The wrong committee to probe wiretappingDo you mind giving us some insight into the content of Alito’s answers? Do you mind devoting even a spec of your column to the fact that Alito’s answers featured numerous “I can’t recall” moments such as the entire Concerned Alumni of Princeton flap and his decision to rule in the Vanguard case even though he was a sizeable participant in one of their mutual funds? Oh, and I like the way you sneak in “interrogators.” My guess is that there are veterans out there who have been taken prisoner in war who would object to such an offhand comparison of senators doing their job – the whole “advise and consent” thing – versus the enemy subjecting our people to inhumane treatment.
You can learn a lot in a Senate confirmation hearing.
For one thing, you can learn who's qualified for a job. Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. showed why the American Bar Association rated him well-qualified. He's smart, experienced, and he's a model of sound judicial temperament. He answered question after question - often the exact same question over and over again - calmly, with dignity, and with respect for his interrogators.
You can also learn who might not be qualified, including certain U.S. senators.Let the blanket generalizations begin!
Which leads to the third thing:This actually is an interesting point, but the problem is that such hearings, as far as I’m concerned, MUST be conducted in the open. I believe that the Senate Intelligence Committee would reserve the right for closed-door hearings, but I would need to investigate that more thoroughly. As you will read, though, I didn’t follow up on Ferris’ suggestion because his column will quickly dissolve into a comical rant very shortly, one that really doesn’t deserve serious consideration by anyone.
The Senate Judiciary Committee isn't the right place to examine the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping ordered by President Bush. Try the Senate Intelligence Committee. Or assemble a panel of experts to question witnesses. Just keep it away from Judiciary.
Despite the best efforts of chairman Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) at the Alito hearings, the nominee's actual answers took a backseat to speechifying, smear tactics and partisanship. And the games continued after the hearings. Sen. Joe Biden (D., Del.) complained that the system was broken. Skip the hearings, and go right to the Senate floor, he said. (Why? So the nominee cannot defend himself? Keeps emotional spouses out of camera range?) Sen. Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.) says the confirmation process is too political. (Pause to let readers' laughter subside.)Funny, but I don’t recall Ferris complaining about “partisanship” when Newt Gingrich and the GOP attack dogs in Congress barked like crazy whenever Clinton and Gore did anything they didn’t like (Trent Lott and his childish whining about Al Gore’s claim that he “invented the Internet,” when in reality Gore misspoke and meant to say that he took the lead role in government funding for development – absolutely true, by the way – reached almost Biblical portions to the point where it is now virtually impossible to remove the misquote attributed to Gore from the English-speaking lexicon). I also don’t understand Ferris’ bizarre remark that a nominee “could not defend himself” in the event of a Senate floor vote, when in reality the majority leader could call for an up-or-down vote without comment on either side. Also, Ferris (in one of his MANY disingenuous moments) recalls Martha Alito’s crying on cue from Lindsay Graham so it could be dutifully recorded for all time as being initiated by some "evil, partisan liberal."
Yes, there was some Democratic hyperbole, but in my opinion, it was deserved. Acknowledge that there has been hyperbole on both sides with all parties believing they were right, and then move on. And one more thing – I know, as far as you, Glenn McCoy, and your other fellow travelers are concerned, Ted Kennedy is a drunken, womanizing, liberal blowhard. Ha ha – what a riot (keep it up, and I’ll keep making the same snide remarks about Dubya, as well as his past fondness for a certain powdery white substance). Well, I hate to break the news to you, but assuming that you have any pretense of fairness whatsoever, I would ask that you read this (which doesn’t even discuss Kennedy’s military service, by the way). Also, I seem to recall Specter getting all in a huff over Kennedy’s insistence on seeing the Alito letter regarding the whole “concerned alumni” flap, when in reality Kennedy had made the request for the letter on December 22nd, but for some reason the letter had not been produced. That sounds like a reasonable source of disagreement to me.
With luck, the Alitos can tune this committee out after its expected vote on his nomination Tuesday. With NSA hearings scheduled to start next month, however, the shrill partisanship will ramp up again.As well it should, seeing as how Dubya clearly broke the law in accordance with the FISA and continues to do so.
Of course, there should be hearings on the NSA affair. Even the President agrees.That’s “mighty white” of Dubya, wouldn’t you say? I mean, especially since, well…you know…we allegedly elected him to office anyway.
Update: Speaking of the preznit, here's to that whopping 36 percent approval rating that was just announced (hat tip to Atrios). Woo hoo!
As Michael Franc, vice president of the Heritage Foundation, argues, the country is now putting in place the tools it will need to fight Islamic fascism for the long term, just as, in the late 1940s, Harry Truman and a bipartisan coalition created the institutions that would see us through the Cold War. Hearings, Franc says, could help set the agenda.Since Ferris didn’t point out that The Heritage Foundation tows the right-wing Repug line 150 percent with NO ALLOWANCE for a dissenting point of view, I feel I should do that myself. Of course, I’ve seen Ferris point out that MoveOn.org and People For The American Way are organizations which traditionally support Democrats, which is just about always the case. Can you say “double standard”?
