Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ringing Out the Old

It's been a tumultuous year on so many levels. Ruth has already started celebrating the coming of the New Year, primarily because of what happened in November of the old year, and with good reason. The overwhelming victory of Democrats in that election means that we can hope for some real oversight over the White House for the next two years. The 110th Congress will still have its hands full, given what has happened in the last six years.

Just in terms of 2006, however, there was an enormous amount of damage done, a great deal of it unreported by the American press. Foreign Policy has a listing of ten stories that were pretty much ignored or under-reported.

You saw the stories that dominated the headlines in 2006: the war in Iraq, North Korea’s nuclear tests, and the U.S. midterm elections. But what about the news that remained under the radar? From the Bush administration’s post-Katrina power grab to a growing arms race in Latin America to the new hackable passports, FP delivers the Top Ten Stories You Missed in 2006.

All ten stories are important ones, so it's pretty hard to explain why they didn't receive much coverage. OK, maybe not so hard. Still, all ten stories are worth exploring, so I would urge you to trot over to Foreign Policy for a look-see. The one that grabbed me the most was listed as number 3 on the list:

When U.S. President George W. Bush signed the $532 billion federal defense spending bill in October, there were the usual budgetary turf battles on Capitol Hill. But largely overlooked was a revision of a nearly 200-year-old law to restrict the president’s power during major crises. In December, Congressional Quarterly examined the changes, saying that the new law “takes the cuffs off” federal restraint during emergencies. Rather than limiting the circumstances under which a president may deploy troops to “any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy,” the 2006 revision expands them to include “natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident.” In other words, it’s now easier for the federal government to send in troops without a governor’s invitation. [Emphasis added]

The ostensible reason/excuse for this revision of the long standing posse comitatus law was to streamline federal response to natural catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina. If that were in fact true, however, why bury it in a defense spending bill? No, this provision is just one more facet of the imperial presidency promulgated by the current administration. Fortunately at least one Democrat in the 109th Congress noticed it.

Critics have called the changes an opening for martial law. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, one of the few to raise the issue in congress, says that “Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy.” Is martial law more likely than before? Perhaps not. But the fact that the revisions were slipped into a defense bill without a national debate gives ammunition to those who argue the administration is still trampling on civil liberties five years after 9/11. [Emphasis added]

Like I said earlier: the 110th Congress has its work cut out for it. Our job, as citizens, is to make sure that it does its job.

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