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Tilting at Windmills

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February 14, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

FISA....Andy McCarthy, after saying it would be "unconscionable" for House Democrats to let last year's FISA extension lapse on Friday, stares into the abyss:

Well it looks like the unconscionable is about to occur. I am hearing from several sources that the House is planning to recess on Friday without taking up the Senate bill. That would mean the lapse of our surveillance authority at midnight....President Bush has to keep pounding this, as does Sen. McCain. This is not politics, folks. For grown-ups, this is life and death.

Look, if it's that important, there's a simple answer: pass the bill without telecom immunity. Then come back and introduce immunity in a separate bill. If you've got the votes for it, fine. If not, too bad. I'm against immunity myself — though hardly hellbent on the subject — but whichever way the vote went, in the meantime we'd have the FISA extension and surveillance could continue normally.

But that's not on the table. The supposed grownups in the GOP are, apparently, perfectly happy to play around with "life and death" if it's in the service of a bit of demagogic brinksmanship over telecom immunity. Why?

NOTE: "FISA extension" is shorthand for the Protect America Act, which passed last November and extended (i.e., changed) the then-current FISA legislation in various ways. PAA sunsets on Saturday if a new bill isn't passed, but the original FISA legislation will stay in place.

Kevin Drum 3:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (94)

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Comments

uh, uh, exactly right

Posted by: don'tknow on February 14, 2008 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

I'm against immunity myself — though hardly hellbent on the subject

I am astounded that anybody could be less than hellbent on the subject. It strikes me as just about THE most outrageously flagrant subversion of the rule of law and constitutional principles in a long, long, time. Care to elaborate, Kevin?

Posted by: Brautigan on February 14, 2008 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK
I'm against immunity myself — though hardly hellbent on the subject

Which subject exactly would cause you to get hellbent?

Posted by: phleabo on February 14, 2008 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

The supposed grownups in the GOP are, apparently, perfectly happy to play around with "life and death" if it's in the service of a bit of demagogic brinksmanship over telecom immunity. Why?

Yep, that one answers itself, alright.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on February 14, 2008 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

Gee, if it lapses, we'll just have to go back to the way we did things before. As in, retroactive warrants and no problem receiving authority from the FISA court for probable cause surveillance.

I like that result.

Posted by: abject funk on February 14, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Why?

Corporations have the cash and are future employers. That's why.

Posted by: David in NY on February 14, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK
Why?
Because they're Republicans, duh. Posted by: Steve LaBonne on February 14, 2008 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

"life and death" if it's in the service of a bit of demagogic brinksmanship over telecom immunity. Why?

Because it's easier to lie repeatedly than it is to get the lower (more accountable) House on board with the corporate agenda.

Posted by: Paul Dirks on February 14, 2008 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Obviously republicans think it's more important to protect the telecoms than to protect America.

Posted by: aaron aardvarka on February 14, 2008 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Life and death of the phone companies, of course.


Posted by: dr2chase on February 14, 2008 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Check out McJoan's explanation at DailyKos.
FISA Fight: Playing chicken

The lying liars are pretending that allowing the law to expire means surveillance can't be done. It means nothing of the kind. Surveillance goes on just as it has been.

My significant other says that the salient characteristic of a Republican is that he or she tells lies whenever it confer an advantage on him or her--or on a corporate lobbyist. Another data point to support this.

I saw that the administration provided selected intelligence to the IAEA today that purports to show Iran tried to get nuclear weapons. It may be true or not. Who knows when a liar is telling the truth? After Colin Powell's U.N. presentation in 2003, who can believe a word out of the mouth of anyone associated with Bush?

They've got only themselves and their dismal record to blame for their total lack of credibility.

Posted by: cowalker on February 14, 2008 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Because telecoms are much less likely to cooperate with the authorities if doing so leaves them open to litigation.

Posted by: Adam on February 14, 2008 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

"though hardly hellbent on the subject"

End 4th Amendment for Executive branch. Check.

Immunity from suit or charges for illegal acts of corporations. Check

...nothing to get all hellbent over about that, nope... "get over it" ...move along...

Posted by: Geoff on February 14, 2008 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Because telecoms are much less likely to break the law if they're not given a get out of jail free card.

Fixed your typo.
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on February 14, 2008 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, what would get you properly exercised? If you can't get excited about the Fourth Amendment - what the hell would do the trick?

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on February 14, 2008 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK


The whole FISA debate has never been about surveillance but about WARRANTS. Why the Dems have not been pounding that distinction from the beginning is beyond me.

Whatever warrantless wiretapping powers the GOPers want for "the President" will be exercised soon enough by Barack or Hillary. I wonder why the Dems don't make THAT point, when some GOPer gets up on his hind legs and brays that the Dems are trying to tie the hands of "this President".

