Tuesday, February 12, 2008

bleak senate, bleak house

Tuesday represents the last dance for senators wishing to significantly amend or stop the abysmal SSCI (Senate Select Committee on Intelligence) version of a FISA bill that could radically alter the level and quality of Americans’ rights to privacy for a very long time. Matt Browner Hamlin does an excellent job of teaching us today’s steps—please give it a read—it is no walk in the park.

Senator Pat Leahy has signed on to support Chris Dodd, and likely a few other Senators such as Feingold and Kennedy, to “filibuster” the bill if it is not changed in some very real ways. (“Filibuster” is in quotes here because under the UC—again, read Matt—there is no real filibuster in the talk-till-you-drop sense.) Most notably, these Democrats seek to strip retroactive immunity from the bill, a blanket amnesty that adds an extra-legal level of protection for the telecom industry, but, most importantly, a complete amnesty for Bush and Cheney and other officials that collaborated to break numerous laws in order to assert unitary power and spy on anyone they damn please.

Leahy has a tool to contact your elected officials here.

Though the establishment media can’t seem to understand the importance of this issue beyond repeating White House talking points about “national security,” and maybe throwing in a “some say” regarding the importance of civil rights, the editorial page of the New York Times has made the connection between this horrible FISA “fix” and last week’s tortured torture testimony from the new AG. If you haven’t been reading along with me on FISA and warrantless surveillance, the Sunday editorial will clue you in to some solid reasons to lobby your congressional representatives. As the Times concludes:

This whole nightmare was started by Mr. Bush’s decision to spy without warrants — not because they are hard to get, but because he decided he was above the law. Discouraging that would be a service to the nation.

This debate is not about whether the United States is going to spy on Al Qaeda, it is about whether it is going to destroy its democratic principles in doing so. Senators who care about that should vote against immunity.

As Matt explains, today’s Senate action is not the very last waltz, but Republicans and blue dogs will march to the beat of Cheney’s fearmongering drum, and the telecommunications industry has bought and paid for Senators like Jay Rockefeller—and he who pays the piper calls the tune.

There still exists a better House version of this legislation, which will have to be reconciled with the Senate bill, so not all hope is lost. I continue to contend that the very best outcome for this will be for the legislation to stall in both houses so that we can revert to the original FISA law, but if you follow the steps as laid down by Matt, the chances for that are, alas, bleak.

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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