House Defies Bush: Allows Surveillance Law Expire

An astonishing thing happened yesterday, one of the houses of Congress actually stood on principle and refused to cave to the demands of the President to give telecom companies immunity or face imminent annihilation. The question is whether this is a true commitment or just political theater.

At issue is the telecom immunity provision, which would wipe out dozens of pending public interest lawsuits against companies who helped the President violate federal law in the surveillance of their customers. Administration officials have long argued that the program was clearly lawful but have been silently working to avoid any final judgment of the courts, which are expected to rule to the contrary.

In an extraordinary victory of special interests over the public interest, Republican and Democratic senators voted to give the companies immunity — rejecting a variety of amendment such as the substitution of the government for the companies are liable for any damages. The amendments clearly showed that this was not about national security or even litigation costs for these companies — it is about preventing courts from finding the obvious and declaring the surveillance program (which members of both parties knew about) to be manifestly unlawful.

The President and the GOP refused to extend the law and refused to accept expanded powers without the immunity provision for telecom companies. The question now is whether the House dems will show the principle so lacking in the Senate — which quietly worked to guarantee passage by removing procedural barriers that might have blocked the law. Click here

The President clearly overplayed his hand on this one with a fear-mongering speech over terrorist destruction — in an effort to secure financial benefit for major corporations. There is not a scintilla of public interest in such an act and if the House cannot remain firm on this position, all is truly lost. The greatest danger would be a secret deal to pass a different house measure that would then go to closed conference with the Senate — where people like Jay Rockefeller would put the immunity back in and both houses approve the result under objections.

For the full story on surveillance, click here

15 thoughts on “House Defies Bush: Allows Surveillance Law Expire”

  1. Clint:

    “Do I find some things that he does and says worthy of commendation…yes. Clinton, who I strongly disagree with, has said things that are also worthy of commendation.”

    Agreed. Even Mussolini made the trains run on time or so the popular story goes.

  2. Mespo,

    Lol…I think the Postal Service is still loyal to Clan Bush and won’t go down without inflicting a lot of paper-cuts.

    He did not have much choice at all in his decision to abide by what the court decided but he did have a choice in how he presented his disagreement with the decision. I’m not a Bush supporter much (But, in one regard, I am a “whoever is president” supporter, which means I will support and pray for the president even if that means its Barack Obama–who I disagree with on many core issues) Do I like Bush…no. Do I agree with how he’s handled the war…no. Do I find some things that he does and says worthy of commendation…yes. Clinton, who I strongly disagree with, has said things that are also worthy of commendation.

  3. Wow! I guess you are correct, America has nothing to fear. Who knew that the world was full of lollipops and unicorns.

    Try this for “traitors and fools:”

    The U.S. currently has approximately 3000 Chinese front companies operating within the U.S. whose only objective is to steal America’s technology secrets.

    The U.S. has what’s called the Visa Mantis program to background check foreign students (from countries known to be aggressively engaged in espionage activities) coming to the US to study technology and science. Our inept representatives passed an amendment to reduce the time visa officers have to conduct these checks from 75 days to 14 days. Also, under the program students used to have to re-submit each year. Now they are given a 4 year free pass to move in and out of the country as they please. This bill essentially renders the Visa Mantis program useless.

    Post Cold War, a states economic health is synonymous with National Security. The US looses an estimated 100+ billion dollars a year to industrial espionage.

    US Customs and Border Protection regularly thwart efforts by terrorist groups to enter the United States through Canada.

    A state-owned Chinese company was allowed to buy a complete McDonnell Douglas factory with all of the capabilities to manufacture missiles.

    The Chinese Education Ministry purchased a 3.5 million dollar mansion in Washington D.C. so that their Director could monitor Chinese students and identify those that could provide significant technology transfer.