And now for something completely different: how the hell did the Clemens/McNamee spat become a PARTISAN thing, all of a sudden?

-- TP

Posted by: Tony P. on February 14, 2008 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

As I understand it from reading the news, any spying program currently approved could continue for another year. So the national security connection is pretty tenuous.
Bush's whole rationale is that we need this because it prevented all these attacks. What attacks? If there were attacks, what happened to the attackers. Why would there be a need for secrecy after a plot had been discovered and foiled? It's not as if the would-be attackers and their cohorts don't know what happened.
My guess is that the foiled attacks are figments of Bush's rhetoric, sort of like the Iraqi WMD's that were poised over us like the sword of Damocles.
More administration wag-the-dogwash.
What does make sense is that they want this immunity for the telecoms built in, so that inconvenient questions can't be asked under oath.
SEO
S

Posted by: seo on February 14, 2008 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Wait a minute! Just who do you propose "our" reprentatives represent if not the telecom industry?

Posted by: The Dancing Kid on February 14, 2008 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

WHo gives a shit what Andy McCarthy thinks anyway? Besides, he sucked in "Pretty in Pink."

Posted by: commie atheist on February 14, 2008 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sorry, but I have real doubts that the adminstration would let a little something like a change in law alter their course. If a wiretap they are doing or want to do becomes illegal, I see no reason to assume they won't do it anyway and then say, simply that they were within the exisitng law or meeting the president's obligations to protect the country. The whole administration has been based on thumbing their noses at the Congress, so I really can't see why they would be efffected at all by the change, and thus it difficult to accept the "life and death" jibber-jabber at face value.

Posted by: do on February 14, 2008 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Abject Funk and Blue Girl, Red State are right, Kevin. Telecom immunity is the little fish here. The big fish -- whose corpse is stinking to high heaven -- is allowing this or any administration (but especially this one) the ability to spy on citizens without first making some minimal showing of need and getting a FISA court order. THAT'S what needs changing!

Posted by: Tom in Houston on February 14, 2008 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

Adam wrote,

Because telecoms are much less likely to cooperate with the authorities if doing so leaves them open to litigation.

If "cooperate" means "cooperate to act illegally," we can only hope so.

I doubt the telecoms were wanting for legal counsel which would have advised them the intercept requests were clearly illegal under the law.

Posted by: liberal on February 14, 2008 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

Tom in Houston, that only requires doing nothing. And since that's the Congressional Democrats' specialty, maybe there's hope! ;)

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on February 14, 2008 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't it WAY past time to just admit 'The Law' is an Albatross around the Republicans' fine neck; hindering their every movement of arranging the USA and the rest of the planet into a marketplace Galeria of the New World Order.

Posted by: Bathrobespierre on February 14, 2008 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

seo wrote, What attacks?

IIRC there was that guy who planned on destroying the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch. Not sure if the wiretaps helped eliminate that strategic threat to the Fatherland.

Posted by: liberal on February 14, 2008 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

Because telecoms are much less likely to cooperate with the authorities if doing so leaves them open to litigation.

Gee, they might have to wait for a lawful warrant or something.

The horror. The horror.....

Posted by: Stefan on February 14, 2008 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

If the President is so worried about national security, why is he relying on Congress to bail out the telecommunications companies-why doesn't he just grant them an executive pardon-the issue would be over and the legislation could be passed without the controversy.

Posted by: Fred on February 14, 2008 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

I think I finally figured out why the telecoms are so hardcore about this: if it's true (as the Quest bankruptcy hearings seem to bear out) that they were cooperating with Cheney before 9/11, they must be afraid it would open them up to liability -- not of anything involving Constitutional violations, but of 9/11 itself. And that, of course, would make Bush's incompetence even plainer.

Thus their money flowing to the Bush Dogs and Wimpocrats and Repubilcans. It's money spent to avoid spending money.

Posted by: Edgewater Joe on February 14, 2008 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I am hellbent on the subject of amnesty for telecoms who have violated the wiretapping laws.

I will not vote for or financially support any politician who enables telecom amnesty to go through. There are more than a dozen Democratic senators who I now hope to are defeated in their reelection campaigns, and that unfortunately includes Sens Webb, the Nelsons, and others.

And even though he voted NAY on the bill, the fact that Senator Reid paved the way for the bill to be passed puts him on my list of Democrats whose opponents I will support.

Yes, it's that important to me.

Posted by: Pope Ratzo on February 14, 2008 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

Why is the GOP willing to play the life or death angle, because it knows that the issue isn't about life or death or imminent attack or mushroom clouds. It knows this legislation is a power grab by the 2nd branch of government from the 1st and 3rd branches. It's about hiding willful violations of the law, likely before 9/11, and absurd qui pro quos. It's about everything the US Constitution is not. It's about protecting Party over protecting the People.

