Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Froomkin Scourges Cowardly Dems, Explains Horrific FISA Law

Dan Froomkin has a must-read article over at the Washington Post today in which he takes the cowardly Dems to task for their appalling failure to stand up to Mr. 25% in passing the so-called "Protect America Act". His intro is brutally appropriate:

We won't have President Bush to kick around anymore in about 18 months. But until then, Bush has someone he can still kick around: the Democratic Congress. At least when it comes to terror issues.

Despite his 65 percent job-disapproval rating, Bush was able to cow congressional Democrats over the weekend into granting him unprecedented authority to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and e-mail messages of American citizens without warrants.

As I said yesterday, this appalling capitulation was not inevitable; it came, rather, in a rhetorical environment in which Bush and the Republicans were able to come out on offense accusing Democrats of weakness on the "war on terror", while Democrats could do nothing better than argue in defense of the constitutional rights of those being spied on (presumably terrorists). But without the courage to come out on offense beforehand by accusing the Administration of spying on Americans with no links to terrorism whatsoever and demanding to know what the Administration was trying to hide, it was almost a foregone conclusion that many on our side would cave to political pressure once placed on the defensive.

And it was certainly being on the offense that gained Bush this unnecessary and far-reaching victory. Froomkin quotes Jim Rutenbergy in the NY Times:

"For a president who has played defense most of the year, relying on veto threats and, in terms of Iraq, almost plaintive pleas for time, it was a rare, winning use of offense. The victory points up an enduring challenge for Democrats, even as they have gained other advantages over Mr. Bush and his fellow Republicans. . . ."

And once again, of course, the Democrats claim to have been taken utterly by surprise:

In interviews, Democratic leaders and their aides acknowledged being outmaneuvered by the White House, which they accused of negotiating in bad faith, and portrayed the bill as a runaway train. . . .

"Everybody was afraid they might be branded as soft on terrorism,' Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, a Democratic presidential candidate, said Monday while speaking to Iowa voters."

The "we were blindsided" meme that Democrats have been taking for the last six years of the Bush Administration is getting as old as the Bush Administration's own Nobody Could Have Predicted meme. It was enervating enough to hear Chris Dodd mar an otherwise fine performance by claiming to have been blindsided by the Alito and Roberts nominations at the YearlyKos Presidential Leadership Forum. It's worth remembering that these people get paid to be in public office: to continue to claim to be taken by surprise by an obviously bad-faith Administration means that they are not doing the basic job of earning their paychecks, much less standing up for the country.

It's not even as if this is a particularly new gameplan or political strategy for the Bush Administration: they've pulled this same "get it done now or else" stunt multiple times before. Heck, even a 6-year-old child could see this coming by now and be prepared for it. Froomkin quotes Charlie Savage in the Boston Globe:

"Legal specialists who have criticized the expansion of executive power during Bush's tenure compared the law to the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which expanded the White House's power over detainees in the war on terrorism, and the Iraq war authorization in 2002.

"Both times, Bush abruptly urged Congress to give him greater national security powers shortly before lawmakers went on recess, warning that there was no time to wait. That strategy was echoed in the White House's sudden rush to enact the Protect America Act last week."

Unfortunately, unless we can accomplish a major shift in our rhetorical stance, as well as hold accountable those cowardly Dems who were cowed by a lame-duck Administration with 25% approval ratings, our citizens are now subject to the arbitrary spying authority of some of the most corrupt political appointees currently working in our government. As James Risen notes:

"Congressional aides and others familiar with the details of the law said that its impact went far beyond the small fixes that administration officials had said were needed to gather information about foreign terrorists. They said seemingly subtle changes in legislative language would sharply alter the legal limits on the government's ability to monitor millions of phone calls and e-mail messages going in and out of the United States.

"They also said that the new law for the first time provided a legal framework for much of the surveillance without warrants that was being conducted in secret by the National Security Agency and outside the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that is supposed to regulate the way the government can listen to the private communications of American citizens. . . .

Remember J. Edgar Hoover's FBI and it habit of spying on such well-known "subversives" as MLK Jr.? Looks like that will be small potatoes compared with what's in store for us from Bush, Cheney, Gonzales and the rest of their merry crew.

Froomkin then spends multiple paragraphs with quotes from various media figures detailing the various underhanded subterfuges now being attempted by the Republican Noise Machine to obscure the issue in the traditional media, and to intimidate major newspapers from publishing the truth of the matter to the confused and apathetic public. As with the the 2002 AUMF, the Patriot Act, the Patriot Act II, and countless other pieces of war and "national security" legislation, there is a sharp division between the actual text of the law as written and interpreted by Administration officials, and the more innocuous stated intent of the law that the WH Press Secretary coos to an all-too-willing WH Press Corps. Greg Miller of the LA Times states it perfectly:

But officials declined to provide details about how the new capabilities might be used by the National Security Agency and other spy services. And in many cases, they could point only to internal monitoring mechanisms to prevent abuse of the new rules that appear to give the government greater authority to tap into the traffic flowing across U.S. telecommunications networks. . . .

"[I]ntelligence experts said there were an array of provisions in the new legislation that appeared to make it possible for the government to engage in intelligence-collection activities that the Bush administration officials were discounting.

"'They are trying to shift the terms of the debate to their intentions and away from the meaning of the new law,' said Steven Aftergood, an intelligence policy analyst at the Federation of American Scientists.

"'The new law gives them authority to do far more than simply surveil foreign communications abroad,' he said. 'It expands the surveillance program beyond terrorism to encompass foreign intelligence. It permits the monitoring of communications of a U.S. person as long as he or she is not the primary target. And it effectively removes judicial supervision of the surveillance process.'"

Froomkin closes by included a variety of furious quotes from editorial boards and major bloggers across the nation, ranging from the New York Times to the LA Times to the Washington Post to Glenn Greenwald and even the normally feckless USA Today, whose editors unequivocally state:

[T]he attorney general and the director of national intelligence will decide without any court review when it's OK to monitor certain phone calls, e-mails, faxes and text messages between foreigners and U.S. residents. Such surveillance can go on for a year. Left on the books long enough, this is not just an invitation to abuse; history suggests it is a guarantee...

It's dangerous to give any administration permanent powers to fight a temporary war, even one that could last as long as the one against Islamic extremism. It's just as dangerous to trust an administration to police itself without court supervision.

A skittish Congress allowed itself to be stampeded last week into granting the president unfettered surveillance power. When it returns to Washington, it should do what it can to make sure that the sun goes down on this flawed measure.

Go read the entire Froomkin article: it's worth it. Then get to work. We've got six months until this horrible Frankenstein bill comes up for sunsetting. Let's start by reframing the debate so that we're playing offense rather than defense for a change, and putting the necessary pressure on the cowards who caved to bad-faith authoritarian politics rather than stand up for progressive values, the Constitution and the American people. You know their names. You know their phone numbers and email addresses.

Now let's get to work.

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