed, and disposed,” without outside challenge or judicial review.

…The National Archives and Records Administration is supposed to help monitor the completeness of the historical record but has no enforcement powers over White House records management practices.

Plum Book becomes political

We’ve posted previously about the Plum Book and how this simple US govt phonebook has been surreptitiously changed to further a political agenda. Now Think Progress has picked up the story. They point out that both the 2004 and 2008 editions offer a startling — and erroneous — assertion: The office of the Vice President is not in the executive branch. Both versions put the description of the VP’s office last under “Appendices,” rather than in the Executive Branch section:

The Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter. The Vice Presidency performs functions in both the legislative branch (see article I, section 3 of the Constitution) and in the executive branch (see article II, and amendments XII and XXV, of the Constitution, and section 106 of title 3 of the United States Code).

The 1996 and 2000 versions unambiguously include the Office of the Vice President in the executive branch.

Blogging the debates

You can tell we’re coming down the home stretch of the 2008 presidential election as we’re being bombarded with ads, and more information than we can read even if we’d aced the Evelyn Wood [w:Speed reading] course! Luckily, there are more and more sites popping up to help us sift through those info-mountains. A couple of weeks ago, we posted about some mapping tools based on publicly available polling data.

now, VoterWatch (5/25/14 link updated to archived copy at Internet Archive) has released the 2008 Presidential Debates Project. On September 26, the night of the first Presidential debate, Dick Morris, Cynthia McKinney and many others will provide commentary and perspective surrounding the debates. Best of all, they’ll use the VoterWatch media player, to comment and blog within footage of the U.S. presidential debates. So, feel free to get your analysis from the paid presidential supporters in [w:spin alley] (which John Stewart aptly renamed “deception lane!”), OR check out the analysis from across the political spectrum from the likes of Brett Winterble of Covert Radio, Green Party Presidential Candidate, Cynthia McKinney, Political Author and Commentator, Dick Morris, Political Strategist, Sophia Nelson, Public Agenda, Reason Magazine, The Bob Barr for President Team, The Heritage Foundation, and VoteGopher.