Wednesday, January 23, 2008

This One Is Simple

Every now and then, when I vehemently disagree with something the government is planning to do, I imagine myself face-to-face with the elected leaders in Congress, many of whom have impressive law degrees and decades of experience in reading through what must truly be (for the average citizen) mind-numbing bills and budgets and studies of the alternatives and consequences to their plans, and that generally settles me down. After all, these are the experts, and many of them are brilliant. Other times, however, why their plans are wrong for the country couldn't be any clearer to me if Jesus Christ Himself came down and told me to oppose them.

One such plan is to be taken up again now that the US Senate is back in session. I'll let Kos) describe the plan and its consequences [emphasis mine]:

Stuck in traffic on Sept. 11, smoke from the burning Pentagon wafting past, Royce C. Lamberth called the FBI to help get him to his office. As the top judge on the FISA court, Lamberth was in charge of approving government requests for NSA telephone surveillance. By the time the FBI arrived that day, he’d already approved five new wiretaps. “The courts can respond in times of national crisis, and I think the courts have to, and we did,” he explained.

National security agencies got everything they needed on Sept. 11, and on the critical days that followed.

It’s important to remember that fact this week, as Senate Republicans amp up the rhetoric in anticipation of their rekindled efforts to pass a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) amendment granting retroactive amnesty to telecommunication companies that violated federal law — by enabling spying on ordinary Americans’ phone calls — at the behest of the Bush administration.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto gave us an idea of the kind of hyperbole we can expect when he warned, “We’re exactly three weeks away from the date when terrorists can be free to make phone calls without fear of being surveilled by U.S. intelligence agencies.”

A terrific scare tactic, but dead wrong. No one thinks U.S. intelligence agencies should be denied surveillance capabilities.

The sole issue is whether outlaw telecommunications companies should be given a pass on their illegal behavior. And since President Bush has threatened to veto any FISA legislation without telco amnesty, it’s clear that he’s more concerned about Verizon’s checkbook than he is about our nation’s security.
As a partisan, Kos paints this as a Republican plan, but the truth is, as Harper's Scott Horton (h/t Joerg Colberg) tells us, this stands to pass with "the full complicity of the Senate Democratic leadership":

There’s no surprise that the White House is fully behind them. The surprise (though not to those who’ve kept a close tab on things) is that the Democratic leadership, which claims to be in opposition or at least neutral, is effectively in cahoots with the forces behind telecom immunity. Here’s what Harry Reid had to say:

[I]f people think they are going to talk this to death, we are going to be in here all night. This is not something we are going to have a silent filibuster on. If someone wants to filibuster this bill, they are going to do it in the openness of the Senate.

As Glenn Greenwald points out, Democrats have been pushing Reid to adopt just this defiant posture with respect to the filibustering Republicans for the past year. He has consistently refused to do so. Evidently his backbone only stiffens when it comes to a showdown over the telecoms and their right to facilitate criminal surveillance of millions of Americans without a warrant.

So, as is my habit, in response to this outrage I tried to imagine myself face-to-face with the distinguished senators in support of this immunity, and what I would say to express why this is a bad idea. Why the notion that the government should be able to grant the telecom companies who knowingly broke the law immunity just because there are terrorists out there the government wants to listen to is ill-conceived and un-American. Why the notion that the government should be able to spy on its own people is a path to totalitarianism. What would I say to these experts with more inside knowledge about the threats to our security that I'll every have? This one is simple.

We don't trust you! We do not trust you with that much information about our private conversations. We don't trust you won't somehow abuse this power. We don't even like you having this power because it will, like any power, corrupt those who have it. So throw your hands up in the air and wail away as much as you like about how the terrorists will surely kill us all if you can't listen in on Aunt May's gossip calls. We're not buying it. The laws are not there for times when it's easy to comply with them. The laws are there for the times when it's difficult to tell right from wrong. The telecom companies knowingly broke the law. They should not be granted immunity. They should have to answer for their crimes.

As the guy in the commercial says "I'm not one of those "call now" types, now." Demand that your senators oppose this legislation and/or support the filibuster.