Posted by: po on February 14, 2008 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

Why? because they're assholes, that's why. And their argument is bullshit anyway.

There is nothing stopping the Bush administration from surveilling- they just have to get a warrant.

Any current targets can continue to be surveilled for an entire year.

What the fuck are they belly-aching about? what a bunch of whiny ass titty babies.

Posted by: fourlegsgood on February 14, 2008 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't it a little weird that they feel so strongly that they must continue to be able to do what didn't work in the first place, and oh by the way, those participating in the illegal acts that did no good should have immunity?

Posted by: thebewilderness on February 14, 2008 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Because it is less about immunity for telecoms then immunity for the spooks who bribed and blackmailed the telcos into giving them the access. The one who refused is in jail now, ya know.

Posted by: John Gillnitz on February 14, 2008 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

If there's no 4th, then can you imagine the slew of small-time cops who bring evidence to court without having had a warrant to gather it? What would or could a judge say except, "Bring it on!"

BTW, how did Clinton & Obama vote on 'immunity'?

Posted by: MarkH on February 14, 2008 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

I sure hope it lapses. Why even vote on this horrible horrible bill?

Posted by: POed Lib on February 14, 2008 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

Telecom immunity is the most corrosive type of corruption. I hold out hope that if this evil passes the good judges of our Federal Government will tell the craven Republicans and Democrats who have voted for immunity that they were violating our Constitution once again, but it would be nice to see our Senators and Representative standing up for our Constitution on their own once in a while.

Of course, FISA worked fine before Bush ignored it. It will work fine when it becomes law again on Saturday.

Posted by: freelunch on February 14, 2008 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with --- well, pretty much everyone on this thread. There is no need for an extension of the stupid law the Democrats rolled over and passed last August. The original FISA law is just fine, thank you, and none of the fearmongers in the Bush administration or their enablers has even made much of an effort to argue otherwise. It's all about power for them. The retroactive immunity for telecoms in this case is just icing on the cake.

But there's a bigger issue here which is largely being ignored by everyone.

Bush has pushed the unitary executive notion farther than any previous president, and now Mukasey has repeatedly and brazenly stated before the Senate that the law is pretty much whatever the administration says it is --- the DOJ won't investigate or prosecute any actions taken at the behest of the administration.

THAT'S what Democrats should be raising holy hell about. Until then, the Bush administration has staged a bloodless coup and declared Congress irrelevant. So who gives a shit what legislation Congress does or doesn't pass?

Posted by: David Bailey on February 14, 2008 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

"I'm against immunity myself � though hardly hellbent on the subject"

Every day, if you look close, you can watch Kevin lose a little more of his soul. Such is the price of corporate blogging.

Posted by: notanumber on February 14, 2008 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Or President Bush could just pardon the telecom companies and make the question moot. The House would pass the bill with the now-meaningless position and that would be that.

Posted by: dbomp on February 14, 2008 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

IMPEACH THRE MOTHERFUCKER ALREADY

Posted by: dexmike on February 14, 2008 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

Answer to MarkH: Obama flew back from the campaign trail to vote against telecom immunity. Clinton did not vote.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on February 14, 2008 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK
Why?

Corporations have the cash and are future employers. That's why.

So, any attorneys out there want to answer a question for me?
Let's suppose there's a huge lawsuit against, say AT&T. And the case is decided for the plaintiffs, to the tune of a couple billion dollars.
Can the plaintiffs insist on payment in stock rather than cash?

Now a question for the corporate finance types.
What percentage of total capitalization for AT&T would 5 billion dollars be?
A controlling interest? Voting position on the BOD?

I'm thinking that one of the reasons immunity is such a high priority for some parties in Congress and the White House is that the financial cost could be so high that it might require ownership of stock to change hands, possibly a lot of it.

Don't give me the "if they don't have immunity they won't cooperate" manure.
If Jack Bauer shows up with a gun and a badge, you had better believe that the tech on duty, or the VP in charge of the division will say "Yes sir, right away."
It will even make it easier - they cooperated under duress, that's a pretty good defense IIRC.
That leaves any legal onus solely on government employees and organizations.

Posted by: kenga on February 14, 2008 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

The supposed grownups in the GOP are, apparently, perfectly happy to play around with "life and death" if it's in the service of a bit of demagogic brinksmanship over telecom immunity. Why?

Because suing the telecoms is the last open channel to investigate Bush's criminal behavior. Duh.

Posted by: Gregory on February 14, 2008 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

It seems clear from the Bush administration's insistence on telecom immunity that their issue is not protecting the U.S. from harm, but rather protecting the plaintiffs' attorneys in the telecom lawsuits from discovery--and any pre-September 11, 2001, illegal wiretaps from becoming public knowledge.

