Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Road to Hell

I can, most days, bring myself to laugh over the latest doings in Washington. Some days I'm snarky; some I'm angry. Today I'm just sad.

The Senate voted last night to give George W. Bush almost everything he wanted in a new FISA bill. The House is under tremendous pressure to do the same today. Sixteen Democrats, and of course Joe Lieberman, joined the Republicans to give W unprecedented legal power to spy on American soil.
The Senate bowed to White House pressure last night and passed a Republican plan for overhauling the federal government's terrorist surveillance laws, approving changes that would temporarily give U.S. spy agencies expanded power to eavesdrop on foreign suspects without a court order.

The 60 to 28 vote, which was quickly denounced by civil rights and privacy advocates, came after Democrats in the House failed to win support for more modest changes that would have required closer court supervision of government surveillance. Earlier in the day, President Bush threatened to hold Congress in session into its scheduled summer recess if it did not approve the changes he wanted.

The legislation, which is expected to go before the House today, would expand the government's authority to intercept without a court order the phone calls and e-mails of people in the United States who are communicating with people overseas.

And, best I can tell, this legislation leaves the decisions of whom to target and the "oversight" as to whether civil liberties are violated to Alberto Gonzales and DNI Mike McConnell. That's Alberto "the Geneva Conventions are quaint" Gonzales and Mike "I like this bill -- oops, no, I hate this bill" McConnell. We can all sleep at night, knowing that the ├╝ber-competent Bush administration is at the helm.
Congressional Democrats and the White House clashed throughout the day not only over the scope of the changes in the law but also over whether the other side was bargaining in good faith. Democrats said they were convinced that their proposal met key the demands of Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) quoted him as saying that the bill "significantly enhances America's security."

But Republicans cited a letter from McConnell yesterday afternoon calling the proposal unacceptable and warning that it would prevent him from protecting the country adequately from terrorist attacks. That assertion in turn prompted charges by Democrats that the White House had overruled McConnell in an effort to gain political advantage by painting their party as weak on terrorism.

Bush spent yesterday jawing about how he'd negotiated in good faith. Sure. You know, every time he speaks, my crap antenna pops up. Can't imagine why.
"We did everything he wants," Brendan Daly, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said of McConnell, "and now he says he doesn't like the bill. They didn't move the goal post; they moved the stadium." Pelosi herself accused the Republicans of not caring "about the truth."

Civil liberties groups are not happy with this bill:
Privacy advocates accused the Democrats of selling out and charged that this bill gives the government more authority than it had under a controversial warrantless wiretapping program begun in secret after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Under that program, the government could conduct surveillance without judicial oversight only if it had a reason to believe that one party to the call was a member of or affiliated with al-Qaeda or a related terrorist organization. This bill drops that condition, they noted.

Democrats "have a Pavlovian reaction: Whenever the president says the word 'terrorism,' they roll over and play dead," said Caroline Fredrickson, Washington legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, predicted that the bill's approval would lead to the monitoring of ordinary Americans by the National Security Agency, which conducts most of the government's electronic surveillance. "If this bill becomes law, Americans who communicate with a person abroad can count on one thing: The NSA may be listening," he said.

Why is it that Democrats continue to roll over for Bush, who's done such a bang-up job that he's about as popular as an infestation of termites at this point? I have to assume that they're terrified of being painted weak on terrorism. And that's a reasonable fear. It's much simpler to fill in the paint-by-number spaces for people who aren't really paying attention. The "Democrats = al Quaeda" pablum goes down easier than a serious, grown-up discussion of the implications of giving away our freedoms now in the futile hope that becoming more like the world al-Quaeda wants will make extremists hate us less.

I can't hammer this point too many times: any authority that is granted to President Bush will also extend to President Clinton or President Obama or President Edwards. Don't Republicans understand that? They love to paint Clinton in particular as some sort of authoritarian dictator-wannabe (projecting much?), yet they, and their buddy Lieberman, happily and blindly follow Bush as he grabs more and more power for the executive branch.

Yes, this bill as it now stands will sunset in six months, and that's a good thing. But in six months, Bush will just pull the same old "terror, terror, fear, fear" routine out of his hip pocket, and we'll see the Congress dance to his tune again. You want to get scared? Don't fall for Bush's "If you don't pass this bill right now, the terrorists win" temper tantrum. Be scared by this:
"We're at war. The enemy wants to attack us," [Sen. Joe] Lieberman said during the Senate debate. "This is not the time to strive for legislative perfection."

God help us. The Congress won't.

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