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Michael B. Laskoff Headshot

America's Other Swine Flu

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Today, if it walks on four legs and oinks then it does not have swine flu. If it's an elected official of Congress, however, then it's likely spreading something equally unappealing -- a continuing ineffectiveness and an unwillingness to own up to its own recently sordid past.

In today's New York Times, you'll find details of a congressional study -- based on the work of the inspector generals of five federal agencies -- which determined that spying on Americans did not prevent attacks. (In other words, Mr. Cheney, the useless ends did not justify the sordid means.) The article goes on to detail what sounds a lot like criminal conspiracy at the highest level. The executive branch appears to have inserted text into C.I.A. threat assessments. That's tampering. Alberto Gonzales "accidentally" misled Congress in 2007 while John Ashcroft "misunderstood" the nature of what he was authorizing the NSA to do. John Yoo's own boss at Justice was unaware of what this 'legal scholar' was actually doing. There's more, but you get the point.

What the Times fails to focus on is why "the investigation stopped short of assessing whether the wiretapping program violated the law requiring court-ordered warrants before wiretapping Americans' communications." Sadly, the answer seems obvious. The same members of Congress who failed in their Constitutional duty to provide checks and balances are in no rush to legally investigate their own passivity. And since no one oversees Congress, we get "findings" instead of convictions.

Unfortunately, this lack of accountability is like an infectious disease. When it's not checked in one area, it spreads to others, like health care, the economic recovery and the toasty environment. It's like political swine flu, and when Congress has it, we all get very sick.