My issue is entirely different. As I recall, the president swears an oath to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States," not "the people from harm." It would be a nice extra if Bush really did care about protecting the U.S. population from harm, but his obligation is to protect the Constitution, and his stand on telecom immunity (not to mention the warrantless wiretapping) is antithetical to that obligation.

Posted by: Soprano on February 14, 2008 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

The supposed grownups in the GOP are, apparently, perfectly happy to play around with "life and death" if it's in the service of a bit of demagogic brinksmanship over telecom immunity. Why?

Because the surveillance being performed wasn't only on suspected terrorists, maybe?

"Can you assure us that no one is being eavesdropped upon in the United States other than someone who has a communication that is emanating from foreign soil by a suspected terrorist, al-Qaida or otherwise?" Sen. Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat, asked at one point early in the daylong hearing.
"I can't give you absolute assurance," Gonzales replied, before adding, "What I can assure the American people is we have a number of safeguards in place so we can say with a high degree of certainty that those procedures are being followed."

So, yeah, it's about protecting corporations as much as it is about protecting the Republican 'brand' from allegations of government intrusiveness into our private lives.

Posted by: grape_crush on February 14, 2008 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

We need a controlled surveillance society because the top priority of the Republicans is the free flow of labor into the U.S. (including terrorists and criminals), and the priority of the Democrats is chamberpot immigrants (because they vote Democratic) who need watching. So we must give up our freedoms for cheap labor and Democratic vote fraud schemes.

Posted by: Luther on February 14, 2008 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

I am good with forcing the President to obey the Constitution. Why the hell not?

I guess changing the fundamental law of the land is something my representatives don't think they need to explain. National security and all.

Posted by: Corpus Juris on February 14, 2008 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

grape_crush,

Exactly right. Current surveillance isn't just on terrorists or even suspected terrorists.

It is on all of us. Phone calls, emails, text messages, the works.

It is all collected and then distilled down by filters and keywords with a supercomputer. Do people honestly think that supercomputers are used only to model weather and nuclear explosions and to beat Chess champions?!

We've done it for years on non-US citizens (google Echelon) and we are now doing it on US citizens as well.

The computer program distills down the messages to try to extract the most important ones for human analysis.

To do that well it must first collect all the messages. Would a court grant a warrant to wiretap everyone for computer analysis? Apparently Bush doesn't want to see if they would.

Posted by: Tripp on February 14, 2008 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

Amen to other people handing Kevin his non-hellbent head on a platter.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 14, 2008 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe someone has already beaten me to it, and that’s fine, but wanted you all to know that the House Democrats found some balls and found Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress. White House spokeswench Dana Perino angrily noted that “the 'people's House' should reflect the priorities of the American people, not the fantasies of left-wing bloggers." Are you listening, Kevin?

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on February 14, 2008 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

We've already established what you are......now we're just dickering about the price....

“In order to be able to discover … the enemy’s plans, we need the cooperation of telecommunication companies,” Bush said. “If these companies are subjected to lawsuits that could cost them billions of dollars, they won’t participate. They won’t help us. They won’t help protect America.”

Posted by: Geoff on February 14, 2008 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

Really, how long before Cheney cancels the election do to security problem or threat level, and the GOP congress (and probably most dems) backs them up? I'm serious, these guys seem capable of it, no?

Posted by: the fake fake al on February 14, 2008 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

I've had an unresolved question through all of this - Does Congres really have the power to take away our 4th amendment rights?

I mean, telecom immunity would seem to serve the purpose of making it impossible for an individual to file suit against a telecom as part of a 4th amendment question before the courts. Does Congress actually have the power to do that?

Or, alternatively, does immunity mean that they would be obligated to comply with an information request because they would no longer have the worry of self-incrimination?

Posted by: kis on February 14, 2008 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on February 14, 2008 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, how did Clinton & Obama vote on 'immunity'?

Obama voted against (for Feingold amendment, against cloture).

Hillary couldn't be bothered to show up.

Posted by: Brautigan on February 14, 2008 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

People seem to have forgotten that the Bush Administration has already been caught in a lie about FISA. Last year, a German terror cell was broken up and the filthy Bush liars tried to say it was due to the more expansive FISA law. This was a lie!

Even a brain-dead conservative should begin to understand that these filthy people lie and lie and lie and lie. They belong in prison. Period.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on February 14, 2008 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

mhr, wrong! Trial attorney angle. You are old school, dude. Immunity sets a dangerous precedent, that the govt can use private business to perform illegal acts, then grant them immunity. No immunity is a strong message to business to think twice about ignoring the law.

Posted by: the fake fake al on February 14, 2008 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

Bribes and blackmail are what necessitated checks and balances in the first place.

