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    04 April 2007

    Congressional oversight, FauX News and where am I

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    First of all... I'm so busy lately, whether it be hosting visiting friends and family (who waited till this my senior year to visit!!) or research presentations at AMS meetings in Columbia and preparations for and participation in the College of Charleston's Model UN or the two capstone papers that are due shortly... I have zero time to blog or read blogs, RSS feeds, et cetera... My apartment is literally covered in stacks of journal articles; at times reaching an inch in depth and strewn all about. So I'll be back soon. With no more burden of school.

    Two articles I've read in the course of this semester I'd like to suggest. The first is directly relevant -- more or less -- to what we are finally seeing in DC today: oversight. This article can be found here and condemns the primarily Republican controlled congress during the Bush administration but certainly goes back into the mid-90s. Basically they checked out (the title of the essay is "When Congress Checks Out" but could more appropriately be titled "When the Republican Congress Checked Out," but I'm sure the lead author would have issue with that...). They strayed from their constitutional duty to check the executive and are therefore partially to blame for any number of the events that have tarnished this country over the past 6 years. Some may be thinking that the Democratic Congress has been unfair to Bush and the White House... Well they are wrong, it is just a return to the status quo. Better late than never in this regard. Here are some excerpts:
    One of Congress' key roles is oversight: making sure that the laws it writes are faithfully executed and vetting the military and diplomatic activities of the executive. Congressional oversight is meant to keep mistakes from happening or from spiraling out of control; it helps draw out lessons from catastrophes in order to prevent them, or others like them, from recurring. Good oversight cuts waste, punishes fraud or scandal, and keeps policymakers on their toes.
    ...
    ...Throughout most of our time in Washington, tough oversight of the executive was common, whether or not different parties controlled the White House and Congress. It could be a messy and contentious process, and it often embarrassed the administration and its party. But it also helped prevent errors from turning into disasters and kept administrations more sensitive to the ramifications of their actions and inactions.

    In the past six years, however, congressional oversight of the executive across a range of policies, but especially on foreign and national security policy, has virtually collapsed. The few exceptions, such as the tension-packed Senate hearings on the prison scandal at Abu Ghraib in 2004, only prove the rule. With little or no midcourse corrections in decision-making and implementation, policy has been largely adrift. Occasionally -- as during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina last year -- the results have been disastrous.
    ...
    ...since George W. Bush has become president, oversight has all but disappeared. From homeland security to the conduct of the Iraq war, from allegations of torture at Abu Ghraib to the surveillance of domestic telephone calls by the National Security Agency (NSA), Congress has mostly ignored its responsibilities. The same is true of less publicized issues involving the United States and the rest of the world, including U.S. relations with trading partners and rivals, allies and adversaries.
    ...
    The numbers are striking. Examining reports of the House Government Reform Committee, the journalist Susan Milligan found just 37 hearings described as "oversight" in 2003-4, during the 108th Congress, down from 135 in 1993-94, during the last Congress dominated by Democrats. The House Energy and Commerce Committee produced 117 pages of activity reports on oversight during the 1993-94 cycle, compared with 24 pages during 2003-4. In the mid-1990s, the Republican Congress took 140 hours of testimony on whether President Clinton had used his Christmas mailing list to find potential campaign donors; in 2004-5, House Republicans took 12 hours of testimony on Abu Ghraib.
    ...
    Foreign policy has dominated the attention of Americans since 9/11, and especially since the Iraq war began. Major issues have included the formulation and execution of terrorism policy, the invasion of Afghanistan, prewar intelligence, the invasion of Iraq, the conduct of the Iraq war and its aftermath, the NSA's surveillance program, reform of the intelligence apparatus, homeland security, the treatment of detainees, and U.S. borders and immigration. And yet, Congress has failed to ask how policies in these areas have been carried out, how faithfully laws have been executed, how reasonably taxpayer dollars have been spent, how well the executive branch has stayed within its constitutional bounds, and how vigorously malfeasance or nonfeasance by public agencies and private contractors has been handled.

    And so on... [link]

    And yes the lead author of this essay is from the American Enterprise Institute... Go figure.

    Also, there is this final bit of suggested reading by Steven Kull, Clay Ramsay, and Evan Lewis titles Misperceptions, the Media, and the Iraq War (.pdf). The article I read appeared in Political Science Quarterly [118(4): 569-598] but the above link appears to be the same paper or at least a similar form.

    It basically beats in the fact that FOX News is biased and poorly run (assuming you still call it a news agency). More strikingly it points to statistical evidence that all major media outlets -- led overwhelmingly by FOX News -- peddled fallacies to news consumers. The only exception was -- of course -- NPR/PBS. It argues that if the executive is aware of this -- the article and I believe that they are -- then they have a powerful tool to promote flawed (and as we have seen failed) policy towards an unknown, uninformed and purposefully misled public.

    Great, I can't wait to see where that takes us... regardless of what party is in the lead.

    Ok, so enjoy and I'll see y'all this summer...

    Posted by Geoff

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