Unchanging (OR Same old thing)

July 5, 2008

I must admit that I’ve been feeling like there’s just nothing new to say. Since I started blogging, I figured this day would come, and I’m a little surprised that it’s taken so long…  but here we are.

The presidential campaign continues, but it seems to have reached the stage where each candidate just repeats the same thing in the different ways every day. The media covers it, or not, depending on their whim. And bloggers either rant about it, or ignore it.

Congress continues to demonstrate their lack of concern for the slow dismantling of the Constitution.

What all of this is really about — the reason why political elites like Nancy Soderberg are so eager to defend it — is because they really do believe that lawbreaking isn’t wrong, that it doesn’t deserve punishment, when engaged in by them rather than by commoners. People who defend telecom immunity or who say that it’s not a big deal are, by logical necessity, adopting this view: “Our highest political officials and largest corporations shouldn’t face consequences when they break our laws as long as they claim it was for our own good.” That’s the destructive premise that lies at the heart of this deeply corrupt measure, the reason it matters so much. Just like the pardon of Nixon, the protection of Iran-contra criminals, and the commutation of Lewis Libby’s sentence, this bill is yet another step in cementing a two-tiered system of justice in America where our highest political officials and connected elite can break our laws with impunity.

There’s a decent chance President Bush will embroil us in yet another failed war before he leaves office.

The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack. Current and former American military and intelligence officials said that Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups. The officials say that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium.

The economy continues to be in the tank, and it seems likely that Republican policies will only continue making things worse.

But behind all of this is the one fundamental fact that economic analysts would rather not dwell on: American consumers are at the end of their ropes. High energy prices have contributed to it, as have high food prices. Consumer confidence is plunging. Housing prices are still dropping, which means the piggy banks of home equity and refinancing are closing.

But without consumers, there’s no one to buy all the goods and services we create. Sure, big American companies are doing fine abroad, but foreign sales can’t sustain them. Nor can exports. Hence, bond defaults by companies are up. Earnings are down.

And so, it continues…  there really isn’t any new news, and there isn’t really any hope of new news. So, what exactly is there to blog about?

Stopping FISA (OR Is everything being done?)

June 26, 2008

I’ll admit, my understanding of Senate procedures is limited… but some things make me wonder.

If one Senator can stall a bill that is getting 83-9 support, why can’t someone do that to the FISA bill?

Senate progress toward approving a sweeping housing rescue plan was delayed on Wednesday by the objections of a Republican lawmaker who wants to attach an amendment dealing with renewable energy.


“One United States senator has decided this bill isn’t going to go forward,” Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd, chief architect of the housing bill, said on the Senate floor.

Why can’t the same Sen. Dodd, the most vocal opponent to the FISA legislation, do the same thing? Why not attach something like removing the “over 65” language from the Medicare statue to the FISA bill? Hell, if they’re going to take away our rights, the least they could do is give us health care.

In the meantime, it looks like Sen. Feingold has managed to create some deliberation time.

More FISA (OR Required reading)

June 25, 2008

Unfortunately, the new FISA bill won’t just disappear.

Still, the discussion did product some incredible eloquence from Sen. Dodd. Read or watch his speech here. That’s not a suggestion. You need to read/hear it.

In other FISA news, it appears that Sen. Harry Reid opposes the FISA legislation. Can someone tell me why he allowed the bill to come to the floor the first time around? If he had treated Sen. Dodd’s filibuster the same as the hundreds of the Republican filibusters, we might not be having this conversation.

Confused (OR FISA, PAA, and other acronyms)

June 23, 2008

After reading, and finally absorbing, some comments to my previous FISA posts, and to keep the conversation going (if nothing else) I thought I’d try to clear up some FISA and PAA confusion (including that in my own head)… 

The PAA was designed to expand FISA. According to this wikipedia page (which, frighteningly, seems more objective that the White House page),  PAA passed in August 2007, and expired in February of this year.

The current bill, which is an amendment to FISA, appears to be designed to replace the PAA amendments to FISA.

That being said, in comparing what I see on the wikipedia page to what I read in the current FISA amendment, I’m back to being fully pissed at House Democrats. As Sen. Christopher Bond (R – MO) is quoted at Repeal FISA:

I think the White House got a better deal than they even they had hoped to get,

In exchange for some (possibly necessary) oversight authority, which C. pointed out is very much after the fact and doesn’t do anything about the information collected in potential violation of the 4th Amendment, the House Democrats increased the “emergency” unwarranted window from 72 hours to 7 days AND granted retroactive immunity to telecom companies.

That, to me, seems like a really shitty trade. To reinforce this is this exchange from Countdown with Keith Olbermann with Jonathan Turley, “George Washington University law professor and constitutional expert.”