Posted by: balto on February 14, 2008 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

mhr, there was no "good faith;" there was fear and there were thugs in charge.

"good faith" would mean that the telecoms FOLLOWED THE LAW. to say that major corporations aren't obligated to follow the law because a scared shitless little man in the oval office knew that he had failed the american people on 9/11/01 is to demonstrate police state behavior.

not every telecom broke the law; the ones that did should face the consequences.

where you find "good faith" in this kind of authoritarian approach (well, the president said i was entitled to break the law) is beyond me, but that's true of so many of your arguments....

Posted by: howard on February 14, 2008 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

Not hellbent?

You're freakin' kidding, right?

Posted by: Stranger on February 14, 2008 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

Folks, if you don't like the Constitution and think that its ok for the government to read every email, and listen to every telephone call made by an American anywhere, then be honest about it and change the Constitution.

I don't even know why this is a debate except our technology has gotten ahead of our fundamental law, and our politicians want to do something they haven't been authorized to do. They might have a good reason to use the new technology, but the reason we have the rule of law in the first place is to balance community's interests against the rights of the individual. If the politicians think it is really important to snoop on everybody they should be honest enough to ask all of us if it is ok. Like I said, amend the Constitution.

Posted by: corpus juris on February 14, 2008 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

Why not have a vote on the bill? Is the Dem leadership in the House afraid of a little democracy?

Posted by: Brian on February 14, 2008 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

Who cares about the rule of law?!?!?! Terrirists are comin' to kill our kids with new-clear suitcase bombs!!! LESS LAW-FOLLOWING, MORE TORTURE!!!

Posted by: RIP_Rule_of_Law on February 14, 2008 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

Brian on February 14, 2008 at 6:03 PM:

Why not have a vote on the bill? Is the Dem leadership in the House afraid of a little democracy?

If we keep letting corporations and Repub 'conservatives' bypass the rights guaranteed by the Constitution when convenient, a 'little democracy' is all that will be left, Brian.

And that is something to be afraid of.

Posted by: grape_crush on February 14, 2008 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

Go read Sylvestre Reyes letter at Atrios site:

http://atrios.blogspot.com/2008_02_10_archive.html#6229571246195545757

He details, and he's in the position to know, why the [p]resident is full of ..it.

We don't need no stinkin' amnesty!

Posted by: gaarvark on February 14, 2008 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

oops... I meant immunity.. I get so excited...

Posted by: gaardvark on February 14, 2008 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

I've had an unresolved question through all of this - Does Congress really have the power to take away our 4th amendment rights?

You could appeal it to the Supreme Court, but good luck getting 'justice' from that stacked deck of authoritarian party-hack creeps.

Posted by: Mike G on February 14, 2008 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

Mike G, it's not just that the current supreme court probably isn't that interested in the 4th ammendment, it's that to get a case to the supreme court you'd have to demonstrate standing and harm, and in the absence of information over the extent of illegality, i don't know how you do that.

Posted by: howard on February 14, 2008 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

Get over yourself, grape.

Posted by: Brian on February 14, 2008 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

MHR,

Who do you think threw more money at the issue: trial lawyers or telco companies. I know where I am betting.

Posted by: Mike Lamb on February 14, 2008 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

If the telecoms could show that they cooperated with the bush administration in the "good faith" belief that they were following the law, they wouldn't need immunity.

But I guarantee you that their files are full of memos from their own in-house lawyers that what they were being asked to do was in all probability against the law. I'll bet that there was quite a bit of screaming and yelling going on involving corporate counsel on this issue, and discovery would uncover it in a heartbeat.

Posted by: dasher on February 14, 2008 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

The "immunity" is simply to protect BushCo. If the telecoms are ever brought into court, the first thing they will do is call on the Federal authorities to back their claims that the surveillance WAS legal.
BushCo would simply claim "national security" and let the courts dismiss the case. And whoever gave the greenlight for the illegal surveillance activity would be protected.
Under a Democratic administration (and that is looking more and more likely) there would be no need to protect the person/s who thought up this illegal activity, got the President to agree to it, and set it into motion.
And that is why the Republican party will not agree to any new legislation that does not include "telecom amnesty". They have already seen one president resign because of wiretapping and they don't want to see another do the same.
And if the illegal activity is egregious enough, there is nothing to prevent an incoming administration from indicting a former president. Doubt that will occur, though. Might set a precedent.

Posted by: Doug on February 14, 2008 at 7:16 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the best question of all--why don't Republicans admit that, as soon as Bush leaves office, they're going to "rediscover" their love of privacy and completely and totally flip-flop on this issue as soon as they can?

