Rizzo The Nihilizo

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Congressional Legislative Oversight and Investigations

This is an essay I did for my government class, just to put this into some context. Usually I don't get too heavy into politics, at least not lately, as it's a bunch of bullshit and there's not much reason to get into it. Especially when you're as far out on the fringe as I am. This is, however, I think a nice, informative piece of writing:

Congressional Legislative Oversight and Investigations

The United States government is set up with three branches of government that act as checks and balances against each other, as set up in the Constitution. Congress, for instance, may not suspend habeas corpus, has the power to pass laws, and has the power to tax. However, the most important check of Congress is one which is not implicitly stated in the Constitution, and is one which has become a farce. This check is the power for Congress to investigate, subpoena, and practice its legislative oversight.

Congress can have a standing committee or a select committee conduct investigations, which can last from several days to several months. Staff members of the committee will travel around the country collecting evidence and witnesses, and sometimes dozens of witnesses will be called to testify under oath. Congressional investigations are not trials, but Congress has several powers that help committees to collect evidence. For instances, Congress can subpoena a witness, which is a legal order that a person must appear or produce requested documents, a power that is used often by Congress. Witnesses that do not tell the truth under oath can be criminally prosecuted for perjury, and those that refuse to testify or otherwise will not cooperate can be found in contempt of Congress. For a long period of time, witnesses called to testify in congressional committees had few rights, but in Watkins v. United States (1957) the Supreme Court ruled that Congress must respect a witnesses’ constitutional rights just as a court does:

“Witnesses cannot be compelled to give evidence against themselves. They cannot be subjected to unreasonable search and seizure. Nor can the 1st amendment freedoms of speech, press, religion, or political belief and association be abridged,” as said by Chief Justice, Earl Warren. Congress gets around this requirement by granting immunity to witnesses, or freedom from prosecution for witnesses whose testimony ties them to illegal acts. A high-profile example of this is when Colonel Oliver North was granted immunity during his testimony which implicated many high-ranking members of the White House during the Reagan administration in illegal arms dealing to Iran and financing guerrilla warfare in Nicaragua. Although he should have been tried as a war criminal, his conviction was overturned on appeal because the evidence used against him was uncovered as a result of his protected congressional testimony. This is a somewhat reasonable example of how congressional committees and investigations are a farce – high ranking individuals in the US government can get away with anything as long as they are granted immunity. However, one can see that this may be reasonable in the light of trying to get more important information out of a witness.

The biggest farce of congressional investigations is that dealing with Congresses’ legislative oversight of how effectively the executive branch carries out the laws which Congress passes. Using the commerce power and necessary and proper clause, Congress has spawned a huge, money draining, inefficient bureaucracy. The idea that Congresses’ legislative oversight is a farce is not of a biased opinion, but even stated in the very textbook assigned, Glencoe’s “United States Government – Democracy In Action” (Jon Stewart’s “America – Democracy Inaction” might be a more appropriate book). For instance, it is printed in this book that, “Very few congressional committees review the actions of the executive branch on a regular basis, especially if the president and the majority of Congress are the same party.” This has become quite apparent in recent years, with the lack of investigation into the Jack Abramoff scandal which implicated many Republican leaders, and the President’s illegal wiretapping project.

The executive branch of government is so far out of control of all the other branches, and Congress is so inefficient and corrupt, that the President has basically become a King and can do whatever he likes. This is most certainly not limited to our latest President Bush, every single president throughout the history of our country has far over stepped his boundaries set forth in the Constitution. Even the most highly praised and worshipped leaders such as President Lincoln spat in the face of the Constitution, restricting habeas corpus, for example[1]. Such things as having secret CIA prisons[2], holding prisoners indefinitely[3], spying on citizens illegally[4], and shrouding the government in secrecy[5] defies the very principal this country was founded on.

Every time there is a committee that tries to investigate the executive branch, the military, and the exact events that are taking place, they are denied because of “national security reasons”. Unless one has child-like naiveté and an undying amount of faith that the government is honest and cares only for the people, this scam is easily seen through. If you were President, you could get away with anything, but hiding evidence and refusing to let information to get out on the grounds of “national security”. Who is to say that it’s really about national security? All we have to go by is the President’s word, and he’s already been shown to act unconstitutionally, to lie for whatever reasons not related to national security[6], send us to Wars for reasons that are either unclear, outright lies[7], or are simply un-American. The Republican majority Congress has been shown to be made up of either homosexual pedophiles[8] or money-grubbing recipients of bribery[9], and while the Supreme Court can declare things unconstitutional, it doesn’t have the power to actually do anything (as seen with the illegal wiretapping scandal). When every level of our government is corrupt, scandalous, power hungry, greedy, and has the transparency of a brick wall, how can one say there is checks and balances?

