Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Please sir, can I have some more?

I suppose you want your FISA update, don’t you?

Well, Tuesday saw the House vote out a 15-day extension of the PAA before they go the hell out of Dodge. That leaves this again up to the Senate, specifically the Senate Republicans, who now have to do a small twist (rather than a full pivot) if they want to accept for a fortnight what they just yesterday swore they would not.

I expect that Senate Republicans, with a gleeful push from some of our less bright Democrats, will agree to the extension. And though this will probably permit a period during which the Senate will consider amendments to the miserable SSCI FISA bill, the chance of any of the truly good amendments passing are slim.

If, by some miracle, any one of a number of these amendments is accepted, it might render the bill unsignable in the eyes of President Bush. Which, again, would be pretty much a victory from my standpoint—assuming Democrats are willing to say “shut up” to what will almost certainly be a pathetic whining from the White House and its spook-happy allies about how vulnerable this Democratic need for oversight and accountability would make us.

Of course, it wouldn’t make us the least bit vulnerable, as Democratic Representative from New Jersey Rush Holt explains (as transcribed by Glenn Greenwald):

[Even if the Protect America Act] expires, a perfectly satisfactory eavesdropping framework called "FISA" is already in place, along with the PAA's authorization that any programs begun under it can continue for one year after expiration.

(Greenwald also has video of Holt)

Holt even opposed the 15-day extension of the PAA, favoring its expiration if the Senate won’t take up the House version of the act (which, again, is far superior to the SSCI version). And Holt is right to do so—the PAA is a black mark on our nation’s history, not to mention a low point in the history of the supposedly Democratic controlled 110th Congress. As Greenwald reminds us:

With all the focus on the travesty of telecom amnesty, it has been easy to forget just how Draconian the Protect America Act really is, how radical are the warrantless eavesdropping powers it vested in the President. In essence, that bill allowed the Government to eavesdrop on every single international telephone call made or received by an American with no restrictions or judicial oversight whatsoever, and further empowered the Government to read every international email sent or received by an American with no restrictions or judicial oversight.

I also believe (as I previously explained) that the PAA has basically made each and every one of our e-mails fair game for warrantless surveillance—no matter where they go or who their from. In fact, the FISA regime, or lack thereof, under the PAA has likely cast so big a net that it has (as has been previously reported it would) overwhelmed our analysts with too much noise to provide anything resembling actionable intelligence on terrorism. It does, however, give this administration all the tools necessary to repress dissent, undermine a free press, and do opposition research on political opponents.

Don’t trust me. It’s already happened. Just ask Lawrence Wright. The Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Looming Tower has pretty good evidence that his phones were tapped starting in 2002. (And that was under a less permissive FISA structure.)

No, you don’t have to trust me—but why would you ever trust the Bush-Cheney Administration? As Senator Russ Feingold explains in the Greenwald piece that I link to above, “trust us” is all the assurance the White House ever gives, and all the oversight they will accept. After all that has happened in the last seven years, however, it is the last version of “oversight” that the Democrats in Congress should accept.

Nor should they have to. Practically no one in the country trusts this administration anymore. Everyone knows they have a penchant for secrecy and a complete disrespect for the rule of law. Everyone knows they are alternately venal and incompetent. And vast majorities of Americans rate the president and practically everything his government does as just plain awful.

Every time that Bush has spoken over the past three years or so, his popularity has gone down. So let him rant and wail; let him demand a FISA law with provisions that polls show a majority of Americans reject. Let the PAA expire and do so in the name of our Constitutionally guaranteed rights, have the gumption to stand up to telecom lobbyists, their bought-and-paid-for legislators, and an unpopular, lame-duck president, and I promise you good things will come. (Fail to stand up, and most likely bad things will come. Does the Democratic leadership not remember how their PAA “blink” was received last August?)

No one sided with the proprietors of the workhouse in Oliver Twist. No one thought, “That cheeky boy, why is he not happy with his one glorious bowl of gruel? How dare he make noise!”

Instead of meekly accepting another bowl PAA/FISA gruel, why not look down Pennsylvania Avenue and demand more of something much more fulfilling? Please sir, can we have some checks and balances, proper oversight, our Constitutionally guaranteed rights to privacy and due process—can we have more of those? Ask for that, instead of cowering to the politics of fear, and the American people will eat it up.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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