OLBERMANN:  And, also hidden in here behind this headline – if you immunize the telecoms, are you not also immunizing the president, the Bush administration and, to some degree, the Congress that went along with all of these crimes in the last seven years?

TURLEY:  Well, there‘s no question in my mind that there is an obvious level of collusion here.  We now know that Democratic leadership knew about the illegal surveillance program almost from its inception.  Even when they were campaigning about fighting for civil liberties, they were aware of an unlawful surveillance program as well as a torture program.  And ever since that came out, the Democrats have been silently trying to kill any effort to hold anyone accountable because that list could very well include some of their own members.

It’s time to elect better Democrats.

FISA Story (OR Who to believe?)

June 21, 2008

I’m not sure what to make of the new FISA bill at this point…

I watched some of the House proceedings yesterday, and was struck by the varied perspectives of our Democratic representatives. Some were fully supportive (Speaker Pelosi among them), others were vehemently opposed to it (like Rep. Kusinich).

In my, admittedly limited, reading of this issue, I had thought that, apart from the retroactive immunity thing, these FISA amendments were generally OK bills. So, I was irritated to learn that the immunity clause was included in this legislation. Beyond that, I didn’t think our representatives were giving away our rights… Not being sure, I actually read the bill last night (pdf).

I’m not a lawyer, of course, but I didn’t really find anything overtly objectionable to it…  with the possible exception of being allowing for authorization of emergency surveillance without review of even the FISA court for 7 days. The government would then be able to keep the results of the surveillance regardless of whether the court approved of it. That seemed a little shady… but nothing else really jumped out at me. It just didn’t seem that bad…

Neil at Cogitamus generally says the same thing.

On the other hand, Glenn Greenwald, who is a lawyer, tore into Sen. Obama for supporting it. And he linked to the ACLU page, listing their objections, all of which are scary. I think, in this case, I need to cede my judgement to the lawyers (man, what a scary thing to say).

So, I think I’m going to go back to being pissed (or perhaps rather irritated) by the passage of this bill.

Get Ready (OR The longest 6 months ever)

June 19, 2008

Earlier, I mentioned that I sent an email to Speaker Pelosi.

I also sent a similar message to Rep. Mark Udall. Since I’m one of his constituents, I received a reply:

Dear Shane:

Thank you for telling me you oppose shielding telecommunications companies from lawsuits related to their cooperation with federal authorities as part of the Bush Administration’s program to intercept suspected terrorist phone traffic. I appreciate hearing from you.

President Bush has asked Congress to include such a shield in legislation to extend the law that temporarily authorized some electronic surveillance to obtain important intelligence information. In November, 2007, the House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 3773) to extend this surveillance authority through 2009 that did not include such a provision. I voted for that bill. In February, just before expiration of the temporary law, the Senate passed a bill including the shield the president sought. To provide time to resolve differences, the House considered a bill again extending the temporary law. I voted for it, but no Republicans did, so it was defeated and the temporary law expired. On March 14, I voted for a new bill that was passed by the House. It differs regarding the lawsuits, which have been stalled by the Bush Administration’s claim no court can hear them because they involve “state secrets.” The new House bill would allow the companies to defend themselves by freeing them from this barrier so they can try to convince the court they should not be penalized for whatever actions they took. I think that is a fair way to resolve the matter. Differences between the House and Senate versions still must be resolved, and I do not know what action may be taken next. But I will keep your views in mind.

Thanks again for contacting me. To do my job well, I need to hear critical feedback from my fellow Coloradans. For more information about my positions, please visit my website at www.house.gov/markudall and sign up for my email newsletter

And that pretty much seals it…  the new FISA bill is going to pass. Hopefully, it’ll get stuck in the Senate for 6 months. Cross your fingers.

Not Again (OR Couldn’t it say in a drawer a little bit longer)

June 6, 2008

I didn’t want to let this week pass without pointing out this disturbing news (via digby):

House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes told CongressDaily that he is “fine” with language offered by Senate Intelligence ranking member Christopher (Kit) Bond and other Republicans to overhaul the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Notably, the GOP language, which was offered a day before the recent congressional recess, would leave it up to the secret FISA court to grant retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that have helped the Bush administration conduct electronic surveillance on the communications of U.S. citizens without warrants.


“It’s about finding middle ground and we have middle ground,” Reyes said of the compromise offered by Republicans. “It’s not going to please everyone but let’s get on with it.”

So, after a few month absence from the public eye, FISA is back in the news…  and not in a good way. I was really hoping it would stay gone.

Even worse, I really don’t understand why “It’s about finding middle ground”…   Why does this require negotiation? It’s not about the ability to protect the country. Since that’s taken care of, why is congress negotiating between the interests of the populace and some telecom companies?