No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
LATE UPDATE: Marcy notes that DNI Mike McConnell and AG Michael Mukasey wrote: “As we have previously noted, any FISA modernization bill must contain effective legal protections for those companies sued because they are believed to have helped the Government prevent terrorist attacks in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.” (My emphasis.) Since the companies were doing surveillance before then as well wouldn’t they be subject to civil suits over any lawbreaking prior to 9/11? (Last update: Marcy writes “My guess is the stuff that happened pre-9/11 had more to do with the hardware side of things, and less with the data mining and lack of probable cause. But that’s a guess.” What that means as far as civil suits go is left to more knowledgable people than me. Since there aren’t any lawsuits filed from that period there isn’t any smoking gun we know of. And if I’m not mistaken the statute of limitations is five years, so all this could be moot anyway. As I said, better minds.)
Larisa Alexandrovna has a lovely meditation on patriotism. A naturalized citizen who puts us born here to shame.
According to Salon Richard Myers “helped quash dissent from across the U.S. military as the Bush administration first set up a brutal interrogation regime for terrorism suspects, according to newly public documents and testimony from an ongoing Senate probe.” A few bad apples indeed.
LA Times: “A federal appeals court said Monday that the U.S. military improperly labeled a Chinese Muslim held at Guantanamo Bay an ‘enemy combatant’ and it ordered that he be released, transferred or granted a new hearing.” Your War On Terror dollars at work.
Here’s a quick review of the moral bankruptcy on the right when it comes to civil rights. The story:
A federal judge in San Francisco dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday that sought to prove President Bush acted illegally in 2001 when he ordered the wiretapping of phone calls between Americans and suspected foreign terrorists without court approval.
The only reaction I could find on the right:
I always love it when activists sue over some alleged harm to them, but find that they can only articulate the harm in the most general terms. Was the harm here that they were being wiretapped (because it was believed they were diverting funds to terrorists) or that they knew they were being wiretapped?
(Don Surber didn’t comment directly on it, but he did demonstrate that he’s incapable of understanding a story containing more than one fact.) There’s a good segment of the right that literally does not believe in liberty, as evidenced by a “if you’re not doing anything wrong you shouldn’t worry about being monitored” attitude. In other words, authoritarian. The assumption for those who believe in liberty is that the government doesn’t get to crawl up your ass with a flashlight unless there’s a damn good reason that can be demonstrated in a court of law if need be.
Read this relentlessly dishonest editorial from the Washington Post to get an idea of just how abysmal commentary on the FISA bill has been.
We understand the heartfelt arguments of those who believe that closing the courthouse door to Americans who claim the warrantless wiretapping invaded their privacy rights represents “an abandonment of the rule of law,” as Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said last month.
But the fact remains that no one can claim with certainty that his or her communications were monitored…The telecommunications companies complied with a government request after being assured, in writing, that the activities had been authorized by the president and deemed lawful by the attorney general.
Simply wretched. Cato has a good takedown but this was some seriously low-hanging fruit.
Finally on a non-executive power note, this from our President: “We’re strong dollar people in this administration.” Listen, dummy: The value of the dollar is not something you have faith in like God or WMD in Iraq but something that exists independently of your thoughts on the matter. And if you really want for that value to be high then you don’t spend eight years cutting taxes and increasing spending and ignoring deficits as they mount. The fact that we’re taking our wallets into the bathroom with us in case we’re out of White Cloud is on you, baby, and you ain’t talking your way out of it.
Information grabbed from the Contacting the Congress page. Let ‘em know who you are. You may download the HTML for this table over here. Feel free to copy and paste anywhere you’d like. Alphabetically by state:
Our President seems to believe not in oversight but in “accountability moments” every four years when the population gives a strict up-or-down judgment on his performance. A thumbs up means a mandate for the entire platform. In some cases like Social Security and immigration the changes are shot down by a growing popular revolt, but essentially the whole package is considered affirmed. At that point Congress passes laws as directed by the President to properly implement the platform, and each policy is a black box to be blessed in the broadest possible terms with no debate or review involved. If Congress doesn’t like that setup it is free to use the power of the purse to shut off funding and force voters to pick sides; the loser gets run into a ditch.
