What Congress is Doing

Here are a couple examples of alarming things that were happening during the Bush Administration that we did not know or would never have found out about until we had Congressional Oversight:

FBI Abuses of Spying – This should send chilling reminders of COINTELPRO
Attorney General firing judges who pursued corruption investigations against Republicans

Here are a few things that could possibly have been prevented if there had been Congressional Oversight before this year:

Patriot Act
Warrantless wiretapping
Secret monitoring of Bank Accounts

The Democrats are now the Majority Party in the Senate and the House of Representatives, due to the result of the elections this past November. Now that they have been in for a couple of months (they were elected in November 2006 but not officially sworn in until 4 Jan 2007), you are beginning to see some differences in how things are working.

The act of exposing and acting as a check and balance within the government is called oversight (when done by Congress, it is Congressional Oversight). That is something we haven’t seen since 2000. What this means is that there is now one branch that can look over the shoulder of the other two. There is someone there to hit the brakes on crazy or dangerous governmental intentions. There is a way now for people to be able to see what is happening in our government and not be stonewalled in the name of national security or not needing to know.

A concept key to how our government works is called Checks and Balances. This basically means that each branch of government (in the U.S., the branches are: Executive (President), Legislative (Senate & House), Judicial (Supreme Court)) has a way to keep the other branches in check and keep power evenly balanced between the branches. If all three branches of government are operating checking and balancing one another, no one branch should dominate the other two. When this is not case, it can lead to terrible things.

Since 2000 when G. W. Bush took office, we have been experiencing governance without checks and balances. The Republican-led Congress laid down for whatever the Republican President said or demanded. The conservative-leaning Supreme Court, which installed Bush, also sat by idly. That changed with the 2006 election, and now we have a situation where there is a Republican President and a conservative Supreme Court, but there is a Democratic House and Senate, meaning that we are no longer effectively a one-party system.

This is important to understand because understanding how and why things happen the way they do is key to understanding how to make things happen in ways that we want. I believe that we are only scratching the surface when it comes to all of the shady stuff we may find out about that has been going on over the past 6 years. I am also afraid that it will take longer for the Democrats to undo what it only took the Republicans 6 years to do. Thank God they have started down this long road.

So the next time that you or someone asks, “What’s this Congress doing?” You can say, “Their Job.”

One Love. One II.

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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora and am a National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I currently live in Washington, DC with my beautiful wife Ellen. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. Today I work at the crossroads of traditional political organizing and online activism. I speak before diverse audiences on empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation though emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet.

4 responses to “What Congress is Doing”

  1. Anonymous says :

    I know you somewhat mentioned it, but I think especially important in this discussion of checks and balances is W’s placement of his boys to do his ignorant bidding not just in the supreme court, but in all levels of government. John Bolton, for example, one of the most influential men in the world right now, was streamlined into his position because he took orders well. He’s certainly produced at the cost of the people. Today it was confirmed that the US iron fisted efforts to call a ceasefire in the Lebanese/Israeli conflict last summer in order to stamp out Hezbollah, even though we trained and resourced Hezbollah for years. You’ll remember that this conflict was the beginning of the recent Iran conversations. Not a coinky dink.

    Those of you who may say, well everybody puts their folks in office, thats why you try and win the presidency… I gotchu. But trust me when I say, no president, even W’s dad, has ever surrounded himself with just yes-sayers to this extent. No president has ever gone to war without ever speaking with the veterans in congress accross aisles. Bush and Rove and all the neo-cons learned how to play the game well, without respect for the ethics of checks and balances– but thats because they were focused on the game itself, not caring about its outcomes, nor what checks and balances are there for… US.

    You’re absolutely right when you say that we need to understand these checks and balances to know how to use them for what WE want. But also, as we look at institutional/government checks and balances let us not forget that this country was founded on two other checks and balances that have never reached their full potential for the majority of us in this country– voting and the media. The media has known about all of this for as long as its been going on, they knew about Abu Gharib before it came out, they knew there were no WMDs, they knew that the 2000 election was a fraud, the list could go on. The mainstream media knew about all of this and did nothing because Bush/Rove/NeoCons looked beyond just our governmental checks and balances and mapped their allies into societal checks and balances as well.

  2. Garlin II says :

    Thank you Anonymous, very well stated.

    Calling out the media for what it is, a check and a balance, represents a way of thinking about media that has not truly been seen in the country since Thomas Paine. At that time, the media was used as a vehicle for change, not simply one for consumption. Seeing media as a change agent forces you to take a more critical perspective not only of the media itself, but of the issues and events that the media addresses.

    This thinking is at the foundationof the Media Reform Movement. It is thinking that seeks to reject compromised (not just corporate) media in favor of media outlets that are more transparent and less likely to sacrifice their integrity.

    In order to make these sorts of efforts sustainable, we have to support them. Try watching your local TV network one night a week instead of American Idol. Try listening to a local talk radio station instead of some BS Top 40, recycled-playlist-playing music station.

    We have to support people making changes in order to make those changes permanent.

  3. David Marshall says :

    A trust betrayed?

