Friday, February 15, 2008

"You have nothing to fear but fear itself. Boo!!!!"

As is usual, the RWA folks are trying to scare you (and Congress) again into gutting the FISA act reached through extensive public hearings (see link at bottom) in the aftermath of the revelation of widespead abuses of gummint surveillance:

“The lives of countless Americans depend on our ability to monitor terrorist communications,” Mr Bush said in a news conference. “Our intelligence professionals are working day and night to keep us safe, and they’re waiting to see whether Congress will give them the tools they need to succeed or tie their hands by failing to act."
Or this:

The WATB John Boehner:
“We will not stand here and watch this floor be abused for pure political grandstanding at the expense of our national security,” John Boehner, the House Minority Leader, said as he led his peers out of the chamber.
... while actually walking out on a contempt vote against Bolten and Miers. on the U.S. Attorneys political shenanigans investigation.

RW radio talk show hosts were parroting all this foofrah all day yesterday too. "Do you want Alka Heeda to come murder you in your sleep? Do you? Huh, do you???" The RW Mighty Wurlitzer is cranked to highest volume (which is often the case when they think they have the most to lose).

There's just a few problems with this:
  • The gummint isn't prevented from any spying whatsoever, if you go by history and their view. The Dubya maladministration has gladly and proudly admitted to snooping away in the aftermath of 9/11, unconstrained by the FISA statute. They even said it was legal (and if it wasn't, then why aren't the people that ordered it in jail?)
  • Even with this surveillance over those years:
  1. No plots have been shown to be foiled by such. One early purported example had to be retracted.
  2. The example given by Director of National Intelligence McConnell and others of the necessity of such "warrantless" surveillance was no such example (more here), not to mention it's hardly clear that they would have found anything of interest even if they did the taps.
  • When asked if he needed the FISA act updated for such in 2001 and 2002, Dubya said no.
  • We've had no attacks on the United States, either during any hiatus while the need for FISA updates were being argued and the Protect America Act (PAA) was being cobbled up, or at any other time. To pretend that a lapse of a month in the PAA (which would allow continuing of any existing surveillances for a year in any case) is going to result in a devastating attack on the U.S. is sheer demagoguery.
Why the urgency? In order to ram through immunity before too many people get a chance to look at what's actually happening, and realize that Dubya's trying to cover up and avoid responsibility for breaking the law. The less debate, the better.

Ted Kennedy said it best, the last time the Rethuglicans tried to ram it through with telecom immunity:

"The President has said that American lives will be sacrificed if Congress does not change FISA. But he has also said that he will veto any FISA bill that does not grant retro-active immunity. No immunity, no FISA bill. So if we take the President at his word, he's willing to let Americans die to protect the phone companies."

-- Ted Kennedy 12/17/2007
To misquote FDR, the Rethuglicans' new mantra: "We have no arguments to make but fear itself."


From the Historical Archives of Risible Moments, more fear-mongering:
The nation's top spook Michael McConnell told El Paso Times reporter Chris Roberts last week that debating the nation's spy laws in public means "some Americans are going to die" and that companies being sued for helping the government spy on Americans did help the government, an admission that Bush Administration lawyers have repeatedly told courts was a secret that could put Americans at risk. The astounding interview was published on Wednesday.
The maladministration prevaricators simply have no shame. Not any more.

Update 2:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others have decided to fight back against this tide of nonsense and fear-mongering:
Hill Republicans and Bush want the House to simply pass the Senate bill, but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said yesterday his chamber is
"not a lap dog of the president or the United States Senate any more than they are of us."
And Pelosi reiterated that point today and accused Bush of "fearmongering" on the issue.
"President Bush tells the American people he has nothing to offer but fear,"
she said. An effort to extend the existing Protect America Act for another 21 days failed decisively on the House floor Thursday, surprising Democratic leaders, who immediately made the case that they could go home for the break without getting a new law enacted.

Democrats have been laying the groundwork for this move all week, putting out documents to bolster the argument that the GOP is playing politics with the issue and that national security will not be imperiled if the current surveillance law lapses.
(h/t the indefatigable Sysprog)

Update 3

"The sky is falling, the sky is falling!!!!"