Every time we get into the weeds on this issue, there's one clear choice--either you believe that the Government should have the power to conduct warrantless wiretapping or not. Either you believe there should be a check on the power of the administration to eavesdrop or you don't. Either you believe that a court should decide and that a court should have oversight or you don't.

This has nothing to do with catching terrorists.

First of all, let me just disabuse you people of that one little nugget. We are either going to catch terrorists or we are not. Regardless of the FISA law, regardless of who sits in what chair and decides what's what, we either catch them or we don't. We either get lucky and stop the incompetent ones or we just barely miss them. We are not going to stop a determined terrorist who protects their communications and their methods no matter who's President and no matter what surveillance tactics we use. So many people cower in fear--don't cower in fear. If a terrorist hits, do what you can to survive, adapt and overcome and don't surrender your civil liberties to a government scam. We have allowed the deaths of 3,000 Americans to turn into perpetual fear for 300 million Americans. What we should have done is kill the people who were responsible (thanks again for letting him go at Tora Bora), adapt our methods and procedures, streamline the sharing of intelligence, make it harder to get materials through our ports and border crossings, and train and finance more first responders. You don't respond to a traumatic event by sticking your head up your ass unless you're a Republican congressman who sees an opportunity to redirect money for social programs into no-bid contracts for incompetent campaign contributors.

You wanna beat terrorists? Then don't be afraid of them. Mock them, kill them, ignore them and then, if all else fails, go into their country and kill them quickly and silently in the middle of the night and leave no trace.

Grow the fuck up. This is about Bush and the Republican Party protecting what little of Bush is left so they can ride through the 2008 election and hang on to what little power they have left. This has nothing to do with terrorism. If it did, these issues would sort themselves out quickly enough.

But let's get over this idea that it's about stopping terrorists. It ain't. It's about a pathetic little group of tyrants trying to hold on to what little power they have left because if they lose it, we'll find out what they've been doing for the last six years.

And what they've been doing is spying on Democrats and their political enemies. It's that simple.

Posted by: Pale Rider on February 14, 2008 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

Big Telecom is much deeper in it than they can afford for people to learn. This evesdropping operation isn't just some cubicle jockey being fast talked out of his keys to the router room by an overbearing NSA agent.

Big Telecom probably invented the listening technology itself. They installed it, actively marketed it to the government and billed the taxpayers for every evesdropped little bit.

Their involvement has to have been so active that they're almost guaranteed to lose a ton of money, if the truth came out in court.

Of course they also know which Republicans (and probably some Democrats too) were complicit in the whole thing. So the pols don't want that coming out in court either.

Good for the House. Let the truth come out and let the chips fall where they may.

Posted by: Aatos on February 14, 2008 at 8:26 PM | PERMALINK

This just needs to be shut down. If the likes of Andy McCarthy thought the surveillance program was NOT purely domestic, they wouldn't support it.

Just as, if they really thought that cutting taxes would increase government revenue, they wouldn't support cutting taxes.

None of this would be happening if Richard Nixon had gone to prison.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on February 14, 2008 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

Does anybody find it odd that the "children" in this scenario are the ones who are worried about protecting the Constitutional rights that are the underpinnings of American democracy, while the "grownups" are the ones hiding under the bed pissing themselves because the scary brown people could find them at any time?

Posted by: Fast Eddie on February 14, 2008 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, anybody hear Keith Olbermann's comment on this tonight? Oh, boy...it was unbelieveable. My husband and I just sat there with our mouths open. I guess we still have some freedom of speech left in this country after all. Check it out on MSNBC.

Posted by: nepeta on February 14, 2008 at 9:51 PM | PERMALINK

Fred at 4:05:

why doesn't he just grant them an executive pardon-the issue would be over and the legislation could be passed without the controversy.
Because the president's pardon power pertains only to criminal cases, and this is a civil suit.

Posted by: nicteis on February 14, 2008 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

Here is Olbermann's comment:

Olbermann Comment

I don't understand why the date on this is 2/1/08.
This sure sounds like the comment he gave tonight. A repeat???

Posted by: nepeta on February 14, 2008 at 9:59 PM | PERMALINK

OK, the Olbermann comment isn't up yet at MSNBC. Here's a better link than the one I gave before, which I'm now beginning to think was an earlier comment.

Olbermann Comment

Posted by: nepeta on February 14, 2008 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

"It would be a nice extra if Bush really did care about protecting the U.S. population from harm"

There's no percentage in it.

The results are in from the test cases at Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki: all three cities are now up and running as though nothing had ever happened to them.

To the executive, people are fungible, rebuilding is profitable, and panic is exploitable.

Posted by: Forrest on February 14, 2008 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

Raw Story carried the full text of Congressman Silvestre Reyes’, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, letter to President Bush regarding the ongoing battle over warrantless wiretapping. The link is here. Read it.

Reyes absolutely destroys Bush. Utterly.