It is safe to say that Congress does not conduct these investigations out of a love for the country, a desire to keep everything runny smoothly and correctly, or out of moral and ethical justice. No, as even the Glencoe book states, “…Lawmakers know there are not many votes to be gained from most oversight activities. Voters and news media seldom are interested in oversight activities unless an investigation turns up a scandal or an unusual problem. As on lawmaker put it, ‘Where there is publicity to be gained, there is oversight to be had.’” Congress does not care about America, the President does not care about America, and the Supreme Court has too little power and may themselves not care about America. The simple fact is, these people care only about themselves, and their sole motivation for becoming involved in the government is the money, the fame, and the power. Love of money is the root of all evil, power corrupts, and congressional investigations and oversight are a farce designed to distract and entertain the public.

The Media, which is often called the “fourth institution”, is supposed to be an informal check and balance on the government. It’s supposed to inform and educate the people about how its democratic republic is operating, but instead it is just a tool of the government to spread its propaganda[10] in the form of “infotainment”[11]. There are five major media corporations which is where most Americans get there news from, and therefore how they are critical in how Americans react to policy and the actions of the US government[12]. It is safe to say the media plays a very important role in American society. However, the media is just as corrupt as the government, uses propaganda and subliminal messages ( i.e.; calling the War in Iraq “Operation Iraqi Freedom” to give the idea that the war is about liberating the Iraqis). Since it has already been established that Congressional investigations are influenced heavily by whether it will make good news, the influence and corruption of the media just further shows how much of a farce congressional investigations are.

In conclusion “Congressional investigations” and their legislative oversight is nothing more than a sham to generate votes, media attention, and to distract away from real issues. Studying specific Congressional investigations may be somewhat important, but realizing that having faith in Congress puts you at a disadvantage, and the government in general, is even more important. The history of this government is not half as important as the future of it, and what should be done.

[1] http://www.crf-usa.org/terror/Lincoln.htm “The actual right of habeas corpus is not stated anywhere in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. The authors of these documents apparently believed that habeas corpus was such a fundamental liberty that it needed no further guarantee in writing…This suspension clause was never activated through the terms of the first 15 presidents. Then during the Civil War, President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus without consulting Congress. In doing so, Lincoln enabled the military to arrest and imprison thousands of civilians, including Clement L. Vallandigham.”

[2] http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/09/06/bush.speech/index.html “The CIA operates secret prisons abroad for holding key suspects in the war on terror, President Bush acknowledged Wednesday…The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that tribunals convened at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were unconstitutional.”

[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/guantanamo/story/0,13743,1382362,00.html “The United States is preparing to hold terrorism suspects indefinitely without trial, replacing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp with permanent prisons in the Cuban enclave and elsewhere, it was reported yesterday.”

[4] http://dir.salon.com/story/opinion/feature/2005/12/20/spying/index.html “With the revelation of domestic spying by the National Security Agency, the message transmitted by the Bush White House is crystal clear: When the president decides existing law is insufficient to protect Americans, he'll move ahead on his own and do whatever he deems necessary in the war on terror.”

[5] http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0308/S00078.htm “The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States was tasked with examining allegations that U.S. intelligence agencies ignored warnings from their operatives that al-Qaeda was planning to strike American targets with high-jacked planes. But several members of the bipartisan commission have recently complained that the Bush administration has been obstructing the inquiry.”

[7] http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/meast/10/06/iraq.wmd.report/ Saddam Hussein did not possess stockpiles of illicit weapons at the time of the U.S. invasion in March 2003 and had not begun any program to produce them, a CIA report concludes.”

[8] http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/09/29/congressman.e.mails/index.htmlMaf54: You in your boxers, too? Teen: Nope, just got home. I had a college interview that went late. Maf54: Well, strip down and get relaxed”

[10] http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-01-06-williams-whitehouse_x.htm “...Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000 to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same… The top Democrat on the House Education Committee, Rep. George Miller of California, called the contract "a very questionable use of taxpayers' money" that is "probably illegal." He said he will ask his Republican counterpart to join him in requesting an investigation”

[11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/InfotainmentInfotainment refers to a general type of media broadcast program which provides a combination of current events news and "feature news", or "features stories".”

[12] http://www.brook.edu/comm/transcripts/20020123.htmThe classic case often cited of "the CNN effect" is 1992-1993 in Somalia. Pictures that we saw, graphic pictures of starving children; the humanitarian effort of an American President, George Bush, to send in American military who were surprised; and then almost a year later a gang desecrating the body of an American, dragging it through the streets, and the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, announcing that we would be leaving Somalia. So it's often said that we got into Somalia because of horrible pictures; we left Somalia because of horrible television pictures."

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