S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Small victories

Congress has gone home for the holidays. Their most closing actions were a "mixed bag." A couple of writers at TPM Cafe post articles discuss some very big losses, such as the V.P. breaking a tie to pass the budget and passage of massive tax cuts that will send the deficit soaring, for perhaps decades. Despite this, Democrats and moderate Republicans were able to make small differences in legislative outcomes. Kos calls the roll in Congress; see the significant cross-over legislators.

There was some good news (linked to blog title)this past week, and it deserves more notice. Reuters reports,

The Republican-led U.S. Congress was close to wrapping up its work for the year on Thursday in the wake of an unexpected string of Democratic successes on matters from energy to spending to security. Senate Democrats thwarted a permanent renewal of the anti-terrorism USA Patriot Act, setting up instead a temporary six-month extension of expiring provisions so changes can be considered to better safeguard civil liberties. It was a defeat for President George W. Bush, who had argued the law was mandatory for safeguarding U.S. citizens. . . Bush, who has been battling sinking approval ratings, has seen his clout in Congress diminished by recent scandals affecting top Republicans, as well as the recent revelation that he secretly ordered domestic eavesdropping on U.S. citizens.

Senator Ted Stevens lost his obsessive battle to drill for oil in ANWR, at least for the time being. According to this NYT article,

The crucial vote on Arctic oil drilling was cast as its backers tried to cut off debate on the $453.3 billion Pentagon measure to which it had been attached. But they fell four votes short of the 60 they needed, as two Republicans joined Senate Democrats to thwart Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, a longtime champion of Arctic drilling. "This has been the saddest day of my life," said Mr. Stevens, 82, as he watched victory slip away again in his 25-year crusade for drilling in the refuge.
There is still a chance to revise the embattled Patriot Act; it was extended for six months in order to fix three of its most troublesome elements. This is a very welcome headline, indeed. "Patriot Act extended." The New York Times reports that,

Critics say the proposed four-year renewal, which the House approved last week, is too slanted in the government's favor regarding national security letters and special subpoenas that give the FBI significant leeway in obtaining records. The targeted people should have a greater opportunity to challenge such subpoenas and the government should be required to show stronger evidence linking the items being sought to possible terrorism, they say. Now they have more time to press their case in the bill's rewrite.
On other fronts there were some stories that were good news because they have represented bad news for the Republicans.

This apt NYT headline, "News of Surveillance is Awkward for Agency," describes why this is good news. To quote from the body of the story,

In fact, since 2002, authorized by a secret order from President Bush, the agency has intercepted the international phone calls and e-mail messages of hundreds, possibly thousands, of American citizens and others in the United States without obtaining court orders. The discrepancy between the public claims and the secret domestic eavesdropping disclosed last week have put the N.S.A., the nation's largest intelligence agency, and General Hayden, now principal deputy director of national intelligence, in an awkward position. While a few important members of Congress were informed of the special eavesdropping program, several lawmakers have said they and the public were misled. The episode could revive old fears that the secret agency is a sort of high-tech Big Brother. It was such fears - based on genuine abuses before the mid-1970's, hyperbolic press reports and movie myths - that General Hayden worked to counter as the agency's director from 1999 until last April.
"The image of N.S.A. has been muddied considerably by this revelation," said Matthew M. Aid, an intelligence historian who is writing a multiple-volume history of the agency. Mr. Aid said several agency employees he spoke with on Friday were disturbed to learn of the special program, which was known to only a small number of officials. "All the N.S.A. people I've talked to think domestic surveillance is (an) anathema," Mr. Aid said.

The New York times reports that an appeals court has refused to allow the transfer of terrorist suspect, Jose Padilla, to civilian authority. Quote,

A federal appeals court delivered a sharp rebuke to the Bush administration
Wednesday, refusing to allow the transfer of Jose Padilla from military custody to civilian law enforcement authorities to face terrorism charges. In denying the administration's request, the three-judge panel unanimously issued a strongly worded opinion that said the Justice Department's effort to transfer Mr. Padilla gave the appearance that the government was trying to manipulate the court system to prevent the Supreme Court from reviewing the case. The judges warned that the administration's behavior in the Padilla case could jeopardize its credibility before the courts in other terrorism cases.

A U.S. court ruled that a school district cannot teach "intelligent design" in biology lessons. Of course the decision will probably be appealed. According to a BBC article,

A US court decision to ban the teaching of "intelligent design" has been hailed
by anti-creationism campaigners. A federal judge ruled in favour of 11 parents in Dover, Pennsylvania, who argued that Darwinian evolution must be taught as fact in biology lessons. School administrators had argued that life on Earth was too complex to have evolved on its own. Intelligent design activists criticised the ruling, saying it would marginalise beliefs based on religion.

Overall, the news could have been worse.


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