Saturday, August 04, 2007


Updated Tell me again, go on, try to tell me again why it was so fucking important to elect Democrats. Just try.
The Senate, in a high-stakes showdown over national security, voted late Friday to temporarily give President Bush expanded authority to eavesdrop on suspected foreign terrorists without court warrants[, Associated Press reports].

The House, meanwhile, rejected a Democratic version of the bill.

Democratic leaders there were working on a plan to bring up the Senate-passed measure and vote on it Saturday in response to Bush's demand that Congress give him expanded powers before leaving for vacation this weekend. ...

Senate Democrats reluctantly voted for a plan largely crafted by the White House after Bush promised to veto a stricter proposal that would have required a court review to begin within 10 days.
And why is it a "temporary" measure, supposedly just for six months? Because taking the time to work on a final, permanent bill would have screwed up their fucking summer vacation, that's why. And oh, yeah, I'm damn sure the version they'll come up with later will take back the "temporary" expanded powers to snoop poke prod and pry, just like those provisions of the Traitor Act with "sunset" clauses - and we all remember how well that worked out.

This whole pile of crap started when an FISA court ruled against part of the Bushites warrantless eavesdropping and by the way, the AP article linked here gets that part wrong. It says the ruling
barred the government from eavesdropping on foreign suspects whose messages were being routed through U.S. communications carriers, including Internet sites.
Bzzzt! It did no such thing. It said such surveillance could not be done without a warrant from the FISA court because it was in effect domestic surveillance and the busybodies couldn't promise that domestic conversations would not also be intercepted.

The fact is, as a means of oversight, the FISA court is a joke: According to data compiled from the court's annual reports by the Federation of American Scientists and presented by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in the period 1979-2005 the FISA court was presented with nearly 21,000 requests for electronic surveillance warrants and rejected precisely four. Even so, that was too much of a restriction for the Shrub gang, who, as they usually do when they're caught screwing around with the law, demanded the law be changed to let them do what they damn well pleased.

Now, truth be told there was an aspect of this that was (relatively) uncontroversial: Most if not all nations of the world, even if they're not quite so direct about it, reserve the right to spy, including the right to listen in on foreign communications - that is, cases where both sides of the conversation are in foreign countries. (In fact, a lot of countries feel no compunction about doing the same to domestic communications as well. Be grateful for small favors.) The thing is, due to changes in communication technologies, the routes information travels can go rather far afield. It would not be surprising for someone in Peru talking on their cell phone to someone in Japan to have their call routed through Seattle. Email packets can be scattered far and wide on their way from sender to recipient.

Since intercepting of foreign communications was accepted practice, the question became how to do surveillance of communications passing through the US without in effect engaging in warrantless domestic wiretapping. And who was going to decide if the measures to keep the two separate were adequate to the task.

Democrats initially wanted the FISA court to decide; that's pretty feeble protection but it's better than none at all, albeit it not by much. For its part, the White House wanted that power to be in the hands of - get this - the attorney general. That's right, the very man who has twisted himself into so many rhetorical knots to evade his patent mendacity that his name should be Earblot Slagzone.

And yes! the dynamic, the powerful, the Voice of the People Democrats stood their ground and forced the White House to retreat - all the way back to requiring both Slagzone and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to approve! What a victory! High-fives and tickertape parades all around! Tickertape being a good approximation of the strength of the Democrats' collective backbone.

The bill also, the Washington Post points out,
would expand the government's authority to intercept without a court order the phone calls and e-mails of people in the United States who are communicating with people overseas. ...

Privacy advocates accused the Democrats of selling out and charged that this bill gives the government more authority than it had under a controversial warrantless wiretapping program begun in secret after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Under that program, the government could conduct surveillance without judicial oversight only if it had a reason to believe that one party to the call was a member of or affiliated with al-Qaeda or a related terrorist organization. This bill drops that condition, they noted.

Democrats "have a Pavlovian reaction: Whenever the president says the word 'terrorism,' they roll over and play dead," said Caroline Fredrickson, Washington legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Fredrickson said the group is "hugely disappointed" and that the Democrats "let themselves be manipulated into accepting the White House proposal ... it's mind-boggling." No it isn't, Ms. Fredrickson, it's Democrats.

But oh, it's true that the fear merchants out in force, each one trying to outdo the other, for example:

- "I hope that there are no attacks before we are able to effectively update this important act." - Rep. Lamar Smith
- "We are not going to put our national security at risk. Time is short." - The Shrubbery-in-Chief
- "Al-Qaeda is not going on vacation this month." - Sen. Mitch McConnell
- "We're at war. The enemy wants to attack us." - Sen. Joe "The Zipperman" Lieberman

But for sheer paranoid wackoness, this is a prize-winner:
"Every day we don't have [this wiretap authority], we don't know what's going on outside the country," a senior White House official said. "All you need is one communication from, say, Pakistan to Afghanistan that's routed through Seattle that tells you 'I'm about to do a truck bomb in New York City' or 'about to do a truck bomb in Iraq,' and it's too late."
Omigod omigod OMIGOD! We might miss that message! Hurry hurry hurry! Oh please protect us Mister Bush, please oh please protect us from the very bad men using email!

This is the kind of mindless, cliché-ridden crap which stampeded Senate Democrats into endorsing virtually everything Bush wanted and House Democrats into rejecting better oversight and perhaps later today assuming the position like they do every time Bush puts on his petulant "my way or the highway" routine. While I have absolutely no expectation they will, what the Democrats - what any decent human being - should do is reply that they feel the call of the open road and Bush can take his power-hungry, lying, fear-mongering bullshit and cram it.

Footnote: But I really am being unfair, aren't I? After all, we know - don't we? - from experience that they'll act fairly and properly, just like our intelligence agencies always have.

As for Democrats, well, I mean, let's be fair and all, at least they'll stand fast and protect our future from any more wacko rightwing fruitcake judges Bush wants on the federal bench. Won't they?

Updated to note that Marty Lederman at Balkinization has a preliminary analysis of the atrocity passed by the Senate.

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