Saturday, February 09, 2008

Hello? Hello?

: knock knock : Anybody home in the lefty blogosphere?

Nope, I guess not, they're still all out at the racetrack, eagerly doing all that delegate-counting, primary-predicting, press release hyper-analyzing, horserace political coverage they claim to hate so much.

Meanwhile, the FISA bill is moving through the Senate.

The what? Oh, yeah, the FISA bill. The one that was the central front in the war on civil liberties. The one to which opposition was the linchpin of all that was good and noble. The one we all had to write about, fax about, call about, post about. The FISA bill.

Oh, but why am I going on about that? That was so last week, man! This is the blogosphere! It's today, it's now, it's happening, and we've had Superduper Tuesday to talk about and lots and lots of numbers for crunching and polls for divining.

Yeah, it was last week, and this past week, and the beginning of next week, too. We seem to have forgotten about it, but the forces of GOPper evil and their Dummycrat enablers haven't. Worse, we've not only forgotten it, in some quarters we've come close to dismissing it. Glenn Greenwald noted that in the wake of the agreement on how the debate on the bill was to proceed,
Senate Democratic leadership sources are trying to claim that [the outcome] is some sort of victory for Senate Democrats, and echoing that sentiment, even some of the most insightful and knowledgeable around ... are hailing the agreement as evidence that "Dems didn't cave" and that "they held tough."
In other words, it's all been taken care of, no more worries, so we can go back to arguing over whether it's Hillary or Barack who's "being negative." Unfortunately, as Greenwald points out in that same column,
[t]he essence of the new agreement is that most of the amendments will be subject to a simple up-or-down vote - if they get 50 votes, then they pass - while several of the amendments will require 60 votes to pass (allowing, in essence, the Republicans to filibuster those amendments without actually having to go to the Senate floor and engage in a real filibuster).
The point being that those amendments that were expected to fall short of a majority anyway only need 50 votes to pass, while those that it was thought might get to 50 votes would need 60. It is a procedure designed to have all amendments - including those that would strip telcom immunity - fail. With, that is, one exception: An amendment by Kit Bond would expand the definition of who is an “agent of a foreign power” and thereby expand the range of people subject to warrantless White House wiretapping under the bill. That one, favored (naturally) by the White House, needs only a simple majority.

If that's "holding tough," then jell-o is firm enough for house construction.

And, in fact, the first of some 15 proposed amendments to come to a vote was one by Sen. Ben Cardin, which would have required the bill to sunset in four years instead of six. It lost on Monday, getting only 49 votes of the required 60. On Thursday, two amendments offered by Russ Feingold went down.
The first, designed to give the secret FISA court the option of preventing the government from using information collected on a U.S. person if the procedures for that collection are later deemed illegal, failed, 39-56. The second, intended to definitively block the practice of “reverse targeting” — where the government hypothetically might deem a foreign subject the surveillance target but its true intention is to listen to a U.S. citizen on the other end of the communication — failed, 38-57.
The first of those two was co-sponsored by Chris Dodd, the second by Dodd and Robert Menendez.

As it stands now, debate is to resume on Monday with a series of quick up-or-down votes on amendments and a vote on the final bill on Tuesday. Among the amendments to be voted on are one by Sheldon Whitehouse allowing the FISA court to consider how well the spooks have implemented "minimization" (the process of minimizing the retention of sensitive information incidentally gathered about US citizens in the course of surveillance), one by Feingold and Dodd banning bulk collection of information (i.e., information not based on targeting a particular suspect or suspect facility), one by Feingold, Jim Webb, and Jon Tester that makes a clear distinction between foreign-to-foreign communications and foreign-to-domestic communications (and provides greater protection for the latter), and of course the Dodd-Feingold-Leahy, et al., amendment to strip telcom immunity out of the bill along with its weaker brethren the would turn the matter of immunity over to the FISA court or substitute the federal government for the telcoms as defendants in the civil actions. All are expected to fail.

Which means for all the bluster, for all the "hanging tough," it's expected that Tuesday, the Senate will bring up for final passage the White House-approved, Senate Intelligence Committee version of the bill essentially intact. In the virtual silence that surrounds the bill now, in the pointed, disturbing, distressing absence of the blogosphere chorus calling for support, I wonder if Chris Dodd will have the spirit to follow through on his pledge to filibuster a bill containing immunity, especially in the face of Harry Reid's open antagonism - or will he make just a symbolic gesture, just a way to put an exclamation point to his opposition, before giving it up.

