11 May 2006

Wiretaps, investigations, and Yiddish

Back when I was in high school, I was an intern in the branch of the New York City Mayor's Office that handles telephone complaints. It was an interesting job, and I learned a lot. A great deal of this education was provided by a Hasidic Jew named Isaac, who worked at the desk right in front of me. He was a master at the fine art of subtly penetrating the obtuse workings of the city bureaucracy. He didn't use those skills too much - he found the frontal assault to be much more fun - but he knew them and taught them well. Besides the practical politics, he also taught me a little Yiddish - just enough to let me swear proficiently.

One of the very first words that I picked up from him was 'chutzpah.' He used the word to describe the qualities that I would need to exhibit if I was to have any hope of accomplishing anything in New York City Government. When I asked him what the word meant, he had to stop and think for a minute or two. Chutzpah, he said, is a one-word description of a fairly complex personality trait, and that there was no word in English that adequately captured the concept. I asked him if he could describe the trait, and he paused again for a second or two of thought. "OK, I tell you what chutzpah is. Chutzpah... you take a dump on your neighbor's doorstep, then ask to borrow his toilet paper, you got chutzpah."

That was a while ago - back during the Dinkins administration. If I asked him the same question today, he'd have a much easier time describing the concept. All he'd have to do is show me this Washington Post Article.

It seems that, in what has to be the most absolutely amazing exhibition of pure brazenness ever demonstrated, the "Justice" Department has managed to shut down an internal investigation into whether or not some of their lawyers might have committed ethical violations while involved in the President's Warrentless Wiretapping program. The reason that the investigation ground to a halt? The investigators were refused the security clearances that they needed to look into the matter because the actual details of the program are extremely sensitive national security information, and restricted to the smallest possible group, so the investigators didn't have - wait for it - "need to know." Without the details of the program, they were unable to determine if their lawyers committed any ethics violations, and the investigation has now been closed.

Gotta love it.

If the Democrats were smart - meaning that the rest of this post is a wishful fantasy - they'd make oversight an issue in this year's elections. This congress has been completely derelict in their responsibility to watch the actions of the executive branch, so the president has been allowed to do pretty much whatever he damn well pleases. That should end. Congress doesn't just have the right to do oversight, they've got a responsibility to do it, and they've been absolutely remiss when it comes to meeting that responsibility. Democrats should be campaigning on that issue, and they should be doing it heavily. It might be a national issue, not a local one, but Congresscritters have obligations to more than just their district. They also have responsibilities to the nation. If they don't want to carry them out, they should be encouraged by their employers to find other work.
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