A couple excerpts:

If our nation is left vulnerable in the coming months, it will not be because we don't have enough domestic spying powers. It will be because your Administration has not done enough to defeat terrorist organizations – including al Qaeda -- that have gained strength since 9/11. We do not have nearly enough linguists to translate the reams of information we currently collect. We do not have enough intelligence officers who can penetrate the hardest targets, such as al Qaeda. We have surged so many intelligence resources into Iraq that we have taken our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result, you have allowed al Qaeda to reconstitute itself on your watch.

and

..it is an insult to the intelligence of the American people to say that we will be vulnerable unless we grant immunity for actions that happened years ago.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on February 14, 2008 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

Corporations have the cash and are future employers. That's why.

Because telecoms are much less likely to cooperate with the authorities if doing so leaves them open to litigation.

Good reasons both, but only part of the answer. Gregory and grape got the bigger piece. If telecoms go to court on this, we all find out what Bushco has been up to and how long they've been up to it.

I am about as amazed that Kevin hasn't thought of this as I am that he's taking a Patented Drum Moderate Stance on the subject of immunity for extremely serious corporate lawbreaking that incidentally blows gargantuan raspberries at our constitutional rights. As others note above, if a Democrat--hell, if any citizen at all--can't get worked up about that, what in the name of Ned actually moves you? Cats and tacos don't count this time.

Posted by: shortstop on February 15, 2008 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK

Not that it's going to cut any ice with most of the fear-mongered, but I'd like to remind everyone that FISA itself is illegal. It's a star chamber, where the accused and their lawyers can be denied access to alleged evidence being used against them. How can anybody defend such a system or court in the U.S.?

Just like "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, FISA has never been challenged in court, but most law professors will say that if it wasn't a political hot potato, it would be toast.

But when FISA was originally enacted, the Federal Judiciary had a much different complexion, with many more sensibilities and protections towards the rights of the accused firmly in place. We've discovered in the years since that our rights as guaranteed under the Constitution exist only if those in power agree to abide by the Constitution.

So let's lower the bar on this subject to its rightful Constitutional position. People might then see that the PAA itself, even without telecom immunity, is flawed and should never have been enacted temporarily, much less permanently.


Posted by: Richard Patterson on February 15, 2008 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

Liberals object to immunity for communications companies who in good faith turn over its records to the government.

Americans object to immunity for communications companies that spied on American citizens.

The rest of your comment is just sycophantic boilerplate blather. You can be cool with your phone company abrogating your privacy, but don't speak for me, you fascist little twerp. Hell, for all I care you can stick a GPS device up your ass and give Cheney the receiver. But that's you - leave me the hell out of your sick fascist fantasies. Dipshit.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on February 15, 2008 at 1:08 AM | PERMALINK

And what they've been doing is spying on Democrats and their political enemies. It's that simple.

Posted by: Pale Rider on February 14, 2008 at 8:21 PM |

Any evidence of that would make you a mint.

Posted by: turtledove on February 15, 2008 at 1:25 AM | PERMALINK

Any evidence of that would make you a mint.

Are you kidding me? You think there is no "proof" of this???

Thanks, but I don't need the money.

If anyone was paying attention in this country, THIS would serve as the wake-up call.

Warrantless wiretaps, abuse of privacy rights, unlawfully tracking and monitoring the activities of US citizens--it's all right there for anyone to see.

Somehow, because these people oppose the current administration, they're not Americans and they should have their rights trampled?

Posted by: Pale Rider on February 15, 2008 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

You don't have to be a paranoid, or up to no good to be afraid of these post 9/11 laws, and suspect that they're for a whole lot more than "keeping us safe from Islamic fundamentalist evil doers". Our government has a long and rich history of passing legislation intended for one problem and using it on a whole other group of people deemed 'annoying to the status quo'. All anyone needs to look at for the truth of what I'm saying are the RICO laws.

No sooner had the Patriot Act passed than prosecutors were using it against drug dealers. So many prosecutors thought it was Christmas, using it for crimes having nothing to do with terrorism (and not one terrorist case) than prosecutors went on a pilgrimage, trying to find a terrorism case to charge under the Patriot Act. That in itself should be grounds to toss the case, if this was still America.

All of these pieces of legislation were the conservatives' wishlists, "If ever we get a perfect storm that will let us run the country". The 1200 page Patriot Act was pulled out of a drawer just days following 9/11/01, all ready for a feckless Congress to climb aboard.

I wonder how big business, CEOs and brokerages and banks, and lawyers, have been lying down and taking this legalized breach into their confidential communications. Who would do business with anyone in the U.S. when all of your communications are subject to tapping?