The temporary law is supposed to expire on February 16, just four days later, opening up the horrifying! horrifying! possibility that we might revert to the pre-existing FISA law, the one that's been around since 1978 and never seemed to present any particular barrier before the current crop of power-hungry blood-suckers came along. But since in the world of DC politics, not passing a bill is worse than passing a crappy bill, the members of the House will indeed be under pressure to agree to whatever comes out of the Senate even though the House's own version of the bill, passed in the fall, is clearly superior. Negotiations between the staffs of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on a joint bill have already started - without, significantly, addressing immunity. Meanwhile, it emerges that
[s]ome House Democrats were prepared to support immunity, regardless. In a Jan. 28 letter, 21 Democrats in the conservative Blue Dog Coalition sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., supporting immunity and listing other provisions that they believed were needed in a FISA bill.
However, all is not lost. For one thing, it still appears that a sizeable portion of the House, quite possibly a majority, remains strongly opposed to telcom immunity and perhaps to other parts of the Senate bill as well. And there has now been some significant push-back: On Friday,
a formidable trio of House Committee Chairmen sent a stern letter to their colleagues urging them to oppose immunity for phone companies that assisted in the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program.
The three, whose positions are important because they involve oversight of telecommunications, are with the House Committee on Energy and Commerce: John Dingell, who chairs the committee; Ed Markey, who chairs the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet; and Bart Stupak, who heads up the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
"By tying the question of lawsuit immunity to questions of national security and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reform legislation, the President has created a false choice for Congress," the letter states. "The issue of immunity for phone companies that chose to cooperate with the President's warrantless wiretapping program deserves a separate and more deliberate examination by Congress. No special urgency attaches to the question of immunity other than the present Administration's general eagerness to limit tort liability and its desire to avoid scrutiny of its own actions, by either the courts or the Congress."

Earlier this week, more than two dozen House members sent a letter to the White House announcing their opposition to telecom immunity.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is among those suing telcoms over their illegal assistance given to the government's illegal wiretapping, seconded the letter.
"Senators about to vote on immunity should heed the Chairmen's warning: tying the question of telecom immunity to that of FISA reform is unnecessary and dangerous," [EFF attorney Kevin] Bankston said "But if the Senate complies with the Administration's pleas to cover up its illegal spying and bail out the phone companies, then it's time for the House to step up and block immunity for lawbreaking telecom giants."
The EFF has info and background on domestic spying here and on telcom immunity in particular here; it also has the text of the Dingell-Markey-Stupak letter here in .pdf format.

The letter may have been what prompted Harry Reid to file a bill for another 15-day extension of the life of the current temporary law even though Shrub has said he will not accept another extension. So even as Senate Dems look for a way to back down while still looking - emphasize looking - resolute, the backbones of House Dems might - another word to emphasize - be turning into something at least somewhat closer to bone than cooked spaghetti. Still, I refuse to get my hopes up: We have been disappointed too many times before. So work for the best but don't count on it.

Russ Feingold isn't: In an interview with Newsweek lasst week, he said
We're trying to make a record here, and to show who voted for what. My prediction is this thing will go through; it will be challenged and go through the courts. And eventually a Supreme Court with something like seven Republican-appointed judges will strike down the worst parts of it. This is a long-term battle to protect the rights of the American people.
The cynic in me says that "record" is just for political positioning, but the hoper (a silly-sounding word, but a real one) in me remembers that often enough what once was dissent was later conventional wisdom. It's a matter of surviving the dark time which, I fear will get darker still before it lightens.

Footnote #1
: In her blog about US politics at, Kathy Gill notes that four of the top 20 contributors to Senate Intelligence Committee Chair and telcom immunity lover Jay Rockefeller are telcom-related corporations: AT&T is #2; Time-Warner is #5; Verizon, #7; and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, #20.

Footnote #2: The WHS* and their Senate toadies have screeched and stomped about how urgent it is to get the FISA bill passed ASAP because otherwise we will be utterly defenseless against the relentless hordes of dark-skinned, bomb-planting, cellphone-wielding terrorists. Then how come they were so willing to create a "logjam," a "stalemate," that brought movement on the bill to a complete halt this past week in order to get an economic "stimulus" bill passed?

The choices are:
A. To give Shrub something to crow about.
B. To create a time crunch on final passage of the FISA bill to pressure the House Dems into caving on immunity and other issues.
C. Both of the above.
D. Neither of the above.

If you chose D, it would appear you are a lotus-eater rather than a Lotus reader.

*WHS = White House Sociopaths

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