Thursday, January 24, 2008

Didn't I tell you?

Didn't I? Haven't I been saying all along that we are on our own? Today's Washington Post says that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-WobblyKnees)
said he is personally opposed to granting legal protections to the communications companies, but he has designated the intelligence committee's bill as the starting point for Senate debate[, which beings today]. Given the Senate's composition, that decision means that opponents would effectively need 60 votes to strip immunity from the bill; Democratic aides concede they do not appear to have the votes to meet that threshold.
The Intelligence Committes's version of the bill includes telcom immunity; the competing Judiciary Committee version does not. Yet Reid chose to present the Intelligence Committee version, the one with the provision he "personally opposes" and which those involved expect will not be removed, with Intelligence Committee Chair John Rockefeller (D-MyBallsAreAsBigAsYourBallsReallyIMeanIt) saying his committee's version "will prevail."

The reason for the 60-vote requirement, as I expect you know but is worth mentioning if only to point out that these articles never seem to explain it, is that the GOPpers will simply threaten to filibuster any amendment to strip immunity from the bill and the Dums will immediately fold. What Reid could do in response would be to say "Fine, filibuster," schedule a cloture vote for every single day it continued and every time one failed go out (and I mean go out in front of the cameras, no "issued a statement") and say "Republicans are blocking consideration of this bill in order to protect corporate criminals."

But he won't. He won't because he and the rest of the Dimcratic "leadership" are a bunch of gutless wimps who run screaming from the mere possibility of being called "soft on terrorism" by people like "The Big" Dick Cheney, who
said in a speech yesterday that Congress "must act now" to renew the expiring surveillance law....

"Those who assist the government in tracking terrorists should not be punished with lawsuits," Cheney said at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
Of course, the Dims could respond by saying "We're aware that Mr. Cheney believes that his friends in government (:cough: Scooter Libby) and among corporations (:cough: Halliburton) and most of all the White House - at least when Republicans are occupying it - should be free to ignore the law at their pleasure, but that's not the way our system of government works." The chances of that are rather less than zero - especially considering that the conscious intent of the entire bill itself is to legalize the illegal White House domestic spying program that began in 2001.

Even given all that, there is yet another way Reid could act.
Once the Senate acts, the bill would go to a conference committee that includes members of the House, which has approved a bill that lacks immunity provisions and would increase oversight of the government's spying activities. In the end, a final Senate bill is unlikely to be approved until next week, leaving little time for negotiations with House lawmakers, legislative aides said.
Reid chooses the Senate conferees. He could just pick people who oppose immunity and will agree to adopt the House language on it (and on oversight); he could even insist (with a straight face) to all and sundry that it's the White House that insists that passage of a final bill is urgently needed to "protect the nation" and he's actively cooperating with that demand by avoiding having the bill bogged down in last-minute negotiations.

Of course, the idea of Reid doing any such thing is laughable. Equally if not more laughable is the idea of his having pursued the actual best course, which would have been to not bring up the bill at all, letting it die and reverting to the old FISA law, which had its drawbacks but was clearly superior to what's being pushed now. Just how laughable that is can be seen from the fact that the Washington Post article describes Reid as
pleading with the White House for more time to consider the issue,
that is, more or less begging the Shrub gang for permission to do his damn job.

There is still Chris Dodd's threat to filibuster any version of a FISA bill which includes immunity and that effort deserves clear support. For my part, I've called both my Senators as well as Clinton's and Obama's offices and campaign HQs and told them that as far as I'm concerned, this is a deal-breaker. Fail on this and I will not work for you, I will not contribute to you, and I will not vote for you. Period. (Not that I necessarily would have anyway, but they don't know that.) There is, however, a real question of whether or not Dodd's effort can succeed: First is the fact that when Dodd did this the last time, Harry "I'm personally opposed to immunity" Reid was clearly not happy about it and I wouldn't be the least surprised if this time Dodd was told by the "leadership" (which has shown so little of it, it probably should be called the "followership") that "You've made your point, now shut up."

Indeed, last week Crooks and Liars cited Roll Call in suggesting that Dodd had become "very isolated" within the Democratic caucus, noting the magazine had quoted an unnamed "senior Democratic aide" as saying there may be "hard feelings" in the wake of Dodd's presidential campaign and these could be "a key few months for him" for reingratiating - excuse me, "reintegrating" - himself with the caucus.
For those not fluent in DC passive-aggressive speak[, Crooks and Liars said], allow me to translate the “anonymous Democratic aide” for you: “okay, we know you needed to do something to stand out from the pack during your campaign, but now you need to get in line, or you’ll find yourself at odds with your caucus.”
Or, more directly, "You've made your point, now shut up."

Second is the fact that the same Harry "I'm personally opposed, I really am!" Reid said yesterday that any filibusters would have to be the old-fashioned stand-up-and-talk kind, not the wink-and-a-nudge kind the GOPpers have been allowed to engage in. Now, in fairness, I have to note that today, Reid indicated that this applied to all such attempts - which means that a move to filibuster the Dodd-Feingold amendment, which would strip the immunity provision, would also have to be a stand-and-talk kind. That increases the chance that the amendment would pass - but it also means that should it fail, blocking the final bill is made much harder.

Again, this is, or at least should be, a deal-breaker. Failure on this, on something so basic as insisting that corporations obey the law, would be a failure not of Harry Reid or John Rockefeller or any of the rest of them as individuals, but of the Democratic Party as an institution. A failure at organizing, a failure at the use of power, a failure of leadership, a failure, ultimately, of nerve. The former pair being especially true and the latter pair especially important because the lawsuits that the telcoms face are now the only practical means available for forcing into the public sphere any details of the White House's criminality in its illegal spying operations. Which, of course, is why, beyond its natural affection for its corporate cronies, the Shrub gang is so eager for immunity: They're protecting themselves as well as the telcoms.

If Dodd does succeed, if there is some improvement, it will have happened only because one person, to the astonishment of his own party and contrary to the cynical contentions of pundits who said it was just a campaign stunt, actually decided to stand on a principle and, much more importantly, it generated a chorus of public support in the form not only of blog posts but letters, emails, petitions, and phone calls (leading to, I can say of today, some jammed phone lines and at least one staffer clearly irritated with having to field yet another call on the same topic).

Put another way, we are indeed on our own. That, however, does not mean we are powerless. Not completely, anyway.

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