Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On the Senate's Renewal of the Protect America Act: End Round One

"The president could have taken the simple step of requesting new authority from Congress ... but whether out of convenience, incompetence, or outright disdain for the rule of law, the administration chose to ignore Congress and ignore the Constitution." --Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid today (AP)

Washington D.C.
--As most expected, the Senate bent-over-backwards once again for the White House on FISA and retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies. If we were silly enough to believe the GOP's argument, it's all about an urgent need to "give law enforcement the tools to fight terrorists." It is not. The real issue is that the telecommunications companies cooperated with the Bush administration beginning in 2002, facilitating an illegal domestic spying operation without a warrants.

The problem is, the House has already passed a similar piece of legislation that doesn't feature retroactive immunity. Also predictable was today's demands by the president for the House to "meet the deadline" and pass the legislation immediately, never mind negotiating. This is not the normal demeanor of a President of the United States, it is the commands of a Monarch.

Will the House of Representatives give the White House and the GOP what they want? It's almost a certainty since there is no opposition party within the current brew of Democratic incumbents (exceptions notwithstanding). Will a renewal of the Protect America Act quell all lawsuits involving illegal surveillance of American citizens if it survives the reconciliation process with the House? This is difficult to tell at this point in the process--the bill isn't a law yet. It's an unknown. History will record that Senator Hillary Clinton did not vote to grant retroactive immunity to nearly every single telecommunication company in their illegal pact with the Bush White House--she did not vote at all. Obama voted earlier Tuesday against telecom immunity, and also did not vote. Here are the Senators who have to go:
Evan Bayh (D-IN) [Ed.-my emphasis], Tom Carper (D-DE), Robert Casey (D-PA), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Mary Landrieu (D-LA) Joe Lieberman (ID-CT), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Jim Webb (D-VA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) (, 02.12.2008)
The rest of the Democratic senators voted against the legislation that contained retroactive immunity for A.T.&T., Verizon, Sprint, Southern Bell, etc. . What have the Democrats got left? Excuses. We know why Jay Rockefeller created the provisions for immunity--he's tight with A.T.&T. What of the others? They have a lot of explaining to do to their angry constituents, and that would include the entire political and cultural spectrum outside of neoconservative and authoritarian circles.

As the current majority party, the Democrats cannot claim the same reasons for failure when they were in-the-minority. At this point, failure is self-inflicted and profoundly suspect. I repeat, it is suspect. This has been a primary feature of the now storied history of the 110th Congress, soon to be the next-to-worst Congress in our history. While the stunning victories of the Bush administration would not have been possible without Democratic acquiescence--like Vietnam--none of it would have been possible at all without the GOP. But mere skill and strategy don't tend to figure-in with Republicans. It takes a mountain of money to deny the laws of physics for another generation.

And just hours ago, Republicans made another victory by ending all possibilities for another extension of the existing 1978 version of the FISA law that already grants a reasonable degree of immunity to the telecommunications companies, but--tsk-tsk--requires a warrant, therefore the public "isn't being protected." So much for smaller government, traditional conservatism is also dead. The Democratic move would have meant a 21-day extension of current FISA statutes, nothing. The vote was
191-229, and was unexpected:
House Democratic majority leader Steny Hoyer asserted to reporters that even if the foreign intelligence surveillance law expires, Americans will not be in danger and the intelligence community will be able to continue intercepting communications of suspected terrorists. ...At the same time, Congressman Hoyer renewed allegations that Senate Republicans "slow walked" progress of the legislation in that chamber, to put the House in the position of having no alternative but to accept the unacceptable provisions. (Voice of America News, 02.13.2008)
In other words, this was coordinated. The problem is, there are Democrats taking marching orders from the GOP. Something else is compelling these representatives to vote the way they do, in perfect tandem with the most lawless administration (and party) in American history. The question is, what is it, and did it require taking an oath of secrecy under the umbrella of national security?

The truth is, allowing lawsuits against the telecommunications companies would expose solid evidence of Bush administration wrong-doing. There is more-than-ample smoke for aggressive independent investigations. The arguments to pass the legislation so quickly is also baldly partisan, but again, they have their fans in the DNC. The terms "liberal" and "conservative" have little meaning in the real world outside of CNN and Fox News, or on television in general.

What are representatives being told behind-the-scenes on the Hill by the Bush administration, and why are they so willing to believe it? Every single Republican senator voted for this measure (authored by a Democrat named Rockefeller) that could be the greatest threat to civil liberties since the first American Civil War. No surprise there, and Habeas Corpus is still suspended. Heading-up the rear, the president went on-the-attack and renewed his scare-mongering by suggesting that newer attacks will make September 11th, 2001 "pale in comparison."
Bush called on the image of planes crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 2001 as he pressured lawmakers to rewrite the intelligence rules governing how phone calls and e-mails are monitored for terrorist activity. Democrats and others fear the changes Bush and his Republican allies support would unduly encroach on civil liberties. The House is considering the Senate version of the bill that Bush favors, one that includes retroactive protection from lawsuits for telecommunications companies that cooperated with government eavesdropping following the Sept. 11 attacks. The House bill does not provide telecom immunity. (AP, 02.13.2008)
Who said Karl Rove doesn't keep-in-touch, and what do the Democrats fear? If it's not getting reelected, they're making all the wrong moves. 2006 was no historical-error, and more fundamental changes in voter behavior can be taken as a given.

"Bush Warns of Attacks While Backing Bill," February 13th, 2008:

Voice of America, February 13th, 2008:

Wired's blog on the renewal of the "Protect America Act," February 12th, 2008: