28 February 2008

Vaudeville Comedy in the White House Press Briefing Room

In his column yesterday, Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post provided a link to the transcript of a press briefing at the White House that can only be described as surreal. The briefing is purported to be presented by two "Senior Administration Officials".

My guess is that this briefing was brought about because of the the difficulty announced by CNN's John King that, because he has been busy following the Presidential campaign, when it comes to FISA, "this is highly detailed stuff that's pretty hard to follow". The briefing begins:

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I appreciate you taking the time to discuss this issue with you. I just want to give a very brief overview. I know this is a very complex subject and a lot of discussion out there, and it's hard sometimes to follow it.
The "officials", at the prompting of the "press" who pose the questions, then proceed to parrot the Administration talking points that have been thoroughly debunked elsewhere.

Once the spewing is complete, the "press", who have been asking such difficult questions, then get into the spirit of the true purpose of the meeting:

Q How did you get to full compliance, by telling them they were home-free?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was a back-and-forth engagement with the general counsels' offices, so that they got to the point where, as the announcement says, they were willing to comply with our requests, but there's no guarantee they'd continue to do so.

Q We'll cover your ass. (Laughter.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Help us protect our security.

END 3:35 P.M. EST
Cue the Vaudeville music. I realize this was meant as a joke, but it really highlights just what has gone on in the entire "discussion" that has taken place with FISA. The administration has broken the law, the press found out about it, sat on the story through the 2004 election and then has "covered their ass" for them because the administration has convinced the press that this will "protect our security".

Absolutely disgusting.

23 February 2008

Stop the Spying!

Superbly executed You Tube video from People for the American Way (PFAW) - (with added bonus of a very cool background music track by Brad Sucks!)
*h/t 'bystander' and Jim White in a comment at Glenn Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory*

Is the sky falling yet?

We now approach the one week mark since the expiration of the Protect America Act. Yesterday, the "nonpolitical" Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, wrote a letter to Silvestre Reyes, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, in which they said:

Our experience in the past few days since the expiration of the act demonstrates that these concerns are neither speculative nor theoretical. Allowing the act to expire without passing the bipartisan Senate bill had real and negative consequences for our national security. Indeed, this has led directly to a degraded intelligence capability.

Yet, despite this situation with "negative consequences for our national security", Republicans have refused to meet with Democratic leaders of the House and Senate who have been trying to reconcile the differences between the bills passed in the two bodies. The chief difference is that the Senate has passed retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that have broken the law in providing warrantless wiretaps while the House bill does not contain immunity. A joint statement by Reyes, John Conyers, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jay Rockefeller, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Patrick Leahy, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee reads:

Today, our staffs met again in what should have been a bipartisan, bicameral meeting with our Republican colleagues’ staffs and Administration officials to continue working through the recess period on important reforms to FISA. Again, the Republicans refused to join the dialogue. And today, neither the Justice Department nor the director of National Intelligence sent representatives. Today was another missed opportunity.

Further politicizing the debate, the administration today announced that they believe there have been gaps in security since the Protect America Act expired. They cannot have it both ways; if it is true that the expiration of the PAA has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the President and congressional Republicans to block an extension of the law. Accordingly, they should join Democrats in extending it until we can resolve our differences.

We continue to be disappointed in the failure of the administration and Republican members of Congress to participate in these very important discussions, but we remain extremely committed to this process. Americans deserve a carefully thought out bill, and we will continue to work to put America's security first.

The real reason for the failure to negotiate is that President Bush has made it clear that the only bill he will sign is one with retroactive immunity. On Thursday, while flying back from Africa on Air Force One, he had this to say: "I would just tell you there's no compromise on whether these phone companies get liability protection".

Finally calling out Bush and the Republicans on the cynicism of their claiming that we are at risk because the Protect America Act has expired, but refusing to consider any version of a FISA revision that does not contain retroactive immunity is a welcome development for the Democrats. The heart of the Republican argument is aimed at covering up massive lawbreaking on the part of the government and the telecommunications companies that were coereced into going along. Surveillance of terrorists continues without significant interruption, but exposure of wrongdoing by Bush and his cronies is lurking in the shadows.

20 February 2008

If Telecom Amnesty Passes

Here is a comment I made yesterday in response to Glenn Greenwald's post on the current situation surrounding lawsuits over the government's illegal surveillance programs:

Target: Jello

If Congress caves and retroactive immunity does indeed get passed, then I think we need to bombard Jello Jay relentlessly to force him to hold hearings on both the NSA program and on whatever program it was that led to the threats of resignation. If the full committee is involved, I'd even be fine with the bulk of the testimony being behind closed doors.