These post 9/11 laws have ramifications on our economy, too. This legislation makes the whole of the country into a prison compound, cut off from being able to have private, candid business conversations with potential customers, business relationships, in other nations.


Posted by: Richard Patterson on February 15, 2008 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Seriously, why are so many of you dumping on the republicans for this? Not that they aren't guilty as sin for violating the Constitution every possible way, but what about the democrats? They enabled this.

And they didn't do it out of spinelessness. Let's get that piece of nonsense out of the way right now. They aren't "caving", they **actively support this**! The dem leadership have been complicit in the GOP's illegal power-grabbing all along.

That's why Reid keeps letting republican bills through when he could easily block them procedurally, and why he let's them get away with their obstructionism without forcing them to actually filibuster. Because he supports their agenda. And that's why Pelosi said that impeachment is "off the table". Because if they performed any real oversight of the GOP's illegal acts, they would be revealing their own complicity in all of it. And then there goes their Congress seats when their constituents realize that they've been had.

There has been a lot of chuckling lately about the far-right Christian extremists finally figuring out that the GOP just uses them. They're expected to vote for the GOP candidate and then shut up and stay away from the bargaining table. News flash, my fellow liberals and civil libertarians: the dems have been using us the same way. They know we're not going to vote for the GOP, so they expect us to vote for them instead, and then to shut up and stay away from the bargaining table.

The way to fix this is to throw the bums out. Stop voting for liars like Reid and Pelosi who support us and our concerns with lip service only. They're not going to stand against the unconstitutional power grab because they support it. We need to throw them out in the primaries and replace them with principled people who agree that the Constitution is more than just a piece of paper, and who agree that they work for us instead of their own selfish interests.

The dems in Maryland's 4th district just did that, when incumbent Rep. Al Wynn lost his primary fight to Donna Edwards. The rest of us can do it too.

Posted by: Shade Tail on February 15, 2008 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Seriously, why are so many of you dumping on the republicans for this? Not that they aren't guilty as sin for violating the Constitution every possible way, but what about the democrats? They enabled this.

Why? Every single time the Republicans have used terror as a weapon against the Democrats politically, the media has gone along with it.

Ask Tom Daschle if he "enabled" any of this shit. He lost his Senate seat because he tried to stand up against these people. Ask Max Cleland if he enabled these people to do what they have been doing.

This idea that "everybody" is to blame only serves to give the Republicans cover for what they've done. Sorry, ain't buying. I support my party for what they're trying to do, I support the likes of Russ Feingold and Chris Dodd and I certainly welcome Donna Edwards to the fold. We need better Democrats, that's for sure.

But I'm not going to fall for the Republican trap that says "hey, we're all guilty."

No--Bush is guilty of using terror as a political weapon. The media is guilty of falling for it and using it to tarnish the reputations of Democratic politicians who have repeatedly stood up to Bush. The Republicans in Congress are mere sycophants.

Posted by: Pale Rider on February 15, 2008 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK
But that's not on the table. The supposed grownups in the GOP are, apparently, perfectly happy to play around with "life and death" if it's in the service of a bit of demagogic brinksmanship over telecom immunity. Why?

The merely routinely corrupt explanation is that the GOP wants to protect big money friends and campaign contributors in the telecom industry.

The (IMO, more likely) anti-rule-of-law and pro-unchecked-executive-power explanation is that the GOP fears that the lawsuits targeting the telecoms will result in the telecoms exposing the massive scope and extraordinary criminality (remember that FISA is a criminal law which makes it a felony for anyone in government to order or carry-out surveillance contrary to its terms) of the Administration's surveillance efforts in a concrete way with solid facts which will make it impossible to continue to sell the various fuzzy hedging statements, distortions, and misrepresentations the Administration and its water carriers have used to minimize the program and its intrusion into the business of ordinary Americans.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 15, 2008 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

Ask Tom Daschle if he "enabled" any of this shit. He lost his Senate seat because he tried to stand up against these people. Ask Max Cleland if he enabled these people to do what they have been doing.

Ask Nancy "impeachment is off the table" Pelosi. Ask Harry "Dodd has to filibuster but the GOP doesn't" Reid.

No, don't try to sell me the snake oil that the dem "leadership" isn't complicit. They're up to their necks and anyone with eyes can see it. Party loyalty isn't worth it if your party is selling you out, and that's exactly what Pelosi and Reid have been doing to us.

Posted by: Shade Tail on February 15, 2008 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, fuck off Shade Tail. You're just a concern troll.

You're not "one of us." And you never have been.

Posted by: Pale Rider on February 15, 2008 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Shade Tail, I look at it this way...this is exactly why we need primary challengers for a whole passel of Democratic office holders. the answer is more and better Democrats, who can select better party leadership, not whining about equal and shared fecklessness, and a pox on both their houses.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on February 15, 2008 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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