Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lessons from FISA

FISA? As I am so fond of asking my sons, what can we learn from this?

The big lesson, the deep one, is not the most obvious. Among the detritus left in yesterday's Senate passage (69-28-3) of the bill to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 are:
  • Overt Congressional approval of stripping Americans of freedom and due process in our Constitution and court decisions.
  • Support for immunity for telecommunications companies and by interference White House officials who authorized spying on Americans on the secret caprice of the Executive Branch.
  • Our citizens being forced down a funnel of decreasing liberties, as narrow as the Red Scare period.
Yet, the big lesson is the complex one. The nominal Democratic majority in Congress is virtually indistinguishable from the anti-liberty party, a.k.a. the Republican one. On key political and philosophical issues, Democrats are increasingly to the right of the American public. An excellent analysis of that came with last year's huge longitudinal Pew study showing voters are increasingly in favor of Democratic Party planks, while the Congressional votes are far more right wing, anti-liberty, and well, Republican.

To his disgrace, presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama voted for FISA. Oddly enough, regular supporter of this and similar legislation, Hillary Clinton, voted against it. The obvious is that Obama is cluck-cluck terrified of being called soft on terrorism as he runs for office. I shall be fascinated to see how he spins this one. Giving the Bushies and the telcos a free pass on years of violating our essential rights is repulsive.

My conclusion has for too long been that the capons in business suits in the Congressional coop are chicken, so to write. Even Democratic members of House and Senate live in amoral fear of losing their powerful positions. To please big-money contributors, they vote right wing and parrot such lies as, "I'm trying to keep us safe from terrorism."

What we have seen since 9/11 is a steady dissolution of those liberties we pretend to strive to protect. Why should any nation — Iraq, China, Germany, any nation — believe us when we say, "Support us, emulate us, and do as we do to make the world better!"

They have all seen us spy on our own people as well as many thousands overseas. They have seen us kidnap, torture and kill without process or adherence to our own or international law. They have seen us repress at home and abroad in a perverted and totally dishonest melodrama we call In The Defense of Liberty.

Contingent on 1) the Dems taking the White House in four months and 2) substantial Dem increases in Congress, the real reform can happen. With our brood of professional cowards hiding as Democrats in Congress, new people who are not jaded, who still love liberty, and who do not live in fear of losing their stuff have to shake the old men and women awake.

An Obama administration is not likely to be anywhere near as bold as I'd like. He certainly is not anywhere as progressive as I want even now. If he follows the century-old pattern of other self-identified progressives, he won't accomplish many of the huge goals he outlined early on.

Yet, what progressives from Woodrow Wilson on have done in seminal victories is set the tone at national and state levels. They have given direction and hope those who do care about the underclass, about the protecting and restoring freedom, about justice for all, about equal opportunity, and about being the example for the developing world. It is after such elections that we have seen myriad improvements for the larger society, not just huge gifts to the already powerful and wealthy.

In such an environment, our capons might turn into humans with honor as well as hope. As the interest groups have given them permission of watch as liberties shrink, a major progressive shift could give them permission to stand up for actual American values.

At the optimum, we might be able to build on this in the next several elections. Think of more progressives entering Congress and reinforcing those principles. We have had decades now of anti-liberty Republicans and complicit Democrats. We could use eight or more years of courage and respect instead.

A very different kind of President and a flood of Congressional non-effete reinforcements could, would and should make this a very different nation. Don't think just of Obama. Think of a vastly improved culture.

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Anonymous said...

Um, why would you suppose that the Democrats have any intention of reversing the aggregation of powers in the Executive Branch or the abrogation of civil rights?

These people (politicians) are in it for power. Getting more power is what they're all about, whatever party they're in.

To suggest that there's no difference between Dems and GOP would be silly, but keep in mind that Bill Clinton was the one who started extraordinary renditions. He was also the one who bombed Sudan specifically to distract from the Lewinsky thing.

JFK? LBJ? Not exactly saints, either. Put your faith in the people and a free media, not the people who seek to rule us.

massmarrier said...

My supposition comes historically. We have seen such shifts in many eras. True, the proverbial pendulum has been hanging high on the right for quite a while. The voter polls suggest the public is more than ready for leveling. When that happens those same self-interested politicians will have reason to reverse and repair. Their motivation may be as base, but the effects can be very superior.

Bill Baar said...

Yet, what progressives from Woodrow Wilson on have done in seminal victories is set the tone at national and state levels.

Wilson's Palmer raids make FISA look pretty libertarian.

This Administrations done a pretty good job balancing civil liberties and National Security.

They did not look back to Wilson (or FDR a friend of mine, Virgil Vogel, was imprisoned under the Smit Act during the war) for models of what to do... and that's a good thing if you value civil liberity.

massmarrier said...

I have no doubt you are dead wrong on Bush balancing civil liberties and security. Stripping Americans of freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, our rights to due process and freedom of speech have occurred thousands of times under the ruse of security under Bush.

There's tons of documentation on that in MSM. Beyond, I like Elizabeth Holtzman's call for impeachment in The Nation (sub required for full read).

I'm an early boomer. I grew up with expectations of the freedoms that our troops fought for in WWII. Ceding them meekly under jive justifications doesn't cut it.

Anonymous said...

It makes me sick that Congress has decided to cover up felonies of the Bush Administration and the telecom companies. It makes me even more sick that Obama has decided to turn on his base and run scared.

How did your senator vote? Check Here

Bill Baar said...

Stripping Americans of freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, our rights to due process and freedom of speech have occurred thousands of times under the ruse of security under Bush

Can you name a few? Unreasonable ones... after all OSHA conducts many suprize inspections, without warrants... but what are the thousands of unreasonable searches and sizures you are aware off?

My old Comrade Virgil Vogel went prison under the Smith act in the 40s... The Palmer raids under the Liberal Wilson very aggressive... what's happened since 911 in the US has been remarkably calm, measured, and to date, very effective. I just don't see much evidence for abuse compared to our past under some of the most progressive of Presidents.

massmarrier said...

No one has to provide a list for someone else to try to knock down. A tiny amount of library or Internet research will fill your brain and heart. Start by avoiding civil-rights and interest groups. Say, going to the NY Times and searching for surveillance or going directly to the surveillance of citizens by government section (how dreadful that it could even need to exist!).

Even with the attempts at secrecy by the administration, the overflow of instances is awful. This administration long ago lost any authority to say, "Trust me."

Bill Baar said...

How about a list so we could write are Rep's asking for a status then?

America was attacked at home for the first time since 1812 and there was no response to suspend civil liberities on the same scale as was down by Wilson and FDR.

Bush deserves great credit for keeping the counter balanced since 911.

I was stuck in St Louis 911 and drove home to Chicago with m brother-in-law and remember people lining up at Gas Stations in panic and pick up trucks with huge American flags and some very angry Illinoisians. My first thought after checking with my family was of my Jordian colleague from work. I called him and asked how his kids had made out at school and they had no problems then or in the years since...

Americans and Bush deserve a lot of credit... it past wars it would have been easy to draw this lists...

massmarrier said...

Again, a little research will turn up many. In addition to the MSM, check the EFF's main surveillance area and numerous locations on the ACLU's national site. None of these cases will be a big surprise to any politician or bureaucrat. Unless a constituent has specifically asked for help, you're not likely to see anyone in Congress screaming to protect anyone's liberties in these areas.