Thursday, January 24, 2008

FISA, Telecom Immunity, Democratic Capitulation, MoveOn, Dodd's Filibuster and the Constitution

It's that time again! Yes, while our constitution continues to be run through one of Cheney's paper shredders, we once again are being forced to suffer through watching Democrats in the Senate bend over backwards to give the administration - and their telecommunication industry allies - EVERYTHING they want when it comes to FISA, illegal wiretapping, and retroactive immunity.

I speak of the new FISA bill coming before Congress that looks an awful lot like the Orwellian "Protect America Act" - passed back in August. Apparently the "America" being referred to is the administration that has been illegally eavesdropping on the emails and phone calls of US citizens and the phone companies that gladly allowed them to do so!

Now that the Senate is back from recess, the bill that would give these criminally complicit telecommunication companies retroactive immunity - thereby squashing any effort to discover just how broad the scope of this program was - is back up for a vote...likely Monday.

We know where Senators like Rockefeller and Feinstein stand: firmly with the administration and against the constitution. Thankfully, Senator Chris Dodd has vowed to filibuster this disgrace - and Senators Feingold and Kennedy have joined him with strong statements of opposition, as has John Edwards. The question now is how many Democrats will join this effort - in particular Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton?

Before I get to a few of the articles detailing this sordid affair, here's's take, and their request to urge Obama and Clinton to get back to DC and join Dodd and Co. stop this bill:

Some Senate Democrats want to cut a deal with President Bush to give immunity to phone companies that helped him illegally spy on the calls and emails of innocent Americans. This is nothing short of an attempted cover-up—ongoing lawsuits against companies like AT&T could be the only way we ever find out how far Bush went in breaking the law.2

Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have both said they oppose this immunity bill4, but now is a time we need real leadership. Senators Clinton and Obama have enormous influence with Democrats right now—if they helped lead a filibuster against this bill, other Senators would take notice and the public would see Democrats showing principle and backbone.

Can you call Senator Hillary Clinton today? Tell her we need her leadership to help block immunity for phone companies that helped Bush break the law.

Clinton 's presidential campaign number: (703) 469-2008

This issue strikes at the heart of accountability in our democracy. No president should be able to work with corporations to break the law and then use Congress to cover up the crimes.


And the facts are clearly on our side: A judge appointed by President Bush Sr. wrote an opinion finding that "AT&T cannot seriously contend that a reasonable entity in its position could have believed that the alleged domestic dragnet was legal."


MoveOn email putting in calls to Clinton campaign:

MoveOn email putting in calls to Obama campaign:

P.S. Senator John Edwards made a bold statement yesterday encouraging all Democratic Senators to show backbone on this issue. You can read it here:

I also found an article entitled "FISA 2.0 Called 'Atrocious' Privacy Violation" that I think breaks the issue down pretty well:

In August, Congress passed and the president signed the Protect America Act, which allows the attorney general and the director of national intelligence (DNI) to "authorize the acquisition of foreign intelligence information" without the approval of the special court established by FISA.

According to the liberal American Civil Liberties Union, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is likely to bring an amendment to the floor this week written by the Intelligence Committee. "We're back pretty much where we were in August," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, during a conference call with reporters.

"Sen. Reid is about to move a bill to the floor that looks an awful lot like the Protect America Act, except with one additional very bad provision, and that's the provision that provides immunity to those telecommunications carriers that - in violation of the law -turned over their customer data to the NSA," she said. (NSA is the National Security Agency and Central Security Service of the U.S. government.)


.J. Crowley, director of homeland security at the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP), added that, while FISA is outdated, how it is updated matters. "Advocates of the Protect America Act focus only on one side of the equation - finding the terrorists among us," Crowley told Cybercast News Service.

"They overlook the fact that an open-ended search for a terrorist will implicate Americans at the other end of the phone or e-mail who are completely innocent."This is why the FISA court remains relevant," he said. "The FISA court has already adapted how it operates to accommodate the government's need to act quickly. Warrants can be constructed in ways that allow broad latitude but retain oversight by the court."

"The Protect America Act was ostensibly intended to address a specific problem acknowledged on all sides: foreign-to-foreign communications that pass through U.S. switches," he told Cybercast News Service. "But the administration seized on this as an opportunity to enact legislation that effectively eviscerates FISA and goes far beyond what was necessary to address this problem," noting that the bill "makes a few modest improvements in the Protect America Act but fails to remedy its core deficiencies," Agrast said.

While the ACLU's Frederickson called the Intelligence Committee bill an "atrocious piece of legislation," she said the group is urging Reid to instead consider the Judiciary Committee's updates to the bill, introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), which would expand FISA's role.

Click here to read this article in its entirety.

The Washington Post also details some of the maneuverings going on in the Senate today:

But Vice President Cheney said in a speech yesterday that Congress "must act now" to renew the expiring surveillance law and provide telecommunications companies with protection from lawsuits alleging they violated personal privacy rights while helping the government after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"Those who assist the government in tracking terrorists should not be punished with lawsuits," Cheney said at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.


The White House and Republican lawmakers are pushing to make the law permanent while also adding legal protections for telecommunications companies, which face dozens of lawsuits. Most House Democrats and civil liberties groups strongly oppose immunity for the communications firms, but other Democrats -- including John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate intelligence committee -- have backed the GOP position.


Rockefeller told reporters yesterday that his committee's immunity proposal "will prevail." Six of the committee's eight Democrats supported the legislation, giving Republicans a crucial edge in the narrowly divided Senate.

Further complicating the outlook was a renewed threat by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) to stage a filibuster to block any version of the bill that includes immunity.


Caroline Fredrickson, Washington legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said Democrats opposing immunity face an uphill battle and accused Reid of mishandling the issue. "We would very much like Senator Reid to have a fight with the White House, to move forward with a bill that's stronger on civil liberties and has no immunity," she said. "If a bill doesn't pass, it's on the president's head."

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

I urge everyone to call Senator Obama, Clinton, or your US Senator and tell them to stand up for the people and the Constitution and join Dodd's filibuster! More on this come Monday...

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