What I'm talking about is a completely focused and unrelenting campaign aimed at Rockefeller alone. Hundreds of calls to his office. Every day. Hundreds of faxes. Every day. Pickets everywhere he goes. Every day. Ads in his local paper. Ads on his local TV. Letters to newspapers all over the nation, holding Rockefeller personally responsible for not getting to the bottom of what the country has done. Maybe even a "countdown clock" until the next election when he can be turned out into the streets.

He has the power to convene these hearings. If immunity passes,
we need to make his life a living hell until he does just that.

Here is a portion of the opening statement made by Senator Rockefeller on May 1, 2007 as he began a hearing on the revisions to FISA:

The purpose of today's hearing is to enable the administration to explain to the Senate and to the American people as openly as possible the reasons why public law on these vital matters should be changed.

I would like to make a few observations about the administration's legislative proposal before us.

One part of the administration's bill proposes to terminate controversies now in litigation in various courts arising from the warrantless surveillance program that the president has labeled "the Terrorist Surveillance Program." It would bar any lawsuit against any person for the alleged provision to any element of the intelligence community's information or assistance for any alleged communications intelligence activity.

Under the administration's proposal, this immunity provision would be limited to alleged assistance from September 11th, 2001, to 90 days after enactment of any change in the law, were there to be one. We will carefully examine this immunity process and proposal and possible alternatives to it --it is not without controversy -- as we will all sections of the administration bill. But I do believe that the administration is going to have to do its part, too.

The vice chairman and I have stressed to the administration repeatedly that the committee must receive complete information about the president's surveillance program in order to consider legislation in this area. This is a matter of common sense -- cannot legislate in the blind. We have made some progress towards that end, but there are key pieces of requested information that the committee needs and has not yet received.

These include the president's authorizations for the program, and the Department of Justice's opinion on the legality of the program. My request for these documents is over a year in length, and Vice Chairman Bond and I restated the importance of receiving these documents in our March letter, that in fact called this hearing. The administration's delay in providing these basic documents is incomprehensible, I think, inexcusable, and serves only to hamper the committee's ability to consider the liability of the Defense proposal before it -- inadequate information.

Congress is being asked to enact legislation that brings to end lawsuits that allege violations of the rights of Americans. In considering that request, it is essential that the committee know whether all involved, government officials and anyone else, relied on sound, legal conclusions of the government's highest law officer. The opinions of the attorney general are not just private advice. They are an authoritative statement of law within the executive branch.

Rockefeller makes a few relevant points in his statement, but he has fallen woefully short in his followup to it. He was taking the administration to task for not sharing information with his committee in a timely way. Information eventually was shared, but only at the last minute and under very bad conditions.

More importantly, Rockefeller has stopped all oversight at the point of simply receiving a set of documents. There is no evidence that he has made any effort to determine whether the justifications provided for the wiretapping program were indeed legal. Because of his prominent role in achieving the retroactive immunity provision in the bill passed by the Senate, I think it is Rockefeller's personal responsibility, if immunity is signed into law, to call new hearings and to completely pursue the issue of legality of the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" and to turn over to law enforcement all evidence he obtains of lawbreaking. It is the least he can do, because his actions in assuring retroactive immunity have blocked the best pathways for exposure of lawbreaking.

Hearings of this sort are certainly not something that Rockefeller will do on his own. It will be up to citizens to force him to exercise his role as Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to assure the citizens that the actions taken by our intelligence agencies are subject to the rule of law and that lawbreakers are punished.

19 February 2008

The Case for a Do-over in Florida

There has been much discussion over the past few weeks of the possibility that Democrats will enter the convention in August without a clear nominee. Concerns abound over superdelegates determining the outcome. Because Republican-dominated legislatures voted to move the Michigan and Florida primaries ahead of the dates specified by party rules, the Democratic National Committee has ruled that their delegates will not be seated at the convention.

In the case of Florida, it appears that the knowledge that the delegates would not be seated, coupled with the lack of campaign appearances in the state by the candidates, depressed turnout in the January 29 primary. According to floridavoterfile.com, Democrats currently outnumber Republicans, with 39.3% of voters registered as Democrats compared to 36.0% registered as Republicans. In the primary, 1,949,498 Republicans cast presidential ballots, compared to 1,749,920 Democrats. This turnout by party should be compared to the Super Tuesday results, where I did an analysis on the next morning and found Democratic turnout vastly outnumbered Republicans by 62% to 38%. Even other Southern states that have gone Republican in recent presidential elections, such as Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas saw higher Democratic than Republican turnout on Super Tuesday.

I would argue that these numbers indicate that Florida Democratic turnout on January 29 was depressed by the foreknowledge that the delegates would not be seated. After the debacle in 2000, disenfranchisement of Florida votes by Republicans is not a situation that should be allowed to be repeated. Those who voted in the January 29 primary would not be harmed by a do-over, since they would be free to vote again.