The results of such an audacious concept have been especially clear this week. First up is Seymour Hersh’s blockbuster article in the New Yorker describing how the administration has bypassed Congress in its efforts to begin a war with Iran. Basically, Congress authorized money for covert operations to destabilize the Iranian government. Covert ops go through the CIA, but the CIA is required to report to Congress and is also the intelligence agency with the least enthusiasm for helping the White House invent convenient stories. Probably either of these is unacceptable and together are intolerable. So the activities were funnelled through the military, and suddenly no one on Capitol Hill needed to be told anything. Hersh’s sources sound almost comically naïve: “Senior Democrats in Congress told me that they had concerns about the possibility that their understanding of what the new operations entail differs from the White House’s.” The administration has continuously demonstrated its “different understanding” of its need to submit to oversight since it took office. Your concerns are only beginning to dawn now?
Next, consider the news that the House Oversight Committee issued subpoenas for the President and Vice President’s interview records from Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. It was issued because we still don’t know all the relevant details over the compromising of a CIA operative. Since such an action has real (as opposed to fictional) national security implications it is important to know exactly what happened. Of course, finding out exactly what happened would put the administration somewhere on the political spectrum between Approval Rating Below The Mendoza Line and Would You Rather Resign Or Be Impeached? Perhaps unsurprisingly the DOJ flat out said it would not comply.
Here is where we get to the crux of the matter. I hate to put it in such stark and extreme terms, but the question Congress must now answer is, are you with the Constitution or with the President? The two have become irreconcilably opposed. I have basically accepted that Congress has by its actions declared itself in favor of all of the President’s major policies. It approves of continuing in Iraq to the indefinite future, of torture, of warrantless wiretaps and “basket” warrants that make a mockery of the 4th Amendment, and so on. But right now its very relevance as a body is being challenged. I am all but certain that even a rump GOP would be able to effectively sound the alarms and shriek at the imperial (get used to that word) actions of a President Obama who makes obvious and logical use of powers currently being established. That would not mean our system of checks and balances was being upheld, however. It would just mean that Republicans are still able to shape the Washington narrative even as a nearly crippled minority.
Upholding the system requires action now, and it needs to be more than issuing paper to a contemptuous executive. If Congress really wants to defend its role and re-establish its relevance then the only options left are direct confrontation: Slap handcuffs on Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten and let them sit in the House jail. Have the Senate Judiciary Committee vote on a contempt citation for Karl Rove, give him a deadline and tell him he will join his erstwhile companions if he does not show up. And yes, begin suggesting that the Attorney General may end up there as well if he continues to defy them. Let the right turn any of them into a cause célèbre if they want; let GOP leaders in Congress rush to their defense if so moved. Let the White House be the ones appealing to judges for relief for a change. There is too much at stake for Congress to continue its weak protestations. If nothing changes it will be responsible for a terrible precedent: That a President can, with enough arrogance, bullying and defiance, ignore Congress with impunity.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
Kagro X gives a fantastic overview of Senate procedure in “So what’s up with ‘holds’ in the Senate, anyway?” Kagro clearly has spent some time in D.C. and wouldn’t it be loverly if everyone who did so was as willing to give those of us in the hinterlands a look inside our government’s machinery?
The Senate is of particular concern because the FISA vote is set for July 8th. Tell your reps and Democratic leaders to strip telecom amnesty from it. Emails are fine, phone calls are better, faxes better still because they take up space in Congressional offices, and money is best of all because, well, it’s money. FaxZero allows you to send two free faxes per day, and Senator Obama’s fax number is (202) 228-4260. Feel free to send requests for a belated birthday present to America.
Spencer Ackerman has a nice review of Addington and Yoo’s testimony. It is hard to overstate the damage these men have done to our Constitution, our government and most importantly our values. They are key players in our descent into state sponsored torture. We still are largely ignorant of the worst abuses; if that changes get ready for the ultimate test of the “nobody could have known” rationalization.
The Justice Department is turning into a playground for party hacks with third rate minds.