    Iran is investing billions in Nicaragua, including building and running an Iranian state-owned power generation plant. It’s just the first step establishing a foothold in South America. To see what that may look like in the future, look to Northern Africa. Fundamental Islamic groups are going into poverty stricken and war torn areas of Africa and establishing order and providing basic needs. Before they citizens know what has happened, these groups have instituted Sharia law and are in control. The citizens do not have the funding or strength to take back control. Note that the United States Navy (evil as they may be) have been working feverishly to bring aid to these areas. They are employing extremely innovative techniques to get the food to the people that need it.

    These are just a few examples of real threats to the United States. This is not some fantasy dreamed up by George Bush. This existed prior to Bush and will continue even if Mr. Obama becomes the President. To tie the hands of the Intel Community is to open this country to serious threats. These threats do exist; that point is irrefutable. If you do not think that America is under significant threat, you do not know what is really going on in the world at large.

    President Clinton had an opportunity to capture Bin Laden. Why do you think he did not go and get him? The United States government was negotiating the building of an oil pipeline in the Middle East. We did not go get Bin Laden because he happened to be in the area of the proposed pipeline and our government did not want to spoil the deal. This was not “big oil” Bush either. Personally, I don’t care which President it was; this was a major strategic and political error that ended up costing thousands of American lives.

    Sometimes what feels good doesn’t get the job done. And pretending that there is no threat just because you don’t like the President, doesn’t really mean that no threat exists.

  4. Clint:

    I agree but I am cautious in my praise since what choice did he have? Was he going to call out the army to surround the Courthouse? With his dismal popular support, I doubt he could get the Post Office to send help.

  5. I’m a bit apolitical but I did appreciate one thing in this. Bush said in response to this legislation, “We will abide by the Court’s decision. That doesn’t mean that I have to agree with it.”

    We are privileged to be in a country where the leader doesn’t kill off dissenters. We could have easily been born into a Mugabe-like “democracy.” Maybe it was out of necessity, but I think that reply was honorable whether or not he is. He did not tear them down or complain, he sucked it up and upheld their authority. We are seeing far less of that kind of honor(?) in either party these days.

  6. intel guy:

    “You may be a legal expert, but leave National Security to the real experts.”

    We tried that already. We called it the McCarthy era. Comforting to know that our intelligence service fears some cave dwellers with a 15th Century mindset more than the subversion of the rule of law. But given their recent track record advising the policy makers why should we expect anything more. Dispassionate judgment is not exactly their strong suit. Maybe you should read less Bush and more Madison: “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” How’s that for destructive “haughty rhetoric?”

    We are truly governed and administered by traitors and fools.

  7. This was one of the more cowardly things Congress has done. I find it amazing that Bush gets so much heat for operating in the same manner as nearly every other president. Now who needs a civics lesson? I guess, under Clinton, Bush I, Reagan, Carter, etc…, nothing of questionable legality was ever done.

    You may be a legal expert, but leave National Security to the real experts. The expiration of this law cripple our intelligence community in a significant way. Other countries, our enemies, operate in the same and worse ways.

    If America continues down the path of “feel good” legislation (or lack of legislation), we will soon be at the mercy of our enemies. What people really need a lesson on is the state of the world and how dangerous it really is. It is the ignorant and aloof that walk around spouting haughty rhetoric that are going to damage this country beyond repair.

    Perhaps a majority of the lawyers in this country need to start learning the Koran so they can learn how to practice Sharia law. Call me an alarmist? Why do some states already allow Muslim prayer rooms in public schools? What happened to separation of church and state?

  8. Vic; Why would you be surprised by the neo-con poster on your blog? That’s the new Republican. I used to like Repubs when they were for limited government, personal freedom, due process, small business, and other traditional concepts they currently describe as “quaint.” Now they are infested by the religious right crowd who are all too happy to race around giving up their rights to any hierarchical power they find–real or imagined– in the name of safety. You may call them “dumbed down,” I call them Bush’s base.

  9. It is a sorry state of affairs when the Congress of the United States does it’s best work by doing nothing. If the Dems had a spine, when the GOP walked out, they should have hastily brought up and passed the 2 different impeachment bills, (Cucinich and Wexler), that are languishing in committee. Now THAT would have made great TV on Cspan!

