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This is the archive for February 2008

Monday, February 25, 2008

I just don't understand this at all. They have plenty of tools for surveillance with a warrant. Why does the House even need to pass a bill? He can't veto them not doing anything.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

This has been the first edition of What Gerald said.

(Apologies to Atrios)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I got to know the blog "Once Upon a Time" about a year ago. Here's the link to it, which I'll keep in clear text because I like the subdomain name:

It's something of an anguished affair, but the writing is stellar. He's got up stuff on Democratic superdelegates, the scary privatization of FBI thought police known as the "Infraguard" program, and what I really appreciate about Silber, the absolute moral bankruptcy of war (including a lot about diversion of the peace movement by Democratic Party politics).

What he has that I want especially to note is a ton on FISA. You'll have to go there and read, it's way too much even to summarize. I'll say just this: what almost everyone seems to have lost track of (except the excellent MSNBC commentator Jonathan Turley) is that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) "itself [created] a secret court whose very purpose is to circumvent the requirements of the Fourth Amendment. The FISA court is no protection against illegitimate government intrusion at all.... we [currently] are fighting over whether to grant the executive branch and FISA still more untrammeled authority to disregard constitutional rights."

There is powerful stuff at

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Maine Republican goes to bat for warrantless snooping

There is an interesting story in the Bangor Daily News this weekend titled "Snowe: Keep telecom immunity in updated bill." Because it does not look like this posted online anywhere, I'm going to go ahead and reproduce it in its entirety below the fold.

There is nothing Snowe says that is particularly new to one who closely has been following the debate on telecom immunity for acts of warrantless surveillance. Surprise, surprise, Snowe is an ultra-hawk on this. Basically, Snowe (an Intelligence Committee member) is in favor of broad warrantless surveillance powers because, as she puts it,
At a time when al-Qaida lurks in the shadows, making no distinction between combatants and noncombatants, between our battlefields and our backyards, we as lawmakers must act with firm resolve to ensure that the intelligence community possesses the tools and legal authority needed to prevent future terrorist attacks on our soil.
And what of the telecom. companies cooperating in these supposed terror-prevention efforts? On the reasonableness of granting the companies immunity for black-letter violations of law at the behest of the radical authoritarian-statist officials in the Bush government conducting unconstitutional spying, Snowe said in a hearing last Monday,
If a telecom company was approached by government officials asking for help in warding off another terrorist attack, and those government officials produced a document stating that the president had authorized the activity and that that activity was legal, could we really say that the company acted unreasonably in complying with this request?
Well, yes. Granting them immunity for cooperating with officials who's requests subsume Constitutional rights in such as obvious way would remove a major protection of those rights for ordinary citizens.

Damnit! Why can't someone probe the notion these officials always use, that this expanded surveillance somehow "protects" the public from terrorism? They are more about maintaining consent for egregious policy than confronting terrorism. Free countries always will have certain kinds of vulnerability. Ramping up authoritarianism, an essential component of which is broad-based surveillance, is nearly useless in stemming terrorism. My feeling is it leads to a siege mentality that may one day increase the risk of terrorism.

As you can see, I find Snowe's position (Collins's is identical) on this to be totally without merit. I think it is time she (actually both of them) were asked some questions that draw out the truth of these surveillance programs. (See THIS recent post for a strong presentation thereof.) We need to get them both on the record explaining themselves about the true nature of these programs separate from the false rhetoric that the surveillance chiefly is for the purpose of ferreting out terrorists.

Here goes:

Dear Senator __fill in senator's name_,

I am a concerned citizen, critic of the policies of the United States government, and an activist to prevent further military adventurism and bloodshed conducted in my name as a result of the policies of my government. There are millions of people like me. I feel that the FISA revisions you advocate, which would grant telecom companies guilty of committing violations of black-letter law immunity from legal action, to be a direct threat to my ability to exercise free speech, to organize the millions of us who oppose you, and to petition you for redress of these grievances.

I ask you the following questions concerning your position on these policies,
  1. If it is known that surveillance is being conducted on a "terrorist," why is it unreasonable that a traditional, lawful, warrant be issued in an immediate or timely manner for such surveillance? (I believe that talk of "modernizing" the law is a red herring. The traditions the founders established in the Bill of Rights are as pertinent today in the age of the Internet as they were in the late 18th century.)
  2. Your statements suggest that either you do not understand or do not wish to discuss in public the scope of the surveillance in question. I believe that enough information has been revealed in public, for example on the MSNBC Countdown program and in major newspapers to support my contention that the snooping involved is not targeted upon foreign "terrorists," but rather upon the public as a whole. Therefore, I ask you, If you did understand that the surveillance involved "large net" capture of all domestic as well as international electronic communications, would you still support immunity if in a court of law that fact could be proven?
  3. The more troubling version of the previous question that I would prefer not to have to ask is, Do you support creations of broad-scale databases of peaceful people based on their communications and political beliefs that could be employed for authoritarian purposes in creating a climate of fear and squelching free speech? If not, what guarantees will be left that untrusted officials (like those in your party who are running the government) will not be able to create such enemies profiles without proper warrants containing Constitutionally supportable suspicion of actual illegal activity?
I suppose this is enough for now. You could re-write your letter to be a bit less confrontational. In fact I recommend that, as from experience I know both Snowe and Collins feel powerful enough in Maine that they can ignore any sort of issue they don't want to discuss with you or have in public at all. They will ignore you. So, how can questions like these become part of the public discourse? It's going to take persistent media work....

Below the fold is the full BDN story.

Friday, February 01, 2008

"The primary job of any president is to protect us, not just those of us who own Internet and telephone companies, but all of us"

January 31, 2008: Special comment, "FISA and the telecoms"

It's so utterly false, I can't see how people in Congress who appear to shudder before Bush believe it. Why do they even take him seriously? If they spent less time shuddering and more time investigating what the Administration is really doing, then telling the public... My GOD, they (and we) should be OUTRAGED!

Here is the marching order on telcom immunity the President issued in the State of the Union message:
President Bush: Dedicated men and women in our government toil day and night to stop the terrorists from carrying out their plans. These good citizens are saving American lives, and everyone in this chamber owes them our thanks. And one of the most important tools we can give them is the ability to monitor terrorist communications. To protect America, we need to know who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying and what they're planning. Last year, Congress passed legislation to help us do that. Unfortunately, Congress set the legislation to expire on February 1st. That means, if you don't act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger.

Congress must ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted. Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America. We've had ample time for debate. The time to act is now.
Congress passed a fifteen-day extension of the particularly egregious and misnamed "Protect America Act" this week after Bush's statement. Now, the senate leadership along with the Republicans are trying to muzzle debate on the long-term bill. It's so wrong, and so obviously unrelated to terrorism what they're doing. Olbermann does the best job of pointing this out that I've ever heard: