It's For Our Own Good
Many thanks to Dover Bitch for filling in while I was gone. This post asked what I thought of the FISA bill and what I think should be done. It's so depressing it's hard to write about, but here it is.
I am still trying to figure out what really happened, but the simple answer is that the intelligence community, in the person of Michael McConnell, convinced a non-trivial number of Democrats that the boogeyman was comin' ta' kill us all in our beds in August and if they didn't allow the most incompetent administration in history to have even more power, American deaths could not be prevented.
Here's Jim Webb's statement:
Yesterday I supported two measures to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. These measures were considered against the backdrop of heightened concerns from our nation's intelligence community abut the threat of international terrorism. The ramifications of the two amendments before us last night were not political. Instead they related to the urgent demands of national security. I chose to heed those warnings. We now have six months to work in earnest to bring full accountability to the process.
This distinction and the threats to national security were stated clearly by Admiral McConnell as well as four of the eight Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. These members, Senators Feinstein, Mikulski, Bayh, and Bill Nelson, have extensive experience on intelligence matters and are respected champions of civil rights and liberties. They chose to give significant weight and deference to the intelligence community on FISA reform, and so did I.
I believe him. I don't think it was political. I think he and the others sincerely believes that. And that's profoundly distressing.
Arthur and some others have recently called me out for being a ridiculous and useful idiot for the Democrats and it's hard to argue with them. It's certainly not that I cheerlead them for these police state votes, but it is true that I continue to support Democrats generally. I honestly don't know what else to do.
I am not by philosophy or temperament a "bring down the state" kind of person and that tends to make me look for reason in unreasonable actions and try to affect change through the political channels that currently exist. Persuasion, education, discussion, blah, blah, blah. And I'm not a naif. I know craven politicians are craven and suspect them of selling out to any number of interests for any number of reasons. So, I'll tend to try to find ways to change their political calculations under the assumption that they have no real substance to begin with.
In this case,however, I don't think any of that is true. When it comes to the encroaching police state, the politicians of both parties have shown their true colors and their shirts are a disturbing shade of coffee.
The idea that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi supposedly "allowed" themselves to be punk'd again on a constitutional atrocity with scare stories and slick legislative strategy is indefensible and at some point you have to assume that it isn't just political malpractice or even spinelessness. When you see this legislation, on the heels of the passage of the Military Commissions atrocity last fall, you cannot escape the conclusion that the Democrats agree with the administration that the government must have unfettered authoritarian power to "keep the country safe."
Sure, a good many of them voted against it. But the Democrats control the agenda now and no legislation passes without the leadership's approval in this congress. They approved it. The pander wasn't to the red staters. It was those who voted against it who were pandering --- to us. If the Dems had wanted to stop Reid and Pelosi from putting this atrocity up for a vote they could have. They didn't.
And not only did they approve it, they refused to pass the bill that everyone agrees was sufficient to update the FISA rules alone and granted the administration its latest power grab instead. What could have been a real debate about who, in fact, is keeping the country safe and free, they turned into a political failure that makes them appear even weaker than before. And in the process of doing this, they were willing to give Alberto Gonzales the power to eavesdrop on his political opponents -- themselves. (Considering what we know about what he and others have done at the DOJ, it's absurd to assume he won't, isn't it?)
The powers that have now been legally invested in the executive branch, the military commissions and this new warrantless wiretapping authority, can be used by anyone. That means that on one level at least, the unitary executive theory has found bipartisan acceptance --- the fourth amendment is as quaint as the Geneva Conventions. Every single vote along these lines that ostensibly are done to "protect" us, is a step toward the authoritarian power that lies at the heart of Dick Cheney's wet dream. This has been done with almost no real debate or discussion, since our representatives have chosen to also codify the ridiculous secretiveness that continues to hold that even though we know what we know about this from the front pages of the New York Times, they still can't discuss it openly. Certainly, they didn't deem to share with us (again) why there was such a rush after years and years of not moving the uncontroversial aspects of this legislation and ramming through yet another constitutional assault in the dead of night.
After 9/11, you expected overreach. The country was traumatized and the government did not know the extent of the terrorists plans. I didn't like it, but I understood that in the early days there would be some activities that would have to be re-examined when the smoke cleared and our normal functions would have to be restored. It's happened before. But we are five years down the road and rather than being repudiated now that we've caught our breath, they are being embedded into our new police state apparatus, with the willing cooperation of a Democratic majority.
Here is the question that has never been asked after those horrible weeks in 2001. How much risk are Americans prepared to live with? After 9/11, the leaders of this country used a fleeting sense of panic to inculcate in the nation's collective mind that the government has a responsibility --- and the ability --- to literally do everything they conceivably could to prevent another terrorist attack, including usurping some of our most basic freedoms. They presented Islamic terrorism as an existential threat to our nation that was so dire that our country itself was in danger of being "taken over" unless the government had the power to throw out all the constitutional guarantees that we take for granted. "The constitution isn't a suicide pact," remember? Everything they did from that point on was sacred and secret --- they never looked back. The people, of course, are assumed to be too simple to understand the stakes.
With yet another assault on the constitution dutifully passed, this time with a Democratic majority, I have to say that it's clear from where the existential threat really comes and it's a lot closer to home than al-Qaeda. It's coming from within, from a governing class of both parties who are creating a national security apparatus that is going to end up squeezing the lifeblood of liberty right out of this country --- all in the name of keeping us safe.
They treat us like children, never asking our permission, assuming that we are so desperate to be "safe" from the boogeyman that we just want to crawl up in Big Brother's big ole lap and snuggle up for a long sleep while they take care of all the "bad guys."
Welcome to Americaland, a Freedom Theme Park Corporation, where Daddy says if you are innocent you have nothing to worry about.
* For a terrific sense of how insane this legislation really is, check out the lying sack of garbage who defended it on last night's Newshour. It is one of the most shameless, in-your-face, youcanbelievemeoryoucanbeliveyourlyin'eyes, performances I've seen in some time. The expert who was arguing the sane side, was so non-plussed by his blatant lies that she was reduced to sputtering that he couldn't have read the actual legislation.
I'm so proud that the Democrats felt that it was a good thing for the country that they align themselves with fascist gasbags like this man. I feel so fucking safe I can hardly breathe.