DNI Mike McConnell continues the onslaught of lies and shoddy logic:

The Protect America Act, passed by Congress last August, temporarily closed the gaps in our intelligence collection, but there was a glaring omission: liability protection for those private-sector firms that helped defend the nation after the Sept. 11 attacks. This month, I testified before Congress, along with the other senior leaders of the intelligence community, on the continuing threats to the United States from terrorists and other foreign intelligence targets. We stated that long-term legislation that modernized FISA and provided retroactive liability protection was vital to our operations. The director of the FBI told the Senate that "in protecting the homeland it's absolutely essential" to have the support of private parties.

Well, if you'd just asked them while holding a certification from the AG in hand:
Here's how that would work: the Wiretap Act contains a section, 18 USC 2511(2)(a)(ii), that allows telecom providers and other private parties (e.g. your landlord) to help the government carry out electronic surveillance if those private parties have been "provided with ... a court order" or "a certification in writing by ... the Attorney General of the United States that no warrant or court order is required by law, that all statutory requirements have been met, and that the specified assistance is required."
they would have had to help you, and there wouldn't be a problem, would there? But they did anyway, so I don't understand the 'logic' of insisting that they won't help when you do it again (particularly since you've gotten changes in the law going forward, even without retroactive immunity).

Maybe the only reason that they'd be more reluctant to "help" you going forward would be if they are held to account for illegal taps they did for you in the past, and then, if you ask them to wiretap illegally again.

More McConnell:
Under the Protect America Act, we obtained valuable insight and understanding, leading to the disruption of planned terrorist attacks....
"... which is why I had to lie, and then retract [see above] a story, about actually doing such. I know, I had ten great examples of the program actually working, but I picked a bogus one because it makes the best case for why this works...."

Update 4

Glenn Greenwald has more (and does it better than I, to boot). Money quote:

Thus, we're not all going to die under FISA. We're not "going dark." FISA is a modern law that was re-written at George Bush's direction and which he himself said allowed for full surveillance on all of the evil Terrorists and all of their complex, super-modern means of communications. None of this has anything to do with the Government's ability to listen in When Osama Calls. It is only about whether the nation's largest telecoms will have pending lawsuits, brought by their customers for breaking the law, dismissed by Congress. Is that really so hard to understand and explain?

Update 5

... and the money quote from the other side. Dubya:
President Bush, in remarks meant to spur House Democrats into accepting a controversial new bill that would expand the government's ability to spy on Americans, warned that the country faced terror strikes that would make September 11 "pale by comparison."
(h/t to Glenn Greenwald)

Update 6

More from Pelosi. Great minds think alike:

But Ms. Pelosi and other House Democrats said Mr. Bush and Congressional Republicans were at fault because they had resisted temporarily extending the bill to allow disagreements to be worked out. Democrats would not be bullied into approving a measure they considered flawed, she said.

“The president knows full well that he has all the authority he needs to protect the American people,” said Ms. Pelosi, who then referred to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s admonition about fearing only fear itself. “President Bush tells the American people that he has nothing to offer but fear, and I’m afraid that his fear-mongering of this bill is not constructive.”

[my emphasis]

You go, Nancy.

And this pathetic rejoinder from the Party of Fear:
“I think there is probably joy throughout the terrorist cells throughout the world that the United States Congress did not do its duty today,” said Representative Ted Poe, Republican of Texas.
He forgot to add, "You are either with the preznit or you're with the Terra-Ists" and "you Dhimmicrats must really love bin Laden". Time to check the RNC "talking points", Mr. Poe.

(h/t to Glenn Greenwald again)

Update 6

More from Glenn Greenwald here: The GOP takes out ads which look like "24" previews.

Most vomit-inducing (and predictable) is this:
The ad also features a convincing cameo by Democrat Jay Rockefeller, in the role normally played by Dick Cheney, warning in stern, Serious, forehead-scrunched, paternal tones that we're all going to die soon without his bill.
What did Sen. Rockefeller think the Republicans were going to do with this issue?!?!? Or didn't he care? Was the telecom payla too good? Or was he just not thinking....


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