Over here at TomPaine.com we keep waiting for the ports "scandal" to die down. Not to die completely—there are some legit concerns—but to stop dominating the news as if it's the biggest threat facing our national security. Yet it's been a week and leading Dems—egged on by our liberal media friends like Buzzflash and ThinkProgress —are still hammering away at the story. If the topline message from Democrats were that this deal is another example of the White House ignoring its duty to consult Congress, or of Bush's rampant cronyism, or of the dangers of outsourcing vital government fuctions, or of outsourcing to quasi-dictatorships, then great. But as a national security concern, the Dems' alarm over ownership has been shown to be misplaced. As a political issue, it's revealing them to be hypocrites. All the while, hidden in plain sight, there's a real scandal that the port story is pushing off the front pages: the NSA warrantless wiretaps.
You might not have heard too much about this Tuesday's Senate hearing on the NSA's domestic eavesdropping, which produced some dramatic moments. Chief among them, this recommendation from a former Reagan official: Congress should cut the funding of the NSA program. And the dean of the Yale law school called the program "blatantly illegal." But, as MSNBC pointed out in its article "What Happened to the NSA Furor?," the Democrats on the panel didn't hearken to the call to cut funding.
Former Reagan administration Justice Department official Bruce Fein, an outspoken foe of the surveillance, told the committee that Congress ought to use its power to cut off the NSA program’s funding.
“The power of the purse is perhaps the greatest power the Founding Fathers entrusted to the legislative branch” and it “should be used now” to end the program, Fein said, unless Bush explains why he could not stay within the confines of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which bans warrantless eavesdropping in the United States.
But only one of the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic critics of the Bush administration, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., seemed inclined Tuesday to take up Fein’s proposal.
Indeed Judiciary Committee member Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., while critical of the administration for not revealing more about the NSA program, was specific after the hearing in saying, “I do not want to have it ended; I’ve never wanted to have it ended, I just want to make sure that somebody is overseeing it.”
Surprisingly, enough, Feingold is a 2008 presidential hopeful. Yet, he's choosing not to make political hay out of the port deal, instead keeping his eye trained on the Bush administration's illegal activities:
Asked where the NSA controversy was headed, Feingold said, “It’s up to Congress, whether Congress has the courage to stand up to an extreme assertion of executive power.”
Feingold said cutting off funding is one option that he is looking at. “There’s a time and a place to do that which is coming up soon,” he said.
He added, “We have to address the fact that the president has broken the law.”
So sure, Democrats, look into the Dubai Ports World company and attack the White House for its sneaky ways. But you can walk and chew gum at the same time. The evidence suggests that the president has broken the law. And lied about it. And Republicans are trying to find a way to help the White House evade responsibility. Don't help them out by allowing the public to completely forget about the wiretap scandal.
| Thursday, March 2, 2006 12:28 PM