Also, by "created the institutions to see us through The Cold War”…you mean, “institutions” like the HUAC? It would have been nice if Ferris had prodded Franc a bit more on what he meant, but I suppose that would have conflicted with his apparent role of right-wing shill and talking point stenographer.
"Go back and look at the 9/11 commission hearings," he says. "There was good incisive questioning on big concerns that needed to be resolved by policymakers... . In an open democracy, we need as many of those moments as possible to help understand what's at stake. Not just sound bites, but legitimate constitutional issues."You can thank Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton for that (and as we know, Kean pointed out towards the end of last year that the Bush Administration and the Repug congress have fallen woefully short of implementing the committee’s recommendations. Also, the 9/11 Commission never even would have been assembled if Dubya had had his way; it took Congress, prodded by the victims’ families, to make it a reality.
There's the rub. Will we get sound bites or incisive questioning from the Judiciary Committee? Or will witnesses merely be props in the back-and-forth between Democrats attacking the administration and Republicans defending it? Such antics risk ignoring the main issue.As I said, when Repugs attack, they’re “defending America from government waste,” or “fighting terrorism.” When Dems attack, it’s “not supporting the president,” or “advocating a liberal agenda” (or “performing antics like partisan interrogators,” as Ferris might say).
"This is really about penetrating the communications of the enemy in a war where intelligence is more important than in any war we've ever had," says Andrew McCarthy, who prosecuted suspects in the first World Trade Center bombing. "We can't conquer their territory. We can't blockade them. Our only effective offense is to gather information to try to find out what they'll hit next and try to prevent that."No it isn’t. It’s about gathering any kind of information that may be available whatsoever about Americans in order to silence dissent. Why else would Bush care about what kind of search engine keyword searches people are using on the Internet? Do they really think someone is going to “Google” the following: “al Qaeda, bin Laden, terrorism, destroy Sears tower, fertilizer bomb, nuclear warhead”? If they do, then we’re worse off with these clowns that I thought.
As I and others have pointed out already, it is incredibly easy to get a warrant to conduct a wiretap. Hell, you can even go ahead and do it without one as long as you get one within 72 hours. Obeying the letter of the law on this really isn’t that difficult – Clinton managed to do it just fine.
That's the sobering starting point for any hearings on the NSA wiretaps. And there are a host of questions to raise, many of which cannot be answered in an open, made-for-TV hearing:Why can’t they be answered in front of TV cameras? I guess that doesn’t jive with some Stalinist, police-state fantasy you have of how this country should work, does it?
How exactly does the NSA wiretapping work? Is it necessary? Does it help keep al-Qaeda in check? Is it preventing attacks, saving American lives? Are we sure it's not targeting political opponents? And if it is necessary, how does the program continue? Does the president alone have the authority or does the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), passed in the 1970s, need to be updated to fight a 21st-century war?These questions, as far as I’m concerned, are largely irrelevant, though I will acknowledge that we should be careful about revealing details on T.V. However, there has already been FAR TOO MUCH secrecy with this government, and it’s not like they’ve done a very competent job with it either.
To answer these questions, the country needs leaders more focused on wartime enemies than political foes. And right now there's good reason to suspect that the senators who grilled Alito are not up to the job.I don’t think Tom Coburn is certainly up to it, based on his bizarre riff in front of Alito on prostitution during the hearings (yes, I know he meant to lead into yet another attack on Roe v. Wade, which you can kiss goodbye to if Alito gets in anyway - and isn’t it curious that Ferris omits that but takes a shot at Ted Kennedy? Sure…that’s really “fair and balanced,” isn’t it?).
I think this is the deal with Ferris (and by the way, what exactly is “Back Channels”? I guess that’s some type of bogus category name that the Inquirer came up with to make it as nondescript as possible to placate one group or another, like calling “Review and Opinion” the “Currents” section, which doesn’t make sense to me either):
He started out as some kind of faux liberal type who, some time ago, got on his metaphorical high horse about, of all things, paying reparations to slave descendants, but was soundly rebuffed (and by the way, I know John Conyers took the lead on that, but I give Conyers credit for realizing that there were all kinds of problems with that issue and giving up on it – e.g., my ancestry is partly Irish Catholic, and though my descendants didn’t come over to this country shackled, they were about three or four steps ahead of the blight from the potato famine, and they ended up cleaning toilets and doing similar work for long hours in indentured servitude also; since there were anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia and elsewhere in this country into the 1920s, why wouldn’t I qualify for reparations? See where it starts to get “sticky”?)
Since that little misadventure, Ferris has been pretty dogged in “waving his right-wing colors,” even, at one point, saying that Bush should “take a bow” for helping Democracy to flourish in Iraq, or words to that effect, when in reality all that is flourishing in Iraq is violence and the Shiite influence of Iran. I only recall these little tidbits from Ferris’ inglorious work, since I have to admit that I am prone to ignore him based on all of this. However, I actually paid attention to him on this occasion, when I guess I should have known better.
I should actually complain to the publisher about this bilious nonsense, but I have a feeling the paper is more concerned with what will happen to them after they’re sold and how they’ll meet their payroll and maintain circulation, which are huge concerns I realize. However, continuing to kow tow to the right wing bullet heads by publishing dross such as this will not do anyone any good and may, in fact, hasten the paper’s demise anyway.