  10. DW:
    Personally I view a Third Party as a necessity to break the similarity between our political system and spectator sports. The change would most definitely complicate the back game and simply the front end, by encouraging diversity.

    Somehow or other, we’ve conflated a bicameral Congress with a bicameral political superstructure and it has, in my opinion, limited our ability to argue, by permitting the power bases in two parties to control the discussion. It certainly would change the tactics in Big Town. I also think it could very likely encourage the broadcast and newspaper conglomerates to reassess their positions and encourage them to return to journalism. There’s enough commentary around and we are the commentators. What we need is some pure news and fact without having to deconstruct our news. As it is, we’re forced to actually review C-Span and read actual transcripts in order to determine what someone actually said or invoked. Television, with some quick editing can routinely alter the timbre of comments beyond recognition.

    If the Ron Paul supporters, who have been amazing in their enthusiasm and their energy, and the Dennis Kucinich supporters and the vast majority of centrists that don’t feel they have been treated respectfully by the two super-parties, would invest in cooperating, the result could be quite encouraging. The reason I mention both Paul and Kucinich, is for the fact that while they disagree fundamentally, they are friends. They regard each other highly and behave quite respectfully, even in disagreement.

    As you suggested, this is grass roots stuff – but with the powerful communications tools available now and pressing need to heal a very sick divided Nation, restore our relationships around the Globe, and to undo the dark ages that the current administration has thrust the United States – a third party seems like just thing to cause the other two parties to enthusiastically embrace healthier politics for many reasons, including their own survival as political forces.

  11. Great point VC,

    Currently most state high school systems require 1-3 years of social science to include government and economics, us history and electives. Civics should be three full years. And again a requirement under general education or university studies models for graduation at the post-secondary level.

    What are your ideas on a third party: even the progressives with as tremendously charismatic name-recognition leader as TR failed to make it.

    It would take efforts from the bottom up, rather than top down to establish such a viable party.

  12. It was amazing to me how others viewed this. I wrote an article about this the other day, and I was astounded at the reaction by a particular poster. He suggested that because the President said-so – it was enough for him.

    I believe the reason for the lack of public outrage is the fact that there is a tremendous void in teaching American National Government and State and Local Government across the country. We may have the most dumbed down generations yet … only a few years away from voting age. Civics is essentially non-existent, and revealed itself in a most noticeable way in the exchange.

    Well, there’s still time, although the political parties seem to have been oddly complicit in the dumbing-down of American Citizens. Perhaps that would raise the potential of a third political party to emerge by being the party that offers lessons in how to change the system by first understanding it.

  13. Yes, it would be good to hear JT’s thoughts on those questions. (hint hint)

    If you want a third-rater’s opinion: then I will weigh in and say that ex-post facto laws that protect entities from civil litigations are not common but they do occur. And they probably have held up under challenge. Usually a fund of some sort is set up for the affected class. Or at least so I understand from reading about it! Findlaw has an interesting article by J Seebok on this very point.

    The takings clause argument he sets forth has problems and my own ill-informed guess is that it wouldn’t stand up.

    In any case, let’s see if an actual expert can contribute here! 🙂

  14. Mr. Turley,

    As you mentioned, there are several dozen alleged illegal wiretapping cases in the courts right now at various stages of adjudication, with Telecoms named as defendants. Can Congress pass a law that would retroactively shield these defendants from prosecution after the courts have already recognized the validity of their cases? I realize that the Telecom immunity proponents are saying that this argument is immaterial because the Telecoms “may have” performed illegal activities, but their actions were ultimately made “legal” by the PAA that was passed last August.

    But do we know that to be true? According to recent whistleblower testimony, it appears that the earlier Telecom wiretapping activities may have gone way beyond anything authorized in the PAA. Only the courts can make that determination.

    On its face, the Telecom retroactive immunity provision in the proposed legislation appears to be unconstitutional. Do the courts have any recourse should this legislation pass? Or are they supposed to throw these cases out simply because the executive and legislative branches of government have “retroactively” told them to do so?

    Your thoughts?

Comments are closed.