Bloggers discuss a possibly nixed probe into the legality of rubber-stamped domestic NSA surveillance. They also wince at newly released photographs from Abu Ghraib and fume about an incipient smoking ban in the United Kingdom.
Potomac tap dance: Charles Babington of the Washington Post ran a story today showing how, due to the vacillation of certain Republican senators, particularly Olympia Snowe of Maine, a scheduled congressional inquiry into the constitutionality of warrantless NSA wiretaps might be abandoned. Bloggers take up the struggle where the Capitol leaves off.
Conservative Daily Pundit adjudges the White House pressure to halt the inquiry as self-defeating: "This move on Congress' part to 'back away' from hearings is being pushed as a big victory for the President. In fact, it is a defeat, because in its zeal to avoid a confrontation over hearings, the White House has virtually ceded Congress the right to tell the President how to carry out the war powers granted him as Commander In Chief."
Fellow righty Maryland Conservartarian performs an exegesis on the Post's citations and all but wonders where the retina scans come in: "Mr. Babbington explains, without the slightest hint of irony, that the 'top Senate Republican aide' and 'several others' spoke only on background 'because of the classified nature of the intelligence committees' work,' [which] didn't prevent them from speaking, they just didn't want anyone to know it was them. Is it any wonder that the Administration is reluctant to expand their ongoing Congressional briefings on this matter?"
Quoting whole cloth from the Post piece, Fred W at Mad as Hell—a blog devoted to the impeachment of the president—nonetheless cites media inattention as part of his list of indictments: "Another scandal, another whitewash, and our national media have ADD. Political arm-twisting by Rove and company is having its desired effect. Time for the Dems to turn up the heat." Joe at the left-wing AMERICAblog has tapped into a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup plebiscite, which has 49 percent of those polled maintaining that the president "definitely" or "probably" broke the law in this extension of executive "privilege": "Not good numbers for the Commander-in-Chief -especially since the GOP is going to make the domestic spying scandal one of their top political issues this year…The White House staffers know Bush broke the law, that's why they don't want Congress to look in to the issue. Seems like the American people get that too."
Read more about the Congressional climb-down on NSA spying.
More from Abu Ghraib: "The photos America doesn't want seen" is how the Sydney Morning Herald headlined its announcement that Australia's Dateline program will be broadcasting hitherto undisclosed images of the torture of inmates at Abu Ghraib prison in 2003. (The Herald also reproduces the photos on its Web site.) Bloggers are expounding on further evidence of sadism in Iraq, and also on the relevance of publicizing it so soon after the firestorm of Mohammed caricatures.
Andrew Sullivan, who has written extensively on the moral sordidness of both torture and the administration's complicity in it, is aghast but offers a timely challenge to free-speech advocates just coming off the Danish cartoon row: "Here's a new and good test for those who have defended freedom of the press in the West against Muslim sensitivities. Now that some extra Abu Ghraib pictures have been released, will they publish them? Or will that offend too many Bush supporters?"
To which conservative Sistah Toldjah might have tailored this riposte in the incipient debate over Voltairean double standards: "Keep in mind that the people involved in the abuse that took place at Abu Ghraib at that time are being punished accordingly - this story is not new news, outside of showing 'new' photos of the same abuse we saw when this story first broke last year. So why the need to pile on?"
Liberal Jude at the Madison-based co-blog Punch and Jude comments, "The slideshow is just fucking awful, so don't click through if you're eating anything… Christ. This was done in my name, with my tax money. And probably yours, too. Unless you're one of our international readers."
Snuffed out: Britian's Parliament voted overwhelmingly yesterday to authorize a ban on smoking in "all enclosed public spaces," exempting prisons and, oddly enough, hospitals. A fine of £2,500 will be levied against those caught breaking this new law, which, unsurprisingly, has many of our carcinogenic cousins thundering with righteous indignation this afternoon.
One might think that with a Live Journal titled Politics. Culture. Beer.,Essexman "funnynamehere" would have a more plangent reaction to the smoking ban, but such is not the case: "The libertarian in me resents the loss of individual choice and government intervention in how people live their lives but, really, I just don't care."
Yet self-described "Grumpy Old Git" Cornell Finch is only going to tell you once: "I'm in the 'get your fucking mitts off telling me where I can and can't smoke' brigade. Partially. Yes, I agree with the ban on restaurants. Show me a restaurant (even now) where you can smoke while sat at your table. No restaurants down here will allow it. But pubs and private members clubs? No."
BondBloke at Thoughts of BondBloke is in favor of the ciggy kybosh, and he is having none of it from smokers worried about their civil liberties: "Well that is rich coming from a minority of people who are hell bent on polluting the atmosphere and endangering the health of all that they come into contact with (that they are endangering their own health is a matter for their own conscience); the question I have is, what about the civil liberties of all of us non-smokers?"
Read more about the U.K. smoking ban.