Friday, January 25, 2008

FISA, fear and feckless politicians

The FISA bill is complex. The politics and parliamentary procedures surrounding the debate about FISA are an impenetrable thicket.

This is the way a lot of our elected officials like it. They like it most of all when you don't know what they're doing. They like it even better when you don't care.

These days, the press is abetting them.

But you can't afford to be discouraged into inaction. You can't be hobbled by the inability to parse the twists and turns of a Senate attempting to make bad law. You need to have the strength of mind to read the complicated dispatches from the few journalists and bloggers who care, and decide what you're going to do.

Read no further if you're comfortable with the idea that George Bush, or someone who works for him, could decide to spy on you, for no better reason that he dislikes you politically, or that your company competes with his friend's company, or that you don't like Jesus, or that he doesn't like your blog, or your song, or your TV show. And once they assemble enough "evidence" to trump up a case, they'll need to label you, or your brother, or your daughter a terrorist, who needs to be whisked away to a secret prison for "harsh interrogation." And if you think it can't happen here, brother, it's already happened here.

The FISA law has been around for four decades. It allows the government, with court approval (after the fact when necessary), to eavesdrop on calls when terrorism is suspected.

The Bush administration, trusting that fear will create absolution, have misused the law, eavesdropping on millions and millions of phone calls and emails, trolling for terror where no terror exists. Some really big telecommunications companies helped them break the law.

The Bush administration has acted outside the letter of the law, and the Constitution. And now the Bush administration wants Congress to pass a law which says it's okay for them to act that way in the future, and it was swell of them to have acted that way in the past.

Some in Senate don't want to give this president, or any president that kind of power, because that kind of power leads to abuse.

The president, and those who support him, want to give the telecommunications companies immunity after the fact for helping the government break the law. On the surface it seems like the president wants to help the poor telecommunications companies from losing truckloads of money in lawsuits. In reality, the president wants to prevent the lawsuits from coming to court where judges will discover just how much outside of the law law the president, and his minions, stepped.

On Monday, Republicans in the Senate will try to force a vote to end debate on the FISA bill, which includes immunity for telecommunications companies. Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd said he will filibuster to prevent that vote, and to prevent the immunity clause. He is supported by Democrats like Feingold, and Kennedy. And now even the Senator without a backbone ("Watch him fold. Watch him bend.") is encouraging the filibuster, not because he thinks the law is particularly bad, but because the Republicans double-crossed him, and he's mad as four year old who hasn't gotten his way.

On Monday, our useless president delivers his last State of the Union address in which he will likely heap scorn on Congress for not passing FISA, and leaving the country adrift on a sea of terror.

On Monday, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will be in Washington for the SOTU, and therefore in the Senate for the filibuster, or the vote. We will be able to witness the strength of their vertebrae.

So read up. There's a lot to know, and it's your duty as a voting citizen.

Glenn Greenwald on Jay Rockefellers abdication of responsibility.
Christy Hardin Smith on the Republican desire for failure, and some phone numbers for you to call.
Ryan Singel on a press that doesn't get it.
Chris Dodd on why the FISA bill is wrong.
Tim Tagaris on the ugly details of the politics.
Russ Feingold on Senate Republicans.
The New York Times on how close George Bush is to getting his way.

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