Thursday, October 18, 2007

FISA hatemongering

Have you ever seen the movie Arachnophobia? There's a scene in it where there's this big spider lover, always ready to point out that insects would take over the world without spiders killing so many of them. And, as you might expect, he ends up in a scary encounter with the big-bad spider. As scary as it might be, and as horrible as he might feel, I bet he feels a certain admiration that spiders can be much bigger and nastier than even he had imagined.

I feel that way about Republican arguments about the President's illegal wiretapping, and the telecom company's illegal assistance. All they have to say is "Bush is trying to protect us from terrorists; we'd prove it, but it would reveal state secrets, so you have to trust us."

We have to trust George W. Bush and the Republican Party. Because, you know, they wouldn't slime Joseph Wilson and his wife for telling the simple truth about how Iraq wasn't going to get uranium from Niger. They wouldn't call Lewis Libby a patriot and shield him from jail time if he was out trying to get reporters to burn Ms. Wilson, so she could never continue her covert operations investigating WMDs in Iran. They wouldn't get us stuck in a war that's looking to cost over a trillion dollars, and looks likely to lead to an uncontrolled civil war in Iraq. No, they wouldn't do that. You can trust them! They're competent, because they're surrounded by competent people, like Michael Brown (such an expert in disaster relief) and Larry Craig (skilled enough in the legal system to understand what a plea of "guilty" means!)

Those last two were cheap shots, weren't they? Oh well, I'm human, and sometimes it's hard to resist.

Look, this is a really easy, really clear situation. The telecoms are under a legal obligation not to disclose information to the government without appropriate due process. This is to prevent the government - no matter how well meaning! - from doing exactly what the government seems to have done. And FISA requires oversight of spying on American persons (citizens and some other folks) to prevent the government - no matter how well meaning! - from doing exactly what the government seems to have done.

President Bush and the Republicans swear that they're "compromising" with the Democrats; they want the Democrats to say "all those laws you broke? Well, we don't care. We don't know what you did, or why you did it, or what legal theories you used to violate those laws. We don't know the extent of the damage. For all we know, you spied on your political opponents, just like Nixon did. But hey, sure, let's not worry about that."

The Democrats in the House were crafting a nice bit of a bill, one suggesting amnesty could be provided if they knew what the amnesty was for. What was done, when, how, and under what circumstances? It's an idea I can get behind. I mean, let's look at another government that had something much, much worse to deal with: South Africa.

They needed to heal, but they also needed the truth. So, they had a rule: you couldn't be prosecuted if you came forward with the truth. Tell the truth; open the wounds, and let the pus drain out. Then there can be healing.

South Africa faced bigger challenges, but the principle remains the same. People have violated the law, and done so in secret, confident that they'd never be caught. Before we can go forward, before we can fix things, we need to know what has happened. We can't just slap a bandage over the abscess and declare it healed.

The House Democrats had to pull the bill. Why? Because the Republicans were trying to attach snarky, and childish, amendments to it, amendments that would quite likely cause confusion in the courts.

You ready for a piece of pure partisan idiocy? Well, here it is:
Today, we will be offering an amendment to the legislation to clarify that nothing in the bill "shall be construed to prohibit the intelligence community from conducting surveillance needed to prevent Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, or any other foreign terrorist organization…from attacking the United States or any United States person."


That's a quote from Eric Cantor's (R-Va) website.

I hope I don't need to say this, but, geez... is there anyone out there who thinks that kind of crap belongs in legislation? A line that lets someone break the law and say "but I was conducting surveillance needed to prevent foreign terrorist organizations from attacking the United States!" hoping for a "Get Out Of Jail, Free" card?

So the Democrats pulled the bill, and Cantor is saying this in response:
House Democrats have pulled the FISA bill. They are so desperately against allowing our intelligence agencies to fight OBL and AQ, that they pulled the entire bill to prevent a vote.


Moveon.org got blasted from all (rightwing) quarters when asking if General Petreaus would become "General Betray Us" when he gave his speech to Congress hoping to drum up support for continuing the Iraq war. (I can't call it a "report" because he didn't deliver a report; he delivered a speech.) It suggested that he was cooking the books to make Iraq look more salvageable than it is. It was a nasty thing to suggest, but I've heard worse. For example, I've heard worse from Mr. Cantor.

He has suggested the Democrats, while battling flagrant, secretive lawbreaking by the Bush administration, are opposed to protecting our nation. Not merely "unwilling to do what it takes" - Republicans tell that canard often enough that it's lost much of its zing. No, he said that they are opposed to fighting back. They're not merely "not willing" but actively opposed.

Judge for yourself. Who is trying to rip this country apart? An organization that uses a nasty pun to attack a key figure who is pushing the continuance of the Iraq war, or a party that supports this kind of hatemongering?

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