A second primary would be very expensive, but the two remaining candidates are setting fundraising records, and I think they could be called upon to provide the bulk of the funding for a new primary. If the candidates would come together now and decide to jointly fund a primary in mid-July, that would provide a window for campaigning in Florida once the other primaries are over. The agreement also could allow for the primary to be waived if one candidate has amassed a large enough lead that addition of the superdelegates along with the Florida and Michigan delegates would have no impact on the outcome.

17 February 2008

Stop! No, Come Along! No, Stop!

This is not the sort of post one usually finds here, but I thought it would be representative of the sort of forces that we are up against... those who have ensured not just that our government would wage an immoral and illegal war in our names, but that they would also do so incompetently, while misjudging those whom we were supposedly liberating. From an email I sent to some friends yesterday...

I was at a memorial service earlier today... for a woman from the local Quaker meeting who had a lot of first-hand and encyclopedic knowledge of the Middle East. She died at the end of November, shortly after giving three talks during the weekly "Meeting for Learning" ... the first on religion, the second on oil, and the third on water. I really wish I had been there to hear her. I know I would have learned something valuable from her, and now it's too late. We always think we have more time.

I learned some things, though, just by attending the service. Another woman who had just met her at a luncheon in the fall recounted something she told the rest of the women at that meal. She held up her hand with the palm out, and said that to an Iraqi, this gesture does NOT mean stop. It means come along ahead, or something like that. She made another gesture, with a closed hand drawing toward the chest, and said that means stop.

All those news reports about the Iraqis not understanding our troops, and it appears that our troops didn't understand what they were themselves communicating. Not their fault, either... but the Fearless Leaders who were in charge. Ai yai yaiiiiiiiiiii....

One man who spoke up near the end of the service (Quaker memorial services allow/permit/expect that people will stand up and say something if so moved)... was so stricken. His "sharing" was like a wail. He may have been Iraqi or Palestinian or something... I don't know. He questioned God, asking why he had taken this woman, and who would do the things she had done or would come when she had. It was loud and mournful and he was sitting right next to me. He really expressed what so many others were feeling, but who were unable to be that expressive, and instead told touching stories and anecdotes of their own about how they knew Ruth.
Ruth is already sorely missed by the members of the Friends Meeting, as well as the Yearly Meeting, by her colleagues at the university where she was employed, at the American Friends Service Committee, by her family and friends, and by her many friends from the Middle East. There is no one who could fulfill the many roles that she did. And even if there were, it is even less likely that they could do so with such unfailing helpfulness, good cheer, or so much thoughtful insight.

I only wish that we could have a similar reaction to the loss of any one member of GWB's maladministration.

15 February 2008

A Tale of Two Protests

Yesterday, House Republicans, at the behest of Representative John Boehner, walked out of the House in protest of Democratic maneuvers that were about to lead to the issuing contempt of Congress citations against former White House counsel Harriet Miers and the President's Chief of Staff, Josh Bolten. When the Republicans marched out of the chamber, they went to the steps of the Capitol, where they encountered a bank of microphones. They promptly the microphones to use in holding a press conference to point out their unfair treatment at the hands of the Democrats. Here is the AP photo of the Republicans showing their outrage:

What a difference a few months makes. I was in Washington on September 15 of last year for the antiwar rally and march. The march ended at the steps of the Capitol, and there was a very different reception awaiting us. The steps were lined with riot police, ready and willing to arrest any protester with the gall to stand on those steps leading up to the chambers in which the peoples' laws are crafted. Many of those arrested had previously served in the armed forces in Iraq and had joined the march to show their frustration with the pointlessness of the US efforts in Iraq. Here is my photo of the reception these veterans received on the steps of the Capitol:

When the people approach the steps of the Capitol in protest, they are met with riot police and arrest. When Republicans stand on the steps of the Capitol in protest, they get microphones and television cameras. That sums up the state of our country pretty well.

14 February 2008

Will Bush Veto the Torture Ban?

Yesterday, the Senate approved, by a vote of 51 to 45, Conference Report HR 2082. This conference report, already passed by the House, is an authorization of intelligence activities. The bill restricts interrogations by all intelligence agencies (including the CIA) to the interrogation techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual. The effect of this restriction is to ban waterboarding and other extreme interrogation techniques.

Only one Democrat, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, voted against this restriction. Five Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Richard Lugar of Indiana, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Olympia Snowe of Maine, all voted in favor of the ban.

As recently as last October, Senator John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, said this to the New York Times about waterboarding:

All I can say is that it was used in the Spanish Inquisition, it was used in Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia, and there are reports that it is being used against Buddhist monks today...It is torture.

