Tuesday, June 10, 2008



Two American heroes and a bribe-taking scumbag (l-r)

And why are there a handful of Democrats voting with the Republicans on this? Regular DWT readers are no doubt aware that Blue America has raised approximately $100,000 in donations to run ads in districts where Blue Dogs have been rubber stamping Bush's demands for the right to wiretap without court warrants and the power to retroactively grant immunity to his allies who have been doing that illegally. Bush, the GOP and a few Democratic allies of theirs have been adamant that the telecoms that broke the law never go before a judge and jury.

One of the lawbreaking telecoms is Comcast and one of Bush's most dependable Democratic allies is Chris Carney of Pennsylvania. Last week we started running TV, newspaper and radio ads in his district. Although Carney has been calling the media and asking them to not accept our advertising, seven newspapers ran the full page ads in their Sunday editions, every single radio station ran the ads we bought and all the TV stations did as well-- except for the ones controlled by... Comcast.

As Glenn Greenwald explained at Salon yesterday, Comcast has decided to censor the debate and protect their congressional stooge. Virtually all the Democratic members of Congress we spoke to urged us, off the record of course, to run the ads in Carney's district. This morning Martin Bosworth at Boztopia puts the issue into a broader context that includes Net Neutrality and how the Republican/Blue Dog dream of unregulated predatory capitalism creates a toxic state for democracy. Comcast, writes Martin, "can’t afford to have a candidate sympathetic to its aims be pilloried for his support of said surveillance. So it controls the terms of the debate by refusing to run the ad in its markets, while becoming the second-highest donor to Carney’s campaign. In a perfect free-market system, this would be fine. Blue America would simply go to a competitor and run the ad, gaining visibility for them, revenue for the competitor, and a black eye for Comcast. But, in Pennsylvania at least (where it’s headquartered), Comcast controls the market. Their biggest competitor at this point is Verizon’s FiOS, which, given that Verizon did, in fact, illegally spy on customers and provide information to authorities without cause, hardly qualifies as healthy competition... It’s well-documented that you can’t trust Comcast, as they’ve been caught performing all kinds of shiesty shenanigans, from invisible bandwith barriers, to blocking access to content, to crappy customer service of the first order. Given that it seems to be a first principle of theirs to interfere with customers’ ability to access information freely, it should come as no surprise that they’d refuse to run an ad criticizing a candidate they support."

This morning Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Chris Dodd (D-CT) called on House Democrats to resist reactionary and corrupt Blue Dogs like Carney as they try to forge a fake "compromise" which will accomplish all of Bush's and McCain's goals. From Senator Feingold's office:
As you work to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, we urge you to include key protections to safeguard the privacy of law-abiding Americans, and not to include provisions that would grant retroactive immunity to companies that allegedly cooperated in the President's illegal warrantless wiretapping program.

With respect to immunity, we are particularly concerned about a proposal recently made by Senator Bond, and want to make clear that his proposal is just as unacceptable as the immunity provision in the Senate bill, which we vigorously opposed. As we understand it, the proposal would authorize secret proceedings in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to evaluate the companies' immunity claims, but the court's role would be limited to evaluating precisely the same question laid out in the Senate bill: whether a company received "a written request or directive from the Attorney General or the head of an element of the intelligence community… indicating that the activity was authorized by the President and determined to be lawful."

Information declassified in the committee report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the FISA Amendments Act, S. 2248, confirms that the companies received exactly these materials:

The Committee can say, however, that beginning soon after September 11, 2001, the Executive branch provided written requests or directives to U.S. electronic communication service providers to obtain their assistance with communications intelligence activities that had been authorized by the President.

…The letters were provided to electronic communication service providers at regular intervals. All of the letters stated that the activities had been authorized by the President. All of the letters also stated that the activities had been determined to be lawful by the Attorney General, except for one letter that covered a period of less than sixty days. That letter, which like all the others stated that the activities had been authorized by the President, stated that the activities had been determined to be lawful by the Counsel to the President.

In other words, under the Bond proposal, the result of the FISA Court's evaluation would be predetermined. Regardless of how much information it is permitted to review, what standard of review is employed, how open the proceedings are, and what role the plaintiffs' lawyers are permitted to play, the FISA Court would be required to grant immunity. To agree to such a proposal would not represent a reasonable compromise.

As we have explained repeatedly in the past, existing law already immunizes telephone companies that respond in good faith to a government request, as long as that request meets certain clearly spelled-out statutory requirements. This carefully designed provision protects both the companies and the privacy of innocent Americans. It gives clear guidance to companies on what government requests it should comply with and what requests it should reject because the requirements of the law are not met. The courts should be permitted to apply this longstanding provision in the pending cases to determine whether the companies that allegedly participated in the program should be granted immunity.

