As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On the Other Hand...

And now, in my typically schizophrenic way, let me talk about some of the good things going on in Congress.

Nancy Pelosi did file the lawsuit against Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers, in an attempt to force them to testify in the US Attorney firings. This is a case where the lawsuit is arguably more important than the information Congress wants to receive as a result of it. The separation of powers and the need for Congress to conduct meaningful and Constitutionally mandated oversight is crucial to our continuing as a democracy. Furthermore, it's time we nipped the expansion of "executive privilege" in the bud. George Bush has taken it to mean that everyone who ever talked to the President at any point is covered by the privilege, even if, as he admits, he had no discussion with these two over the US Attorney firings. Despite what should be an open and shut case, the dark cloud on the horizon is this:

The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge John Bates, an appointee of President Bush and a former prosecutor in the Whitewater criminal investigation of the Clintons in the 1990s.

This is really not good because if the precedent becomes Bush's theory of executive privilege, we've lost Congress as a viable entity. But if Congress did nothing, the same precedent would hold. So they have to press this.

We've also seen hearings on executive pay last week, and once that gets into the ugly light of day it'll be hard for CEOs to continue enriching themselves to the ridiculous degree they do. I liked my Congressman's statement on the two Americas.

“There seem to be two economic realities operating in our country today,” Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, the committee chairman, said as the hearing opened Friday morning. “Most Americans live in a world where economic security is precarious and there are real economic consequences for failure. But our nation’s top executives seem to live by a different set of rules.”

Most important, there's talk of a new FISA deal in the House, which is substantially better than the first leaked deal from last week.

In continued defiance of the White House, House Democratic leaders are readying a proposal that would reject giving legal protection to the phone companies that helped in the National Security Agency’s program of wiretapping without warrants after the Sept. 11 attacks, Congressional officials said Monday.

Instead of blanket immunity, the tentative proposal would give the federal courts special authorization to hear classified evidence and decide whether the phone companies should be held liable. House Democrats have been working out the details of their proposal in the last few days, officials said, and expect to take it to the House floor for a vote on Thursday….

It would impose tougher restrictions on National Security Agency eavesdropping than the Senate version does by requiring court approval before the agency’s wiretapping procedures, instead of approval after the fact. It would also reject retroactive immunity for the phone carriers [...]

Under the proposal, the courts would be given authority to hear classified evidence in the civil suits — perhaps on an “ex parte” basis, with only one side in attendance — to determine whether the companies are immune from liability. Officials said the proposal would most likely give that authority to a federal district court, but it is possible that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington could be given that authority instead….

If the telecoms could present evidence in their defense, a key argument made by the Bush Administration, that the phone companies can't defend themselves in court and therefore need immunity, would be lost. Moving the decision to the federal courts on whether or not to give immunity also makes more sense than allowing Congress to do it. This is not a bill that would ever be signed, but it strings out the discussion of the bill. Personally I don't think anything should pass. And the continuing negotiations on FISA suggests that nothing will this year. Once again, there's no public constituency for telecom amnesty, and thus no reason to give it to a Bush Administration that just wants to immunize themselves.

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