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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Congress is back and what are they doing?

Elections, ethics and hearings are the stuff of the day as Congress tackles a short session before leaving again for the fall elections. Politico takes an in-depth look at 10 [races] . . . worth watching closely in "2008's hot House, Senate races," by Tim Grieve, 9/9/08. To quote: "Eight weeks from Tuesday, voters will elect 435 House members and 35 senators." Democrats have a real chance to increase the size of their majorities. But all those races will inevitably be influenced by the news of the day, both domestic and foreign.

In the past politics "stopped at the water's edge," when it came to foreign relations, but no more. The foreign relations problem of Russia vs. Georgia is something with Congress wrestles. The presidential candidates, however, are not terribly far apart on their positions, according to

The fallout from Russia’s conflict with Georgia is producing an unusual split in American politics — not between the parties so much as between the presidential candidates and their colleagues in Congress.

Congressional Committee Chairmen are staying busy. The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Vermont Democratic Senator Pat Leahy, will be meeting to hear what the FBI Director has to say about his new surveillance guidelines. And Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY) will continue his attempt to get off the hotseat. This all according to Matt Berman, who writes "The Daily Muck" (9/15/08) at TPM Muckraker. To quote:

The Justice Department proposed new FBI guidelines on Friday that would apply to national security and foreign intelligence threats. The guidelines, which would expand physical surveillance, have come under heavy criticism by the ACLU and some Democrats for possibly allowing for racial, ethnic, and religious targeting. FBI Director Robert Muller is set to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the guidelines on Wednesday. (AP)

. . . Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Charlie Rangel (D-NY) has decided to hire a forensic accounting expert to assist him in his growing problems stemming from unreported income and unpaid taxes on his Dominican Republic beach house. The accountant, who is yet to be hired, will go through Rangel's finances and later deliver a report to the House ethics committee. (AP)

Legislation and more Bush administration scandal is looming -- There will not be enough time to pass much legislation, except perhaps something dealing with energy. A good story about this is in ProPublica, 9/11/08, by Paul Keil and is headlined, "Will Scandal Shake Up Offshore Drilling Bill?" To quote:

A series of inspector general reports alleging cocaine use and government regulators literally jumping into bed with Big Oil would make a splash regardless of when it came. But whether it was PR panache on the inspector general's part or a happy coincidence, yesterday's reports came just as Congress is set to debate expanding offshore drilling.

There will be hearings. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has argued that "the allegations of illicit and unethical behavior...are directly related to the energy debate taking place in the Congress this week."

While it would seem that all is quiet in congress on the domestic surveillance front, civil libertarians, constitution lovers, nay-sayers, and disgruntled progressives are far from quiescent. In daily checking, my aggregator's "Investigative Faves" folder continues to bring important stories. Examples follow:

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft defended the Constitution, according to the ACLU blog's great little overview of the occasion. Glenn Greenwald at writes at greater length, "What illegal "things" was the government doing in 2001-2004?" (Sept. 15, 2008). To quote:

. . . Barton Gellman's new book on the Cheney Vice Presidency, . . provides still more details . . . DOJ's refusal to certify the legality of the NSA's domestic spying activities. As has been known ever since Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified before the Senate in May, 2007, all of the top-level DOJ officials -- including Attorney General John Ashcroft, Comey and FBI Director Robert Mueller -- told President Bush they would resign immediately because Bush ordered the NSA surveillance program to continue even after his own Justice Department told him it was patently illegal.
. . . we almost certainly would have learned the answers . . . or, at the very least, obtained a judicial ruling that the Government broke the law -- had the telecom lawsuits been allowed to proceed. But thanks to the Congressional leadership of both parties, with the support of both major presidential candidates (though over the opposition of the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee), those lawsuits were killed, stopped in their tracks, when the telecom industry was retroactively immunized for their lawbreaking. At this point, it is extremely easy to understand why not only the White House and Congressional Republicans, but also the Democratic leadership, was so eager to ensure that this law-breaking remain concealed from the public and that there are never any consequences for it. It's because, as is true for so much of the Bush radicalism and lawbreaking over the years, top Democrats were fully aware of what was taking place and either explicitly endorsed the lawbreaking or, with full complicity, allowed it to continue. In his book, Gellman details a March 10, 2004 meeting convened by Dick Cheney regarding the DOJ's objections to the NSA surveillance programs -- in which various Bush national security officials were present along with "the four ranking members of the House and the Senate, and the chairmen and vice chairmen of the intelligence committees"
. . . Though there is dispute about whether these members of Congress expressly endorsed the continuation of the illegal program, there is no dispute that the meeting took place and that these members were repeatedly briefed on the spying program -- not only after 2004, but before 2004. This specific meeting described by Gellman, and the briefings generally, included Nancy Pelosi, Jane Harman, Steney Hoyer, and Jay Rockefeller -- all of whom voted to put an end to the telecom lawsuits (and thereby ensure that these crimes remain concealed), and the latter two of whom were, far and away, the key forces behind the new law that killed the lawsuits looking into these spying activities (and then joined Bush and Cheney at a festive, bipartisan White House signing ceremony to celebrate their joint victory).

And finally, some follow-up on telecom immunity, just so you know: "Justice Department Moving to Immunize Snooping Telcos," is from David Kravets at Wired - Threat Level, (9/12/08). To quote:

Two months ago, President Bush won congressional approval to immunize the nation's telecommunications companies from lawsuits accusing them of helping Bush funnel Americans' electronic communications to the National Security Agency without warrants -- all in the name of national security following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

But the telecoms, facing 36 lawsuits commingled as one in a San Francisco federal court, still haven't been granted immunity in the lawsuits alleging they breached their customers' Fourth Amendment right to privacy. On Friday, however, Justice Department special counsel Anthony Coppolino said the government would comply with the immunity bill's procedural hurdles by Sept. 19 to seek blanket immunity on behalf of the companies.

. . . Among other things -- if the legislation stands -- the telecoms are off the hook if the Justice Department can prove, in sealed documents to the court, that the telecoms' assistance was, among other things, the result of a court order; or authorized under the Protect America Act of 2007 or was approved by the president and designed "to detect or prevent a terrorist attack, or in activities in preparation for a terrorist attack, against the United States, and the subject of a written request or directive."

Today in the history of the Constitution, on September 16 in 1787, Thomas Jefferson was traveling in Italy. And on the following day, September 17, 1787, the signing of the Constitution took place. So get ready to celebrate Constitution Day tomorrow with me as I write another post on the subject.

View my current slide show about the Bush years -- "Millennium" -- at the bottom of this column.

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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