Yesterday, McCain took time out from his campaign for president to vote against the ban on waterboarding. This vote certainly appears to be a craven abandonment of the Senator's principles in order to curry support from the most conservative wing of his party. He desparately needs this support in order to stave off a late charge by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama did not return to Washington to vote on this important issue.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island delivered a very moving speech during the debate for this bill. Here is video of a portion of his remarks:

The bill now moves to the desk of President Bush. Will he veto it and shine a spotlight on his determination to torture prisoners, therby further eroding the previous high moral ground which our country used to occupy?

13 February 2008

Wexler Confronts Rice Over Lies

In a House hearing today, Congressman Robert Wexler confronted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over the false statements attributed to her by the Center for Public Integrity (they found 56 instances of false statements from her). He asked her about any intelligence to which she might have had access that would have suggested that Iraq did not in fact have weapons of mass destruction. She denied that she saw any such information.

In an email sent out today to those who have signed up at http://www.wexlerwantshearings.com/, Congressman Wexler states:

During my questioning, Secretary Rice falsely stated that she never saw intelligence casting doubt on the Bush Administration claims that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. This unbelievable statement is flatly contradicted by numerous government reports and CIA testimonials.

Here is video of the exchange:

12 February 2008

No amnesty for the Bush Administration

Today marks an important and historic point in the erosion of personal privacy as the Bush Administration appears poised to achieve Senate approval of retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that aided in spying on Americans illegally without warrants. First exposed in the New York Times on December 16, 2005 by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, the program consists of optical "splitters" attached to primary trunk communications lines that allow the government to "vacuum" up literally every bit of information being transmitted through the line, whether it is voice or data.

As Senator Chris Dodd pointed out in his impassioned, two and a half hour speech on the Senate floor last night, this battle for amnesty for the telecommunications companies that worked with the government on this program is in large part being carried out to protect those in the Bush Administration who conceived and authorized this blatantly illegal and unconstitutional program. In fact, the original version of the amnesty language was so wide as to include amnesty for those in government who committed crimes in establishing the program. Some solace can be taken from the fact that the current version of the amnesty language pertains only to the telecommunications companies and is silent on immunity for government officials.

It will be important, even if the battle over prosecution of the telecommunications companies is lost, to continue to push for a full investigation leading to prosecution of those responsible for the planning and implementation of what can only be described as the most egregious invasion of privacy in the history of our country. Given the example of George W. Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence, it is necessary to maintain vigilance against outright pardons on this matter.

It also is essential to begin the framing of the issue. Because he is almost certain to be a suspect in any investigation of these crimes, it is important to point out that it would be inappropriate for Bush to issue any pardons for them. Such a pardon could be grounds for further charges of obstruction of justice on his part, in my opinion.

09 February 2008

This Is My Congresman!

This is how it's done.

The following link is to Representative Steve Cohen's (D-TN 9th) blog site. Scroll down to My Cross-Examination of the New Attorney General for video of his careful questioning of AG Mukasey.

Today [7 Feb], I had the opportunity to question Alberto Gonzales' replacement, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, in a Judiciary Committee hearing. I asked him whether he would enforce contempt citations against senior White House officials should the House of Representatives vote for them, and about the current state of the so-called "War on Drugs."

07 February 2008

A Telephone Message for You

In votes Thursday in the Senate, two proposed amendments to S.2248, which amends the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, were easily defeated. The next steps, as announced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, will be debate on a number of additional pending amendments on Friday and Monday, with votes on these amendments to occur on Tuesday. For many of us who have been following the issue closely, the most important amendment is 3907, which removes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that broke the law in providing information to the government.

Preventing retroactive immunity has served as a rallying cry for much of the progressive netroots, and Senator Chris Dodd served as a focal point for efforts in this area. The initial effort paid off, and in December, Senator Dodd's threatened filibuster forced Senator Reid to pull the FISA revision bill from the Senate floor. However, the plan announced earlier today by Senator Reid includes only four hours of debate by Senator Dodd rather than a drawn-out filibuster when the immunity amendment is brought to the floor. Given the dedication Senator Dodd has had to this issue, I can only surmise that he was informed that 60 votes would be present to break his filibuster, so there would be no reason to object to the unanimous consent agreement under which the fours for debate were allowed.

I don't think it is time to give up on fighting retroactive immunity. Under the UC agreement, the stripping of retroactive immunity will take only a simple majority of those Senators voting. We know that Senator Rockefeller will vote against the amendment, but if the remaining Democrats can be held together, and especially if Senators Clinton and Obama can be convinced to be in Washington for the vote, the amendment stripping immunity could be passed.

Now is the time to continue the fight and to call as many Senators as possible to ask them to vote for amendment 3907. A handy tool is still functional on Senator Dodd's campaign website, allowing you to call any Senator for free.

Here's a little message pad, courtesy of Posse Comment@US to keep track of your calls.