Thursday, February 14, 2008

The House Moves for More Debate on Reconciling Spy Bill, While Republicans Can Keep Walking

"I guess you got to come to the conclusion that there's a threat to America, or not a threat. ...I mean, evidently, some people just don't feel that sense of urgency. I do. And the reason I do is I firmly believe that there are still people out there who would do us harm." --Our ostensible President, George W. Bush, engaging in political theater today.

Washington D.C.--The yelling, squelching, and fear-mongering by the White House and her allies in Congress and the media continues today on the issue of renewal of the Protect America Act, blessedly expiring on Saturday. Will letting it expire make us less safe? No. FISA requires that any president who wishes to conduct a wiretapping operation within the United States must first go to the secret court (already questionable in-itself) and apply for a warrant. But that wasn't good enough for the Bush White House, an fear-ridden administration that has rightly seen enemies everywhere--especially within the continental United States. Could we have a better Valentine's Day gift? Who needs chocolates? There is no legitimate study that has ever connected the failures surrounding September 11th, 2001 to the requirement for warrants and all the other requirements that must be met to obtain judicial permission for investigative surveillance by the executive branch. Not one. Why would logic stop the president when he's facing legal difficulties? He didn't want the cookies anyway. Today, even the poker-faced Associated Press wrote that, "In a day of high political theater, President Bush said Thursday he'll delay his trip to Africa if necessary to get the House to finish a bill about how the government monitors phone calls and e-mails of suspected terrorists." ("Bush Criticizes Congress on Terror Bill," AP, 02.14.2008) Great, stay in Washington, go ahead, but isn't that endangering all of us by neglecting urgent diplomacy?

Yet, the president and his allies insist we could actually be attacked "in-the-interim" (while they were doing their walk-out, which is just as logical as their own assertions). Never mind that it took the 9/11 hijackers and their backers five-years to plan and expedite the attacks, the president--shock-and-awe--is going to do his own hijacking of the diplomatic process again, this time to protect himself and everyone else who was involved with his administration's roving, warrantless wiretapping program from investigation. This is unacceptable, and it's a direct threat to our collective security as a nation. That's nothing new under the Bush administration.

We can safely assume that one of the primary enablers of illegal surveillance by the White House is Senator Jay Rockefeller. Around the time of the New York Times article on the NSA program, Senator Rockefeller produced a sealed copy of a note he sent to Vice President Cheney on his "reservations" about the legality of the program. Sponsoring an amendment that flies-in-the-face of the thrust of the note story suggests the senator's involvement in the program is substantial, especially considering his direct ties to A.T.& T.

But growing a spine could be good for House and Senate Democratic incumbents, and the elephant in the room is that House Democrats are doing exactly what the majority voted them in to do in midterm elections in November of 2006 regarding this issue. The main issue is corruption, something the public has been wearying of for several years. The rest of the incumbents are being given their cue to repent to the public, and the stragglers and wafflers are going to lose if they continue to throw their lot in with the nearly expended Bush White House.

Democrats chairing the Intelligence and Judiciary committees in both Houses are already talking about compromises, Pelosi said, and the House Rules committee has left open the possibility of adopting compromise legislation on Thursday or Friday, before the President's Day weekend break. But Bush says he will veto any bill that does not include amnesty for the telecoms that helped with his five-year warrantless spying program, saying that if Congress does not do so, companies will be reluctant to help in the future. (Wired online, 02.14.2008)
It's a hollow argument, like all the others the administration has foisted on us. We want total power, but we cannot tell the big telecommunications corporations what's important to our national security. This seems confusing when you think of the administration as separate from corporate America--they are not. Again, there are the enablers in the ranks of the Democrats: Senators like Indiana's Evan Bayh, who could lose very big indeed by not being nominated for the post of Vice President. Besides having no personality, it would be for his "up" vote for the Protect America Act and his long-term support of funding for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The milquetoast Bayh is not alone in Congress by any means. Taking the moderate path--which in America means hard-right--isn't going to save these wafflers, and they're likely to regret their votes for the renewal of the PAA. The public will remember this across the political spectrum, and the real electoral showdown is coming sooner rather than later. The majority of the American public will not accept retroactive immunity in any version of the bill.
However, the stakes are much higher, and trials and prison could await co-conspirators like Rockefeller if a wider investigation of the warrantless NSA wiretapping program occurs. Hence the reason for retroactive immunity and its "broad support" in Congress: many of them stand to loses if the lawsuits of the 40 plaintiffs against America's biggest telecommunication companies go through. The outcomes wouldn't even be as important as the revelations that would come out in the trials, and political damage could be acute. For this reason, the American public isn't supposed to know what their own history is.