We also urge you to correct the significant flaws in the FISA provisions of the Senate bill, some of which were addressed in the House version. The Senate bill authorizes widespread surveillance involving innocent Americans and does not provide adequate checks and balances to protect their rights. First, it permits the government to come up with its own procedures for deciding who is a target of surveillance, and provides no meaningful consequences if the FISA Court later determines the government's procedures are not even reasonably designed to wiretap foreigners. Second, even if the government is wiretapping foreigners outside the U.S., those foreigners need not be terrorists, suspected of any wrongdoing, or even be of any specific intelligence interest. That means the government could legally collect all communications between Americans here at home and the rest of the world. Third, the Senate version of the bill failed to prohibit the practice of reverse targeting-- namely, wiretapping a person overseas when what the government is really interested in is an American here at home with whom the foreigner is communicating. Fourth, the Senate version of the bill failed to include meaningful privacy protections for the Americans whose communications will be collected in vast new quantities. We strongly believe that these problems should be corrected as the legislation moves forward.

Thank you for your consideration of these concerns. As this legislation moves forward, please know that we will strongly oppose any legislation that includes a grant of unjustified retroactive immunity and that does not adequately protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans.

Nor were Senators Dodd and Feingold the only ones concerned today. The ACLU led an impressive coalition of civil liberties organizations -- from the American Library Association, the League of Women Voters, People For the American Way and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee to the United Methodist Church and the Republican Liberty Caucus-- that are also doing a little straight-talking on Bond's fake "compromise". Their letter to members of Congress (in part):
As organizations that are deeply committed to both civil liberties and effective intelligence-gathering, we strongly urge you to oppose legislation recently outlined by Senator Bond to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This bill unreasonably and unnecessarily authorizes broad surveillance of Americans’ international communications without meaningful Fourth Amendment protections: no individualized warrant issued by a court, no determination of probable cause of wrongdoing, and no specification of the location or means of the surveillance.

Touted as a compromise to end an impasse between House and Senate versions of FISA legislation, the bill proposed by Senator Bond is far from a compromise. Its chief provisions are not significantly
different from those contained in the bill passed by the Senate in February of this year (S. 2248). Like that measure, the “compromise” would threaten Americans' privacy by severely curtailing judicial review and failing to include other reasonable civil liberties protections that appear in the House-passed version of the legislation (H.R. 3773). Neither Sen. Bond nor the administration has made a persuasive case that these sweeping new powers are needed or that existing authorities are inadequate to ensure the effectiveness of U.S. intelligence-gathering activities.

In addition, this legislation would use the secret FISA court to rubber stamp a grant of immunity to telecommunications companies that assisted with unlawful warrantless surveillance.

...The bill would authorize massive warrantless surveillance. The bill allows the government to intentionally acquire millions of Americans’ international communications with no individualized warrant or determination of probable cause, so long as one party to a phone call or e-mail is believed to be located abroad and the purpose is to gather foreign intelligence.

...The bill would grant retroactive immunity for wrongdoing. The bill would give blanket immunity to companies that aided the government in conducting warrantless electronic surveillance of Americans. Like S. 2248, the bill would direct the court to dismiss privacy lawsuits against telecommunications providers if they received written assurances that the President had authorized the surveillance-- assurances which in fact they received.

One change which makes the “compromise” worse than the Senate bill is a provision which would require the transfer of all of the lawsuits brought against the telecommunications providers from federal district court to the secret FISA court-- a body whose only job for the past thirty years has been to approve FISA surveillance applications, not to try cases. This is not a compromise on immunity; it is the same old immunity dressed up to look like a judicial proceeding.

If you would like to see Blue America continue fighting Republican rubber stamps and reactionary Democrats on this, please consider making a small donation to our Retroactive Immunity Fund, which we hope to use to continue educating Chris Carney's constituents as well as the constituents of other members of Congress selling out the Bill of Rights and the people they are supposed to represent.


With Ron Paul officially ending his bid for the presidency tonight, Blue America has been working with many of the Paul campaign volunteer funders to help us in our efforts to hold members of Congress accoutable who are serial Constitution desecrators.

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At 4:03 PM, Blogger tw3k said...

Go Howie!!!!111

At 10:14 PM, Blogger tech98 said...

Sure we should give telecoms immunity for warrantless spying -- in exchange for full disclosure of who the White House was spying on.

I suspect we would find many political figures from both parties on the list, being targeted for blackmail or intimimdation.

I'd especially like to know who the targets were before 9/11, when the administration was completely oblivious to terrorism.


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