Finally (deep breath) I’m going to go a little out of my depth and make a gender-based observation. I’ve probably internalized the belief of women as the more tender-hearted and sensitive gender as well as anyone, so off the top of my head I would have expected to see a nearly unanimous endorsement by them defending anything aimed (even just ostensibly) at protecting children. For issues as emotionally charged as pornography and rape I expected an almost reflexive defense of such laws and procedures, but in three separate cases this week I saw just the opposite. Avedon, digby and Ruth each separated claims from facts and refused to get carried away. All three took a clear eyed (and in Avedon’s case searingly honest) look at what was being done and what the likely impact would be. It could be that I’m just reading left leaning sources and seeing the usual talking points repeated. On the other hand I saw a number of liberals (for example) take positions on Heller that were decidedly not “typical” liberal positions. I think there’s more at play here. I may just need to stop dragging my knuckles, but I was very surprised by what I learned this week.
No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
Thinking back, it is hard to believe Ross Perot nearly upturned the two party system in 1992. He received almost 19% of the vote, which was more than an independent had received since 1912 - when a former President ran. Perot had a staggering array of disadvantages: The absence of even a bare bones third party infrastructure, no political experience whatsoever, an untelegenic face and somewhat high pitched (and grating) voice, a running mate who seemed simultaneously authentic and buffoonish, and a continually prickly reaction to the prying and publicity that comes with any serious bid for the White House. And then of course there was the epic freakout. Ahead in the polls, he abruptly dropped out of the race, then dropped back in several weeks later and accused the Republicans of trying to sabotage his daughter’s wedding. He seemed, literally, to be having a nervous breakdown in full public view. And after all that he still captured nearly a fifth of the electorate!
He had some advantages as well obviously. Sometimes in politics anti-charisma can be charisma. Washington has famously been described as Hollywood for ugly people; physical disadvantages can come across as genuine, the common touch, lack of affectation and so on. He was also in possession of a gigantic pile of money. A good chunk of it came via government contracts, but he still successfully played the “private sector hero” card. He also used his money exceptionally well - in addition to other spending he bought entire 30 minute blocks of time and used them to focus on the issue that catapulted him to popularity seemingly overnight: The budget deficit. Americans were terribly anxious over the unwillingness of our leaders to pay for their spending (seems quaint now doesn’t it?) and Perot focused on it to the exclusion of just about everything else. And people responded with wild enthusiasm. His disadvantages were substantially muted because he spoke directly and maturely to an issue of vital importance to many of his countrymen.
Now, there are plenty of dissimilarities in 2008. I don’t think Bob Barr is the second coming of Perot; at this point in the 1992 cycle the “Ross For Boss” rocket had already launched. Also, if anyone was going to catch lightning in a bottle this time I think it would have been Ron Paul, who no longer has an obvious route to the ballot. And while the GOP base is suspicious with a “waited his turn” nominee and a lot of Democrats are fired up about a charismatic newcomer, these parallels are mostly superficial.
What is real and very similar, though, is the restlessness of a good part of the electorate. Last week may have seen the start of a new alliance between civil libertarian-minded citizens on the right and the left with the creation of The Strange Bedfellows. It began largely in response to the FISA reform bill, and look at the events surrounding it: Steny Hoyer negotiated it behind closed doors, introduced it and less than 24 hours later engineered a vote (with the blessing of Nancy Pelosi), all in the face of outrage from the left. A site was created for contributions to oppose it and it raised six figures literally overnight. Democratic capitulation on the burgeoning surveillance state has created tension that seeks an outlet. The party’s continued rubber stamp of the President’s hugely unpopular Iraq policy is another source of tremendous frustration.
Democrats are playing a dangerous game. They apparently reason that Republicans will bear the brunt of dissatisfaction over Washington’s unpopular policies. That may well be true. The GOP faces a disaster this year because they gained control of all major parts of government and then engaged in an orgy of excess, alienating moderates and depressing their loyalists. Having achieved their electoral goal they spent all their credibility very quickly. Democrats seem to be in the process of a sellout of a different sort. They seized control of both houses of Congress but seem oblivious (or indifferent) to the public’s anger. Instead they seem to be playing a game of political jujitsu, using the overexertions of the right to give them leverage to flip them totally off the mat. It may be a brilliant tactical move but one with long term risks. First, urgent policy issues fester because no meaningful action can happen under such a strategy. That leads to the second problem, deep dissatisfaction with what comes to be seen as a lesser of two evils. By eschewing opposition the Democrats are creating a pool of thwarted activists. Such people are primed to create new realities or respond to the latest version of a quirky billionaire with homemade charts. I’ve written before about the Republicans’ implosion; the ground may be shifting underneath the Democrats as well.