As Senator Chris Dodd stated before the final vote in the Senate, it would "close the door" on what happened for a very long time. In the spirit of all this today, the president made some evasive statements on the bill and why he felt so compelled that it be passed immediately:

Without this protection, without this liability shield, we may not be able to secure the private sector's cooperation with our intelligence efforts. And that, of course, would put the American people at risk. Now it's the House's turn to act. It is clear that the Senate bill would pass the House with bipartisan support. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate can put partisanship aside, and pass a good bill. There's no reason why the House cannot do the same, and pass the Senate bill immediately. (whitehouse.gov, 02.14.2008)
The president isn't missing the point--he's avoiding it on purpose. The fact is, there is already ample proof to investigate wrongdoing by the White House in so many areas that it's mind-boggling. What's well-known is that the president authorized an illegal wiretapping program expedited by the NSA and the telecoms that did wide sweeps netting information on millions of Americans. It was all done without warrants. This is illegal, and should be handled by our legal system, not the legislative or executive branches. And what of the Republican "walkout"?

The nature of the walk-out is being reported in some areas incorrectly: it was staged and urged on by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Oh.-thanks a lot, Ohio.) because contempt citations would finally be issued against former Bush aides and counsel for not appearing before Congress regarding the U.S. Attorney firings flush to the 2006 midterms.
This sole constitutional standoff has lasted for at least a year. On the walkout:
Republican leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is giving a press conference on the Capitol steps right now [Ed.-the original article was posted at 2:02 PM ET], saying that the decision of the House to debate a contempt resolution involving former White House officials instead of taking up the Protect America Act jeopardizes national security. He said the House Republicans would stay in Washington as long as necessary to finish the bill.
Pelosi and the Democratic leadership believe there isn’t enough time to reconcile the differences between the Senate and House versions of the act, which would make adjustments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act permanent, giving the government more power to monitor phone calls and emails without a court order in certain circumstances. The Democrats want a second extension of the current act to work out the differences. ("FISA Faceoff: Republicans walk out," The Swamp, Baltimore Sun, 02.14.2008)
But never mind that Congress should be given ample time to hammer out the differences, why not let the courts decide all of this so that we have the normal traditions of our cherished checks and balances restored? And so, the Republicans walkedout, refusing to vote on the contempt citations for former Bush counsel Harriet Miers and former White House Chief of Staff, Joshua Bolten, who the Bush administration is terrified of seeing testify under oath. If the threat is so great to America, why walkout? Why not stay and attempt to reconcile the bill?
The vote in the House was 223-32 to hold former presidential chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt for not appearing before Congress. The citations charges Miers with failing to testify and accuses her and Bolten of refusing Congress' demands for documents related to the 2006 firings of at least nine U.S. Attorneys. One of them was Carol Lam, who was likely fired for her successful investigation and conviction of former GOP Representative Randall Cunningham. Both the issues of the contempt citations and inquiries into warrantless surveillance by the Bush administration and her allies are the real issues. They are the genuine domestic threat to our national security. It would be good for America if the GOP did more walk-outs, we might have a reasonable pursuit of happiness for a change...
And so, if "time is wasting," why walkout, then pronounce that you're going to "stay in Washington to work on the bill"? Could anyone but a Republican make such bizarre, even contradictory statements than that? Yes, Bill Clinton could, and he figures-into the same political culture as the supporters of the Protect America Act. They all want retroactive immunity for the telecommunication companies to preserve a crumbling imperial presidency. Al Gore would vote the same way, as would Hillary Clinton.
It's also likely that Barack Obama would have voted for this version of the bill if he wasn't running for the office of President of the United States. This why they avoided the actual vote on the bill in the Senate. Interestingly, so did Lindsay Graham. Nonetheless, the pressure against these measures from the public is real, and it's not going away anytime soon. They hold little popular support at all. Lack of popular support hasn't stopped the GOP yet, and so only the courts can do this job.
A word of advice to the Republicans who walked out today: keep walking, and don't look back. Many of your aren't by not seeking reelection, and we're getting ready out here to hammer the next brew of corrupt candidates. You're finally serving the public interest for once in your lives by leaving office.
The Republican walkout is all just a ruse, bad political dinner theater to deflect any solid inquiries into the Bush administration's crimes. It should be obvious now that a number of co-conspirators in the warrantless surveillance program reside in Congress, and a few of them are Democrats on powerful committees. The inaction towards the Bush administration should come as no surprise in this context.
Criminals aren't known to investigate and arrest themselves. Next time around--if there is one--candidates Obama and Clinton should vote on such questionable legislation as the PAA so that we know where they really stand. What do they have to hide? One could imagine that it's a lot. Being a registered Democrat doesn't mean you trust the people in Washington, or take them at their word. It's time to deliver, or leave office. Retroactive immunity isn't delivering, and their will be a price to pay, and it will be a big one.
Wired magazine's blog on the walk-out: http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/02/democrats-confr.html

"Bush Criticizes Congress on Terror Bill," 02.14.2008:
http://enews.earthlink.net/article/nat?guid=20080214/47b3cad0_3ca6_1552620080214-1893195281

"FISA Faceoff: Republicans walk out," February 14th, 2008: