Thursday, May 04, 2006

Arlen Specter, lone gunman on the Hill.

Arlen Specter is going to try again today to get his colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee to grow a pair and get to the bottom of Bush's domestic spying program. Specter, a Republican, is pretty much the only member of Congress that is concerned about the government running rough shod over our civil liberties. After four hearings, including a whole bunch of bull from AG Alberto 'waterboard' Gonzales, Specter has so far come up empty. The White House is refusing to cooperate and Specter's fellow Senators are afraid of their own shadows.

Is the president violating the law, who knows? This should be a pretty serious concern for all Americans but Specter says, "On the question of whether the president has done something wrong, candidly, we don't know, because we don't know what the program is." That's the crux of the issue, how can Congress exercise its oversight duties if the White House keeps stonewalling on what it has been up to? The administration claims its NSA spying program is too secret to even tell Congress about, but something tells me that the terrorists know they're being spied on. The only people who don't know whether or not their emails are being read and their conversations bugged are the American people.

Many may feel that they don't care if their emails are being read because they're doing nothing wrong, but how do you know you're not doing anything wrong? There are peace activist out there who are being bugged, are they terrorists? A lot of what the NSA is apparently doing is called data-mining. What happens if you just happened to write a word that they just happen to be looking for that day? What happens if they look into your personal information a little closer and find out other things about you that you might not necessarily want the government looking into? Whether or not you think you’re a red blooded patriot or not, there might be someone in a dark room somewhere in the bowels of the government who doesn't like tree huggers, knitting bees or Democrats or whatever. Who knows? This is the problem with having no one looking over the government’s shoulder to make sure they're obeying the law, something this administration has a real problem doing.

This is why Specter is currently working on legislation that would require a secret court to review the spying program. Another step he has threatened to take, but hasn't made good on yet, is to pull the funding for the program. This new legislation he introduced last week would enact a "prohibition on use of funds for domestic electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes unless Congress is kept fully and currently informed."

Another arrow in Specter's quiver is the congressional subpoena. If he wanted to, he could drag in officials from the Justice Department and force them to testify as to what they're really doing. A better option might be to call in executives from AT&T, Yahoo, Google and others and get them to testify under oath about what the government has had them doing. W. & Co. could stonewall a subpoena but private citizens can't.

Trying to reason with the White House has proven to be a fruitless endeavor, just go ahead and yank the funding Mr. Senator, that's Congress' prerogative after all, isn't it? Specter says Congress is "inert," and he's absolutely correct, it's time for them wake up before they wind up being just an assembly of toothless rubber stamps. Whether he can roust any other members of the Senate out of their slumber is the big question. If Congress is content to continue to allow the executive to break what ever law it wants to and pick and choose which laws it will or will not obey, then they might has well just pack their bags and go home. Why bother to keep paying 535 people who aren't going to do their damn jobs?

Go to Hallwatch and send a fax to Senator Specter to show your suppot for his good work.


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