Today, House Democrats will move a revised wiretapping bill to a full floor vote. Critics charge the bill is another Democratic cave-in, but a closer look shows it to be a substantive improvement over the president's plan.
Today, the House of Representatives will hold a vote on the RESTORE Act, an amendment to the amendment to the surveillance law that civil libertarians have been assailing since August, when, in the hours before Summer recess, House Democrats caved to White House demands and handed the president a six month reign to spy on American citizens.
The vote itself is a victory for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Moments after the Congress passed the August measure enshrined in the so-called Protect America Act -- Pelosi demanded her committee chairmen get to work fixing it.
The existing whistleblower laws don't do much for government workers, but they offer almost no protection to the legions of employees working for government contractors. Good government watchdogs are trying to change that.
When Baghdad fell in 2003, Robert Isakson saw an opportunity. He took his disaster relief company to Iraq to work under another Coalition Provisional Authority contractor, a firm eerily named Custer Battles, after its founders Scott Custer and Mike Battles. Isakson brought over 10 years of experience to help Custer Battles build military bases and other large facilities.
Within a few weeks, however, his Custer Battles colleagues had run him out of town at gunpoint. According to Isakson, Custer Battles' goons rounded up his team and dumped them outside the Green Zone, presumably hoping they'd be killed. The men survived the ordeal by paying a taxi driver several hundred dollars to hustle them from Baghdad, through Fallujah, and all the way into the safety of Jordan.
It's hard to imagine a private mercenary business receiving any good press, but Blackwater USA might not have become the focus of such a large scandal if it had chosen a less menacing name. As it happens, it is now enmeshed in perhaps the largest oversight project of the 110th Congress -- one that raises questions not only about the rights of government whistleblowers, but about Congress' ability to protect them.
The domestic snooping story doesn't end with the White House's bullying of a sick John Ashcroft. The FBI chief must still answer grave questions about the administration's suspected abuse of national security letters.
When FBI director Robert Mueller appeared before Congress late last month, it was with the purpose of answering questions about the government's national security letters program. A March Inspector General's report had revealed alarming details about the program's abuse and Mueller, for the first time in his six years at the head of the bureau, sat before the House Judiciary Committee to report publicly on the FBI's response.
What happened instead is now famous. Mueller, once a peripheral figure in the many controversies surrounding the U.S. Attorney General, dramatically contradicted Alberto Gonzales' account of his March 2004 visit to John Ashcroft's hospital room, and so became a central figure in the clash between the Justice Department and Congress.
It's probably intuitive to most people that the gasoline in their fuel tank expands in the heat -- just like doorframes and cookware and everything else on the planet. What's probably less intuitive is that, in the United States, this physical phenomenon pumps a nearly $2 billion annual windfall out of consumers' pockets and into oil company coffers, according to numerous calculations, including a recent House of Representatives study.