Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I remember all the hullabaloo when Nixon and his cronies were caught spying illegally on the American people. Hell, it helped lead to impeachment proceedings against that crook.

Today as the Bush Administration's admitted spying operations not led to anything of the sort, the Bushies actually have to gall to press for retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies who spied on us.

There is a bill to do just that being debated right now in Congress to do just that.

The debate over federal surveillance powers reached a new milestone today when a Republican cloture motion failed to pass after receiving only 48 of the required 60 votes. If the cloture motion had passed, it would have blocked all further attempts to remove controversial telecom immunity provisions from a Senate intelligence committee surveillance bill by forcing an immediate vote on the bill itself. As it stands, the issue of retroactive immunity for telecoms who helped the NSA spy on Americans can now come to the floor for a full debate. A second cloture motion—filed by Congressional Democrats in an effort to force immediate vote on a 30 day extension to the Protect America Act—also failed to pass.

Why is all this happening now?

As reported by Ryan Paul and noted on the blog Ars Technica it is because in a few days the Protect America Act is scheduled to expire. The Protect America Act, a temporary surveillance bill that was enacted six months ago in response to a secret ruling from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that reportedly imposed limitations on warrantless intelligence gathering operations. The Protect America Act enables the executive branch and some of its direct subordinates to authorize warrantless surveillance and interception of communications between individuals "reasonably believed" to be outside of the United States.

Critics of the surveillance program have been calling for the mainstream Democrat presidential candidates to stand with Chris Dodd and vigorously attempt to block the telecom immunity provisions (see article below). Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both voted against the Republican cloture motion today.

Clinton issued a statement today which read in part:

"This legislation deserves a thorough debate. Several provisions - including those which would have a profound impact on the civil liberties of Americans - need to be the subject of careful deliberation. For example, the bill under consideration gives telecommunication companies blanket retroactive immunity for their alleged cooperation in the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. I continue to believe that a grant of retroactive immunity is wrong, and I have cosponsored Senator Dodd's amendment to remove that provision from the bill. The Bush Administration has blatantly disregarded Americans' civil liberties over the past seven years, and I simply will not trust them to protect Americans' privacy rights. With the temporary Protect America Act set to expire on February 1st, I strongly believe that we need to pass balanced legislation that protects our civil liberties and the rule of law while giving our law enforcement and intelligence agencies the tools they need to protect our country."

The first part sounds okay. The last part is open to mean just about anything. I mean doesn't the constitution and the regular old laws we have on the books enough? What else is it we need to be "giving our law enforcement and intelligence agencies?"

The sort of thing a politician running for President might do to cover their ass. Oh wait, she is a politician running for President.

Now, Mr. Obama as far as I can tell had no statement today. But last week Obama spokesman Bill Burton released the following:

"Senator Obama has serious concerns about many provisions in this bill, especially the provision on giving retroactive immunity to the telephone companies. He is hopeful that this bill can be improved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. But if the bill comes to the Senate floor in its current form, he would support a filibuster of it."

Obama's statement with fewer words says pretty much the same thing as the one by Clinton today.

In other words, "I'm against retroactive immunity for illegal surveillance, but as to the whole issue of domestic surveillance itself, well, you know, sometimes...so ..."

Wishy washy on civil liberties is kinda scary. Why can't they just say, "It’s wrong for your government to spy on you?" It's all part of the theory practiced by big time Democratic Presidential contenders that they will be harmed politically if they don't capitulate to the Big, Strong, Tough Republicans on all matters relating to national security.

Guess what, that other guy running, you know the one with the nice hair, that Edwards fellow, he doesn't seem to care so much about that.

Senator Edwards sent an email to supporters earlier this week. It read in part:
"When it comes to protecting the rule of law, words are not enough. We need action.

It’s wrong for your government to spy on you. That’s why I’m asking you to join me today in calling on Senate Democrats to filibuster revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that would give “retroactive immunity” to the giant telecom companies for their role in aiding George W. Bush’s illegal eavesdropping on American citizens..."

Granting retroactive immunity is wrong. It will let corporate law-breakers off the hook. It will hamstring efforts to learn the truth about Bush’s illegal spying program. And it will flip on its head a core principle that has guided our nation since our founding: the belief that no one, no matter how well connected or what office they hold, is above the law..."

The Constitution should not be for sale at any price."

Now that wasn't so hard was it?

The following is from Sacramento for Democracy. It's a little dated, but whatever.

Don't Let Senators Clinton or Obama off the hook

President Bush wants the Senate to pass retroactive immunity for telecommunication companies who spied on Americans. For the President, this isn't just about letting his friends at AT&T and Verizon off the hook. He knows this is the American people's last chance to hold the Bush administration accountable for their warrantless wiretapping of innocent Americans.

The key vote is scheduled for late Monday afternoon and the count is down to the wire. We need 41 Senators to stand up to President Bush and right now we have only 36.

Senators Clinton and Obama are the missing votes. If Senator Clinton or Obama stands up and leads from the floor of the U.S. Senate and calls upon the 8 senators that have endorsed their campaigns to stand with them, we'll have the votes we need and the American people will win.

Call Hillary, Barack, Harry Reid and our Senators RIGHT NOW!!
NO retroactive immunity for illegal spying on American citizens!

Hillary Clinton: DC office (202) 224-4451

Barack Obama: DC office (202) 224-2854

Harry Reid: DC office 202) 224-3542

Barbara Boxer: DC office (202) 224-3553

Dianne Feinstein: DC office (202) 224-3841

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