Labels: politics


Blogger highlowbetween said...

Yes call now and call the Prez candidates too. This is dangerous legislation.

1/24/2008 11:10:00 AM  
Anonymous ondine-nyc said...

Great post Edward.

The problem is politicians know Americans are so complacent now they appear to put up with any invasion of their rights and all the shredding of the Constitution over the last 8 years has been greeted with a collective 'So?".

For shame.

1/24/2008 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I find it amusing -- in a dark way -- that the candidates keep talking about "working with both sides of the aisle" and "an end to partisan bickering" and things like that. Obama has been particularly vocal on this point: He's all about bringing people together. Meanwhile legislation like this shows that there is no opposition to the White House at all -- there are no partisans left.

1/24/2008 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

violated federal law — by enabling spying on ordinary Americans’ phone calls — at the behest of the Bush administration.

EW, I might be missing something here, but why is it the telecom companies that should be liable? Isn't it the Bush Administration itself we should be going after for doing the behesting (bullying)?

1/24/2008 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The telecom companies are liable, David. At least the ones who complied with the Administration's request. One (Qwest) didn't, specifically because they knew it was illegal to hand over records without a warrant:

In a separate N.S.A. project, executives at a Denver phone carrier, Qwest, refused in early 2001 to give the agency access to their most localized communications switches, which primarily carry domestic calls, according to people aware of the request, which has not been previously reported. They say the arrangement could have permitted neighborhood-by-neighborhood surveillance of phone traffic without a court order, which alarmed them.

As for the Bush administration's culpability...that day is coming.

1/24/2008 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

laws were broken - period - lawsuits should come. And why is Harry Reid forcing Chris Dodd to actually filibuster - verbally- when he has granted a symbolic filibuster for every Republican filibuster. Meaning a majority vote of 60. Who's the freakin partisan? Disgusting to do this to one's own party and over a constitutional issue.

1/24/2008 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

It is important to remember that Barack Obama has been extremely vocal in his opposition to telecom immunity. I think he'd rather actually take a principled stand than waste time bickering over trivialities.

Also, this isn't just about prosecuting telecom companies for breaking the law--it's about the precedent we're setting. If the law can be broken at the behest of the executive branch, and immunity is forthcoming, this absolutely destroys the rule of law in this country, and paves the way for a virtual totalitarian oligarchy.

Working Assets, now CREDO, refused to comply with the Bush administration's bullying as well.

1/24/2008 02:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris Dodd needs to force Reid out of his current job. Reid and Feinstein both seem to have taken on the role of dottering grandparents.

1/24/2008 04:58:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Totally's time for Reid to step aside and let a Democrat run the Senate.

1/24/2008 05:03:00 PM  
Blogger the reader said...

"the laws are not there for times when its easy to comply with them"

for me this is the key point. what's really behind these sort of laws is an increasingly unstable and uncertain future caused by factors that can genuinely affect the majority of the population. the issues of energy scarcity (at least the kinds energy that we use most of now)and its sibling global warming are already having an impact on the way we live, an impact that will only increase with time.

on this level increasingly draconian laws instituted by governments worldwide can be seen as an attempt to maintain the power of the corporate elite at a time when the consciousness that global capitalism is largely responsible for the problems we face is starting its inevitable spread to the population at large.

The very fact of this sort of conscious implies a desire to change the system that has led us to this point. The changes that we are able to affect will inevitably depend on how free we are to be able make those changes.

1/24/2008 06:40:00 PM  
Blogger peter said...

The larger problem, going back to precedent, is that if immunity is passed then it's precisely the sort of thing the Supreme Court would be likely to respect as such in the event administration officials are ever prosecuted.

Edward, I don't think their day is coming. There's been so little progress on all the investigations that Pelosi, et. al were crowing about, and now we're into the last year; Bush is going to run out the clock and the Dems are going to let him. They've obviously decided that it makes more strategic sense (for them) to acquiesce. It's a disgrace.

1/24/2008 10:13:00 PM  

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