    The Chief Judge of Congress’s Court of Veterans Appeals stated that the, “Constitution, Statutes and Regulations” are “policy freely ignored” by both “The Veterans Health Administration” and the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), i.e., the “STATE OF COURT” transcript PARAGRAPH 9 with the U.S. CODE, TITLE 38, SECTIONS (§) 511 and § 7252. Decisions of the Secretary; finality; REFERENCES [1], [2] & [3]. This is a no teeth Congressional LEGISLATIVE vs an independent from Congress and the DVA, Judicial Branch Court. The DVA Health Care laymen, “initial adjudicators” still are not held responsible for their “freely ignored” and medically ignorant “Schedule of Ratings for Disabilities” decisions. Just one example is this veterans to date “initial adjudicators” ignored 1957 DVA Physician’s resultant, “MPerR PERMANENT” “SURGEON HQ ARRC JUN 25 ‘58 MEDICALLY DISQUALIFIED FOR MILITARY SERVICE”! Six (6) months later an “Honorable Discharge” with “Recommended for reenlistment – Yes”. The continuing “disqualified” injury attacks drove the veteran back to the DVA in 1991. A few subsequent highlights are: A betrayal reconfirmed by the “initial adjudicators” 27 June 1996 medically unqualified and misleading no “competent medical evidence” overturning of USAF, DVA and HMO physician decisions! The DVA ENT Chief’s 15 September 1999 a stress reaction may cause episodes of Menieres disease (with its symptoms clearly documented in the veterans service records) and the cycles may repeat endlessly. Then the 2008 “Board” “unable to locate your file”, i.e., on 4 April 2008 the Board of Veterans Appeals letter stated that they couldn’t find their 28 January 2006 received 1952 to 1956 service and then to date medical records. The veteran again supplied an ongoing 18 years of misplaced “file” copy.

    It is now 15 years later without the Chief Judge’s advised Congressional oversight and accountability. Please hold your U.S. House and Senate members accountable for Congress’s perverted Veteran Care.

    REFERENCES:

    [1] The complete 16 paragraph “STATE OF COURT” transcript is available on request. Previously at, and now missing from the Chief Judges and state_of_court sites: http://www.goodnet.com/~heads/nebeker and http://www.firebase.net/state_of_court_brief.htm

    “STATE OF COURT

    CHIEF JUDGE FRANK Q. NEBEKER

    STATE OF THE COURT

    FOR PRESENTATION TO THE

    UNITED STATES COURT OF VETERANS APPEALS

    THIRD JUDICIAL CONFERENCE

    OCTOBER 17-18, 1994

    {as it appears in Veterans Appeals Reporter}”

    ——————–PARAGRAPH 9 of 16 in “STATE OF COURT” TRANSCRIPT records DVA laymen ignoring medical opinion without veteran recourse.—————————–

    “I believe my message is clear. There is, I suggest, no system with judicial review which has within it a component part free to function in its own way, in its own time and with one message to those it disappoints — take an appeal. That is, I am afraid, what we have today in many of the Department’s Agencies of Original Jurisdiction — that is AOJs — around the country. Neither the Court, through the Board, the Board, nor the General Counsel has direct and meaningful control over the Agencies of Original Jurisdiction. Indeed, it is also clear that the VHA — the Veterans Health Administration — ignores specific directives to provide medical opinions as directed. And this is resulting in unconscionable delays. Let us examine judicial review. Remember, the Court and the Board do not make policy, the Secretary and Congress do. The Court simply identifies error made below by a failure to adhere, in individual cases, to the Constitution, statutes, and regulations which themselves reflect policy — policy freely ignored by many initial adjudicators whose attitude is, “I haven’t been told by my boss to change. If you don’t like it — appeal it.” (Emphasis added)

    The top medically ignorant “boss” is Congress’s confirmed “Secretary” of the DVA.

    AND THE CONGRESS’S “policy freely ignored” UNITED STATES CODE law of the land Health Care take away from Veterans:

    [2] UNITED STATES CODE, TITLE 38 > PART I > CHAPTER 5 > SUBCHAPTER I >
    § 511. Decisions of the Secretary; finality

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/usc…11—-000-.html

    “(a) The Secretary shall decide all questions of law and fact necessary to a decision by the Secretary under a law that affects the provision of benefits by the Secretary to veterans or the dependents or survivors of veterans. Subject to subsection (b), THE DECISION OF THE SECRETARY AS TO ANY SUCH QUESTION SHALL BE FINAL AND CONCLUSIVE AND MAY NOT BE REVIEWED BY ANY OTHER OFFICIAL OR BY ANY COURT, whether by an action in the nature of mandamus or otherwise.” (Emphasis added)

    THEREFORE, NO COURT REVIEW OF THE MEDICALLY UNTRAINED laymen “initial adjudicators” “schedule of ratings for disabilities” decisions as proven by:

    [3] UNITED STATES CODE, TITLE 38 PART V > CHAPTER 72 > SUBCHAPTER I >
    § 7252. Jurisdiction; finality of decisions

    “(b) Review in the Court shall be on the record of proceedings before the Secretary and the Board. The extent of the review shall be limited to the scope provided in section 7261 of this title. THE COURT MAY NOT REVIEW THE SCHEDULE OF RATINGS FOR DISABILITIES adopted under section 1155 of this title or any action of the Secretary in adopting or revising that schedule.” (Emphasis added.)

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