Thursday, October 05, 2006

Congressional Year In Review

There's not a whole lot, unfortunately, to review here. Most major legislation got bogged down in disagreement and never made it to the President's desk. Immigration reform, the estate tax/minimum wage bill... yeah, didn't happen. Hell, I don't even think we have a budget yet. Fortunately, the Stupid Constitutional Amendment Brigade crashed and burned as well. Here's what did pass, to the best of my recollection:

- The Patriot Act got renewed. I don't remember significant changes being made to it.

- Lots of pork got through - the 109th will be remembered as the least kosher Congress in history.

- Congress approved a big-ass fence to go on the Arizona border. Often in places that are unreachable by vehicle, so God only knows how it's gonna get built. Also, there's no appropriation for the necessary manpower to patrol the fence, so any idiot with a shovel can dig under it. And I think Boeing was involved somehow, though I'm not sure how. Either way, I'm sure that this fence will go up as the most expensive proof of Woodhead's Fourth Law (build a better wall, someone will build a better ladder) ever devised. Note to Congress: illegal immigration won't stop until you take away the disincentives to legal immigration.

(Also, there are apparently some people who believe that Hispanics want to vote the Southwest back to Mexico, Pat "Florida Jews Love Me" Buchanan among them. This currently holds the lead in my contest for Most Outrageous Conspiracy Theory, right above the Bush-planned-9/11 yarn.)

- Congress attempted to limit the CIA interrogation program and failed miserably. They eliminated detainees' rights to challenge their detention in court (ah, but can detainees challenge the lack of a right to a court challenge in court?). They decided that any non-US citizen can be picked up and declared an "enemy combatant" - a label that's all too often misused, as this CNN commentator pointed out a couple of years ago. (He makes the excellent point that Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh, shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui were all tried under the civilian justice system with full habeas rights. If the justice system is good enough for them, why isn't it good enough for others?) Most laughably, they told the President that he had to obey the Geneva Conventions, but they give him the power to define what the Geneva Conventions say about torture. I guess Congress only wants to look like they're doing their job while still abdicating even more power to a President who has a fearsomely large amount of it already.

The Republican Congress' refusal to limit the Republican President's power is one of the most disgustingly partisan, unprincipled, and cowardly actions of the past decade (certain Senators excepted). You know they'd be screaming their heads off if a Democratic President tried even a quarter of what Bush has tried. I would say this is the best reason for us all to vote Democrat in November. But that's assuming that the Democrats grow a spine between now and November. Right now, the political will to challenge the President's power simply isn't there in the Democratic Party - the best we could hope for is a Senate Judiciary Committee with Feingold (probably the most outspoken civil libertarian of them all) at the helm.

And finally, I want to share with you the most unsurprising, yet interesting, media study I've seen: Indiana University researchers have shown that The Daily Show contains as much substance as broadcast news programs. Which is less of an endorsement of The Daily Show than a condemnation of so-called "real" news programs.


Mike said...

I believe Mark Twain put it best: since "con" is the opposite of "pro", it stands to reason that "Congress" is the opposite of "progress".

Ben said...

Actually, the Democrats voted against the Military Commissions Act in surprisingly large numbers. For all the constant complaints about Democrats lacking a spine, many actually did stand up this time. I can't recall, but I think even Hilary "triangulation" Clinton voted against it.

So give credit where credit is due.

On an unrelated note, it is sort of funny working in a government office where we don't know whether we have a budget. ("So can I go to Ft. Lauderdale for this training seminar?" "You know, that's an excellent question. Let me check to see if we can fit that in our budg......shit!")