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Friday, January 25, 2008

Harry Reid, Determined to Lose Another 'Can't Lose' Issue

Harry Reid continues to suck. As the renewal for a retooling of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act comes up for a vote, Reid is on the side of the Bush administration and against the American people. The issue in question is telcom immunity -- which would give telecommunications companies immunity against lawsuits for participating in illegal wiretapping of US citizens. The Bush administration argues that the wiretapping was legal, which kind of makes you wonder why this immunity -- which comes from that bad idea factory called "The White House" -- is even necessary. Clearly, the Bush administration believes that it isn't legal and worries that they'd be dragged into a court fight over illegal domestic surveillance. Telcom immunity is really Bushie immunity.

You don't have to look far to find a WhiteHouser trying to stoke up fear over the issue.

Agence France-Presse:

"A failure to enact a permanent FISA update with liability protections would have predictable and serious consequences," [Vice President Dick] Cheney said in a speech to the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

"Our ability to monitor Al-Qaeda terrorists will begin to degrade -- and that we simply cannot tolerate."

Given that we'll all freakin' die a horrific flaming terrorism-caused death if the FISA reform isn't renewed, Bush's threat to veto any legislation that doesn't include immunity is more than a little perplexing. And the administration's approach to this domestic surveillance program is pretty insane. Far from having a very narrow focus, they cast a wide net and get a little bit of everything. Media ethicist Elliot Cohen describes it this way:

It is no secret that the Bush administration has already been spying on the e-mail, voice-over-IP, and other Internet exchanges between American citizens since as early as and possibly earlier than Sept. 11, 2001. The National Security Agency has set up shop in the hubs of major telecom corporations, notably AT&T, installing equipment that makes copies of the contents of all Internet traffic, routing it to a government database and then using natural language parsing technology to sift through and analyze the data using undisclosed search criteria. It has done this without judicial oversight and obviously without the consent of the millions of Americans under surveillance. Given any rational interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, its mass spying operation is illegal and unconstitutional.

Like that? Like how they're just grabbing everything, regardless of content? If you don't, you're not alone. A recent poll by the Mellman Group [PDF] for the ACLU shows you're in good company. When it comes to domestic surveillance, 66% of respondents opposed eliminating the requirement for warrants, with 51% strongly opposed. On immunity, 57% oppose it, with 45% strongly opposed. Only one third support immunity. Clearly, the American people don't want this legislation.

Which makes Harry Reid's support of immunity a little confusing -- especially when he explains it. "Reid says he personally opposes immunity for the phone companies that cooperated with the government and prefers stronger civil rights protections for citizens, as provided by one of the bills now before the Senate," according to the Las Vegas Sun. "But as leader of the Senate, Reid embodies the Democrats' apparent inability to stop a competing bill that essentially gives the Bush administration authority to continue eavesdropping on Americans and lets the telecoms off the hook."

So, since you don't believe you can get it through without immunity, you have to support immunity? How's that work? "Actions speak louder than words," says the ACLU's Caroline Frederickson. "If he really opposes telecom immunity, he needs to show it. And we haven't seen it." See, just saying you're against it doesn't mean squat. As Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid needs to do something crazy -- like lead.

Instead, we have to look to former Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd for leadership. Dodd's ready to filibuster his own party on the issue of telcom immunity. Reid, takes the wrong side of the issue, offerring the Senate every opportunity to shut down Dodd's filibuster. A CBS News/Associated Press story tells us, "Sen. Reid promised to keep the Senate open over the weekend in order to assure that a final bill is passed."

Here's the thing. This is another example of Reid giving up on a fight that can't possibly be lost. If no bill is passed, the FISA retooling will expire and die -- no problem there, since a majority oppose it anyway. If they do manage to pass the bill without immunity, Bush will veto it and, again, the FISA retooling will expire and die. It's impossible to fail to give the American people what they want. That is, if you put any effort into the fight at all.

If Reid won't supply the backbone it takes for actual leadership on this issue, we can take the issue out of his hands. Firedoglake helpfully supplies us with a list of dem Senators to call and urge support of Dodd's filibuster:

Bayh (202) 224-5623
Carper (202) 224-2441
Inouye (202) 224-3934
Johnson (202) 224-5842
Landrieu (202)224-5824
McCaskill (202) 224-6154
Mikulski (202) 224-4654
Nelson (FL) (202) 224-5274
Nelson (NE) (202) 224-6551
Pryor (202) 224-2353
Salazar (202) 224-5852
Specter (202) 224-4254

As I say, there's no possible way the Democrats can lose on this one. At least, if they fight it.

Not that that's ever stopped Harry Reid from giving up before.


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